10/16/2014, 00.00
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With Pope Francis, the mission ad gentes renews the Church

by Piero Gheddo
The pontiff begins with the proclamation of Christ and with young churches in order to give new impetus to the older ones that are perhaps moored too much to old patterns. The missionary spirit can teach a lot even to those who, like us, are rich in spirituality, theology, law, liturgical rites, and pastoral experiences. . . . The apostles themselves did not remain in Jerusalem, but gave breath and universal consistency to Catholicism by "going into the whole world."

Milan (AsiaNews) - Why bring Christ to Asia, Africa, Oceania and Latin America, when we are losing him here in Italy? This is a question that many people are asking, and it is not enough to say that every man has the right to know the Son of God made man, Jesus Christ, the one Saviour of mankind, or that today we Christians are two billion out of humanity's seven billion.

The sudden arrival of Pope Francis at the helm of the Catholic Church and the astonishing novelty of his pontificate offer another answer: missionary activities renew the Church, not just today with the "mission to the Gentiles" especially in Asia and Africa, but always, from the Church's beginning.

The Apostles did not confine themselves to Jerusalem and the Jewish world. By proclaiming Christ and founding the Church amid other nations (as he ascended to heaven, Jesus said, "Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature"), they renewed the Church giving it the breath and universal consistency that even today are the stimulus for its renewal and the image of its youth.

In his interview with Father Antonio Spadaro, Pope Francis said that the Church breathes with two lungs, that of young Churches and that of the ancient Churches. The former "develop a synthesis of faith, culture and life, and so it is a synthesis different from the one developed by the ancient churches." However, both "build the future, the young ones with their strength and the others with their wisdom. You always run some risks, of course. [. . .] But we build the future together."

Francis is the first pope who comes from the young churches, from the missions where the Church was born. No one can understand or be in tune with his pontificate unless they go in this direction. Until now, the young Churches had little voice in running the Church or in carrying out the pastoral ministry; now they are taking centre stage.

Francis' pontificate is going in that direction. In fact, he often speaks and writes the Church about (in Gaudium Evangelii for example) as wholly missionary, about pastoral work, about going to the edges, towards those who are last, that the Church is a home for everyone, etc.

What can young Churches teach us, who are full of spirituality, theology, law, liturgical rites, and pastoral experiences? The argument is complex. However, in a nutshell, based on my little experience and following on a daily basis what Pope Francis says and does, I see three points:

1) In the missions, Christ is proclaimed and Christianity is essentially salvation in Christ Jesus, who revealed the great truth: God is Love and He saved men by dying on the Cross. Preaching, catechesis, and Christian education are based on this dynamic vision of Christian life: responding to the love of Christ, who died for me on the Cross.

Francis told Spadaro, "Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. [. . .] A beautiful homily, a genuine sermon must begin with the first proclamation, with the proclamation of salvation. There is nothing more solid, deep and sure than this proclamation."

This is a return to the Acts of the Apostles and "pastoral work." In our life, when we preach and provide religious education, do we pass on the love of Christ? Are we excited about our priestly, Christian and missionary vocation? If we are not in love and excited to live with Christ, how can we convey this to others?

2) The Church must be open to everyone and pastors who take on the "smell of the sheep", who live and share with the common people, especially the poorest and the last. The Church must never close itself off, certain of having all the answers to man's problems. It must be willing to walk with the people to better understand, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, what Jesus taught us and what he wants from us today (John, 14:26; 16:12-13).

"I hope," Francis writes in Evangeli Gaudium, "that all communities will devote the necessary effort to advancing along the path of a pastoral and missionary conversion which cannot leave things as they presently are. 'Mere administration' can no longer be enough. Throughout the world, let us be 'permanently in a state of mission'" (n. 25).

3) Every baptised person is a missionary. Again in Evangeli Gaudium, he says: "In all the baptized, from first to last, the sanctifying power of the Spirit is at work, impelling us to evangelization (n. 119). [. . . ] In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples (cf. Mt 28:19). All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization, and it would be insufficient to envisage a plan of evangelization to be carried out by professionals while the rest of the faithful would simply be passive recipients. [. . .] Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus" (n. 120).

This is another great teaching from the young Churches. In Korea, I was told, "In our church we cannot imagine a passive lay person. Since the catechumenate, those who join the Church must engage in works of the Gospel, charity, mission, in groups and movements that are part of the parish."

After the Council of Trent, a century-long process of renewal shook the Church like an earthquake. Pope Francis comes 50 years after Vatican II (1962-1965), already implemented by the popes that came before him, always starting with the ancient Churches. Today the Pope starts from the missions and the young Churches. He deserves our attention, love, prayer, care and above all, that we walk with him, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

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