Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Certain that the “master of the mass will never fail to provide workmen for his mass,” the Church looks [with hope] at the challenges of today’s society. There may be problems like the low number of vocations, but there are also “signs of hope that in every part of the world show the encouraging missionary vitality of the Christian people.” “Awareness that we are all ‘missionaries’— that we are involved albeit in different ways in announcing and bearing witness to the Gospel—is growing.”
In his address today to the Supreme Council of the Pontifical Missionary Works and the World Mission Congress Fidei donum, which recently commemorated the 50th anniversary of Pius XII’s encyclical Fidei donum (April 21, 1957), Benedict XVI strongly urged participants to have trust and hope.
“Fifty years have passed,” he told those present led by Card Ivan Dias, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, “since my venerable predecessor, aware of the changing times and the arrival of new peoples and nations on the world stage, understood with far-sighted pastoral wisdom that new and providential horizons and missionary paths were opening for the announcement of the Gospel in Africa. With prophetic intuition, Pius XII looked especially at Africa when he thought about a new missionary ‘entity,’ which took the name of Fidei donum from the first words of that encyclical. With it, in addition to traditional forms of missionary cooperation, he wanted to encourage new ones that would allow so-called ‘old’ Christian communities to work with new or nascent ones in the lands of recent evangelisation. The former would be urged to send some priests to the ‘young’ and promising Churches in order to work with local ordinaries for a given period of time.”
“The venerable Pontiff had two goals in mind,” Benedict XVI said. “On the one hand, [this approach] would rekindle the missionary ‘flame’ in each component of the Christian people; on the other, it would promote a more conscious cooperation between the dioceses in the old tradition and those [emerging] in the new, recently evangelised regions. In the past five decades, Pius XII’s invitation was reiterated several times by all of my predecessors and, thanks to the impulse of the Second Vatican Council, the number of fidei donum priests has multiplied. Like many men and women religious and lay volunteers, they left for Africa and other regions of the world, sometimes at a high cost for their diocese of origin. I want here to extend my special thank you to these brothers and sisters, some of whom gave their blood to spread the Gospel. As you very well know, the missionary life marks those who experience it forever whilst at the same time nurturing the ecclesial communion that makes all those who are baptised feel as members of a one Church, the mystical Body of Christ. In these decades missionary contacts have intensified owing to the development and multiplication of means of communication. This has enabled the Church to come into contact with practically every civilisation and culture. What is more, the exchange of gifts between old and new Church communities has led to mutual enrichment and favoured the growth of the idea that we are all ‘missionaries—that we are involved albeit in different ways in announcing and bearing witness to the Gospel.”
“Although we give thanks to the Lord for the ongoing missionary effort,” said the Pope, “we cannot but see that today there are difficulties in every field. Among them, I shall focus on one, namely the shrinking and aging of the clergy in the dioceses that once sent missionaries to faraway regions. In this context of a widespread crisis of vocations, for sure this represents a challenge that we must face. The congress organised by the Pontifical Mission Union to commemorate Fidei donum’s 50 years has given you the opportunity to closely look at the situation in which the Church finds itself at present. And yet, whilst we cannot ignore the problems and the shadows they cast, we must still look to the future with confidence, giving a renewed and a more authentic identity to the Fidei donum missionaries in a world that has undoubtedly changed since the Fifties of the last century. Even though evangelisation faces so many challenges, there are also signs of hope that show in every part of the world the encouraging missionary vitality of the Christian people. Let us never lose sight that the Lord, before he left the disciples for Heaven, in urging them to announce His Gospel in every corner of the world, told them: “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20). My dear brothers and sisters, this certainty must never abandon us. The master of the mass will never fail to provide workmen for his mass if, with confidence and insistence, we ask Him in prayer and meekly listen to His word and teachings.”
In a letter to Card Ivan Dias, the prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, dated April 21, the 50th anniversary of the 1957 papal brief, the Vatican Secretary of State Card Tarcisio Bertone also urged Fidei donum priests to renew the “missionary effort promoted 50 years ago by Pope Pius XII in his encyclical Fidei donum.”
In his letter, Card Bertone expressed his appreciation for the upcoming congress in Rome organised by the Pontifical Mission Union. As requested by the national directors of the Pontifical Mission Works, the prelate insisted on the need “to rethink the communion and the Churches’ shared responsibility for the mission as well as the methodological issues that that implies like shared planning, the integration of Fidei donum missionaries through specific tasks and functions, their reintegration in their Church of origin, the exchange of people, means and apostolic methodologies, as well as [the development of] training profiles for missionaries.”