This year World Mission Day will be celebrated on Sunday, on 23 October, focused on the theme: “You shall be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8).
In his message, Pope Francis reflected on three foundations of the life and mission of every disciple: “You shall be my witnesses”, “to the ends of the earth” and “you shall receive the power of the Holy Spirit”.
The first, he said, is “the call of every Christian to bear witness to Christ,” calling it the “heart of Jesus’ teaching to the disciples.” Pope Francis said Christ was the first to be sent to proclaim, as the Father’s missionary and as His “faithful witness.”
“Every Christian is called to be a missionary and witness to Christ. And the Church, the community of Christ’s disciples, has no other mission than that of bringing the Gospel to the entire world by bearing witness to Christ. To evangelize is the very identity of the Church.”
The Pope said each baptized Christian is called to carry out the Church’s mission in a communitarian way, even in the ordinary activities of our daily lives.
Christians, he added, are sent on mission by the Church in Christ’s name, and never under our own initiative. He noted that Jesus sent the disciples out in pairs, since “the witness of Christians to Christ is primarily communitarian in nature.”
“The disciples are urged to live their personal lives in a missionary key: they are sent by Jesus to the world not only to carry out, but also and above all to live the mission entrusted to them; not only to bear witness, but also and above all to be witnesses of Christ.”
Missionaries, said Pope Francis, proclaim the Good News of God’s salvation in Christ, not their own abilities or persuasive qualities.
“In evangelization,” he added, “the example of a Christian life and the proclamation of Christ are inseparable. One is at the service of the other.”
Pope Francis went on to consider a second foundation of the Christian mission: “to the ends of the earth.”
He said the early disciples gradually expanded the scope of their mission, and lived an image of the Church “going forth” and guided by divine Providence, not the desire to proselytize.
As they faced persecution, early Christians fled their homelands, taking the Gospel with them to new countries, something which happens in our own day. Pope Francis added that the phrase “to the ends of the earth” also challenges modern Christians to proclaim Christ to those who have still not encountered Him.
“Christ’s Church will continue to “go forth” towards new geographical, social and existential horizons, towards “borderline” places and human situations, in order to bear witness to Christ and His love to men and women of every people, culture and social status.
The Pope then turned to the third foundation of mission: “You will receive power from the Holy Spirit”. He said the Spirit broke the bonds of the Apostles’ fear in the first days after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
The Spirit prompted St. Peter to give his missionary address to people in Jerusalem, as recounted in Acts, kicking off an “an era in which the disciples of Jesus evangelized the world.”
Pope Francis added that Christians are only able to bear “full and genuine witness to Christ the Lord without the Spirit’s inspiration and assistance.
“All Christ’s missionary disciples are called to recognize the essential importance of the Spirit’s work, to dwell in his presence daily and to receive His unfailing strength and guidance. Indeed, it is precisely when we feel tired, unmotivated or confused that we should remember to have recourse to the Holy Spirit in prayer.”
Prayer, said the Pope, plays an important role in the missionary life, since it “allows us to be refreshed and strengthened by the Spirit as the inexhaustible divine source of renewed energy and joy in sharing Christ’s life with others.”
Pope Francis said that “In light of this action of the Holy Spirit, we also want to consider the missionary anniversaries to be celebrated in 2022.”
The first is the 400th anniversary since the establishment of the Sacred Congregation De Propaganda Fide, now the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.
This year also marks the 200th anniversary of the foundation of Society for the Propagation of the Faith by a young French woman, Pauline Jaricot. He pointed out: “The Congregation proved to be crucial for setting the Church’s evangelizing mission truly free from interference by worldly powers, in order to establish those local Churches.”
Pope St. Paul VI granted the Society the status of “Pontifical” 100 years ago, along with the Association of the Holy Childhood and the Society of Saint Peter the Apostle.
Pope Francis prayed that the local Churches will “find in these Societies a sure means for fostering the missionary spirit among the People of God.”
In conclusion, the Pope expressed his dream to see a “completely missionary Church, and a new era of missionary activity among Christian communities.”
(Devin Watkins/VN – Photo: Vatican Media)