09/09/2013 20:00

Message of the Holy Father for World Mission Sunday 2013

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This year, we celebrate World Mission Sunday as the Year of Faith is coming to an end; it is an important opportunity to strengthen our friendship with the Lord and our journey as a Church that preaches the Gospel with courage. From this perspective, I would like to suggest some reflections.

1. Faith is God's precious gift, which opens our mind so that we know him and love him. He wants to relate to us and allow us to participate in his own life, in order to make our life more meaningful, much better and more beautiful. God loves us! Faith, however, needs to be accepted, which means, it needs our personal response, the courage to entrust ourselves to God, to experience his love and be grateful for his infinite mercy. Furthermore, it is a gift that is not reserved for a few people but that is offered with generosity. Everyone should be able to experience the joy of being loved by God, the joy of salvation! And, it is a gift that we cannot keep only to ourselves, but that it has to be shared. If we want to keep it only to ourselves, we will become Christians that are isolated, infertile and sick. The proclamation of the Gospel is part of being disciples of Christ and it is a constant commitment that animates the whole life of the Church. "The missionary zeal is a clear sign of the maturity of an ecclesial community" (Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini 95). Each community is "mature" when it professes faith, celebrates it with joy during the liturgy, experiences charity and proclaims the Word of God continuously by coming out of its own territory, in order to take it to the "outskirts", especially to those who have not yet had the opportunity to know Christ. The strength of our faith, on a personal and community level, is also measured by the ability to communicate it to others, to spread it, to experience it in charity, to bear witness about it to those that we meet and share with us the path of life.

2. The Year of Faith (fifty years since the beginning of the Second Vatican Council) is a motivation because the entire Church has a renewed awareness of its presence in the contemporary world and its mission among peoples and nations. Missionarity is not only a question of geographical territories, but it is about peoples, cultures and individuals, precisely because the "boundaries" of faith do not cross only places and human traditions, but the heart of each man and each woman. The Second Vatican Council, emphasized in a special way as the missionary task, to broaden the boundaries of faith that belong to every baptized person and all the Christian communities because "the people of God live in the communities, especially in the dioceses and parishes, and in them, it becomes somehow visible, that they have to bear witness of Christ before the nations" (Ad Gentes decree, 37). Therefore, each community is questioned and invited to make the mandate entrusted by Jesus to the Apostles its own: to be his "witnesses not only in Jerusalem, but throughout Judea and Samaria, and indeed to earth's remotest end' (Act, 1:a) and this, not as a secondary aspect of Christian life, but as its essential aspect: we are all invited to walk the roads of the world with our brothers and sisters, by proclaiming and bearing witness of our faith in Christ and making ourselves the messengers of his Gospel. I invite the Bishops, the Priests, the Presbyteral and Pastoral Councils, each person and group responsible in the Church, to give a prominent position to the missionary dimension in the formation and pastoral programs, while understanding that their apostolic commitment is not complete unless it contains the intention of "bearing witness of Christ before the nations", and before all peoples. Missionarity is not only a programmatic dimension in the Christian life, but it is also a paradigmatic dimension that concerns all the aspects of the Christian life.

3. The work of evangelization often finds obstacles, not only outside the ecclesial community, but also from within. Sometimes there is lack of fervour, joy, courage and hope in proclaiming the Message of Christ to all and in helping the people of our time to have an encounter with him. Sometimes, it is still thought, that proclaiming the truth of the Gospel means an incursion on freedom. Paul VI speaks eloquently on this: "It would be... an error to impose something to the conscience of our brothers. However, it would be better to suggest the truth of the Gospel and salvation in Jesus Christ; with complete clarity and with total respect of the options available... it is a tribute to this freedom" (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 80). We must always have the courage and the joy to suggest, with respect, an encounter with Christ, and become the messengers of his Gospel. Jesus came amongst us to show us the path to salvation and he entrusted to us the mission to make it known to all, and this, to the ends of the earth. All too often, we see that it is violence, lies and mistakes that are emphasized and proposed. Today, it is urgent to proclaim and bear witness of the Gospel's goodness, and this from within the Church itself. Because from this perspective, it is important to never forget a fundamental principle for every evangelizer: one cannot announce Christ without the Church. Evangelization is not an isolated, individual or private act; it is always ecclesial. Paul VI wrote, "When an unknown preacher, missionary, catechist or Pastor, preaches the Gospel, he gathers the community together, passes on the faith, administers a Sacrament, even if he is alone, he is carrying out an ecclesial act. He does not act for a mission that he attributes to himself, neither for a personal inspiration, but in union with the mission of the Church and in its name" And this gives strength to the mission and makes every missionary and evangelizer feel that he is never alone, but that he is rather part of a single Body animated by the Holy Spirit.

4. Today, the widespread mobility and facility of communication through new media have mingled among them, people, knowledge, and experience. For work reasons, entire families move from one continent to another; professional and cultural exchanges, tourism, and similar phenomena have also provoked great movements of peoples. This makes it difficult, even for the parish community, to know who lives permanently or temporarily in the area. Furthermore, in large areas of what were traditionally Christian regions, the number of those who are total strangers to faith, or indifferent to the religious dimension or animated by other beliefs have increased. Therefore, it is not infrequent that, some baptized people make lifestyle choices that lead them away from faith, thus making them in need of a "new evangelization". To all this is added the fact, that a large part of humanity has not yet been reached by the good news of Jesus Christ. We also live in a time of crisis that touches different parts of our existence, not only the economy, finance, food safety, or environment, but also the deeper meaning of life and the fundamental values that animate it. Even human coexistence is marked by tensions and conflicts that cause insecurity and difficulty in finding the right path that leads to a stable peace. In this complex situation, where the horizon of the present and future seem covered by threatening clouds, it is necessary to proclaim with courage in all realities, the Gospel of Christ, which is a message of hope, reconciliation, communion and proclamation of God's closeness, of his mercy, his salvation; a proclamation that the power of God's love is able to overcome the darkness of evil and guide us on the path to goodness. Today, humankind needs o safe light that illuminates its path and this is only possible through an encounter with Christ. Let us bring to this world, through our testimony, with love, the hope given by faith! The Church's missionarity is not proselytizing, but rather the testimony of life that illuminates our path and brings us hope and love. The Church ‑ I repeat it once again‑ is not a charitable organization, a company or an NGO, but it is a community of people, animated by the Holy Spirit, who have experienced and are experiencing the amazement of the encounter with Jesus Christ and who are willing to share this experience of deep joy and the message of salvation that the Lord gave us. It is the Holy Spirit that guides the Church through this path.

5. I would like to encourage everyone, to become the messengers of the good news of Christ and I am grateful especially towards the missionaries, the fidei donum priests, the men and women of the different religious orders and the faithful laity ‑ more and more numerous ‑ who by accepting the Lord's call, leave their homeland to serve the Gospel in different lands and cultures. But I would also like to emphasize that these same young churches are engaging generously in sending missionaries to the Churches that are in difficulty ‑ and it is not uncommon that these Churches are of ancient Christianity.‑ thus bringing the freshness and enthusiasm with which they live their faith that renews life and gives hope. Living according to this universal freshness, while responding to the mandate of Jesus: "Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations' (Mt 28,19), is a richness for each particular Church and each community because sending missionaries is never a loss, but a gain. I appeal to all those who feel the call to respond generously to the Holy Spirit, according to your state of life, and do not be afraid to be generous with the Lord. I also invite Bishops, religious families, communities and all Christian groups to support, with foresight and careful discernment, the Ad Gentes missionary call and help the Churches that need priests, religious man and woman and laity, to strengthen the Christian community. And this should be an attention present also among the Churches that are part of the same Episcopal Conference or Region because it is important that the Churches richer in vocations help generously those that suffer because of their lack.

Together, I urge the missionaries, especially the fidei donum priests and laity, to live with joy their precious service in the Churches to which they are sent and to bring their joy and experience to the Churches from which they came, remembering how Paul and Barnabas at the end of their first missionary journey "gave an account of all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith to the gentiles" (Ads 14:27). They can become the path to a sort of "restitution" of faith, bringing the freshness of the young Churches so that the Churches of ancient Christianity rediscover the enthusiasm and the joy of sharing the faith, in an exchange of mutual enrichment through the journey towards the Lord.

The concern towards all Churches, that the Bishop of Rome shares with his brother Bishops, is an important commitment in the implementation of the Pontifical Mission Societies, which are meant to animate and deepen the missionary conscience of every baptized Christian and of every community, by reminding them of the need for a more profound missionary formation of the whole People of God and by nourishing the sensibility of the Christian community, in offering their help to encourage the spreading of the Gospel throughout the world.

Finally, my thoughts go to the Christians whom, in various parts of the world, find it difficult to profess their faith openly and seeing their right to live it with dignity recognized. They are our brothers and sisters, courageous witnesses‑even more numerous than our martyrs in the early centuries ‑ who endure with apostolic perseverance the many current forms of persecution. Quite a few also risk their lives to remain faithful to the Gospel of Christ. I wish to assure my closeness in prayer to individuals, families and communities who suffer violence and intolerance. I also wish to repeat to them, the following consoling words of Jesus: "be courageous: l have conquered the world" (J" 16:33).

     Benedict XVI exhorted: "Finally, brothers, pray for us that the Lord's message may spread quickly, and be received with honour as it was among you" (2 Thess 3:1). "May this Year of Faith increasingly strengthen our relationship with Christ the Lord, since only through him there is the certitude for looking to the future and the guarantee of an authentic and lasting love" (Porta fidei,15). This is my wish for World Mission Day this year. I would like to cordially bless the missionaries and all those who accompany and support this fundamental commitment of the Church, to proclaim the Gospel to all the corners of the earth, and we, as ministers and missionaries of the Gospel, will experience "the delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing" (Evangeli nuntiandi,80)

From the Vatican, May 19'", 2013, Solemnity of the Pentecost.