Vatican City, 3 December 2015 (VIS) – Pope Francis received in audience this morning the participants in the plenary assembly of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, which considered the “missio ad gentes” in the light of the Conciliar decree “Ad gentes” and St. John Paul II's encyclical “Redemptoris missio”. In his address to the 160 attendees in the Clementine Hall, the Holy Father referred to his recent apostolic trip to Africa, highlighting the spiritual and pastoral dynamism of the continent's many young Churches, as well as the grave difficulties experienced by a large part of the population.
“I saw that where there is the need, the Church is almost always present to heal the wounds of those most in need, in whom She recognises the afflicted and crucified body of the Lord Jesus. How many works of charity, of human promotion! How many anonymous good Samaritans work every day in the missions!
He emphasised that the Church, by nature evangelising, always starts by auto-evangelisation. “As the Lord Jesus' disciple, she listens to His Word and from this she draws the reasons for that hope that never disappoints, as it is based on the grace of the Holy Spirit. Only in this way is she able to conserve her freshness and apostolic zeal”. As affirmed in the Conciliar decree “Ad gentes”, “it is from the mission of the Son and the mission of the Holy Spirit that she draws her origin, in accordance with the decree of God the Father”. The Pope reiterated, “It is the Church that is at the service of the mission. … It is not the Church who makes the mission, but the mission that makes the Church. Therefore, the mission is not a tool, but rather a starting point and aim”.
In recent months, the Congregation has carried out a survey on the vitality of the young Churches to understand how to make the work of the missio ad gentes more effective, also in view of the ambiguity to which the experience of faith is sometimes exposed today. “The secularised world, indeed, even when it is welcoming towards the Gospel values of love, justice, peace and sobriety, does not show similar openness to the figure of Jesus; it considers Him neither the Messiah nor the Son of God. At most, it considers Him an enlightened man. It therefore separates the message from the Messenger, the gift from the Giver. In this situation of separation, the missio ad gentes serves as a motor and horizon for faith. … The mission, in fact, is a force capable of transforming the Church from within, before transforming the life of peoples and cultures. Each parish thus makes the style of the missio ad gentes its own. In this way, the Holy Spirit will transform those whose faith is based on habit alone into disciples, disaffected disciples into missionaries, bringing them out of their fears and isolation and projecting them in every direction, to the very limits of the world. May the kerygmatic approach to faith, so familiar in the young Churches, have space also for those of a more ancient tradition”.
The Pope recalled that neither Paul nor Barnabas had a missionary dicastery to support them, yet they announced the Word, bringing to life various communities and shedding their blood for the Gospel. “Over time complexities grew and the need arose for a special relationship between the more recently founded Churches and the universal Church. For this reason, four centuries ago, Pope Gregory XV instituted the Congregation 'De Propaganda Fide', which in 1967 changed its name to the 'Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples'. It is clear that in this phase of history, 'mere administration can no longer be enough. Throughout the world, let us be permanently in a state of mission'. … Going forth is innate in our Baptism, and its boundaries are those of the world. Therefore, continue to work so that the spirit of the missio ad gentes may inspire the journey of the Church, so that she may always know how to listen to the cry of the poor and the distant, to meet all and to announce the joy of the Gospel”.
Francis thanked the Congregation for its work in missionary inspiration and cooperation, remarking that “all Churches, if constricted to their own horizons, run the risk of atrophy. The Church lives and grows when outbound, taking the initiative” and going out to the people. “In many paths of the missio ad gentes, the dawn of a new day is already visible, as is shown by the fact that the young Churches know how to give, not only to receive. The first fruits are their willingness to grant their priests to sister Churches of the same nation, the same continent, or to serve Churches in need in other regions of the world. Cooperation is not only along the north-south axis. There is also a movement in the other direction, of giving back the good received from the first missionaries. These too are signs of maturity”.
The Pope concluded by asking all present to pray and work so that the Church may always follow the model of the Acts of the Apostles. “Let us be inspired by the strength of the Gospel and the Holy Spirit; let us come out of our narrow enclosures and emigrate from the territories where we are are at times tempted to close ourselves away”.