Here we plish excerpts from Pope Benedict XVI’s message for the World Mission Sunday, which the Church celebrates on October 21st.
This year the celebration of World Mission Day has a very special meaning. The 50th anniversary of the conciliar decree Ad Gentes, the opening of the Year of Faith and the Synod of Bishops on the theme of the New Evangelization contribute to reaffirming the Church’s desire to engage with more courage and zeal in evangelization so that the Gospel reaches the ends of the earth.
The II Vatican Council, with the participation of Catholic Bishops from all corners of the earth, was a truly luminous universal sign of the Church, welcoming for the first time such a large number of Council Fathers from Asia, Africa, Latin America and Oceania.
Today this vision is still valid, indeed, it has experienced a fruitful theological and pastoral reflection and, at the same time, presents itself with renewed urgency because the number of those who do not know Christ has expanded.
In announcing the Year of Faith, I wrote that Christ “today as in the past, sends us through the highways of the world to proclaim his Gospel to all the peoples of the earth”; proclamation, which, even the Servant of God Paul VI in his apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi clearly expressed, “it is not an optional contribution for the Church: it is the duty incumbent on her by the command of the Lord Jesus, so that people can believe and be saved. This message is indeed necessary. It is unique. It cannot be replaced”. We then need to return to the same apostolic zeal of the early Christian communities, which, though small and defenceless, were able, through their witness and proclamation, to spread the Gospel throughout the then known world.
No wonder, therefore, that the II Vatican Council and the subsequent Magisterium of the Church insist in a very special way on the missionary mandate that Christ had entrusted to his disciples and that has to be the commitment of all the People of God, Bishops, priests, deacons, men and women religious, lay people. The care of proclaiming the Gospel in every corner of the world belongs to the Bishops first of all, directly responsible for the evangelization in the world, both as members of the College of Bishops and as pastors of particular Churches.
The mandate of preaching the Gospel, therefore, does not finish for a Pastor, in his attention towards the portion of the People of God entrusted to his pastoral care, or by sending a Fidei donum priest, man or woman religious or lay man or woman; it must involve all the activities of the particular Church, all her sectors, in short, her whole being and working..: all the components of the large mosaic of the church must feel strongly questioned the mandate of the Lord to preach the Gospel, so that Christ can be preached everywhere .
We must put ourselves in the footsteps of the Apostle Paul, who the Council clearly indicated it and the subsequent Magisterium reaffirmed it with force. This requires regular adjustments of lifestyles, pastoral planning and diocesan organization to this fundamental dimension of being Church, especially in our continuous changing world.
Even today, the mission ad Gentes must be the constant horizon and the paradigm of every ecclesial activity, because the identity of the Church herself is constituted by faith in the Mystery of God, who revealed himself in Christ to bring us salvation, and by the mission of witnessing and proclaiming Him to the world until He comes. Like St. Paul, we should to be attentive towards those who are far, to those who do not yet know Christ and have not yet experienced the paternity of God, in the awareness that “the missionary cooperation includes new forms-not only economic assistance, but also direct participation to evangelization”.
The passion to preach Christ urges us to also read history so as to scrutinize the problems, aspirations and the hopes of mankind, that Christ has to heal, purify, filling it with his presence. His Message is drawn into the heart of the history of the people and is able to meet the aspirations of each man/woman. This obliges us, first of all, to a more conscious and vigorous adherence of faith to the Gospel “especially at a time of profound change such as humanity is currently experiencing”.
The concern to evangelize must not remain on the margins of ecclesial activity and of the personal life of a Christian, but strongly characterized in the awareness of being receivers and, at the same time, missionaries of the Gospel. The core of the mission is always the same: the Kerigma of Christ dead and risen for the salvation of the world, the kerigma of God’s absolute and total love for every man and woman, manifested in sending the eternal and only Son, the Lord Jesus, who did not despise on accepting the poverty of our humanity, whom he loved and redeemed by offering himself on the cross from sin and death.
Faith in God in this project of love fulfilled in Christ is a gift and mystery which must be welcomed in the heart and life and for this we must thank the Lord. If it is a gift from God to be shared; it is a talent which must bear fruit; it is a light that should not be hidden, but must lighten the whole house. It is the most important gift we have and we cannot keep for ourselves.
Many priests, men and women religious, from every corner of the world, many lay people and even entire families leave their countries and their local communities and go to other churches to witness and proclaim the Name of Christ, in which only Humanity finds salvation. It is a profound expression of communion, sharing and charity among the Churches, so that every man and women may listen or re-listen to the saving proclamation and to get closer to the sacraments, source of true life.