The congregation has three bishops, 694 priests, 51 lay brothers and 131 students. Their founder, Father Guido Maria Conforti (1865-1931), was beatified in 1996. In the past decade, several Xaverian Missionaries have been killed in Africa.
Father Benzoni, who spent seven years as a missionary in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and six years as an adviser in Rome, talked about the challenges he faces.
Q: What was the main topic of the general chapter?
Father Benzoni: We questioned ourselves about our mission, within the larger mission of the Church, in order to focus on the fundamental aspects, which for us are summarized in three Latin phrases: “ad gentes,” “ad extra” and “ad vitam.”
Ad gentes expresses the total and exclusive commitment of our institute to proclaiming the Gospel to peoples and places that do not know it.
Ad extra means that our mission is carried out outside of our environment, our culture, our Church, and our country of origin.
Ad vitam is a lifetime dedication to the mission, both in duration as well as intensity, to the point of martyrdom, if necessary.
Q: Missionaries often work in countries at war. In what way can they consciously become agents of peace?
Father Benzoni: The first agent of peace is the Gospel itself, to the degree that it penetrates — thanks also to the work of the missionaries of the whole Church — in the heart of the people.
Our first service to peace is the proclamation [of the Gospel]. Then, our most important contribution is, in the fact, sharing the life of the people, victims of war.<br>
We know that many times the people don´t flee precisely because they see the missionaries stay with them, they are on their side.
Q: Are there any countries at present where the Xaverians foresee giving way to a local, matured Church?
Father Benzoni: For the moment, we do not see any countries where we are, in which our missionary task has been exhausted. However, we always wonder in what way we can be present. Wherever the local Church is becoming more mature, we are called to go farther away, for example, leaving the already established missions to go to less evangelized areas.
Q: Does the laity have a new role?
Father Benzoni: The chapter addressed the topic of the Xaverian missionary laity. We have developed the concept of a laity that, although autonomous, sees in us greater possibilities for collaboration. This is a challenge and an opportunity for the mission itself, as well as for our institute.