VATICAN CITY, MAY 26, 2003 (Zenit.org).- To be a missionary among the poor means to witness to the closeness of Christ, says John Paul II.
The Pope made that point today when he received in audience the superiors of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, which is celebrating its 300th anniversary. The congregation was founded May 27, 1703, by Claude Poullart des Places (1679-1709), a priest from Rennes, France.
This religious family received a double heritage: “attention to the poor and the missionary service, namely, the proclamation of the Good News of Christ to all men,” the Holy Father said.
The congregation, which today has 3,052 religious, including 2,191 priests, has played an important role in the evangelization of Africa, the Antilles and South America.
In his address, given in French, the Pope encouraged the religious in their work with “those that the world rejects in marginalization, the poor, who are the immense majority of the inhabitants of some continents, and who also live in more-developed societies.”
“In this way, you will witness the closeness of Christ to them and you will make them hear the joy of his call,” he said.
During his meeting with the religious, who arrived with their Superior General, Father Pierre Schouver, John Paul II said that “the Holy Spirit is the one who builds the Church as a family. Make our contemporaries discover it through communal and fraternal love, strong sign of the evangelical life.”
The Congregation of the Holy Spirit also recognizes François Libermann (1802-1852) as a founder. The son of the rabbi of Saverne, he converted to Catholicism and founded the Society of the Holy Heart of Mary, to evangelize Africans and the freed slaves of Haiti and Reunion.
The group founded by Libermann had many vocations, but lacked juridical status; the congregation founded by Poullart des Places, existed officially but lacked vocations. The Society of the Holy Heart of Mary amalgamated with the Congregation of the Holy Spirit in 1848.