VATICAN CITY, JAN. 25, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of Benedict XVI’s message for World Mission Day, which will be celebrated this Oct. 21. The text was released by the Vatican today.
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“Called to Make the Word of Truth Shine” (Apostolic Letter Porta fidei, 6)
Dear Brothers and Sisters!
The celebration of World Mission Day has an altogether particular meaning this year. The observance of the 50th anniversary of the Conciliar Decree Ad gentes, the opening of the Year of Faith and the Synod of Bishops on the subject of the New Evangelization concur in reaffirming the will of the Church to commit herself with greater boldness and ardor in the mission ad gentes, so that the Gospel will reach the ends of the earth.
The Ecumenical Second Vatican Council, with the participation of Catholic bishops from all corners of the earth, was a luminous sign of the universality of the Church, bringing together, for the first time, such a large number of Conciliar Fathers from Asia, Africa, Latin America and Oceania. Missionary bishops and native bishops, pastors of communities spread among non-Christian populations, who brought to the Conciliar sessions the image of a Church present in all the continents and who made themselves interpreters of the complex reality of the then so-called “Third World.” Rich in the experience stemming from being pastors of young churches in the process of formation and animated by passion for the spread of the Kingdom of God, they contributed in an important way to reaffirming the necessity and urgency of the evangelization ad gentes, and hence to put at the center of ecclesiology the missionary nature of the Church.
This vision has not diminished today, rather, it has gone through a profound theological and pastoral reflection and, at the same time, it is proposed again with renewed urgency because the number of those who still do not know Christ has grown. “The men who await Christ are still an immense number,” said Blessed John Paul II in the Encyclical Redemptoris missio on the permanent validity of the missionary mandate, and he added: “We cannot be at peace when thinking of the millions of our brothers and sisters, also redeemed by the Blood of Christ, who live in ignorance of the love of God” (n. 86). In convoking the Year of Faith, I also wrote that Christ “today as then, sends us to the paths of the world to proclaim his Gospel to all the peoples of the earth” (Apostolic Letter Porta fidei, 7); a proclamation that, as the Servant of God Paul VI also expressed, in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi, “is not an optional contribution for the Church: it is the duty that is incumbent upon her by the mandate of the Lord Jesus, so that men will be able to believe and be saved. Yes, this message is necessary. It is unique. It is irreplaceable” (n. 5). Hence we are in need of taking up again the same apostolic impetus of the first Christian communities, which, small and vulnerable, with their proclamation and witness, were able to spread the Gospel in the whole then-known world.
It is no wonder, therefore, that Vatican Council II and the successive Magisterium of the Church insist especially on the missionary mandate that Christ entrusted to his disciples, which must be the commitment of all the People of God: bishops; priests; deacons; men and women religious; and laity. The task of proclaiming the Gospel in every part of the earth corresponds primarily to bishops, directly responsible for the evangelization of the world, be it as members of the Episcopal College or as pastors of particular Churches. In fact, they “were consecrated not only for a diocese, but for the salvation of the whole world” (John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Redemptoris mission, 63), “messengers of faith who bring new disciples to Christ” (Ad gentes, 20) and render “visible the missionary spirit and ardor of the People of God, so that the whole diocese becomes missionary” (Ibid., 38).
The Priority of Evangelization
The mandate to preach the Gospel is not exhausted, therefore, by a Pastor in caring for that portion of the People of God entrusted to his pastoral care, or in the sending of a fidei donum priest, layman or laywoman. It should involve the whole activity of the particular Church, all her sectors, in short, all her being and action. Vatican II indicated this clearly and the successive Magisterium confirmed it forcefully. This requires the constant adaptation of lifestyles, pastoral plans and diocesan organization to this fundamental dimension of being Church, especially in our world in constant change. And this is also true for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and the Societies of Apostolic Life, as well as for the Ecclesial Movements: all the components of the great mosaic of the Church must feel strongly drawn in by the Lord’s mandate to preach the Gospel, so that Christ is proclaimed everywhere. We, Pastors, men and women religious and all the faithful in Christ, must follow in the footsteps of the Apostle Paul, who, “a prisoner for Christ on behalf of you Gentiles” (Ephesians 3:1), worked, suffered and fought to have the Gospel reach the Gentiles (cf. Ephesians 1:24-29), not sparing energy, time and means to make Christ’s Message known.
The mission ad gentes should be, also today, the constant horizon and paradigm of every ecclesial activity, because the very identity of the Church is constituted by faith in the Mystery of God, who revealed himself in Christ to bring us salvation, and by the mission to witness and proclaim him to the world, until his return. Like St. Paul, we should care for those who are far away, those who still do not know Christ and have not experienced God’s paternity, in the awareness that “the missionary cooperation must be extended today to new forms including not only economic aid but also direct participation in evangelization” (John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Redemptoris missio, 82). The celebration of the Year of Faith and of the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization will be propitious occasions to re-launch missionary cooperation, especially in this latter dimension.
Faith and Proclamation
The eagerness to proclaim Christ drives us also to read history to perceive the problems, aspirations and hopes of humanity that Christ must heal, purify and fill with his presence. His message, in fact, is always timely, it is set in the very heart of history and is able to answer the profoundest concerns of every man. Because of this, in all her components the Church must be aware that “the immense horizon of the ecclesial mission, the complexity of the present situation require a renewed modality today, to be able to communicate the Word of God effectively” (Benedict XVI, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini, 97). Above all, this calls for a renewed adherence of personal and community faith to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, “at a time of profound change as that which humanity is experiencing” (Apostolic Letter Porta fidei, 8).
One of the obstacles to the impetus of evangelization is, in fact, the crisis of faith, not only in the Western world, but in a good part of humanity, which nevertheless is hungry and thirsty for God and must be invited and led to the bread of life and the living water, as the Samaritan woman who went to Jacob’s well and talked with Christ.
As the Evangelist John recounts, this event of this woman is particularly significant (cf. John 4:1-30): she meets Jesus, who asks her for a drink, but then speaks to her about a new water, able to satiate thirst for ever. At first the woman does not understand, she remains at the material level, but slowly she is led by the Lord to undertake a path of faith that leads her to recognize him as the Messiah. And regarding this, Saint Augustine says: “after having received the Lord Christ in her heart, what else could [this woman] do but abandon her jar and run to proclaim the Good News?” (Homily, 15, 30). The meeting with Christ as
a living person who satiates the thirst of the heart cannot but lead to the desire to share with others the joy of this presence and to make it known so that all can experience it. It is necessary to renew the enthusiasm to communicate the faith so as to promote a New Evangelization of the communities and countries of ancient Christian tradition, which are losing their connection with God, in order to rediscover the joy of believing. The concern to evangelize must never be left on the margin of ecclesial activity and of the personal life of the Christian, but it must be strongly characterized, by the awareness of being recipients and, at the same time, missionaries of the Gospel. The main point of the proclamation is always the same: the Kerygma of the dead and risen Christ for the salvation of the world; the Kerygma of the absolute and total love of God for every man and every women, which culminated in the sending of the Eternal and Only-begotten Son, the Lord Jesus, who did not disdain to assume the poverty of our human nature, loving and rescuing it from sin and death by offering himself on the cross.
In this plan of love realized by Christ, faith in God is above all a gift and mystery to be received in the heart and in life and for which to be always grateful to the Lord. But faith is a gift that is given to us to be shared; it is a talent received so that it will bear fruit; it is a light that must not be kept hidden, but illumine the whole house. It is the most important gift that has been given to us in our lives and we cannot keep it for ourselves.
The Proclamation Becomes Charity
“Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” said the Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 9:16). This word resounds forcefully for every Christian and for every Christian community in all the Continents. Even for churches in mission territories, churches that are young in the main, of recent foundation, doing missionary activity has become a connatural dimension, even if they themselves are still in need of missionaries. So many priests, men and women religious, from every part of the world, numerous laymen and, in fact, whole families leave their countries, their local communities and go to other churches to witness and proclaim the Name of Christ, in whom humanity finds salvation. It is an expression of profound communion, sharing and charity between the churches, so that every man can hear and hear again the proclamation that heals and approach the Sacraments, sources of true life.
Together with this lofty sign of faith which is transformed into charity, I recall and thank the Pontifical Missionary Works, an instrument for cooperation in the universal mission of the Church in the world. Through their action the proclamation of the Gospel becomes also an intervention in aid of neighbors, justice for the poorest, possibility of instruction in the most isolated villages, medical care in remote places, emancipation from poverty, rehabilitation of the marginalized, support for the development of peoples, the overcoming of ethnic divisions, respect for life in every phase.
Dear brothers and sisters, I invoke upon the work of evangelization ad gentes, and in particular upon its workers, the effusion of the Holy Spirit, so that the Grace of God will make it advance more decisively in the history of the world. With Blessed John Henry Newman, I would like to pray: “O Lord, accompany your missionaries in the lands of evangelization, put the right words on their lips, make their toil fruitful.” May the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church and Star of Evangelization, accompany all missionaries of the Gospel.
From the Vatican, January 6, 2012, Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord.[Translation by ZENIT]