Faithful to your roots, you are called to witness the Risen Christ, Pope Francis encouraged African missionaries.
Pope Francis stressed this to participants in the General Chapter of the Society of African Missions, in Rome from April 30 to May 24, on the theme: “A Family Faithful to Its Missionary Charism in the Complex and Changing Context of Today.” The Pontiff received them today, May 17, in the Hall of the Consistory of the Apostolic Vatican Palace.
“I rejoice,” he continued, “also over your will to develop new forms of presence, in populations of African origin in other parts of the world, with special attention to migrants.”
These new pastoral horizons, the Holy Father said, show the vitality of the Holy Spirit, who, he said, remains in them and pushes them to respond to the ever new challenges to Church’s evangelical mission and to “reach all the peripheries that are in need of the light of the Gospel.”
Francis also thanked them for their “missionary zeal, permeated with courage, which leads you to go forth to offer all the life of Jesus Christ, sometimes risking your own,” in the footsteps of their Founding Fathers, the Servant of God Melchior de Marion Bresillac and Father Augustin Planque.
Father Pierluigi Maccalli, Kidnapped in Niger
The Holy Father prayed for their brother Father Pierluigi Maccalli, kidnapped for several months in Niger, assuring them of “the solicitude and attention of the Holy See in regard to this worrying situation.”
Expressing appreciation that their apostolic community forms a family, with the Missionary Sisters and the associated laymen, the Holy Father added: “It is a joyful, growing family, thanks to the numerous vocations in Africa and in Asia.”
“This family character is certainly a richness that you do well to underscore and develop,” he said.
Pope Francis concluded, entrusting their missionary family to the intercession of the Virgin Mary, asking her to sustain their efforts, blessing them and reminding them to pray for him.
Here is a translation of the Pope’s address, during the course of the meeting, to those present at the audience.
* * *
The Holy Father’s Address
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I welcome you, members of the Society of African Missions, on the occasion of your General Assembly being held in Rome. This meeting enables me to thank the Lord for the great work of evangelization that you carry forward in Africa, especially among the remotest rural populations, where the Christian community is still fragile or non-existent. I rejoice also over your will to develop new forms of presence, in populations of African origin in other parts of the world, with special attention to migrants.
These new pastoral horizons are the sign of the vitality of the Holy Spirit, who dwells in you and who pushes you to respond to the “ever new challenges of the Church’s evangelizing mission,” to “reach all the peripheries that are in need of the light of the Gospel” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 20). I thank you for your missionary zeal, permeated with courage, which leads you to go forth to offer all the life of Jesus Christ, sometimes risking your own, in the footsteps of your Founding Fathers, the Servant of God Melchior de Marion Bresillac and Father Augustin Planque. In this connection, I would like to associate myself to your prayer for your brother Father Pierluigi Maccalli, kidnapped for several months in Niger, and to assure you of the solicitude and attention of the Holy See in regard to this worrying situation.
This year you wished to highlight the fact that your apostolic community forms a family, with the Missionary Sisters and the associated laymen. <It is> a joyful, growing family, thanks to the numerous vocations in Africa and in Asia. This family character is certainly a richness that you do well to underscore and develop.
Evangelization, in fact, is always done by a community that acts “through works and gestures in the daily life of others, shortens the distances, lowers itself to humiliation if necessary, and assumes human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in the people” (Ibid., 24). I encourage you also to persevere in your commitment, in close collaboration with the members of other religions and institutions, at the service of children and of the most fragile persons, victims of wars, of sicknesses, of human trafficking, because the choice for the least, for those that society rejects and sets aside, is a sign that manifests concretely the presence and solicitude of the merciful Christ. Thus, driven by the Spirit, you can be servants of a culture of dialogue and of encounter, which takes care of the little ones and of the poor, to contribute to the advent of a true human fraternity.
Faithful to your roots, you are called, as a family and in as much as family to witness the Risen Christ through the love that unites you to one another, and with the radiant joy of a genuine fraternal life. Therefore, I invite you to seek constantly — in listening to the Word of God, in the sacramental life and in the service to brothers –, the means to renew in each one of you the personal encounter with Christ. In fact, “the first motivation to evangelize is the love of Jesus that we have received, the experience of being saved by Him, which drives us to love Him ever more. [. . .] Therefore, it’s urgent to recover a contemplative spirit, which enables you to rediscover every day that we are recipients of a good that humanizes, which helps to lead a new life” (Ibid., 264).
Dear brothers and sisters, I thank you once again for your visit, as well as for the witness you give. I encourage you to persevere, with ever renewed enthusiasm and dynamism, on the path followed by the Society of African Missions, which has produced so many fruits of conversion to Christ. In listening to the Spirit, do not be afraid of opening new ways, to manifest that “God is ever novelty, which drives us continually to begin again and to change places to go beyond what is known, towards the peripheries and the borders” (Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate, 135). With this hope, I entrust your missionary family to the intercession of the Virgin Mary, asking her to sustain your efforts. I bless you and pray for you. And you, please, don’t forget to pray for me.
[Original text: Italian] [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]