Andrea Tornielli - Courtesy of Catholic Center for Studies and Media in Jordan

‘A Work That Is Not Our Own: the Sources of Mission,’ by Andrea Tornielli

With His Message to Pontifical Missionary Societies, Says Pope Puts on Guard Against Some Pathologies that Risk Distorting the Missionary Activity, Obscuring the Action of Grace

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BY ANDREA TORNIELLI, Vatican’s Editorial Director

[Translated by ZENIT]

Pope Francis’ Message to the Pontifical Missionary Works is a strong text, concrete in its pointers, which indicate the only real source of the Church’s missionary action and, at the same time, wishes to avoid calling by name, some pathologies that risk distorting the mission itself.

Francis explains that the mission is not the fruit of the implementation of “worldly systems and logics of militancy or of technical-professional competence,” but it is born of the “overflowing joy,“ which “the Lord gives us,” and which is the fruit of the Holy Spirit. This joy is a grace that no one can give alone. To be a missionary means to reverberate the great and unmerited gift that one has received, namely, to reflect the light of Another, as the moon does with the sun. “In every human situation, the witnesses are those that attest to what is accomplished by another. In this sense, and only in this sense can we be witnesses of Christ and of his Spirit,” writes the Pope. It is that mysterium lunae, dear to the Fathers of the Church of the first centuries, who had very clear that the Church lives instant after instant by the grace of Christ. As the moon, the Church also does not shine with her own light and when she looks too much at herself or trusts in her own capacities, she ends up being self-referential and no longer gives light to anyone.

The origin of this message is the content of the Exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium,” the text that traced the path of the present pontificate. Francis reminds that the proclamation of the Gospel and the Confession of the Christian faith are something other in respect to every political, cultural, psychological or religious proselytism. The Church grows in the world by attraction and “if Jesus is followed happy to be attracted by Him, others notice it and can marvel.”

Evident from this Message is the Pope’s attempt to stem that tendency to consider the mission as something elitist, to address and direct through desk programs, applying strategies that obtain a “realization” through reasoning, calls, militancy, training. It is also evident, from the pontifical text published today, that the Bishop of Rome considers this a present risk and, therefore, his words have a validity that goes well beyond the Pontifical Missionary Works, to which it is directed. To avoid self-reference, command anxiety, and the delegation of missionary activity to “a superior class of specialists, that consider the baptized people an inert mass to reanimate  and mobilize, Francis recalls some of the distinctive features of the Christian mission: gratitude and gratuitousness, humility, closeness to people’s life — where they are and how they are –, predilection for the little ones and for the poor.

[Full text of editorial was published today in Italian by the Holy See Press Office]
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Andrea Tornielli

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