Here is a ZENIT translation of Pope Francis’ address to those present at the plenary assembly of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples this morning in the Vatican:
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Dear Brother Bishops and Priests,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I receive you on the occasion of your plenary assembly, in which you focused on the Missio ad Gentes, in addition to offering precious indications for the future. As Cardinal Filoni said, I have just returned from my first Apostolic Journey to Africa, where I touched with my hand the spiritual and pastoral dynamism of so many young Churches of that continent, as well as the grave difficulties in which a good part of the population lives. I was able to see that, where there are needs, the presence of the Church is almost always there, ready to heal the wounds of the neediest, in whom she recognizes the wounded and crucified body of the Lord Jesus. How many works of charity and of human promotion ! How many anonymous Good Samaritans work every day in the missions!
Evangelizer by nature, the Church always begins by evangelizing herself. Disciple of the Lord Jesus, she listens to His Word, from which she draws the reasons for the hope that does not disappoint, because it is founded on the grace of the Holy Spirit (cf. Romans 5:5). Only in this way is she able to preserve her freshness and apostolic impetus. The Conciliar Decree Ad Gentes and the Encyclical Redemptoris Missio, on which you inspired this plenary, state that “it is from the mission of the Son and from the mission of the Holy Spirit that the Church, in keeping with God the Father’s plan, derives her origin” (Ad Gentes, 2). The mission does not respond, in the first place, to human initiatives; the protagonist is the Holy Spirit, it is His project (cf. Redemptoris Missio, 21). And the Church is servant of the mission. It is not the Church that makes the mission, but the mission that makes the Church. Therefore, the mission is not the instrument, but the point of departure and the end.
In the past months, your dicastery carried out an inquiry on the vitality of the young Churches, to understand how to render the work of the Missio ad Gentes more effective, also considering the ambiguity to which the experience of faith is exposed sometimes today. The secularized world, in fact, even when it is receptive of the evangelical values of love, of justice, of peace and of sobriety, does not show the same willingness to the person of Jesus: it does not regard Him as Messiah or Son of God. At most it considers Him an enlightened man. Therefore, it separates the message of the Messenger and the gift of the Donor. In this situation of detachment, the Missio ad Gentes acts as engine and horizon of the faith. It is vital that in the present moment “the Church succeed in proclaiming the Gospel to all, in all places, on all occasions, without delay, without repulsions and without fear” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 23). In fact, the mission is a force capable of transforming the interior of the Church herself even before the life of peoples and of cultures. Therefore, every parish should make its own the style of the Missio ad Gentes. In this way, the Holy Spirit will transform habitual faithful into disciples, disaffected disciples into missionaries, drawing them out of fears and closures and projecting them in every direction, to the ends of the earth (cf. Acts 1:8). May the kerigmatic approach to the faith, so familiar among the young Churches, also find space among those of ancient tradition.
Paul and Barnabas did not have a missionary Dicastery behind them. Yet, they proclaimed the Word, gave life to several communities and shed their blood for the Gospel. Over time, complexities grew, and the need for a special connection between the Churches of recent foundation and the universal Church. Therefore, four centuries ago, Pope Gregory XV instituted the Congregation De Propaganda Fide, which since 1967 assumed the name Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. It is evident that in this phase of history “a simple administration [of the existing reality] is not useful. Let us constitute ourselves in all the regions of the earth in a permanent state of mission” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 25): it is a paradigm. Saint John Paul II specified the way, affirming: “Every renewal in the Church must have the mission as its purpose so as not to fall prey to a sort of ecclesial introversion” (Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Oceania, 19). “To go” is inherent in Baptism, and its ends are those of the world. Therefore, continue to be committed so that the spirit of the Missio ad Gentes animates the path of the Church, and that she is always able to hear the cry of the poor and the estranged, to encounter all and to proclaim the joy of the Gospel.
I thank you for your work of missionary animation and cooperation, with which you remember all the Churches that, if constrained in their own horizons, run the danger of being atrophied and of dying out. The Church lives and grows by being “outgoing,” taking the initiative and making herself close. Therefore, you must encourage the communities to be generous even in moments of vocational crises. “The Mission, in fact, renews the Church, reinvigorates the faith and the Christian identity and gives new enthusiasm and motivations” (Redemptoris Missio. 2).
Visible already in many areas of the Mission ad Gentes is the dawn of a new day, as the fact demonstrates that the young Churches are able to give, not only receive. The first fruits are their willingness to give their priests to sister churches of the same nation, of the same continent, or to serve needy churches in other areas of the world. Cooperation is no longer along the north-south axis. There is also an inverse movement of restitution of the good received from the first missionaries. These are also signs of an attained maturity.
Brothers and sisters, let us pray and work so that the Church is ever more in keeping with the model of the Acts of the Apostles. Let us allow ourselves to be driven by the force of the Gospel and of the Holy Spirit; let us come out of our enclosures, let us emigrate from the territories in which we are sometimes tempted to close ourselves. Thus we will be able to walk and sow beyond, a little further. May Mary Most Holy, Mother of God, Saint Francis Xavier, today, and Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, Patrons of the Missions, illumine our steps in the service of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus. I accompany you with my blessing and, please, I ask you to pray for me. Thank you.[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]