“For a changing world we need a Church renewed and transformed by contemplation and personal contact with Christ, by the power of the Spirit.”
This was the exhortation Pope Francis made today during an audience with the Pontifical Mission Societies. Those present included the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, the Society of St. Peter the Apostle, the Holy Childhood Association and the Missionary Union of Priests and Religious.
After welcoming the group, as well as Cardinal Fernando Filoni, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, the Holy Father stressed the fundamental importance of a “new season of evangelization.”
“The anxiety to evangelize at the ‘peripheries’, witnessed by holy and generous missionaries, helps all communities to realize an effective pastoral outreach , a renewal of structures and activities. Missionary activity is paradigmatic for all the Church’s activity,” he said.
Highlighting the need for a “thoroughly outgoing missionary Church”, the Pope said that in this moment of great social change, the Church must be capable of discernment “in order to engage with different cultures and visions of man.”
“The Spirit of Christ, is the source of renewal, which helps us to us find new ways, new creative methods, various forms of expression for the evangelization of the world today,” he said.
The Holy Father encouraged the members of the Pontifical Mission Societies in reaching especially those who are marginalized and in need of the “light of the Gospel.
“We cannot be held back by our weaknesses, or our sins, nor the many obstacles to the witness and proclamation of the Gospel,” he stressed. “It is the experience of the encounter with the Lord Jesus that motivates us and gives us the joy of proclaiming Him to all nations.”
The Missionary Nature of the Church
Pope Francis also conveyed the importance of placing charity at the forefront of the Church’s evangelization efforts. The Church, he said, must evangelize first to the least, to the poor and “those whose backs are bent under the weight and strain of life.”
“In so doing,” he continued, “the Church prolongs the mission of Christ himself, who ‘came so that they may have life and have it abundantly.’ The Church is the people of the Beatitudes, the home of the poor, the afflicted , the excluded and persecuted those who hunger and thirst for justice.”
“You are asked to work so that the ecclesial communities know how to welcome the poor with preferential love, keeping the doors of the church open so all may enter and find shelter.”
Pope Francis concluded his address by calling the Pontifical Mission Societies “a privileged instrument” that “reminds us of and cares for the missio ad gentes.” The Holy Father also encouraged them to share the missionary responsibility of the Church with patient perseverance.
“There is so much need of priests, consecrated persons and lay faithful who, gripped by the love of Christ, are set ablaze with passion for the Kingdom of God and willing to put themselves on the path of evangelization,” he said. (J.A.E.)