* * *
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I am particularly pleased to meet for the first time with you, national directors of the Pontifical Mission societies from around the world. I cordially greet Cardinal Fernando Filoni, and thank him for the service that he performs as Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of the Peoples, as well as for the words he addressed to me on your behalf. I extend my greetings to the Secretary, Msgr. Savio Hon Tai-Fai, to the Under-Secretary Protase Rugambwa, and to all collaborators of the Department and of the Pontifical Mission societies, priests, religious, and laypeople.
1. I would like to tell you that you are especially dear to me because you help me keep alive the activity of evangelisation, the paradigm of every work of the Church. In fact, the Bishop of Rome is called to be the Pastor not only of his particular Church, but also of all the churches, so that the Gospel may be announced to the ends of the earth. And in this task, the Pontifical Mission societies are a privileged instrument in the hands of the Pope, who is the principle and sign of the unity and universality of the Church (cf. Vatican Council II, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, 23). They’re called “Pontifical” because they are at the direct disposal of the Bishop of Rome, with the specific purpose of acting so that the precious gift of the Gospel may be offered to all. They are still necessary today – indeed, they are of the greatest moment – because there are so many people who have not yet known and met Christ, and it is urgent to find new forms and new ways for God’s grace to touch the heart of every man and every woman and bring them to Him. We all are simple tools, but important ones; we have received the gift of faith not to keep it hidden, but to spread it, so that it can illuminate the path of so many brothers and sisters.
2. Sure, it’s a difficult mission that lies ahead, but with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, it becomes an exciting mission. We all experience our poverty, our weakness in bringing to the world the precious treasure of the Gospel, but we must continually repeat the words of St. Paul: “We … carry this treasure in jars of clay to show that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). This is what must always give us courage: to know that the strength of the evangelization comes from God, belongs to Him. We are called to become even more open to the action of the Holy Spirit, to offer all of our willingness to be instruments of God’s mercy, his tenderness, his love for every man and every woman, especially for the poor, the excluded, the far off. And this, for every Christian, for the whole Church, is not an optional mission, but an essential one. As St. Paul said: “Proclaiming the Gospel is not for me a boast, but a duty: woe to me if I do not announce the Gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16). The salvation of God is for everyone!
3. To you, dear national directors, I repeat the call that Paul VI addressed to you, almost fifty years ago, to guard jealously the universal scope of the Missionary Works, “who have the honor, the responsibility, the duty to support the mission [to announce the Gospel], to administer the necessary aid» (Address to the Pontifical Mission societies, May 14, 1965: AAS 57 1965, 520). Do not tire of educating every Christian, from childhood, in a truly universal missionary spirit, and to sensitize the entire community to support and assist the missions according to the need of each (cf. Vatican Council II, Decr. Ad gentes, 38). Make sure that the Pontifical Mission societies continue, in the wake of their secular tradition, to animate and form Churches, opening them to a wide dimension of the mission to evangelize. Rightly are the Pontifical Mission societies placed under the care of bishops, to be “rooted in the life of the particular churches” (Statute of the Pontifical Mission societies, no. 17); but they have actually become a privileged instrument for educating individuals in the universal missionary spirit and in an ever-greater communion and collaboration among Churches for the proclamation of the Gospel to the world. Faced with the temptation of communities to close in on themselves, worried about their own problems, your job is to invoke the “missio ad gentes”, to testify prophetically that the life of the Church and of the Churches is the mission, and is the universal mission. The episcopal ministry and all the ministries are certainly for the growth of the Christian community, but they are also placed at the service of communion among the Churches for the mission of evangelization. In this context, I invite you to have a particular focus on the young Churches, which often operate in an atmosphere of difficulty, discrimination and persecution, so that they be supported and helped in witnessing with word and deed to the Gospels.
Dear brothers and sisters, in renewing my thanks to everyone, I encourage you to continue your commitment so that the local Churches, in an increasingly generous way, may assume their share of responsibility in the Church’s universal mission. Invoking Mary, Star of the Evangelization, I make my own the words of Pope Paul VI: “may the world of our time, which seeks now in anguish, now in hope, to receive the Good News not from sad and discouraged evangelizers, impatient and anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel, whose lives radiate fervor, who have first received in themselves the joy of Christ, and accept to put their own lives at stake so that the Kingdom may be preached and the Church be implanted in the heart of world» (Apost. exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi, 80).