By Robin Gomes
Pope Francis on Monday encouraged missionary congregations of Italian origin to keep alive in the people of God the awareness of being fundamentally "outgoing", that is, sent to bring to all nations the blessing of God who is Jesus Christ.
“May your Institutes collaborate more and more with the particular Churches in order to foster an increased awareness of the “missio ad gentes” (mission to other peoples) and take up again with renewed fervour the missionary transformation of the Church’s life and pastoral activity,” the Pope told some 70 men and women religious of the Comboni, Consolata, PIME and Xaverian congregations.
The heads of these congregations met the Pope on the eve of the Extraordinary Missionary Month of October 2019 that he instituted in October 2017, to commemorate 100 years of the Apostolic Letter “Maximum Illud” of Pope Benedict XV, that sought to give a new impetus to the Church’s missionary mandate of proclaiming the Gospel. The theme of the month is “Baptized and sent out”.
At a time when everything seemed to lead to the preservation of the existing, the Pope noted, their founders, on the contrary, became the protagonists of a new momentum towards the other and those far away. The Church exists on the road, he said. "On the couch, there is no Church."
Mysticism of total self-giving
The Pope said it is necessary to rediscover the mysticism of mission in all its fascinating beauty, and a thirst for communion with Christ through witness, which their founders experienced, leading them to give themselves totally. This mysticism, he said, always retains its extraordinary power.
The Holy Father said he was struck by their pledge of being missionaries “sent to other peoples, outside their country of origin, and for life” without any sense triumphalism but welcoming it as an opportunity for discernment, conversion and renewal.
The Pope thanked the missionary men and women congregations for their dedication to their vocation of “missio ad gentes”, which, he said, is inseparably ecclesial because it is rooted in baptism, and linked to their rich charisms that the Lord has called them to.
“Help to keep alive in the people of God the awareness of being fundamentally "outgoing", sent to bring to all nations the blessing of God who is Jesus Christ,” the Pope urged. By collaborating among themselves, he said, missionary congregations also help the people remember that mission is not the work of individuals, of "solitary champions", but is communitarian, fraternal and shared.
Mission - a two-way traffic
The Pope said that mission is not a “one-way” traffic from Europe to the rest of the world but thrives on exchange. Territories that once received missionaries are today producing the majority of priests and religious in the Church. This, he said, arouses a sense of gratitude towards the holy evangelizers who with great sacrifices sowed in those lands. It is also a challenge for communion and formation for the Churches and for congregations, trusting in the Holy Spirit who is Master in harmonizing differences.
In this regard, Pope Francis recalled that General Congregation of the Jesuits in 1974, where someone asked if they could have an Indian or an African as Jesuit general. But those days, the Pope pointed out, a general had to be a European. “Today many religious congregations have superiors general from those lands,” he said, noting there is a Latin American Jesuit general today. “The thing has been reversed: what in 1974 was utopia, is a reality today,” he said.
Joy of the Gospel
He told the men and women missionaries that by leaving behind their beloved native country they are proclaiming that with Christ there is always novelty in life, without boredom, fatigue or sadness. “The missionary needs the joy of the Gospel: without this one cannot be on a mission, one does not proclaim a Gospel that does not attract.” "This attraction, he stressed, is the heart of mission" because it is only Christ who attracts.