By Linda Bordoni
The some 6.000 volunteers who were welcomed by Pope Francis in the Paul VI Hall were accompanied by 90-year-old Fr. Piergiorgio Perini, an Italian parish priest who founded the “Parish System of Evangelization Cells” in 1987, after a similar model that operated in the United States.
The system has adopted a method of evangelization that operates in small groups that meet weekly in homes. According to its mission statement, with the help of their “cells”, parish priests are able to educate their parishes in evangelization and to continue their ordinary pastoral ministry while also giving it a missionary quality. The System’s Statute has been formally recognized by the Church.
6000 volunteers from the five continents
Praising the tireless work of evangelization that the “Cells” have been carrying out for decades, the Pope said that "it is only human, that after so much work, we also want to see the fruit of our commitment”. Yet, he noted, “the Gospel pushes us in a different direction".
He reminded those present that Jesus told his disciples that following him does not automatically provide personal rewards.
"When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do,” the Pope said quoting the Gospel of Luke, but he continued, “if our efforts to proclaim the Gospel are total and we are always ready, then the perspective changes”.
“If we are faithful and vigilant, then He allows us to see also the fruits of our work,” he said.
The Pope recalled the history of the Parish System of Evangelization Cells which began with a nucleus of a mere 40 persons and that today counts thousands of members. He said its work has indeed been fruitful as witnessed by “the multiplication of the cells that are now present in many parts of the world”.
“Never tire of following the paths that the Spirit of the Risen Lord sets before you,” he said, “Do not be afraid of the new, and do not allow inevitable difficulties to slow down your pace on the path of evangelization: when you are a missionary disciple, enthusiasm can never fail!”
Listening to the Word and Celebrating the Mystery of Christ
The Pope urged those present to feel the strength of community in moments of fatigue, loneliness and difficulty.
He exhorted them to revive the community life of parishes, striving to always make sure they are places in which to listen to the Word of God and to celebrate the mystery of His death and resurrection.
He lamented the fact that “for many reasons, many have moved away from our parishes,” and said that it is urgent to re-ignite the need for encounter in order to reach people where they live and work.
“If we have encountered Christ in our lives, then we cannot keep him only for ourselves. It is crucial that we share this experience with others as well; this is the main road of evangelization,” he said.
Witnesses of mercy towards the smallest and the least
Pope Francis wrapped up his address referring again to a parable in the Gospel of Luke in which Jesus, who was standing on the shore of a lake, saw Peter, Andrew, James and John who were pulling up their fishing nets, and said: “he looked at them and transformed their lives”.
The same thing happens today, the Pope said: “when encounter is the fruit of Christian love it changes lives because it reaches the hearts of people and touches them.”
“May your proclamation be a witness of mercy, with which to make it clear that whatever is done for one of these least brothers is done for Jesus himself,” he concluded.