SPEECH OF THE HOLY FATHER FRANCIS
TO THE DELEGATIONS OF ITALIAN MISSIONARY INSTITUTIONS
Monday, 30 September 2019
Dear brothers and sisters!
I am happy to meet you, and I am grateful to you for asking for this audience together, as specifically missionary religious institutes born in Italy. Thank you for the greeting and introduction. The fact of meeting on the eve of the Extraordinary Missionary Month I consider it providential, because it allows us to reflect together on the mission and, above all, to invoke God's grace on it.
First of all I feel the need to express gratitude to your Founders. In a troubled historical era - from the mid-nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century - the foundation of your religious families, with their generous openness to the world, was a sign of courage and trust in the Lord. When everything seemed to lead to the preservation of the existing, your Founders - but other figures could be added, such as Santa Cabrini - on the contrary were the protagonists of a new impetus towards the other and the distant. From conservation to momentum.
The missionary lives the courage of the Gospel without too many calculations, sometimes even going beyond common sense because he is driven by the trust placed exclusively in Jesus. There is a mystique of mission, a thirst for communion with Christ through the testimony that your Founders and your Foundresses lived, and pushed them to give themselves totally. It is necessary to rediscover this mystique in all its fascinating beauty, because it preserves its extraordinary strength for all time. As Saint Paul says: "The love of Christ indeed possesses us; and we know well that one has died for all "(2 Cor 5.14).
Also in this, the Virgin Mary is a teacher: she who, immediately after having conceived Jesus, left in a hurry to go and help her cousin; and so he brought Jesus into that house, into that family, and at the same time brought it to the people of Israel and brought it to the world. Mary leaves because she is inhabited by Christ and by his Spirit. This is why you too leave because they are inhabited by Christ and his Spirit. There is no other reason but the Risen Christ to decide to leave, to leave the dearest affections, one's country, one's friends, one's culture. It is beautiful to hear in your words this passion for Christ and for his Kingdom; as in the memorable speech of Paul VI in Manila that you mention in your Document.
Then, on this basis, your confirmation of the dedication to the mission ad gentes is well founded. I thank you for the clear witness you give of your vocation, which is inseparably ecclesial and charismatic. Ecclesial in the fund, rooted in Baptism, and at the same time linked to the charism towards which the Lord has attracted you and in which your life has taken shape.
I was struck by hearing you repeat without hesitation: "We are missionaries and missionaries ad gentes ... ad extra ... ad vitam". And don't say it as a slogan - this would be dangerous! -, but with the necessary motivations and specifications. You say it without triumphalism or a sense of challenge, indeed, in the awareness of the current crisis, accepted as an opportunity for discernment, conversion and renewal.
With the consecration to the mission ad gentes, you make your specific contribution to the evangelization commitment of the whole Church. With the richness of the charisms of your Institutes - which means hearts, faces, stories and even the blood of missionaries and missionaries - you interpret the message of Evangelii nuntiandi of St. Paul VI, that of Redemptoris missio of St. John Paul II, and that of Evangelii gaudium. And with this hermeneutic incarnated in your life and in your communities you enrich the feeling and the walking of the Church.
Help keep the people of God alive in the awareness of being constitutively "outgoing", sent to bring to all people the blessing of God who is Jesus Christ. And also help him to remember that the mission is not an individual work, of "solitary champions", but is communal, fraternal, shared. In this sense, collaboration between your Institutes is an added value: go on like this!
Another typical contribution that you offer to the Church is to show that the mission is not "one way" - from Europe to the rest of the world: these are the traces of the old colonialism - but it lives on an interchange that is now evident but must be grasped as a value, a sign of the times. Today most priestly and religious vocations arise in territories that previously only received missionaries. This fact, on the one hand, increases in us the sense of gratitude towards the holy evangelizers who have sown with great sacrifices in those lands; and on the other hand it constitutes a challenge for the Churches and for the Institutes: a challenge for communion and for formation. But a challenge to be accepted without fear, with confidence in the Holy Spirit who is Master in harmonizing diversity. I remember, in our 32nd General Congregation - I am talking about 1974 - I remember that there was talk of the Society of Jesus in several places, and someone said: "Perhaps we will have an Indian superior, or an African superior ...". At that time it was strange. All [superiors] had to be Europeans. And today how many, how many religious congregations have superiors and generals who come from those lands! We too today have a Latin American, as superior general. The matter has been reversed: what was a utopia in '74, today is reality.
Dear brothers and sisters, starting from your beloved country is a sign that restores strength and courage to your communities of origin. With your departure you continue to say: with Christ there is no boredom, tiredness and sadness, because He is the continuous novelty of our life. The missionary needs the joy of the Gospel: without it there is no mission, a gospel is announced which does not attract. And the core of the mission is this attraction of Christ: it is the only one that attracts. The men and women of today, in Italy and in the world, need to see people who have in their hearts the joy of the Risen One, who have been attracted to the Lord. This witness, visible in dialogue, in mutual charity, in mutual acceptance and sharing, says the beauty of the Gospel, attracts to the joy of believing in Jesus and anchoring oneself to him. It is Jesus himself who attracts us. And he! This joy, this beauty of the Gospel always find space in your heart, in your gestures, in your words, in the way you live relationships.
The announcement of the beauty, joy and novelty of the Gospel is explicit and implicit, it touches all the situations of human adventure. Do not be afraid to witness to Jesus even when it is inconvenient or inconvenient. To witness it with all life, not with entrepreneurial methodologies that respond more to a spirit of proselytism than to a true evangelization. Do not forget that the protagonist of evangelization is the Holy Spirit. He, the Lord, will know how to find ways to make that little seed take root, its name pronounced in love by a missionary or a missionary, and gradually transform it into a plant of solid faith in whose shade many will be able to rest. The buried seed ... I am reminded of something that Cardinal Hummes told me: he is "retired" but he is the one in charge of the Brazilian Episcopate for the whole Amazon region, and when he goes to a village, in a town, one of the first things he does is go to the cemetery, to see the graves of missionaries and missionaries. He told me this and then added: "All those deserve to be canonized, for the seed they threw there". A nice thought.The Italian Church also needs you, your testimony, your enthusiasm and your courage to take new paths to proclaim the Gospel. He needs to realize that the distant gentes have now come to live in our countries, they are the strangers next door. Even the Italians next door, our fellow citizens. It is necessary to rediscover the fascinating adventure of getting close, of becoming friends, of welcoming oneself and helping oneself. This attitude concerns everyone: priests, consecrated persons and lay faithful. The theme of the October 2019 extraordinary missionary is "Baptized and sent", chosen precisely to remember that the intrinsic nature of the Church is missionary. The Church exists on the way; there is no church on the sofa.
May your Institutes collaborate more and more with the particular Churches "in order to arouse more awareness of the missio ad gentes and to resume the missionary transformation of life and pastoral care with new enthusiasm" (Letter of announcement of the extraordinary missionary month 2019). I accompany you with my prayer and I cordially bless you. And you, please, don't forget to pray for me. Thanks.
Full Text + Image Source: Vatican.va - Unofficial Translation from Italian