SPEECH OF THE HOLY FATHER FRANCIS
TO THE PARTICIPANTS IN THE GENERAL CHAPTER OF THE
PONTIFICAL INSTITUTE FOR FOREIGN MISSIONS (PIME)
Hall of the Consistory
Monday, May 20, 2019
Dear brothers and sisters,
I welcome you with joy at your Assembly. I thank the Superior General and cordially greet all of you, missionaries and missionaries.
With you I give thanks to the Lord for the long journey that your Institute has made in almost 170 years since its foundation, which took place in Milan, as a Seminar for Foreign Missions. We remember the protagonist of the beginning: Archbishop Angelo Ramazzotti, at the time Bishop of Pavia. He received a wish from Pope Pius IX and had the happy idea of involving the Bishops of Lombardy in the foundation, on the basis of the principle of co-responsibility of all the dioceses for spreading the Gospel to the peoples who do not yet know Jesus Christ. At that time it was a novelty, preceded only by the foundation of the Institute of Foreign Missions of Paris. Until then the missionary apostolate was totally in the hands of religious Orders and Congregations. With the Institutes of Paris and Milan it begins to be taken over by the particular Churches, which are committed to opening up to the whole world to send their priests beyond their borders.
Over the years, PIME has had its own independent path, and in part has developed like other religious congregations, without identifying with them. In fact, you do not take vows like the religious, but you consecrate yourself for the whole life to the missionary activity with a definitive promise.
Your first mission fields were in Oceania, India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Hong Kong and China. The seed hidden under the earth has produced so many fruits of new communities, of dioceses born from nothing, of priestly and religious vocations germinated for the service of the local Church. After the Second World War you have expanded your presence in Brazil and the Amazon, in the United States, in Japan, Guinea-Bissau, the Philippines, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Thailand, Cambodia, Papua New Guinea, Mexico, Algeria and Chad.
Your story is marked by a luminous trail of sanctity in so many of its members, in some officially recognized by the Church: we remember the martyrs Sant’Alberico Crescitelli, Blessed Giovanni Battista Mazzucconi, Blessed Mario Vergara; and the confessors Blessed Paolo Manna and Blessed Clemente Vismara. Among your missionaries there are 19 martyrs, who gave their lives for Jesus on behalf of their people, without reservation and without personal calculations. You are a "family of apostles", an international community of priests and lay people who live in communion of life and activity.
The words that St. Paul VI spoke in Manila in 1970 have a special echo for you and summarize the meaning of your life and your vocation. He said: "Yes, I feel the need to announce Jesus Christ, I cannot keep silent [...]. I must confess his name: Jesus is the Christ, Son of the living God [...]. I would no longer end up speaking of Him: He is the light, it is the truth, [...]; He is the Bread, the source of living water for our hunger and our thirst; He is the Shepherd, our guide, our example, our comfort, our brother ". Thus Paul VI. In fact, it is only from Christ that our life and our mission make sense, because "there is no true evangelization if the name, teaching, life, promises, the Kingdom, the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, Son of God, let them not be proclaimed "(Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, 22).
Evangelizing is the grace and vocation proper to your Institute, its deepest identity (see ibid., 14). This mission however - it is always good to emphasize - does not belong to you, because it springs from the grace of God. There is no school to become evangelizers; there is help, but it is another thing. It is a vocation that you have from God. Either you are an evangelizer or you are not, and if you have not received this grace, this vocation, you stay at home. It is a great thing that carries you forward. "The first word, the true initiative, the true activity, comes from God and only by entering into this divine initiative, only by imploring this divine initiative, can we also become - with Him and in Him - evangelizers" (Exhortation ap. Evangelii gaudium, 112).
This year 100 years have passed since the Apostolic Letter Maximum illud by Pope Benedict XV. As you know, to celebrate this anniversary I announced the Extraordinary Missionary Month, next October, with this theme: "Baptized and sent: the Church of Christ on a mission in the world". The aim of this initiative is "to reawaken awareness of the missio ad gentes and to resume the missionary transformation of life and pastoral care with new enthusiasm" (Letter of indiction, 22 October 2017). And you missionaries are the protagonists of this anniversary, so that it may be an opportunity to renew the ad gentes missionary zeal, so that your whole life, your plans, your work, your own structures draw from the mission and the proclamation of the Gospel lifeblood and renewal criteria. There is a danger that comes up again - it seemed to be out of date but to come back -: to confuse evangelization with proselytism. No. Evangelization is a testimony of Jesus Christ, dead and risen. It is He who attracts. This is why the Church grows by attraction and not by proselytism, as Benedict XVI had said. But this confusion arose somewhat from a political-economic conception of "evangelization", which is no longer evangelization. Then the presence, the concrete presence, so they ask you why you are so. And then you announce Jesus Christ. It is not looking for new partners for this "Catholic society", no, it is showing Jesus: that He shows himself in my person, in my behavior; and to open spaces with my life to Jesus. This is evangelization. And this is what your founders had in their hearts.
Precisely in the context of preparation for the Extraordinary Missionary Month, you have gathered here in Rome for your XV General Assembly, on the theme "Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel: people, places and ways of the mission for the PIME of today and tomorrow ". You are trying, as far as possible, to put the mission at the center, because it is precisely the missionary urgency that founded your Institute and continues to shape it. You are convinced of this, and you have chosen the expression of Saint Paul: "Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel" (1 Cor 9:16), as a guide and inspiration. The passion and urgency for the mission, which St. Paul feels as his own vocation, is what you want for all of you. Therefore, in the light of this Keyword, you have worked to understand again, in your Institute and in today's world, the mission ad gentes; to reaffirm the primacy of the one missionary vocation both for the laity and for priests; to choose the areas of the mission; to set vocation animation as a mission activity; to verify your being a community and rethink the organization of today's and tomorrow's PIME.
For this reason I say to you: "We are not afraid to undertake, with confidence in God and much courage, a missionary choice capable of transforming everything, so that customs, styles, schedules, language and every ecclesial structure become an adequate channel for 'evangelization of the current world' (Letter calling for the Extraordinary Missionary Month 2019).
Dear brothers and sisters, I thank you for this meeting and above all for your work in the service of the Gospel. May the Lord, through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, grant you to do it always with joy, even in toil. And on this I allow you to recommend the latest issues of Evangelii nuntiandi. You know that the Evangelii nuntiandi is the largest pastoral document of the post-Council period: it is still recent, it is still in force and has not lost strength. In the last few numbers, when he describes how to be an evangelizer, he speaks of the joy of evangelizing. When St. Paul VI talks about the sins of the evangelizer: the four or five last numbers. Read it well, thinking of the joy he recommends to us.
I bless you and pray for you. And you promised, at least the Superior General promised to pray for me. Do it, please. Thank you!
Text Source: Vatican.va - Unofficial Trans. - Image source: Vatican.va