The proclamation of the Gospel is “something different from all political, cultural, psychological, or religious forms of proselytism.” Mission is a free gift of the Spirit, and cannot be entrusted to “training programs” or “ecclesiastical establishments” that “seem to be swallowed up by the obsession of promoting themselves and their own initiatives and advertising their own initiatives.” Pope Francis reflected on the foundations of the Christian mission in a message to the Pontifical Mission Societies (PMS), which were to meet in Rome for their annual General Assembly. The event was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Foundations of the mission The Pope recalled that the most central trait of the Church’s mission is that it is “the Holy Spirit and not the consequence of our ideas and projects.” Receiving the joy of the Spirit “is a grace” and is “the only force that enables us to preach the Gospel”. Salvation “is not the consequence of our missionary initiatives, nor of our talking about the incarnation of the Word.” Salvation “can take place only through the lens of an encounter with the one who calls us” and therefore is the result of an outburst of joy and gratitude. Proclaiming the Gospel means bearing witness to glory of the risen Christ.
Distinctive elements of mission
Citing his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, Pope Francis described the distinctive features of mission. First of all, attractiveness: The Church grows in the world through attraction and not proselytism. “If one follows Jesus, happy to be attracted by him, others will take notice. They may even be astonished.” Other characteristics are gratitude and gratuitousness, because “missionary fervor can never be obtained as a result of reasoning or calculation.” There is also no sense of obligation. Mission is “a reflection of gratitude.” Then there is humility. Since happiness and salvation “are not our own possessions” or a goal achieved by our merits, the Gospel of Christ “can only be proclaimed with humility”, without arrogance. Another feature of authentic mission is to facilitate, not to complicate. Mission does not add “unnecessary burdens” on people who are already worn out, nor does it impose “demanding programs of formation in order to enjoy what the Lord gives easily.” Three other distinctive traits of mission are proximity to life “in progress” – because mission means reaching people “right where they are and just how they are” – and the “sensus fidei” of the people of God, and special care for the little ones and the poor, which is not optional.
Talents to develop
Turning his attention to the future, Pope Francis recalled that the Pontifical Mission Societies “arose spontaneously, from missionary fervor expressed by the faith of the baptized.” He said there has always been a deep relationship with the sensus fidei of the people of God. The PMS have moved along the twin tracks, or channels, of prayer and charity. They have always been recognized by the Church of Rome. Their vocation has been one of service in support of particular Churches. The Pope said the PMS have become a network spread throughout the continents, adding that this plurality can serve as a safeguard against “ideological homogenization”.
Pitfalls to avoid Pope
Francis then lists some pitfalls that lie along the path of the Pontifical Mission Societies. The first, he said, is self-absorption, which carries the risk of self-promotion and advertising one’s own initiatives. Another is control anxiety: the desire to assume supremacy and control over the “very communities that ecclesial bodies are meant to serve.” Elitism also makes the list: the “unspoken notion of belonging to an aristocracy.” Isolation from the people should also be avoided. This leads missionaries to view the people of God as “an inert mass, always in need of being awakened and mobilized through a ‘consciousness-raising’ consisting in arguments, appeals, and teachings.” The Pope also listed abstraction and functionalism as potential dangers facing the PMS. He said these lead missionaries to imitate “secular models of worldly efficiency.”
Recommendations for the journey
Pope Francis went on to urge the Pontifical Mission Societies to “preserve or recover the role of the PMS as part of the larger people of God from which they arose.