‘Every Christian is called to be a missionary, witness to Christ’
Pope Francis has charged missionaries to preach God’s words instead of preaching themselves. Dissuading them from self-promotion, the Holy Father stressed that their sole responsibility is simply “Presenting Christ in words and deeds.” His Holiness made this assertion in his message for the World Mission Day 2022 tagged, “You shall be my witnesses.” Pope Francis said, “The disciples are urged to live their personal lives in a missionary key: they are sent by Jesus to the world not only to carry out, but also and above all to live the mission entrusted to them; not only to bear witness, but also and above all to be witnesses of Christ. “The essence of the mission is to bear witness to Christ, that is, to his life, passion, death and resurrection for the love of the Father and of humanity. Christ, indeed Christ risen from the dead, is the One to whom we must testify and whose life we must share. “Missionaries of Christ are not sent to communicate themselves, to exhibit their persuasive qualities and abilities or their managerial skills. Instead, theirs is the supreme honour of presenting Christ in words and deeds, proclaiming to everyone the Good News of his salvation, as the first apostles did, with joy and boldness. He described the true witness as “the ‘martyr’, the one who gives his or her life for Christ, reciprocating the gift that He has made to us of Himself.” The World Mission Day, also known as World Mission Sunday was established by Pope Pius XI in 1926. It is usually observed on the third Sunday of October and was celebrated this year on Sunday, October 23.
This year’s theme is “You shall be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). The Pope portrayed Christ’s words in the Acts of the Apostles as “the heart of Jesus’ teaching to the disciples.” The papal message which was centred on three key foundations of the life and mission of every disciple – You shall be my witnesses;” “To the ends of the earth” and “You will receive power” from the Holy Spirit, emphasised that every member of the Church has a shared responsibility to witness to Christ. His Message read in parts, “Every Christian is called to be a missionary and witness to Christ. And the Church, the community of Christ’s disciples, has no other mission than that of bringing the Gospel to the entire world by bearing witness to Christ. To evangelise is the very identity of the Church.” Calling for a deeper look at the words, “You shall be my witnesses”, the Pope said the plural form of the verb emphasises the communitarian and ecclesial nature of the disciples’ missionary vocation. He further stated that all who are baptised are called to evangelise in such a manner that the mission is carried out in communion with the Church and not on “one’s own initiative.” In his words, “Each baptized person is called to mission, in the Church and by the mandate of the Church: Consequently, mission is carried out together, not individually, in communion with the ecclesial community, and not on one’s own initiative.
“Even in cases where an individual in some very particular situation carries out the evangelising mission alone, he must always do so in communion with the Church which commissioned him.” He called to mind St. Paul VI’s 1975 document, Evangelii Nuntiandi, which expatiated more on the Church’s stance on evangelisation. “Evangelisation is for no one individual and not an isolated act; it is one that is deeply ecclesial. “Indeed, it was no coincidence that the Lord Jesus sent his disciples out on mission in pairs; the witness of Christians to Christ is primarily communitarian in nature. Hence, in carrying out the mission, the presence of a community, regardless of its size, is of fundamental importance.” The Holy Pontiff urged missionaries to spread the words of God but also, “above all to live the mission entrusted to them; not only to bear witness, but also and above all to be witnesses of Christ. Describing the apostolic exhortation as “a document dear to my heart,” the Holy Father cited its much-quoted line that “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” He explained, “For this reason, the testimony of an authentic Christian life is fundamental for the transmission of the faith. On the other hand, the task of proclaiming Christ’s person and the message is equally necessary.” Pope Francis further wrote: “In evangelisation, then, the example of a Christian life and the proclamation of Christ are inseparable.
One is at the service of the other. They are the two lungs with which any community must breathe, if it is to be missionary. “This kind of complete, consistent, and joyful witness to Christ will surely be a force of attraction also for the growth of the Church in the third millennium.” His Holiness urged everyone to imitate the courage, frankness and parrhesía of the first Christians, in order to bear witness to Christ in word and deed in every area of life. Jesus sent and continues to send his disciples out to evangelise the whole world, the Pope said, and that has, and continues to involve bearing witness to Christ even amid persecution. “Due to religious persecution and situations of war and violence, many Christians are forced to flee from their homelands to other countries. We are grateful to these brothers and sisters who do not remain locked in their own suffering but bear witness to Christ and to the love of God in the countries that accept them. “More and more, we are seeing how the presence of faithful of various nationalities enriches the face of parishes and makes them more universal, more Catholic. Consequently, the pastoral care of migrants should be valued as an important missionary activity that can also help the local faithful to rediscover the joy of the Christian faith they have received,” he wrote Ascribing geographical and universal character to missionary work, the Pope added that the words “to the ends of the earth” should challenge the disciples of Jesus in every age and impel them to press beyond familiar places in bearing witness to him.
“According to him, for all the benefits of modern travel, there are still geographical areas in which missionary witnesses of Christ have not arrived to bring the Good News of his love. “No human reality is foreign to the concern of the disciples of Jesus in their mission. Christ’s Church will continue to “go forth” towards new geographical, social and existential horizons, towards “borderline” places and human situations, in order to bear witness to Christ and his love to men and women of every people, culture and social status.” He added, “In this sense, the mission will always be a missio ad gentes, as the Second Vatican Council taught. The Church must constantly keep pressing forward, beyond her own confines, in order to testify to all the love of Christ. “Here I would like to remember and express my gratitude for all those many missionaries who gave their lives in order to “press on” in incarnating Christ’s love towards all the brothers and sisters whom they met.” The Holy Pontiff further said the call to bear witness must be “strengthened and guided by the Spirit,” especially through prayer “when we feel tired, unmotivated or confused.” He implored all Christians to recognise the importance of the Holy Spirit’s work, dwell in His presence and receive his unfailing strength and guidance. His message read in parts, “Let me emphasise once again that prayer plays a fundamental role in the missionary life, for it allows us to be refreshed and strengthened by the Spirit as the inexhaustible divine source of renewed energy and joy in sharing Christ’s life with others. Receiving the joy of the Spirit is a grace.” He cited an excerpt of the Message to the Pontifical Mission Societies, 21 May 2020: “Moreover, it is the only force that enables us to preach the Gospel and to confess our faith in the Lord.”
The Pope proclaimed, “The Spirit, then, is the true protagonist of mission. It is He who gives us the right word, at the right time, and in the right way, the true protagonist of mission. It is He who gives us the right word, at the right time, and in the right way.” The Bishop of Rome disclosed that 2022 marks several significant missionary anniversaries. It is the fourth centenary of the founding of the Congregation de Propaganda Fide, which oversaw the dramatic expansion of the Catholic world following its foundation by Pope Gregory XV. Pope Francis recognised the French Bishop Charles de Forbin-Janson, who established the Association of the Holy Childhood to promote the mission among children, with the motto “Children evangelize children, children pray for children, children help children the world over”, and Jeanne Bigard, who inaugurated the Society of Saint Peter the Apostle for the support of seminarians and priests in mission lands.
”Those three Mission Societies were recognised as “Pontifical” exactly a hundred years ago. It was also under the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit that Blessed Paolo Manna, born 150 years ago, founded the present-day Pontifical Missionary Union, to raise awareness and encourage missionary spirit among priests, men and women religious and the whole people of God. Saint Paul VI himself was part of this latter Society, and confirmed its papal recognition. “I mention these four Pontifical Mission Societies for their great historical merits, but also to encourage you to rejoice with them, in this special year, for the activities they carry out in support of the mission of evangelization in the Church, both universal and local. It is my hope that the local Churches will find in these Societies a sure means for fostering the missionary spirit among the People of God,” he stated on a final note.