missionary mandate the primary duty of every Christian
The Church does not work
"to extend her power or assert her dominion", but rather "to lead all
people to Christ" and to be "at the service of all humanity", the Holy
Father wrote in his Message to the faithful for the 83rd World Mission
Sunday, to be celebrated on 18 October . The following is a
translation of the Pope's Message, which was written in Italian and
dated 29 June 2009.
"The nations will walk in its light" (Rev 21 :24)
On this Sunday, dedicated to the missions, I turn first
of all to you, my brothers in the episcopal and the priestly ministry,
and then to you, my brothers and sisters, the whole People of God, to
encourage in each one of you a deeper awareness of Christ's missionary
mandate to "make disciples of all peoples" (Mt 28:19), in the footsteps
of Saint Paul, the Apostle of the nations.
"The nations will walk in
its light" (Rev 2 1:24) . The
goal of the Church's mission is to illumine all peoples with the light
of the Gospel as they journey through history towards God, so that in
him they may reach their full potential and fulfilment. We should have a
longing and a passion to illumine all peoples with the light of Christ
that shines on the face of the Church, so that all may be gathered into
the one human family, under God's loving fatherhood.
It is in this perspective
that the disciples of Christ spread throughout the world work, struggle
and groan under the burden of suffering, offering their very lives. I
strongly reiterate what was so frequently affirmed by my venerable
Predecessors: the Church works not to extend her power or assert her
dominion, but to lead all people to Christ, the salvation of the world.
We seek only to place ourselves at the service of all humanity,
especially the suffering and the excluded, because we believe that "the
effort to proclaim the Gospel to the people of today... is a service
rendered to the Christian community and also to the whole of humanity" (Evangelii
Nuntiandi, n. 1), which "has experienced marvellous
achievements but which seems to have lost its sense of ultimate
realities and of existence itself' (Redemptoris Missio, n.
I. All Peoples are
called to salvation
In truth, the whole of
humanity has the radical vocation to return to its source, to return to
God, since in him alone can it find fulfilment through the restoration
of all things in Christ. Dispersion, multiplicity, conflict and enmity
will be healed and reconciled through the blood of the Cross and led
back to unity.
This new beginning can
already be seen in the resurrection and exaltation of Christ, who draws
all things to himself, renewing them and enabling them to share in the
eternal joy of God. The future of the new creation is already shining in
our world and, despite contradictions and suffering, it enkindles hope
for new life. The Church's mission is to spread hope "contagiously"
among all peoples. This is why Christ calls, justifies, sanctifies and
sends his disciples to proclaim the Kingdom of God, so that all nations
may become the People of God. It is only in this mission that the true
journey of humanity is understood and attested. The universal mission
should become a fundamental constant in the life of the Church.
Proclamation of the Gospel must be for
us, as it was for the Apostle Paul, a primary and unavoidable duty.
2. The Pilgrim Church
The universal Church, which knows neither borders nor
frontiers, is aware of her responsibility to proclaim the Gospel to
entire peoples (cf. Evangelii Nuntiandi, n. 53). It is the
duty of the Church, called to be a seed of hope, to continue Christ's
service in the world. The measure of her mission and service is not
material or even spiritual needs limited to the sphere of temporal
existence, but instead, it is transcendent salvation, fulfilled in the
Kingdom of God (cf. Evangelii Nuntiandi, n. 27). This Kingdom,
although ultimately eschatological and not of this world (cf. Jn
18:36), is also in this world and within its history a force for
justice and peace, for true freedom and respect for the dignity of every
human person. The Church wishes to transform the world through the
proclamation of the Gospel of love, "that can always illuminate a world
grown dim and give us the courage needed to keep living and working...
and in this way... cause the light of God to enter into the world" (Deus
Caritas Est, n. 39). With this message I renew my invitation
to all the members and institutions of the Church to participate in this
mission and this service.
3. 'Missio ad gentes'
The mission of the Church,
therefore, is to call all peoples to the salvation accomplished by God
through his incarnate Son. It is therefore necessary to renew our
commitment to proclaiming the Gospel which is a leaven of freedom and
progress, brotherhood, unity and peace (cf. Ad Gentes, n.
8). I would "confirm once more that the task of evangelizing all
people constitutes the essential mission of the Church" (Evangelii
Nuntiandi, n. 14), a duty and a mission which the widespread
and profound changes in present-day society render ever more urgent. At
stake is the eternal salvation of persons, the goal and the fulfilment
of human history and the universe. Animated and inspired by the Apostle
of the nations, we must realize that God has many people in all the
cities visited by the apostles of today (cf. Acts 18:10). In fact "the
promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off,
every one whom the Lord our God calls to him" (Acts 2:39).
The whole Church must be
committed to the missio ad gentes, until the salvific sovereignty
of Christ is fully accomplished: "At present, it is true, we are not
able to see that all things are in subjection to him" (Heb 2:8).
4. Called to evangelize even through martyrdom
On this day dedicated to the missions, I recall in
prayer those who have consecrated their lives exclusively to the work of
evangelization. I mention especially the local Churches and the men and
women missionaries who bear witness to and spread the Kingdom of God in
situations of persecution, subjected to forms of oppression ranging from
social discrimination to prison, torture and death. Even today, not a
few are put to death for the sake of his "Name". The words of my
venerable Predecessor, Pope John Paul II, continue to speak powerfully
to us: "The Jubilee remembrance has presented us with a surprising
vista, showing us that our own time is particularly prolific in
witnesses, who in different ways were able to live the Gospel in the
midst of hostility and persecution, often to the point of the supreme
test of shedding their blood" (Novo Millennio Ineunte, n.
Participation in the
mission of Christ is also granted to those who preach the Gospel, for
whom is reserved the same destiny as their Master. "Remember the words I
said to you: A servant is not greater than his master. If they
persecuted me, they will persecute you too" (Jn 15:20). The Church walks
the same path and suffers the same destiny as Christ, since she acts not
on the basis of any human logic or relying on her own strength, but
instead she follows the way of the Cross, becoming, in filial obedience
to the Father, a witness and a travelling companion for all humanity.
I remind Churches of
ancient foundation and those that are more recent that the Lord has sent
them to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, and he has
called them to spread Christ, the Light of the nations, to the far
corners of the earth. They must make the Missio ad gentes a
I am grateful to the
Pontifical Mission Societies and I encourage them in their indispensable
service of promoting missionary animation and formation, as well as
channelling material help to young Churches. Through these Pontifical
Institutions, communion among the Churches is admirably achieved via the
exchange of gifts, reciprocal concern and shared missionary endeavours.
Missionary zeal has always
been a sign of the vitality of our Churches (cf. Redemptoris Missio,
n. 2). Nevertheless it must be reaffirmed that evangelization is
primarily the work of the Spirit; before being action, it is witness and
irradiation of the light of Christ (cf. Redemptoris Missio,
n. 26) on the part of the local Church, which sends men and women
beyond her frontiers as missionaries. I therefore ask all Catholics to
pray to the Holy Spirit for an increase in the Church's passion for her
mission to spread the Kingdom of God and to support missionaries and
Christian communities involved in mission, in the front line, often in
situations of hostility and persecution.
At the same time I ask
everyone, as a credible sign of communion among the Churches, to offer
financial assistance, especially in these times of crisis affecting all
humanity, to enable the young local Churches to illuminate the nations
with the Gospel of charity.
May we be guided in our
missionary activity by the Blessed Virgin Mary, Star of New
Evangelization, who brought Christ into the world to be the light of the
nations and to carry salvation "to the ends of the earth" (Acts 13:47).
To all I impart my
Blessing. From the Vatican, 29 June 2009