Pope Francis sends a message to the Pontifical Mission Societies, and urges them to avoid self-promotion and to thank God for the gift of being missionaries.
From Vatican News
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.”
He said they should immerse themselves in the real-life situations and “reintegrate the capillary effect of actions and contacts of the PMS within the greater network of Church institutions.” He asked the PMS to remain rooted in prayer and the gathering of resources for the mission, as they seek new missionary paths, all the while not complicating “what in reality is quite simple.”
The Pontifical Mission Societies "are and must be experienced as an instrument of service for the mission of the particular Churches.” Pope Francis said there is no need to theorize about super-strategies or mission “core guidelines”. The PMS must operate in contact with countless realities, without ever becoming sterilized in an exclusively bureaucratic-professional scope.
The Pope asked them to look outside, not in the mirror, and to lighten the structures instead of weighing them down.
Pope Francis also asked the Pontifical Mission Societies not to be transformed into an NGO devoted entirely to raising funds.
“If in some areas the collection of donations lessens, even because of the waning of Christian memory, the temptation may arise to resolve the problem ourselves by “covering up” the situation and gambling on some better fundraising system developed by groups specializing in large donors.” Rather, all the baptized should participate in the mission.
World Mission Day, which falls annually in October, is a good opportunity to achieve this goal. In using funds raised, said the Pope, the PMS should pay attention to “the most fundamental necessities of communities while at the same time avoiding a welfare culture.”
“As for the poor, you too must not forget them.” The PMS network, he said, reflect the rich variety of the “people with a thousand faces.” They, therefore, must not impose a specific cultural form along with the preaching of the Gospel. “Any attempt to standardize the form of our message may obscure the universality of the Christian faith, even promoting clichés and slogans fashionable in certain circles and in particular countries that are culturally and politically dominant.”
Finally, Pope Francis recalled that the Pontifical Mission Societies are not an autonomous entity in the Church. Their distinctive features are always cultivated and renews in the special bond uniting them with the Bishop of Rome.
The Pope concluded his message recalling the words of Saint Ignatius.
“Think about doing your work well, ‘as if everything depended on you, while knowing that everything in fact depends on God.’”