VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis delivered a strong call to Christians to share the faith in his message for World Mission Day, saying that, in today’s troubled world, “it is necessary to proclaim courageously and in every situation the Gospel of Christ.”
“In this complex situation, where the horizon of the present and future seems threatened by menacing clouds, it is necessary to proclaim courageously and in every situation the Gospel of Christ, a message of hope, reconciliation, communion, a proclamation of God's closeness, his mercy, his salvation, and a proclamation that the power of God’s love is able to overcome the darkness of evil and guide us on the path of goodness,” the Pope wrote in his first message for World Mission Sunday.
World Mission Sunday is celebrated Oct. 20, and the Pope pointed out that the close of the Year of Faith will only be weeks away when the day dedicated to missionary efforts is celebrated.
Click here to read Pope Francis’ full message for World Mission Sunday.
In that light, the Pope used his letter to offer five thoughts that covered faith, the necessity of sharing it, some roadblocks missionary efforts can encounter, and the importance of generously responding to the missionary call of the Holy Spirit.
The Gift of Faith
Francis began by focusing his first point on faith, which the Church has focused on since Benedict XVI initiated the Year of Faith on Oct. 11, 2012, and ends Nov. 24 in St. Peter’s Square.
“Faith is God’s precious gift,” Pope Francis wrote. It “opens our mind to know and love him. … Faith, however, needs to be accepted; it needs our personal response, the courage to entrust ourselves to God, to live his love and be grateful for his infinite mercy.”
Faith is also “a gift, not reserved for a few, but offered with generosity. Everyone should be able to experience the joy of being loved by God, the joy of salvation! It is a gift that one cannot keep to oneself, but it is to be shared. If we want to keep it only to ourselves, we will become isolated, sterile and sick Christians,” he said in his message.
On the other hand, a healthy and mature Church is one that engages in missionary outreach, he said, quoting from Benedict XVI.
Francis also returned to one of his signature themes: that of reaching out to those on the margins of society.
“Each community is ‘mature’ when it professes faith, celebrates it with joy during the liturgy, lives charity, proclaims the word of God endlessly, leaves one’s own to take it to the ‘peripheries,’ especially to those who have not yet had the opportunity to know Christ,” he asserted.
Reflections on Vatican II
Pope Francis then turned his thoughts to the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, which coincides with the Year of Faith.
“The Year of Faith, 50 years after the beginning of the Second Vatican Council, motivates the entire Church towards a renewed awareness of its presence in the contemporary world and its mission among peoples and nations,” he said.
“The Second Vatican Council,” the Pope stated, “emphasized in a special way how the missionary task, that of broadening the boundaries of faith, belongs to every baptized person and all Christian communities.”
As a way of practically applying that mandate, the Holy Father invited bishops, pastoral councils and “each person and group responsible in the Church to give a prominent position to this missionary dimension in formation and pastoral programs, in the understanding that their apostolic commitment is not complete unless it aims at bearing witness to Christ before the nations and before all peoples.”
Proposing, Not Imposing, the Faith
In his third point, Pope Francis offered a frank assessment of some of the internal and external obstacles that the work of evangelization encounters.
“Sometimes there is lack of fervor, joy, courage and hope in proclaiming the message of Christ to all and in helping the people of our time to (have) an encounter with him,” he wrote. “Sometimes, it is still thought, that proclaiming the truth of the Gospel means an assault on freedom.”
To counter that assertion, Francis turned to Pope Paul VI, who called it “an error to impose something on the consciences of our brethren. But to propose to their consciences the truth of the Gospel and salvation in Jesus Christ, with complete clarity and with total respect ... is a tribute to this freedom.”
Another pitfall that stands in the way of evangelizers, Francis said, is the temptation to proclaim Christ without his Church.
“Evangelization is not an isolated individual or private act; it is always ecclesial,” the Pope explained.
Unprecedented Mobility Brings Unique Challenges
Pope Francis dedicated his fourth reflection to how both the mobility of people and the ease of communication “have mingled people, knowledge, experience.”
“For work reasons,” he noted, “entire families move from one continent to another; professional and cultural exchanges, tourism and other phenomena have also led to great movements of peoples. This makes it difficult, even for the parish community, to know who lives permanently or temporarily in the area.”
This mobility means that people who would have previously been formed in the faith in one place are being missed, the Pope said, explaining that “the number of those who are unacquainted with the faith or indifferent to the religious dimension or are animated by other beliefs is increasing.”
All of these factors, Francis said, make a “New Evangelization” necessary.
The Holy Father also observed that we “live in a time of crisis that touches various sectors of existence, not only the economy, finance, food security or the environment, but also those involving the deeper meaning of life and the fundamental values that animate it.”
“The men and women of our time,” he said, “need the secure light that illuminates their path and that only the encounter with Christ can give.”
Missionary Spirit Needs Perseverance
At the same time, he clarified that the Church’s missionary spirit “is not about proselytizing, but the testimony of a life that illuminates the path, which brings hope and love. The Church — I repeat once again — is not a relief organization, an enterprise or an NGO [non-governmental organization], but a community of people, animated by the Holy Spirit, who have lived and are living the wonder of the encounter with Jesus Christ and want to share this experience of deep joy, the message of salvation that the Lord gave us.”
Pope Francis used his final section to thank all those who have spent time as missionaries or dedicated their lives to spreading the Gospel. He also thanked those bishops and religious communities that have sent priests to areas that are poor in vocations and encouraged their continued generosity. Sending missionaries, he wrote, “is never a loss, but a gain.”
Before closing his message, Pope Francis remembered those “Christians who, in various parts of the world, experience difficulty in openly professing their faith and in enjoying the legal right to practice it in a worthy manner.”
“They are our brothers and sisters, courageous witnesses — even more numerous than the martyrs of the early centuries — who endure with apostolic perseverance many contemporary forms of persecution. Quite a few also risk their lives to remain faithful to the Gospel of Christ,” he said. “I wish to reaffirm my closeness in prayer to individuals, families and communities who suffer violence and intolerance, and I repeat to them the consoling words of Jesus: ‘Take courage; I have overcome the world.’”