VATICAN CITY — All Christians, and not just those who take vows, should become a missionary, John Paul II said.

“Jesus calls us and sends us as he did with the apostles,” the Pope told more than 100 national directors of pontifical missionary works meeting in Rome May 3-11.

God does not choose missionaries “on the basis of our merits or our works; rather, he supports us and fortifies us with his Spirit,” the Pope told the directors during a May 11 audience at the Vatican.

“Only ‘armed’ with his grace can we bring the good news to the ends of the earth. Difficulties and obstacles will not stop us because the heavenly Father's love for all humanity will be our continuing support,” the Pope said.

Pope John Paul said the pontifical missionary works, which include the Holy Childhood Association and the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, must inspire more Catholics to dedicate their lives to the missions.

The “invincible passion for Christ” which hundreds of missionaries have demonstrated to the point of risking and losing their lives is “a unique and eloquent witness for men and women of our age,” he said.

Cardinal Jozef Tomko, the recently retired prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, earlier told the directors that the number of lands and peoples in need of evangelization is growing, not shrinking.

“Today, out of 6.1 billion people in the world, Christians are only 2 billion and Catholics just over 1 billion,” he said. “But the non-Christian population is growing more than the Christian population is today.”

In addition, he said, countries once solidly Christian are not only welcoming a growing number of non-Christian immigrants, their populations are becoming “paganized in a frightening way.”

“This is why the Pope talks about ‘new evangelization,’ which should be understood in this way: new energy, new methods, a new commitment to vocations and a greater Christian animation of families,” he said.

Msgr. Bernard A. Prince, secretary-general of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, said the number of requests for help from Catholics in missionary territories continues to outpace the collection from Mission Sunday and other donations.

Although in many poor countries’ donations in local currency increased in 1999, he said, many currencies’ weakness in relation to the dollar meant a decrease of $4.3 million available for distribution in 2000.

Still, he said, the society was able to distribute almost $122 million in 2000, most of which was used for “pastoral projects in the strict sense,” including training and support of catechists, building Churches and chapels and providing pastoral services.

The society also supports retired bishops in missionary territories and helps offset the costs of running Vatican embassies in those nations, he said.

(From combined wire service reports)