Vatican City (Agenzia Fides) - "The heart of the Pontifical Mission Societies beats where the heart of the Church beats": with this expression Archbishop Giampietro Dal Toso, President of the Pontifical Mission Societies (PMS) and Adjunct Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, comments the message that Pope Francis wanted to deliver to the Pontifical Mission Societies (see Fides 22/5/2020), in an interview with Agenzia Fides. The message was received by the PMS "with amazement and gratitude", as an appeal that "wants to help the Societies to renew themselves, rediscovering the original lifeblood". "The Pope invites the PMS to live the originality of their charism, for a truly missionary Church ", observes Mgr. Dal Toso. Here is the full text of the interview to Fides:
How did the PMS welcome the Pope's message?
With amazement and gratitude. I was happy when I learned of the Pope's intention to send a message to the Pontifical Mission Societies. Moreover, as he himself wrote, his desire was to visit us during our General Assembly, which was to be held in these days, but unfortunately it was suspended due to the pandemic in progress. I read all of this first of all as a sign of special attention to this institution which has nearly 200 years of history and which has done so much good to the Church: without the PMS the evangelizing mission of the Church, especially in the last hundred years, would not have brought the fruits that we now see. For me, therefore, the Pope's Message is a reason for gratitude and, at the same time, for reflection on the challenges that we face and that the Pope has appropriately indicated. Let's not forget that the PMS are a universal network, with approx. 120 national directions and those in charge in each diocese.
The Message touches the identity and nature of the Societies: how can it help to renew the mission?
Pope Francis often says that without roots there are no fruits. The purpose of the Message is exactly to help the Societies to renew themselves, rediscovering the original lifeblood. In his speeches to the PMS in 2017 and 2018, the Pope spoke of the need for this renewal. Why? Because the world and the Church of today are no longer those of 50 years ago and therefore this also poses us in front of the question: how to speak to the Christian of today and how to decline the mission in today's world? We all know that the missionary paradigm is no longer necessarily that from north to south, but rather that of a Church communion that mutually supports itself in the mission, sharing what we have. The problem is not - and the Pope says it precisely in reference to the charism - that of changing identity, but rather of responding, with the charism, to the needs of the Church and of today's world. I have repeatedly said in my meetings that, if Pope Francis asks for a missionary Church, then we too must ask ourselves how our charism, which is a missionary charism, can help the Church in missionary conversion.
In your opinion, what are the qualifying points of the text?
I believe the question of faith is central: I am very heartened and encouraged by the fact that the Pope has placed the charism in the context of the mission, and the mission in its reference to Christ, and therefore to faith. Mission exists because of faith as personal adherence to Christ, both of the missionary and of the person who receives the proclamation of faith. In this sense, the institution makes sense in favoring this fundamental movement from Christ to man and vice versa. The Pope starts from this consideration and therefore I consider this the fulcrum of the Message. Then of course there are many other aspects of inspiration for us: the action of the Holy Spirit, the rediscovery of the original charism with an emphasis on prayer and charity; support for the local Church; the characteristic of this charism of being lived by the simple faithful and therefore the participation of the baptized in the mission of the Church; the specific link with the Petrine ministry, of which we are an instrument.
How do you think the "pitfalls" mentioned can be avoided?
There will always be pitfalls and the Pope encourages us to face them, like any good father with a son. Unfortunately, I must also recognize that the PMS is only often considered for its financial aspect. But the Pope recalls that the charism and the institution belong to each other mutually, and there is always a need to resume the freshness of the charism for the institution to maintain its fundamental function of protecting it and making its missionary fruitfulness permanent. The ongoing renewal, for which Pope Francis gives us valuable advice, expresses exactly our desire not to lose the originality of the charism itself and to live it today. To be more concrete, the PMS have been going through a reflection at different levels, international, national and diocesan, for a year now, just to understand where to place the renewal and how to apply it. I believe that the path indicated by Pope Francis, that is, on the one hand attention to pitfalls, and on the other the advice for the journey, are the paths on which renewal can proceed safely.
What path will the PMS follow in the future?
The aim of the PMS has always been to help everyone live a missionary and universal faith. In 2022 we will be 200 years old and in these days we have received the good news that the miracle of the foundress of the first Society, Pauline Jaricot, has been recognized, which has given a founding structure to all our activity. So there is already a path outlined. Let us just think about what the celebration of World Mission Day means, which, since 1926, wants to involve all the parishes in the world in missionary animation. I think of the many sick people who offer their suffering for the mission in those countries where the PMS work with the sick. Let's think about the financial help that we continue to offer, thanks to the sharing of many, and for which I give some examples referring to 2019: for each of the almost 25,000 major seminarians of mission countries (Asia, Africa, Oceania and, in part, Latin America) we make a contribution of 450 US dollars , which in some countries covers almost the entire annual cost of formation; each ecclesiastical district of the mission Countries receives a contribution for ordinary expenses for a total amount of more than 27 million US dollars; we funded school education projects for about 7 million US dollars. I also think about the fact that every year we contribute with more than 11 million dollars to the formation and sustenance of lay catechists, who in mission territories are fundamental animators of the Christian communities. At the moment we are helping many dioceses left without support because of Covid-19. This commitment, material and spiritual, must continue, also because it is the local Churches who ask us, but in that spirit that the Pope has emphasized: the heart of the mission is to awaken faith in the communion of charity. And I would like to add that this cannot be an effort carried out by the PMS alone. This is a criterion on which we are called to measure all our ecclesial action. And the heart of the PMS beats where the heart of the Church beats.
(Agenzia Fides, 28/5/2020)