VATICAN - Pope Francis to the Pontifical Mission Societies: the greatness of the Church is in martyrdom

Saturday, 25 May 2024

Vatican City (Agenzia Fides) - Even in our time there is "greatness of the Church in martyrdom", in the testimony of those who invoke the name of Jesus while being killed for his cause. This is what Pope Francis repeated in one of the many off-the-cuff passages in the speech he addressed to the national Directors of the Pontifical Mission Societies (PMS), gathered these days in Sacrofano (Rome) for their Annual Assembly, and received this morning in audience at the Apostolic Palace.
The mission of the Church and its pilgrimage throughout history are still marked by the experience of martyrdom. Pope Francis wanted to “give thanks to God for the testimony of martyrdom” given recently “by a group of Catholics from Congo and North Kivu. They were beheaded simply because they were Christians and did not want to convert to Islam", said the Pontiff. The Pope also spoke of the Christians massacred on a beach in Libya, "those Copts with their throats cut who, on their knees, said: 'Jesus, Jesus'."
In his speech to the national Directors of the PMS, Pope Francis took as his starting point the liturgical solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity - celebrated tomorrow, Sunday May 26 - to recall that the missionary work entrusted to the Church is not a self-referential activism, but springs from the very mystery of God, from the "divine mission" that in the mystery of the Holy Trinity "is offered, made a gift and totally consecrated to the realization of the salvation of humanity".
The traits that reveal the Trinitarian source of all authentic apostolic work - explained the Pontiff - are those of communion, creativity and tenacity. "Three key words that are topical for the Church due to her permanent state of mission and, even more so, for our Missionary Societies, which are now called to renew themselves for an ever more incisive and effective service", the Pontiff told the national Directors of the PMS.
Contemplating the mystery of the Trinity - the Pope continued regarding the first of the three “key words” in his speech – “we see that God is a communion of persons, he is a mystery of love. Indeed, the love with which God comes to seek us and save us - rooted in his being One and Triune - is also what establishes the missionary nature of the pilgrim Church on earth. For this reason, "the Christian mission does not consist in transmitting an abstract truth or a religious conviction, much less in proselytizing".
Regarding proselytism, in another “improvised” addition to the written text, Pope Francis recounted the anecdote of an encounter with a lady, a member of “an ultra-Catholic, very right-wing group”, who had approached him during a World Youth Day: "the lady was with a boy and a girl and she said to me: 'Your Holiness, I want to tell you that I converted these two!'
I converted them! "I looked her in the eyes - Pope Francis recounted - and I said to her: 'And who will convert you? This mission of conversion, there are religious groups which carry the catalog of conversions... ".
The call to communion - Pope Francis continued - "implies a synodal style: walking together, listening to each other, dialoguing, arguing together, but always in community. This broadens our hearts - the Pontiff added - and generates in us an increasingly universal vision, in line with what was emphasized at the founding of the Society of the Propagation of the Faith: we must not support this or that mission in particular, but all the missions in the world,” he added.
Likewise, “creativity” - the second word “given” by Pope Francis to the national Directors of the PMS - is not the frenzy of inventing things to keep oneself busy, but comes from being "rooted in the creative work of God, which makes all things new". This is why creativity in apostolic work "is linked to the freedom that God possesses and gives to us in Christ and in the Spirit. Indeed, where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom". Evangelical creativity, Pope Francis insisted, "comes from divine love. What gives us freedom is the Spirit. Let's read the first chapters of the Acts of the Apostles a little, there is creativity there, there is the Spirit. This is why - the Bishop of Rome remarked - "all missionary activity is creative to the extent that the charity of Christ is its origin, form and purpose. Thus, with inexhaustible imagination, creativity always generates new ways of evangelizing and serving our brothers, especially the poorest".
An expression of this charity - added the Pontiff, referring to the activities of the Pontifical Mission Societies - are also “the traditional collections destined for universal solidarity funds for the missions. And for this reason we must promote them, also looking for new ways to encourage the participation of people, groups and institutions that, in a spirit of gratitude for the graces received from the Lord, wish to support the many missionary realities of the Church".
Tenacity, the third word “delivered” by Pope Francis to the reflection of the PMS Assembly, in apostolic work also draws from the sources of the love of God and the mystery of the Trinity. It is a donated fidelity, a reflection of the "divine mission." For this reason - Pope Francis continued - recalling his message for World Mission Day 2024 - “the Church will continue to go beyond all borders, she will continue to go out again and again without growing tired or becoming discouraged in the face of difficulties and obstacles, to faithfully fulfill the mission received from the Lord".
Referring to the tenacity of the Gospel, the Pontiff added the already mentioned references to the experience of martyrdom that accompanies the path of the Church, and also to the characteristic of patience with which one must look at and embrace the weaknesses and falls of the brothers and sisters. "Please - said the Pope - let us be patient, let us take them by the hand and accompany them. Please do not be scandalized by these slip-ups. Everyone must say to themselves 'it can happen to me': you have to be very charitable, gentle and wait. One of the things that touches me about the Lord's heart is patience: he knows how to wait, he knows how to wait. Let us focus more on the positive aspects and, in this joy that is born from contemplating the work of God, we will also be able to face problematic situations with patience, so as not to remain prisoners of inactivity and the spirit of renunciation. Tenacious and persevering, move forward in the Lord! And with brothers and sisters who slip and fall, remember that only on one occasion is it allowed to look down on a person, only one: to help him or her get back up. Always do this gesture with brothers and sisters who have slipped". (GV) (Agenzia Fides, 25/5/2024)