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Saturday, 7 October 2000


Here we are, the successors of the Apostles in the world, united in large numbers in this basilica, under the watchful and protective gaze of the Lord, our Kyrios-Pantocrator who talks to us in a direct way about mission in the Gospel. We find ourselves at the tomb of the Apostle to the Gentiles, the great missionary Paul who so eloquently speaks to us in the first reading. The solemn command of the Lord and the message of Paul combine to bring us to the very roots of mission. Let ourselves be enlightened and guided by the Word of God that is particularly significant in this year of the Great Jubilee.

To speak of Jubilee is to speak of mission. It means the anniversary of salvation, 2,000 years since the redemptive incarnation, since the birth of him who "for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven ... and became man", as we recite in the Profession of Faith. He was born, died, but he also rose and so is still as alive today as he was yesterday. His incarnation is not only an historic moment but is a permanent state in which he lives and works:  "the same today as he was and as he will be forever" (Heb 13: 8). The solemn command that he gave to the Church resonates today in this basilica, with the same strength, urgency and relevance as it had then on the Mount of Olives. Let us listen carefully.

1. At the source of mission

The source of mission is the triune God. Mission flows from the love of the Father who sends ("mittit" - send on mission) his Son by virtue of the Holy Spirit. The Son, in his turn, by the power of the Spirit, sends his Church on mission, to bring salvation to all peoples through communion with the trinitarian life:  the mission of the Church is the continuation of the mission of Jesus Christ. "As the Father sent me so am I sending ("mitto') you" (Jn 20: 21). The external phase of the mission of Jesus is in its turn preceded by and linked to the intimate life of God. In Jesus Christ there is the love of God that pours out ad extra into the hearts of people:  "God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life" (Jn 3: 16). The mission entrusted by the Father to Jesus Christ therefore has its continuity in the Church. It is always the same mission which by the working of the Son and the Holy Spirit is passed on to the Church of Christ as a task in function of the salvation of humankind.

2. The command

To continue his mission on earth for the benefit of all nations and all generations, Jesus gathered together in the Holy Spirit the community of his disciples, the Church, and before ascending to heaven entrusted to them his very mission. The solemn command of Jesus is like a passing over of power and of the missionary task to the Church, from God to humankind. This fact is worthy of great attention on our part because it contains a great dynamic thrust for the missionary activity of the Church.

Even the moment chosen for the command is important:  they seem to be the last words of the Lord on this earth before ascending to heaven. In Matthew the command begins with the solemn premise:  "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me" (Mt 28: 18); the authority or power is precisely that of the Son of God, exousia, which extends to the whole universe and even includes the heavens. It is the Lord, the Kyrios, who speaks to us with full authority. St Paul will use another term, every bit as expressive, for this "power" or "strength":  dynamis, "power of the resurrection". And it is in the strength of this power that Jesus sends out his Church:  "Go therefore ...", that "therefore" clearly indicating the continuity and foundation of mission in the name of God and with the authority that ultimately comes from God, and which should not be hindered by any human power; we could indeed speak of the "divine right" to evangelize.

Then follow the concrete contents of the command:  "Go therefore, make disciples of all the nations", teach all the peoples, without exception, without limits of time or history, without letting the inevitable obstacles and difficulties get us down. "Go" expresses the missionary dynamism that pushes outward, beyond one's own boundaries, beyond one's own Diocese. Teaching necessarily includes proclamation, catechesis and kerygma.

"Baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit", inserting them into the circuit of the vital divine sap that comes from the life of Jesus Christ, grafting them onto him as a new member of his Mystical Body which is the Church. Jesus therefore commands his disciples to bring the means of salvation to all peoples; to open everyone to the communion of divine trinitarian life; to establish the community of "disciples" ("make disciples") that are the Church (Mystical Body), into which they are inserted through Baptism.

"Teach them to observe all the commands I gave you":  evangelization necessarily includes the commandments, and in the first place the "new commandment" which is eminently missionary:  "By this love you have for one another everyone will know that you are my disciples" (Jn 13: 35). The transformation of individual and social customs, the penetration of the Gospel spirit and values (justice, peace, solidarity, pardon, freedom, equality, human rights) into social life is obviously included in the things commanded by the Lord. Mission fully respects the true "kingdom values" and the demands of inculturation.

"And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time". Jesus Christ, who has died and is risen, the Lord of the cosmos, of time and history, assures his active presence in missionary work until the end of time. The mission entrusted to him by the Father, and carried out by him in the power of the Spirit during his time on earth, is now entrusted to his disciples, to his Church, though it still continues to be his work. The Church therefore carries out this work, not as something autonomous in itself or that relies on its own strength; it is a divine-human activity that has the assurance of divine assistance.

3. Our mission "ad gentes'

Dear brothers, Bishops, successors of the Apostles, we have been and today are called again to carry on the same mission of Jesus Christ for the salvation of the world, "pro mundi vita - for the life of the world" (Jn 6: 51).

Certainly we have our own tasks and our own particular Churches. But the Second Vatican Council warns us that "all Bishops ... are consecrated not for one Diocese alone, but for the salvation of the whole world. The command of Jesus to preach the Gospel to every creature (Mk 16: 15) applies primarily and immediately to them ... by arousing, fostering and directing missionary work in his own Diocese ... the Bishop makes present and, as it were, visible the missionary spirit and zeal of the People of God, so that the whole Diocese becomes missionary" (Ad gentes, n. 38).

The Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium gets down to the concrete details when it says:  "[Individual Bishops] should help the missions by every means in their power, supplying both harvest workers and also spiritual and material aids" (n. 23). And the Encyclical Redemptoris missio gives a directive that does not allow for missionary animation to be limited to an ornamental type of folklore or to only one day in the year:  "Particular Churches should therefore make the promotion of the missions a key element in the normal pastoral activity of parishes, associations and groups, especially youth groups" (n. 83).

Each Bishop, therefore, should be personally involved in the mission ad gentes. As Paul, at whose tomb we are gathered, says:  "I have not hesitated to do anything that would be helpful to you..., urging both Jews and Greeks to turn to God and to believe in our Lord Jesus" (Acts 20: 20-21).

Dear brothers, if we are too accustomed to concentrating our attention on the needs of our own Diocese, on the shortage of priests and of the means at our disposal, now is the moment to open up our hearts to a more global vision, to renew the grace of our episcopal consecration, to commit ourselves decidedly to the mysterious work that Jesus Christ carries on in the world, as we enter the third millennium. Two-thirds of humanity are still waiting for Jesus Christ to reveal to them the love of the Father.

"The mission of Christ the Redeemer, which is entrusted to the Church, is still very far from completion ... and we must commit ourselves wholeheartedly to its service.... "Not that I boast of preaching the Gospel, since it is a duty which has been laid on me. Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel' (1 Cor 9: 16)" (Redemptoris missio, n. 1). Caritas Christi urget nos - it is the love of Christ that urges us forward!