CONGREGATION FOR THE EVANGELIZATION OF PEOPLES
PRESENTATION OF THE POPE'S MESSAGE
INTERVENTION BY HIS EMINENCE
Dear Representatives of the Mass Media,
On behalf of the entire Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, represented here by Archbishop Robert Sarah, Secretary, Archbishop Don Patabendige Albert Malcom Ranjith, Adjunct Secretary, and Fr Massimo Cenci, P.I.M.E., Undersecretary, I greet you all, and thank you for coming.
Before briefly presenting the content of the Message for next World Mission Sunday, which as you know, will be celebrated on the third Sunday of October, I want to inform you that, starting this year, the Holy Father wished to move up the date of the publication of the Message. Until last year it was published on the Solemnity of Pentecost; in the future it will be published on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. The reason for the earlier date of publication is to enable dioceses around the world, the national and international Bishops' Conferences, religious families and missionary institutes that work around the world to have the Pope's Message in January, so they can study it and eventually incorporate it into the concrete pastoral programmes that each one is called to offer in their assigned area.
This initiative is intended to avoid having the mission ad gentes lived as though it were something exceptional or extraordinary. At the risk of betraying the Gospel of Jesus Christ, no one can allow the missionary dimension to seem like a sort of Cinderella of the faith experience, or of the pastoral practice of bishops and priests. The mission forms the nucleus of the itinerary of each Christian community: "The Church is missionary by her very nature, for Christ's mandate is not something contingent or external, but reaches the very heart of the Church. It follows that the universal Church and each individual Church is sent forth to the nations" (Redemptoris missio, n. 62).
In fact, the missionary mandate was Jesus' central focus before his definitive return to the Father. In Galilee, at his last meeting with the Apostles, after the Resurrection, Christ mandated his disciples: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Mt 28,19-20). And this is the testament that the Lord left the Church and that the Church has lived in the 2,000 years of her history.
Thus, in obedience to the Lord Jesus and inspired by the Paraclete, the first disciples of the Lord set out on the paths of the mission to all the corners of the known world. In these 20 centuries, hosts of martyrs remained faithful to the Good News in times of trial as they remembered the words of the Apostle of the Gentiles to Timothy, his disciple: "Do not be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but take your share of suffering for the Gospel in the power of God" (II Tm 1,8).
Moreover, today, at the beginning of the 21st century, the Catholic Church sets out anew with confidence to travel a new stretch of the road on her journey to meet the world since there is still a long way to go and the road to be traveled is beset with difficulties. It is a way that is full of mystery and fascinating, full of snares but safe, because Our Lady, Star of Evangelization, is her traveling companion.
II. Content of the Message
This year World Mission Sunday, which will be celebrated on Sunday, 19 October, coincides with the celebration for the 25th anniversary of Pope John Paul II's Pontificate, the Beatification of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and the conclusion of the Year of the Rosary.
In this perspective, the Holy Father has indicated the "Prayer of the Rosary" as the theme for reflection for World Mission Sunday. In fact, his proposal fits into the process the Pope has desired in order to live the devotion of the Rosary, "a year to be lived under the gaze of the One who, in accord with God's mysterious plan, with her "yes', made possible humanity's salvation" (Message for World Mission Sunday, n. 2).
World Mission Sunday will be able to give a more generous thrust to the commitment to prayer of the ecclesial community.
In his Message, the Pope identifies three objectives: "a more contemplative Church", "a holier Church", "a more missionary Church", always accompanied by the Blessed Virgin Mary, Star of the New Evangelization, radiant dawn and sure guide for our journey (n. 1).
1. Contemplative: The daily recitation of the Rosary opens up and makes practical for the heralds of the Gospel the paths of the Mission. In fact, the Rosary is nothing other than a pilgrimage on the paths of salvation, made with the Blessed Mary, to contemplate with her believing eyes the true face of Christ. Mary offers herself as a missionary, and becomes the "narrator" of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, starting with the unique experience of God that she had the good fortune to live as a woman of faith and as Mother of God.
2. Holiness. The Blessed Virgin is an authentic "model" of faith. Indeed, in her, not only do the words of the Gospel find an extraordinary echo, but she became, by vocation, the true tabernacle of God. Living alongside her, in contemplation of the mysteries of salvation the Church becomes holy. "Holiness and mission are inseparable aspects of the vocation of every baptized person ... in contemplating the mysteries of the Rosary, in retracing the path of the economy of salvation, the believer is encouraged to follow Christ and to share his life". As with the mystery of the Incarnation lived in Mary, Christ becomes in every believer "flesh of his flesh", which prompted the Apostle Paul to say: "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Gal 2, 20).
3. Missionary. Finally, Mary makes the Church more missionary. It is she who says to the servants: "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn 2,5). She stirs Jesus to act and inspires the missionary's path. Again, it is Mary who, with her presence in the Upper Room, prepares the Apostles for coming of Pentecost, and urges their "departure". She encourages and accompanies not only individual missionaries, but the entire Christian community to go and announce the Gospel. Either faith is transmitted or it dies. And never as today do our Christian communities need the "telling of the story and the witness" of faith.
III. What is the reality of the Church in mission today?
Leaving to my collaborators the presentation of the life of the Church on the continents where she lives her missionary activity, I would like to present some statistics to you which, without claiming to express exhaustively the commitment and zeal of Gospel workers, will help to give an idea of how the Gospel is being taken to the world. These data specifically concern the mission ad gentes in the world.
Data from Propaganda Fide
Circumscriptions entrusted to the Missionary Congregation:
On 31 December 2002, the total number of ecclesiastical circumscriptions (archdioceses, dioceses, apostolic vicariates, Apostolic prefectures, missions sui iuris, Military Ordinariates, and territorial abbeys) dependent on Propaganda amounted to 1,075, almost 39% of the total number of ecclesiastical circumscriptions of the Catholic world. Of these 478 are in Africa, 85 in America, 453 in Asia, 14 in Europe, and 56 in Oceania. There are 177 archdioceses, 755 dioceses, 74 Apostolic vicariates, 45 apostolic prefectures, 11 Missions sui iuris, 6 Apostolic Administrations, 6 Military Ordinariates and 1 territorial abbey.
About 85,000 priests work at the service of the Missio ad gentes, of whom 52,000 belong to the diocesan clergy and 33,000 are religious.
With regard to their territorial distribution, 27,000 work in Africa; 44,000 in Asia, 6,000 in America, 5,000 in Oceania, 3,000 in Europe. They are supported in their missionary activity by 28,000 religious who are not priests, by 450,000 sisters, and by 1,650,000 catechists.
Major and minor seminarians:
Then in its own territory, Propaganda Fide cares for the spiritual and academic formation of 280 major seminaries, and of 110 minor seminaries with a total of 65,000 major seminarians and 85,000 minor seminarians, to whom it guarantees financial assistance.
Another statistic refers to priestly ordinations: in the past decade there have been about 1,900 a year.
Activities of social aid and assistance:
Lastly, the commitment to build an increasing number of churches and chapels (especially for small communities scattered in rural areas) should not be forgotten. In addition, there are the educational activities (about 42,000 schools); health care activities (1,600 hospitals, more than 6,000 dispensaries, 780 clinics for lepers); and charitable and social aid activities (12,000 initiatives).
Activities in Rome:
Associated with this immense field of mission activity, certain institutions and initiatives in Rome of the Congregation should also be mentioned.
However the most important and significant statistic concerns the number of missionaries (bishops, priests, men and women religious, lay people) who have witnessed even with their lives to fidelity to Christ and to the Church. According to the statistics, there have been about 1,000 of these witness in the past ten years. This figure, however is certainly less than the true number, since it refers only to some countries, to cases that have been verified and about which we have the facts.
As you can see, a lot of worksites are open with strategies and missionary programmes. There are many and new challenges to the Gospel. The harvest is still great and needs zealous and generous workers, who are ready to go out. Precisely because there is so much work, men and women missionaries are asked to join their hands, to lift their eyes to Mary and to pray the Rosary. This is also the secret of Mission.
The Church sets sail on the vast open seas of the Mission, driven by the power of the Holy Spirit and guided by the Mother of the Saviour, the Star of Evangelization.