Those who had gathered asked him, saying, “Lord, is it now that you are going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not up to you to know the times or moments that the Father has established with his own authority; Instead, you will receive the strength of the Holy Spirit who will come upon you and be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaría, and to the end of the earth.” That said, in view of them, it was raised to heaven, until a cloud took it out of sight (Acts 1:6-9).
After speaking to them, the Lord Jesus was taken to heaven and sat to the right of God. They went to preach everywhere, and the Lord cooperated by confirming the word with the signs that accompanied them (Mk 16:19-20).
And he brought them out near Bethany, and, raising his hands, blessed them. And as he blessed them, he separated from them, and was brought to heaven. They prostred themselves before Him and turned to Jerusalem with great joy; and were always in the temple blessing God (Lk 24:50-53).
Dear brothers and sisters:
This year I had decided to participate in your annual General Assembly, on Thursday, May 21, the feast of the Lord’s Ascension, but it has been cancelled because of the pandemic that affects us all. Therefore, I wish to send to all of you this message, to send you, likewise, what I have in my heart to tell you. This Christian feast, in these unimaginable times that we are experiencing, seems to me even richer with suggestions for the way and mission of each of us and of the whole Church.
We celebrate the Ascension as a feast and yet it commemorates Jesus’ farewell to his disciples and this world. The Lord ascends to Heaven, and the Eastern liturgy narrates the stupor of angels as he sees a man who with his body rises to the right of the Father. However, while Christ was to ascend to Heaven, the disciples—who had also seen Him risen—did not seem to have yet understood what had happened. He was going to start fulfilling his Kingdom and they were still lost in their own guesses. They asked him if he would restore the kingdom of Israel (cf. Acts 1:6). But when Christ left them, instead of being sad, they returned to Jerusalem “with great joy”, as Luke writes (24:52). It would be strange if nothing had happened. Indeed, Jesus had already promised them the strength of the Holy Spirit, who would descend upon them at Pentecost. This is the miracle that changed things. And they took security, because they entrusted everything to the Lord. They were full of joy. And the joy in them was the fulness of consolation, the fulness of the Lord’s presence.
Paul writes to the Galatians that the fulness of the Apostles’ joy is not the effect of emotions that satisfy and rejoice. It is an overflowing joy that can be experienced only as a fruit and as a gift of the Holy Spirit (cf. 5:22). Receiving the joy of the Holy Ghost is a grace. And it is the only force we can have to preach the gospel, to confess faith in the Lord. Faith is witnessing to the joy the Lord gives us. A joy like that we can’t give it to ourselves.
Jesus, before he left, told his people that He would send them the Spirit, the Comforter. And so he also gave to the Spirit the apostolic work of the Church, throughout history, until her coming. The mystery of the Ascension, together with the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, forever imprints and confers upon the Mission of the Church its most intimate genetic trait: that of being the work of the Holy Spirit and not a consequence of our reflections and intentions. And this is the trait that can make the mission fruitful and preserve it from any presumed self-sufficiency, from the temptation to take as a hostage the flesh of Christ—who ascends to Heaven—for the clerical projects of power themselves.
When, in the mission of the Church, the real and effective work of the Holy Spirit is not welcomed or recognized, it means that even the most accurate and most thoughtful words of the mission have become a kind of “discourses of human wisdom”, used to self glorify themselves or to remove and hide the inner deserts themselves.
The Joy of the Gospel
Salvation is the encounter with Jesus, who loves and forgives us, sending us the Spirit, who comforts and defends us. Salvation is not the consequence of our missionary initiatives, not even of our reasoning about the incarnation of the Word. The salvation of each one can occur only through the perspective of the encounter with Him, who calls us. For this reason, the mystery of predilection begins—and cannot and cannot begin—with an impulse of joy, of gratitude. The joy of the Gospel, that “great joy” of the poor women who, on Easter morning, went to the tomb of Christ and found him empty, and who were then the first to meet the risen Jesus and ran to tell others (cf. Mt 28:8-10). Only in this way can being chosen and favorite bear witness to before the whole world, with our lives, the glory of the Risen Christ.
Witnesses, in any human situation, are those who certify what another has done. In this sense—and only so—we can be witnesses of Christ and his Spirit. After the Ascension, as the end of the Gospel of Mark tells, the Apostles and the disciples “went to preach everywhere, and the Lord cooperated by confirming the word with the signs that accompanied them” (16:20). Christ, with his Spirit, bears witness to himself through the works he carries out in us and with us. The Church, St Augustine explained, would not ask the Lord to give faith to those who do not know Christ, if she did not believe that it is God Himself who directs and draws to himself the will of men. The Church would not make her children pray to ask the Lord for perseverance in faith in Christ, if she did not believe that it is the Lord himself who holds our hearts in her hand. Indeed, if the Church were to beg for these things, but to think that she can give them to herself, it would mean that her prayers would not be authentic, but only empty formulas, phrases made, formalisms imposed by ecclesiastical conformism (cf. The gift of perseverance. Prospero and Hilario, 23.63).
If faith is not recognized as a gift from God, the prayers directed by the Church would not make sense either. And no sincere passion for happiness and salvation of others and those who do not recognize the Risen Christ would manifest through them, even if he spends much time organizing the conversion of the world to Christianity.
It is the Holy Spirit who ignites and guards faith in hearts, and recognizing this fact changes everything. Indeed, it is the Spirit who arouses and animates the mission, prints “genetic” connotations, nuances and particular movements that make the proclamation of the Gospel and the confession of the Christian faith somewhat different from any political or cultural, psychological or religious proselytism.
I have recalled many of these distinctive features of the mission in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium; I pick up some of them.
Attractive. The mystery of Redemption entered and continues to work in the world through an appeal that can fascinate the hearts of men and women, because it is and seems more appealing than seductions based on selfishness, a consequence of sin. “No one can come to me if he is not attracted to the Father who sent me,” Jesus says in the Gospel of John (6:44). The Church has always repeated that we follow Jesus and proclaim his Gospel for this: by the force of attraction exercised by Christ himself and his Spirit. The Church, pope Benedict XVI said, grows in the world by attraction and not by proselytism (cf. Homily at the Opening Mass of the V General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Episcopate, Aparecida, 13 May 2007: AAS 99 , 437). St Augustine said that Christ reveals himself to us by attracting us. And, to give an example of this appeal, he quoted the poet Virgil, according to which every person is attracted by what he likes. Jesus is not only attractive to our will, but also to our taste (cf. Commentary on the Gospel of St John, 26:4). When one follows Jesus, happy to be attracted to Him, others will realize and be amazed at it. The joy that is transparent in those who are attracted to Christ and his Spirit is what makes any missionary initiative fruitful.
Gratitude and gratuitousness. The joy of proclaiming the Gospel always shines on the bottom of a grateful memory. The Apostles never forgot the moment when Jesus touched their hearts: “It was like the tenth hour” (Jn 1:39). The event of the Church shines when it shows appreciation for God’s free initiative, because “He loved us” first (1 Jn 4:10), because “it was God who made us grow” (1:3:6). The Lord’s loving predilection surprises us, and amazement—by its very nature—cannot be possessed by ourselves or imposed. It is not possible to “be astonished by force.” Only in this way can the miracle of gratuitousness flourish, the free gift of itself. Nor can missionary fervor be obtained as a result of reasoning or calculation. Putting yourself on a “state of mission” is an effect of gratitude, it is the response of those who, based on their gratitude, become docile to the Holy Spirit and are therefore free. If we do not perceive the Lord’s predilection, which makes us grateful, even the knowledge of the truth and the very knowledge of God—held as possession to be acquired with one’s own strength—they would in fact become “letter that kills” (cf. 2:3:6), as St Paul and Augustine demonstrated for the first time. Only in the freedom of gratitude is the Lord truly known. And it is useless—and, more than anything, inappropriate—to insist on presenting the mission and proclamation of the Gospel as if they were a binding duty, a kind of “contractual obligation” of the baptized.
Humility. If truth and faith, happiness, and salvation are not our possession, a goal achieved by our merits, then the gospel of Christ can be proclaimed only from humility. One can never think of serving the mission of the Church with individual arrogance and through ostentation, with the pride of those who also undermine the gift of the sacraments and the most authentic words of faith, making them a spoil that has deserved. You can’t be humbled by good education or for wanting to look captivating. He is humbled if one follows Christ, who said to his own: “Learn from me, that I am meek and humble in heart” (Mt 11:29). St Augustine wonders how it is possible that, after the Resurrection, Jesus let himself be seen only by his disciples and not, on the other hand, by those who had crucified him. He replies that Jesus did not want to give the impression of wanting to “make fun of those who had given him death. It was more important to teach humility to friends than to cast the truth in the face of enemies” (Discourse 284:6).
Facilitate, not complicate. Another feature of authentic missionary work is that which refers us to the patience of Jesus, who also in the narrations of the Gospel always accompanied with mercy the stages of growth of people. A small step, in the midst of great human limitations, can brighten God’s heart more than the strides of those who go through life without great difficulty. A missionary heart recognizes the present condition in which real people find themselves, with their limits, their sins, their weaknesses, and becomes “weak with the weak” (1:9:22). “Going out” on a mission to reach the human peripheries does not mean wandering without direction or meaning, as impatient vendors who complain that people are too rude and old-fashioned to care about their merchandise. Sometimes it’s about slowing down to accompany those who have stayed on the road. Sometimes the father must be imitated from the parable of the prodigal son, who leaves the doors open and otes the horizon every day, in the hope of his son’s return (cf. Lk 15:20). The Church is not a customs office, and those who participate in some way in the mission of the Church are called not to add useless burdens to the already difficult lives of people, not to impose sophisticated and heavy ways of formation to enjoy what the Lord gives easily. Let us not put obstacles to the desire of Jesus, who prays for each of us and wants to heal us all, to save all of us.
Closeness in “everyday” life. Jesus found his first disciples on the shore of Lake Galilee while they were busy in their work. He did not find them in a covenant, in a formation seminary, or in the temple. The proclamation of Jesus’ salvation has always reached the people wherever they are and as they are in everyday life. The ordinary life of all, the participation in the needs, hopes and problems of all, is the place and condition in which those who have recognized the love of Christ and received the gift of the Holy Spirit can give reason to those who ask of faith, hope and charity. Walking together, with the others. Mainly in this time in which we live, it is not a question of inventing “dedicated” training itineraries, of creating parallel worlds, of building media bubbles in which to resonate the slogans themselves, the declarations of intentions themselves, reduced to reassuring “declaratory nominalisms”. I have already recalled before, by way of example, that in the Church there are those who continue to strongly evoke the slogan: “It is the hour of the laity”, but in the meantime it seems that the clock would have stopped.
The “sensus fidei” of the People of God. There is a reality in the world that has a kind of “smell” for the Holy Spirit and his action. It is the People of God, favorite and called by Jesus, who, in turn, continue to seek Him and always cry for Him in the anxieties of life. The People of God beg for the gift of their Spirit; he entrusts his expectation to the simple words of prayers and never accommodates the presumption of self-reliance itself. The holy People of God gathered together and anointed by the Lord, by virtue of this anointing, become infallible “in credendo”, as the Tradition of the Church teaches. The action of the Holy Spirit gives the People of the faithful an “instinct” of faith—the sensus fidei—that helps him not to make mistakes when he believes what is god’s, even if he does not know the reasoning or theological formulations to define the gifts he experiences. It is the mystery of the pilgrim people who, with their popular spirituality, walk to the shrines and entrust thee to Jesus, Mary and the saints; who resorts and reveals himself connatural to God’s free and free initiative, without having to follow a pastoral mobilization plan.
Predilection for the little ones and for the poor. Every missionary impulse, if moved by the Holy Ghost, manifests a predilection for the poor and the small, as a sign and reflection of the Lord’s preference for them. People directly involved in the Church’s missionary initiatives and structures should never justify their inasurement to the poor with the excuse—widely used in certain ecclesiastical environments—of having to concentrate their own energies on the mission’s priority tasks. Predilection for the poor is not optional in the Church.
The dynamics and criteria described above are part of the mission of the Church, animated by the Holy Spirit. Normally, in the statements and in the ecclesiastical discourses, the need of the Holy Spirit is recognized and affirmed as a source of the Church’s mission, but it also happens that such recognition is reduced to a kind of “formal homage” to the Holy Trinity, a conventional introductory formula for theological interventions and pastoral plans. There are many situations in the Church in which the primacy of grace is reduced to a theoretical postulate, to an abstract formula. It happens that many projects and agencies linked to the Church, instead of letting the work of the Holy Spirit be transparent, end up confirming only self-referentiality. Many ecclesiastical mechanisms at all levels seem to be absorbed by the obsession of promoting themselves and their own initiatives, as if that were the goal and horizon of their mission.
So far I wanted to return and re-propose criteria and suggestions on the mission of the Church which I had already set out more extensively in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. I have done so because I believe that it can also be useful and fruitful — and not deferable — to confront these criteria and suggestions at this stage of their path.
MPPs and present time:
talents to develop, temptations and diseases to avoid
Where should we look to the present and future of the MSPs? What are the sn stirrups that make the road more burdenful?
In physiognomy, that is, in the identity of the Pontifical Missionary Works, certain distinctive features are appreciated—some, so to speak, genetic; others, acquired during the long historical journey—which are often neglected or taken for example. Well, these traits can rightly guard and make precious—especially in the present moment—the contribution of this “network” to the universal mission, to which the whole Church is called.
Missionary Works were spontaneously born from missionary fervor manifested by the faith of the baptized. There is and remains an intimate affinity, a familiarity between the Missionary Works and the infallible sensus fidei of the faithful People of God.
– Missionary Works, from the beginning, they advanced on two “binary” or, rather, on two ways that are always parallel and which, in their simplicity, have always been familiar to the hearts of the People of God: prayer and charity, in the form of alms, which “frees from death and purifies sin” (Tb 12:9), the “intense love” that “covers a multitude of sins” (cf. 1 P 4:8). The founders of the Missionary Works, beginning with Pauline Jaricot, did not invent the prayers and works to entrust their intentions to proclaim the gospel, but simply took them from the inexhaustible treasure of the closest and most common gestures for the People of God on their way through history.
– Missionary Works, arising free of charge in the fabric of the life of the People of God, for their simple and concrete configuration, have been recognized and valued by the Church of Rome and its bishops, who, in the last century, have asked to be able to adopt them as a peculiar instrument of their service to the universal Church. The classification of “Pontificias” has been attributed to such Works. From that moment on, he emphasizes in the physiognomy of the OMPs his characteristic of service to sustain the particular Churches in the work of the proclamation of the Gospel. In this way, the Pontifical Missionary Works were offered docilely as an instrument of service to the Church, within the universal ministry performed by the Pope and by the Church of Rome, which “presides in charity”. Thus, with their own itinerary and without entering into complicated theological disputes, the OMP has demented the arguments of those who, also in ecclesiastical environments, inappropriately contrast charisms and institutions, always reading the relations between the two realities through a misleading “dialectic of principles”. On the other hand, in the Church, even permanent structural elements— such as the sacraments, the priesthood and the apostolic succession — are continually recreated by the Holy Spirit and are not available to the Church as an object of acquired possession (cf. Card. J. Ratzinger, Ecclesial movements and their theological placement. Intervention during the World Convention on Ecclesial Movements, Rome, 27-29 May 1998).
– The Missionary Works, from their first dissemination, were structured as an extended capillary network in the People of God, fully subject and, in fact, “immanent” to the networks of institutions and realities already present in ecclesial life, such as dioceses, parishes, religious communities. The peculiar vocation of those involved in missionary works has never been lived or perceived as an alternative way, as an “external” belonging to the ordinary forms of the life of the particular Churches. The invitation to prayer and the collection of resources for the mission has always been exercised as a service to ecclesial communion.
– Missionary Works, converted over time into a network spread across all continents, manifest by their own configuration the variety of nuances, conditions, problems and gifts that characterize the life of the Church in the different places of the world. A plurality that can protect against ideological homogenizations and cultural unilateralisms. In this sense, it is also through the OMP that one can experience the mystery of the universality of the Church, in which the incessant work of the Holy Spirit creates harmony between the different voices, while the Bishop of Rome, with his service of charity, also exercised through the Pontifical Missionary Works, guards the unity of faith.
All the characteristics described here can help The Pontifical Missionary Works avoid the insidious and pathologies that threaten their path and that of many other ecclesial institutions. I’ll point out some of them.
You insidious to avoid
Self-referentiality. Organizations and ecclesiastical authorities, beyond the good intentions of each individual, sometimes end up retreating on themselves, dedicating their strength and attention, above all, to their own promotion and the celebration of their own initiatives in advertising key. Others seem dominated by the obsession with continually redefining their own relevance and their own spaces within the Church, with the justification of wanting to better relaunch their own mission. In these ways, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger once said, the false idea that a person is more Christian if he is more engaged in intra-church structures is also fed, when in reality almost all the baptized live faith, hope and charity in his ordinary life, having never been part of ecclesiastical commissions and without ever taking an interest in the latest developments in ecclesial policy (cf. An ever-reformable company, Conference at the Rimini Meeting, 1 September 1990).
Longing for command. It sometimes happens that the institutions and agencies that emerged to help the ecclesial community, putting at the service the gifts aroused in them by the Holy Spirit, seek to exercise over time supremacy and control functions in the communities they should serve. This position is often accompanied by the presumption of exercising the role of “depositors” dispensers of certificates of legitimacy towards others. In fact, in these cases, they behave as if the Church were a product of our analyses, our programs, agreements, and decisions.
Elitism. Among those who are part of structured organizations or entities of the Church, it gains ground, on several occasions, an elitist feeling, the undeclared idea of belonging to an aristocracy, a higher class of specialists who seek to expand their own spaces in complicity or competition with other ecclesiastical elites, and who train their members with the worldly systems and logics of militancy or technical-professional competence , with the main purpose of always promoting its own oligarchic prerogatives.
Isolation from the village. The elitist temptation in some Realities linked to the Church is sometimes accompanied by a feeling of superiority and intolerance towards the multitude of the baptized, towards the People of God who may attend parishes and shrines, but which is not composed of “activists” engaged in Catholic organizations. In these cases, the People of God are also looked at as an inert mass, which always needs to be revived and mobilized through a “awareness”that must be stimulated through reasoning, calls of attention, teachings. It acts as if the certainty of faith is the result of persuasive words or methods of training.
Abstraction. The organisms and realities linked to the Church, when they are self-referential, lose touch with reality and become ill with abstraction. There are multiple useless meetings of strategic planning, to produce projects and guidelines that only serve as instruments of self-provision of those who invent them. Problems are taken and sectioned in intellectual laboratories where everything is manipulated and varnished according to the ideological keys of preference; where everything can become mock outside its real context, including references to faith and mentions to Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
Functionalism. Self-referential and elitist organizations, even in the Church, often end up directing everything towards imitating worldly models of efficiency, such as those imposed by exacerbated economic and social competence. The choice for functionalism guarantees the illusion of “solving problems” with balance, of having things under control, of increasing one’s relevance, of improving the ordinary administration of what is available. But, as I told you at the meeting we had in 2016, a Church that is afraid to entrust heses to the grace of Christ and which bets on the effectiveness of the system is already dead, even if the structures and programs for clergy and lay “self-care” still lasted centuries.
Tips for the road
Looking to the present and the future, and also seeking within the OMP itinerary the resources to overcome the insidiousness of the road and move forward, I allow myself to give you some suggestions, to help you in your discernment. Since you have also initiated a process of reconsideration of the MPOs that you want to be inspired by the Pope’s indications, I offer to your consideration general criteria and suggestions, without going into detail, because different contexts may require adaptations and variations in the same way.
1) To the extent that you can, and without making too many guesses, guard or rediscover the insertion of the MPPs into the people of God, their immanence with regard to the fabric of real life in which they were born. It would be good to “immersion” more intensely in people’s real life, as it is. It is good for all of us to come out of the closure of our own inner problems when Jesus is followed. It is appropriate to dely into the circumstances and specific conditions, also taking care of or seeking to restore the capillaryity of the action and contacts of the MSPs in their entanglement with the ecclesial network — dioceses, parishes, communities, groups. If one gives preference to one’s immanence to the People of God, with its lights and difficulties, one can better escape the insidia of abstraction. It is necessary to answer the questions and the real demands, without formulating or multiplying proposals. Perhaps, from the melee with ordinary life, and not from closed cenaccules or from theoretical analyses on the internal dynamics themselves, useful intuitions can also arise to change and improve the operating procedures themselves, adapting them to the various contexts and the various circumstances.
2) My suggestion is to find a way in which the essential structure of the MSPs remains linked to the practices of prayer and the collection of resources for missions, which is valuable and appreciated, because of their elementality and concreteness. This manifests the affinity of the MPPs with the faith of the People of God. Even with all the flexibility and adaptations required, this elementary model of THE MPPs should not be forgotten or altered. Pray to the Lord that He may open hearts to the gospel and plead with all to sustain missionary work in concrete concrete things. In this there is a simplicity and a concreteness that everyone can perceive with joy in the present time, in which, even in the circumstance of the scourge of the pandemic, one can see everywhere the desire to be and to stay close to all that is simply Church. Also seek new ways, new ways for your service; but in doing so, you don’t need to complicate what’s simple.
3) THE MPPs are— and should be experienced — an instrument of service to the mission of the particular Churches, on the horizon of the Mission of the Church, which always encompasses the whole world. This is what your ever-precious contribution to the proclamation of the gospel is all about. We are all called to guard for love and gratitude, even with our works, the outbreaks of theological life that the Spirit of Christ germinates and grows where He wants, even in the deserts. Please, in prayer, first ask the Lord to prepare us to discern the signs of his work, and then to indicate them to all the world. Only this can be useful: to ask that, for us, in the intimateness of our hearts, the invocation of the Holy Ghost should not be reduced to a sterile and redundant postulate of our meetings and homilies. However, it is not useful to conjecture and theories about great strategies or “central directives” of the mission to delegate, such as to alleged and fatuous “depositaries” of the missionary dimension of the Church, the task of reawakening the missionary spirit or giving missionary licenses to others. If, in any situation, the fervor of the mission diminishes, it is a sign that faith is waning. And, in such cases, the pretence of reviving the flame that goes out with strategies and discourses ends up weakening it further and advances only the desert.
4) The service carried out by the MPPs, by their nature, puts agents in contact with countless realities, situations and events that are part of the great flow of the life of the Church on all continents. In this flow we can find many slowness and sclerosis that accompany ecclesial life, but also with the free gifts of healing and consolation that the Holy Spirit spreads in everyday life of what might be called the “middle class of holiness”. And you can rejoice and exult by savoring the encounters that may arise thanks to the work of the OMP, letting you be surprised by them. I think of the stories I have heard of many miracles that occur among children, who perhaps meet Jesus through the initiatives proposed by Missionary Childhood. Therefore, your action cannot be “sterilized” in an exclusively bureaucratic-professional dimension. There can be no bureaucrats or mission officials. And your gratitude can be made both a gift and a testimony to all. You can indicate for the comfort of all—by the means you have, without artifice—the vicissitudes of people and communities that you can find more easily than others; people and communities in which the miracle of faith, hope and charity shines freely.
5) The gratitude to the wonders made by the Lord among his favorites, the poor and the little ones to which He reveals what is hidden from the wise (cf. Mt 11:25-26), can also help you to subtract from the insidiousness of self-referential retreats and to leave yourselves in following Jesus. The idea of a self-referential missionary action, which spends time contemplated and igniting itself, would in itself be absurd. Do not spend too much time and resources “looking at” and drafting plans focused on the internal mechanisms themselves, functionality and the competencies of the system itself. Look out, don’t look in the mirror. Break all the mirrors in your house. The criteria to be followed, also in the implementation of the programmes, have to look to lighten, to make structures and processes more flexible, rather than to load the OMP network with additional structural elements. For example, that each national director, during his tenure, undertakes to identify some potential successor, with the sole criterion of indicating not people in his circle of friends or colleagues of ecclesiastical “cordada”, but people who he thinks have more missionary fervor than he does.
6) With reference to the collection of resources to assist the mission, already on the occasion of other past meetings, I drew attention to the risk of transforming the MPPs into an NGO dedicated only to fundraising and allocating funds. This depends on the encouragement with which things are done, more than what is done. In terms of fundraising it may certainly be advisable, and even more timely, to creatively use even up-to-date methodologies to search for funding by potential and benevolent sponsors. But if in some areas the collection of donations decreases – also by the weakening of Christian memory – in those cases, we may be tempted to solve the problem by “covering” reality and putting all the effort into a more effective collection system, which seeks large donors. However, suffering for the loss of faith and the decline of resources should not be eliminated, but must be put in the hands of the Lord. And, in any case, it is good that the request for donations for missions continues to be addressed primarily to the entire multitude of the baptized, also looking for a new way to collect for the missions carried out in the Churches of all countries in October, on the occasion of World Mission Day. The Church continues, always, to go forward also thanks to the widow’s tree, to the contribution of the whole multitude of people who feel healed and comforted by Jesus and who, therefore, for their immense gratitude, donate what they have.
7) With regard to the use of the donations received, always discern with an appropriate sensus Ecclesiae the distribution of funds, in order to sustain the structures and projects that, in different ways, carry out the apostolic mission and the proclamation of the Gospel in the different parts of the world. Always take into account the true primary needs of communities and, at the same time, avoid forms of care that, instead of offering instruments to missionary fervor, end up enthusing hearts and also feeding parasitic clientele phenomena within the Church. With your contribution, seek to give concrete answers to objective demands, without squandering resources on initiatives with abstract connotations, relegated to themselves or manufactured by someone’s clerical narcissism. Do not give in to the inferiority complex or the temptations to imitate those organizations so functional that they collect funds for just causes and then allocate a good percentage of them to finance their structure and promote their own identity. This also sometimes becomes a way to take care of one’s own interests, even if they make it appear that they work for the poor and needy.
8) As far as the poor are concerned, do not forget them, neither do you. This was the recommendation given in the Jerusalem Council by the Apostles Peter, John, and James to Paul, Barnabas, and Titus, who discussed their mission among the uncircutious: “They only asked us to remember the poor” (Gal 2:10). After that recommendation, Paul organized the collections on behalf of the brethren of the Church of Jerusalem (cf. 1:16:1). The predilection for the poor and the little ones is part of the mission of proclaiming the gospel, which is from the beginning. The spiritual and bodily works of charity towards them manifest a “divine preference” that challenges the life of faith of every Christian, called to have the same feelings of Jesus (cf. Phil 2:5).
9) The OMP, with its network spread throughout the world, reflects the rich variety of the “people with many faces” gathered by the grace of Christ, with his missionary fervor. Fervor that is not equally intense or lively in all time and place. Moreover, the same shared urgency of confessing to the dead and risen Christ is manifested in different tones, according to the various contexts. The revelation of the Gospel is not identified with any culture and, in the encounter with new cultures that have not embraced Christian preaching, there is no need to impose a particular cultural form together with the gospel proposal. Today, also in the work of the OMP, it is advisable not to carry heavy loads; it is appropriate to guard its varied profile and its common reference to the essential features of the faith. It can also obfuscate the universality of the Christian faith from the pretence of standardizing the form of the proclamation, perhaps oriented all towards clichés or slogans that are fashionable in some circles of certain culturally or politically dominant countries. In this regard, the special relationship between the MPPs and the Pope and the Church of Rome also represents a resource and support for freedom, which helps everyone to devise from passing fads, slavishness to schools of unilateral thought or to cultural homogenizations with neocolonialist characteristics; phenomena which, unfortunately, also occur in ecclesiastical contexts.
10) THE OMP is not in the Church an independent entity, suspended in a vacuum. Within their specificity, which must always be cultivated and renewed, is the special bond that unites them to the Bishop of the Church of Rome, who presides in charity. It is beautiful and comforting to recognize that this bond manifests itself in a work carried out with joy, without seeking applause or claiming pretensions; a work that, precisely in its gratuitousness, is intertwined with the service of the Pope, servant of God’s servants. I ask you that the distinctive character of your closeness to the Bishop of Rome be precisely this: to share love for the Church, a reflection of the love of Christ, lived and manifested in silence, without boasting, without delimiting the “own ground”; with an everyday work that is inspired by charity and its mystery of gratuitousness; with a work that sustains countless inwardly grateful people, but who may not know who to thank, because they do not know even the name of the OMP. The mystery of charity in the Church is thus carried out. Let us continue to walk forward together, happy to move forward in the midst of trials, thanks to the gifts and consolations of the Lord. In the meantime, we recognize with joy at every step that we are all useless servants, starting with me.
Go with ardant: on the way that awaits you there is much to do. If there were to be changes in procedures, it would be good for them to look to lighten and not to increase weights; that are about gaining operational flexibility and not producing new rigid systems that are always threatened with introversion; bearing in mind that excessive centralization, without helping, can complicate missionary dynamics. And also that a purely national articulation of initiatives would jeopardize the very physiognomy of the OMP network, in addition to the exchange of gifts between the Churches and local communities, something that is experienced as the fruit and tangible sign of charity among brothers, in communion with the Bishop of Rome.
In any case, always ask that any consideration concerning the operational organization of the MPPs be illuminated by the only necessary: a little true love for the Church, reflecting the love of Christ. Your task is carried out in the service of apostolic fervor, that is, to the impulse of theological life that only the Holy Spirit can operate in the People of God. Worry about doing your job well, “as if everything depended on you, knowing that everything really depends on God” (S. Ignatius of Loyola). As I told you in another meeting, have Mary’s promptness. When she went to Elizabeth’s house, Mary did not do so as her own gesture: it was like the servant of the Lord Jesus, to the one she carried in her bosom. She said nothing of herself, she only took the Son and praised God. She wasn’t the protagonist. She was like the servant of the one who is also the only protagonist of the mission. But he wasted no time, he was in a hurry, to assist his relative. She teaches us this promptness, the haste of fidelity and worship.
May Our Lady care for you and the Pontifical Missionary Works, and may her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, bless you. He, before he went up to Heaven, promised us that he would always be with us until the end of time.
Given in Rome, in St. John lateran, on 21 May 2020, Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord.