Bookmark and Share

The Church cannot abandon mission work

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 3 May 1995 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. In traditional language we speak of "missions" in the plural and of the "missionaries" who work there by a specific mandate. This form of expression does not contradict the unity of the Church's mission. Rather, it reveals more vividly the fundamental commitment to evangelization. Not only do missionaries not overshadow the principle that the whole Church is missionary but, on the contrary, they personally fulfill it.

What are the missions? According to the Council, they are "particular undertakings by which the heralds of the Gospel, sent out by the Church and going forth into the whole world, carry out the task of preaching the Gospel and planting the Church among peoples or groups who do not yet believe in Christ" (AG 6). In Redemptoris Missio it is explained that these are established in territories where the Church "has not yet taken root" and with peoples "whose culture has not yet been influenced by the Gospel" (RM 34).

2. We can state that these activities aim at building the local Church. Not only do they contribute to establishing structures and an ecclesial hierarchy, but they cooperate in forming communities of Christian life through the proclamation of God's Word and the administration of the sacraments. St. Thomas Aquinas already mentioned this implantation of the Church as the apostolic munus [1] . A concept which belongs to a solid ecclesiological tradition, it has been deepened by the Pontiffs of our century in various documents and taken up by the Second Vatican Council (cf. AG 34). Both my venerable predecessors and St. Thomas also use the other term: dilatatio ecclesiae, that is, the spread, the extension of the Church [2] . The Council explained: "From the seed which is the Word of God, particular autochthonous churches should be sufficiently established and should grow up all over the world.... The chief means of the planting referred to is the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. To preach this Gospel the Lord sent forth his disciples into the whole world, that being reborn by the Word of God (cf. 1 Pet 1:23), men might be joined to the Church through baptism--that Church which, as the body of the Word incarnate, is nourished and lives by the word of God and by the Eucharistic bread (cf. Acts 2:42)" (AG 6). These are churches with their own proper strength and maturity, endowed with their own hierarchy and the appropriate means for the Christian life of their own members, and they can contribute to the good of the whole Church (cf. AG 6).

This is the ideal to follow in missionary activity: the foundation of a church which on her own provides for her pastors and all the necessities for the life of faith, while remaining in communion with the other particular churches and with the See of Peter.

3. Various stages in missionary activity can be distinguished (cf. AG 6): the beginning or planting, with a preaching of the Gospel aimed at bringing men to Baptism; then follows a time of freshness and youthfulness, with education in faith and in the Christian way of life, with the formation of the local community, with the birth and development of priestly and religious vocations. In these formative moments the community is provided with a ministerial structure which helps it to develop in a perspective of openness and missionary cooperation.

There has been no lack of misunderstandings with regard to missionary activity and the value of missions, even in recent times. Due to contingent historical circumstances, a connection was established for a time between missionary activity and political colonization. Because of this, some have wished to conclude that the gradual disappearance of the historical phenomenon of colonies should coincide with the parallel disappearance of missions.

In addition to these uncertainties there is the consideration that in the churches of the first evangelization, from which came many missionaries working in "mission countries," there is an increasing awareness that their territory is becoming a mission land requiring a new evangelization. Thus the problem has arisen of choosing between missions in countries not yet evangelized and the urgent tasks of the apostolate in countries with an ancient Christian tradition.

4. The question cannot be solved by the choice of the second alternative, taken in the absolute, to the detriment of the former. It is true that the need for a new evangelization is making itself felt "in the ancient Christian countries" where "entire groups of the baptized have lost a living sense of the faith, or even no longer consider themselves members of the Church and live a life far removed from Christ and his Gospel" (RM 33). Specific missionary activity cannot be rejected and must be carried out in territories where the Church is not yet implanted or where the number of Christians is very small. The Gospel message must be brought to the knowledge of all, and Christian communities themselves, even if they are flourishing and exemplary, must be able to exercise a beneficial influence on customs and institutions, through a useful dialogue with the other groups and communities.

As I pointed out in the encyclical quoted, "The number of those who do not know Christ and do not belong to the Church is constantly on the increase. Indeed, since the end of the Council it has almost doubled" (RM 3). This results from the fact that as the world's population continues to grow, the numerical proportion of non-Christians has notably increased. This is due to well known demographic reasons and because of greater stability in the preservation of religious elements, almost connatural with culture.

5. With regard then to the relationship between missionary activity and the colonizing policies of some countries, it is necessary calmly and clearly to analyze the facts. These show that in some cases the coincidence led to reprehensible behavior on the part of missionaries. This happened in relation to their countries of origin or in collaboration with local authorities, whom it was not always possible to ignore. Nevertheless, considered overall, evangelizing activity has always been distinguished by a very different goal from that of earthly powers. It aims to promote the personal dignity of the evangelized, giving them access to the divine sonship obtained for every man by Christ and communicated to the faithful in Baptism. In fact, this generally encouraged the progress of those peoples toward their freedom and development even at the social and economic level. The missionaries acted out of the respect they felt for men as persons loved by God and redeemed by Jesus Christ.

Today as in the past, their activities with peoples or groups where the Church is not yet present and active does not respond to goals of human power or interest, nor is it inspired by the pride of cultural or social superiority. Rather it desires to be, and is in reality, a humble service of love to those who have not yet received the light and life of Christ within the context of the Church he desired and founded for the salvation of the world.

The Council also recognized that there are situations in which missionary activity must limit itself to a discreet presence, because it cannot develop in visibly organized and functional structures (cf. AG 6). Perhaps, in precisely such cases, missionaries represent even more clearly the Church founded by Christ to preach the Gospel and to build communities of salvation everywhere. Indeed, she is always well aware of the mystery of the cross, which sometimes involves silent and trusting expectation of the light of Easter, as history amply illustrates.

[1]   cf. I Sent.; D. 16, q. 1, a. 2, ad 2 and 4; Summa Theol., I, q. 43, a. 7, ad 6; I-II, q. 106, a. 4, ad 4
[2]   cf. St. Thomas, Comm. in Matth. 16:28"

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai fedeli di lingua francese

Chers frères et sœurs,

Je souhaite la bienvenue aux pèlerins de langue française.

J’adresse en particulier un cordial salut aux Frères des coles chrétiennes, aux pèlerins du Liban, aux nombreux groupes de jeunes, dont celui de Châteaurenard, et à tous ceux qui viennent des paroisses. Que le Christ soit chaque jour votre guide et votre lumière sur le chemin!

Que Dieu vous garde et qu’Il vous bénisse!

Ai pellegrini di lingua inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am pleased to greet the group of pilgrims from the Anglican Benedictine Abbey at Alton in England. To the choirs from Des Moines, Iowa and from Denver, Colorado I express my gratitude for their praise of God in song. Upon all the English–speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, especially the pilgrims from England, Korea, Thailand and the United States, I cordially invoke the joy and peace of the Risen Lord.

Ai fedeli di lingua tedesca

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit dem innigen Wunsch, alle Gläubigen mögen sich das Anliegen der Missionen zueigen machen und weiter in der österlichen Hoffnung verharren, grüe ich Euch, liebe Schwestern und Brüder, die Ihr so zahlreich aus Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz an dieser Audienz teilnehmt. Einen besonderen Gru richte ich an die Pilgegruppe, die anlälich der Vereidigung der Rekruten der Päpstlichen Schweizergarde gekommen ist. Euch allen sowie Euren lieben Angehörigen und Freunden in der Heimat erteile ich von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di lingua spagnola

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Deseo saludar ahora con afecto a los visitantes venidos de España y de América Latina; en particular, saludo a los Oficiales del Centro Superior de Defensa, a los grupos de estudiantes españoles, a los diversos grupos parroquiales, así como a los peregrinos argentinos de Santa Fe. A todos vosotros y a vuestras familias imparto mi Bendición Apostólica.

Ai fedeli di lingua portoghese

Caríssimos Irmãos e Irmãs,

As minhas cordiais saudações e votos de felicidades aos presentes vindos do Brasil, do Colégio Dom Bosco de Campo Grande, e aos portugueses da Paróquia de Monte Redondo de Leiria. Que a presença em Roma vos sirva para crescer na fé, e para o encontro pessoal com Deus, em Jesus Cristo; sede pregoeiros, sem receio ou vacilação, do “Evangelho da vida”! Desejo a todos, às vossas famílias e aos amigos jovens das vossas terras graça, paz e alegria, no Senhor Ressuscitado!

Ai pellegrini polacchi

Witam serdecznie pielgrzymów z Polski. W szczególności witam i pozdrawiam przedstawicieli Akademii Sztuk Pięknych z Krakowa, przybyłych z okazji 175. rocznicy istnienia tej wielkiej uczelni. Witam następujące grupy pielgrzymów: z Jordanowa i Rabki, z Makowa Podhalańskiego i Trzebini, z Warszawy – harcerze i Fundacja “Promocja Zdrowia”, z Łodzi – Wspólnota Rycerstwa Niepokalanej oraz parafia Dobrego Pasterza, z Wrocławia – “Solidarność” nauczycieli i parafianie św. Klemensa, grupy z Gdańska, Olsztyna, Białej Podlaskiej i Opoczna, z Kościana– parafianie św. Brata Alberta, grupy z Łomży, Suwałk, Kępna i Siemianowic – ministranci, ze Zgorzelca – parafianie św. Józefa Robotnika oraz z Goleniowa. Witam młodzież niepełnosprawną z Chorzowa, młodzież różnych szkół i liceów: z Rzeszowa, Katowic, z Poznania, Legnicy, Olsztyna, Gorzowa, Opola, Dąbrowy Górniczej, Lipin, Sosnowca, Solca nad Wisłą, Świdnicy i Warszawy, również młodzież akademicką z “Arki” w Nowej Hucie. Witam grupy “Radia Maryja”, szczególnie z Konina, oraz chór młodzieżowy i zespół muzyczny z Żywca.

Ai fedeli giapponesi

Rendiamo grazie a Dio!

Cari pellegrini del Giappone, benvenuti a Roma,

Spero che questo vostro pellegrinaggio romano vi offra una buona occasione di amare tutti i popoli del mondo. Come sapete oggi nel mondo succedono tante tragedie. Preghiamo con cuore unito che tutte le genti del mondo rispettino la dignità umana e amino il prossimo.

Rendiamo grazie a Dio! 

Ai fedeli di lingua italiana

Rivolgo un caloroso saluto ai pellegrini di lingua italiana, in particolare ai fedeli della diocesi di Sora-Aquino-Pontecorvo, guidati dal Vescovo Monsignor Luca Brandolini. Ringrazio in modo speciale i ragazzi di Sora per i sentimenti che mi hanno espresso in risposta alla mia Lettera ai Bambini del mondo. Ed anzi approfitto della presenza oggi di più di mille alunni di scuole elementari per dire grazie a tutti i ragazzi e ragazze che mi hanno scritto. Grazie, carissimi, per le vostre letterine e soprattutto per le preghiere. Ripeto quello che vi ho scritto nella Lettera: il Papa conta molto sulla vostra preghiera!

* * *

Porgo un cordiale benvenuto al gruppo della Madonna delle Grazie in Farnese e al Pastore della diocesi, Monsignor Fiorino Tagliaferri: volentieri benedico le corone destinate all’immagine venerata nel Santuario, in occasione del suo terzo centenario.

* * *

Saluto poi i soci “Amici di Monsignor Francesco Fasola”, Presule amato in Piemonte come in Sicilia, e i membri dell’Associazione “Base 31” di Molfetta, animati dall’esempio del compianto Vescovo Tonino Bello: sono lieto che la memoria di questi Pastori sia stimolo di impegno generoso e costante.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli

Saluto inoltre i giovani, i malati e gli sposi novelli, e li invito a rinnovare, in questo mese di maggio da poco iniziato, la loro devozione alla Madonna.

A voi giovani auguro di conoscere più profondamente Maria, di entrare in intimità con lei, per accoglierla come Madre spirituale e modello di fedeltà a Cristo. Affido voi, malati, alla “Salus infirmorum”: la sua vicinanza vi aiuterà a vivere con paziente amore anche le ore difficili dell’esistenza. Voi, sposi novelli, imparate dalla Vergine di Nazareth lo stile della famiglia cristiana, improntato ad amore sincero e ad umile docilità alla parola di Dio.

Appello per la pace 

“Ho appreso con profonda tristezza e con viva preoccupazione la notizia che sono riprese le ostilità nei Balcani e che le parti in conflitto hanno moltiplicato gli attacchi perpetrati contro innocenti popolazioni. Mentre sono in corso le celebrazioni per il cinquantesimo anniversario della fine della Seconda Guerra mondiale, il cupo tuonare delle armi torna a riecheggiare in Europa!

Desidero ancora una volta ricordare che la pace non si costruisce con le armi; coi combattimenti non si promuove l’intesa; non si favoriscono i negoziati incrementando l’odio.

Tutti aspettiamo dai responsabili di quelle Nazioni segni di lungimiranza e di coerente assunzione delle proprie responsabilità, affinché quei cari popoli, stremati adesso dalla guerra, possano riprendere con fiducia il loro cammino verso il futuro.

A tutti giunga il saluto del Risorto “Pace a voi” (Gv 14, 27)”.

© Copyright - Libreria Editrice Vaticana