Vatican City (Fides Service) - At 11.30 on 16 May in the Sala Clementina in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican, Pope John Paul II received in Audience the participants at the General Assembly of the Supreme Council of the Pontifical Mission Societies accompanied by Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples and Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith, Secretary adjunct of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples and President of the Pontifical Mission Societies. Here is the Pope’ s address in our English translation of the original Italian:
Venerable Brother Bishops
Dear National Directors of the Pontifical Mission Societies
1. I am happy to welcome you for this annual event for which you have come from all the Churches of the world.
I thank Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, who voiced your common sentiments. A special thought goes also to the President of the Pontifical Mission Societies, Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith, and the numerous bishops present. I greet also the Secretaries General and the members of the Superior Council who with their dedication guarantee the good functioning of this important structure of missionary activity in the life of the Church.
My Predecessors wished to qualify the Missionary Societies with the title “Pontifical” and to move their see to Rome precisely to show that the Societies express the duty and concern of the whole Church to carry out her “opera maxima” that is, the evangelisation of the world.
2. The Mission Societies manifest the Pope’s concern for all the Churches (cfr 2 Cor 11,28). Their task is to promote and support missionary animation among the entire People of God, keeping alive first of all the apostolic spirit in the individual Churches and making every effort to meet the necessities of those in difficulty. They can therefore rightly be called “Societies of the Pope”. At the same time they are the “Societies of the Bishops” since it is through these structures that the duty of proclaiming the Good News entrusted by Christ to the Apostolic College, is expressed and actuated.
“Because they are under the auspices of the Pope and of the College of Bishops these Societies, also within the boundaries of the particular churches, rightly have <the first place…since they are the means by which Catholics from their very infancy are imbued with a genuinely universal and missionary spirit; they are also the means which ensure an effective collection of resources for the good of all the missions, in accordance with the needs of each one.> (Ad Gentes 38). One of the main purpose of the Missionary Societies is to foster of lifelong vocations ad gentes, in both the older and younger churches.” (Redemptoris missio 84).
3. Dear National Directors, in all this important missionary activity of yours, which places you at the very heart of the life of the Church, you collaborate closely with the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples to which the Pontifical Mission Societies have been entrusted, becoming thus the official organism of universal missionary cooperation (cfr Pastor Bonus 85 and 91; Cooperatio missionalis, 3 and 6).
All this expresses the genuinely universal and missionary spirit of the PMS, whose profoundly “Catholic” charisma you maintain and manifest in your prayer, your activity and your sacrifice.
And this is also the spirit which emanates from your Statutes. This spirit must be closely guarded and always adapted to the changing demands of the apostolate. In this regard, I learned with satisfaction that you have undertaken an opportune work of revision to adapt the Statutes to the changed conditions of the times. Hence I cannot fail to praise you and all who are working on this revision aimed at fostering increasing collaboration and opportune use of the means of assistance for the Churches.
4. On this happy occasion I cannot fail to mention the celebration of the 160th anniversary of the Pontifical Mission Society for Holy Childhood, or Missionary Childhood, which falls this year. I wish to recall and to underline the great work of animation and sensitisation which this Society undertakes “from early childhood” to promote the missionary cause. The Message I addressed on the Solemnity of the Epiphany to the members of the Society, expresses all my appreciation for these “missionary children”. It will therefore be a joy for me when I receive soon a large and vivacious delegation of children from all over the world who are coming to Rome to celebrate the 160th anniversary of their meritorious Society.
I also had the pleasure of receiving in February a large group of representatives of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States, led by their National Director. Through the generous offerings for brothers and sisters in need, the Societies represent in that nation a sign of authentic universal love.
5. I wish to encourage you to keep always in mind, in your work of “missionary cooperation” the growing needs of the Church in various parts of the world. For contingent motives, the “exchange of gifts” among Churches, with regard to material help, has recently registered a significant decline.
I urge you not to be discouraged by difficulties. With the spirit of Saint Paul, who recommended “collections” to help the Church in Jerusalem (cfr Rom 15, 25-27) remind everyone that <cooperation, indispensable for the evangelisation of the world, is a duty and a right for all the baptised> (Cooperatio Missionalis 2, 1998; Redemptoris missio 77; CJC also Code of Canon Law, canons 211,781).
Continue then to offer all the Churches, old and new, the privilege of “helping the Gospel” so that it is proclaimed to all the peoples of the earth. <The missionary Church gives what she receives, and distributes to the poor the material goods that her materially richer sons and daughters generously put at her disposal. “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20, 35)> (Redemptoris missio 81).
6. Dear brothers, we are in the month of May and it is natural to turn to Mary whom we invoke as “Queen of the Missions” . Let us keep fast hold of the beads of our Rosary, a prayer which in the history of the Church has always brought, besides an increase in faith also special protection for those devoted to the Blessed Virgin. I wish to repeat to you the call I made to the little ones of Missionary Childhood: <The missionary Rosary is very beautiful: one decade, the white is for old Europe, so that it may re-discover the evangelizing fervour which generated so many Churches; the yellow decade is for Asia, which explodes with life and youth; the green decade is for Africa, tried by suffering, but ready for the Good News; the red decade is for America, seedbed of new missionary forces; the blue decade is for the continent of Oceania which awaits a more capillary diffusion of the Gospel.>
With these sentiments, I entrust you all to our common Mother, to whom, I am certain, you offer continual prayers and sacrifices as you go about your precious missionary work. May the Apostolic Blessing, which I gladly impart, obtain for you and your co-workers, an abundant effusion of heavenly blessings. (Fides Service 16/5/2003 EM lines 87 Words: 1,199)