Vatican City (Fides Service) - “The mission of Christ the Redeemer, which is entrusted to the Church, is still very far from completion”(Redemptoris Missio, 1). This statement made by the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II must resound continually as a commitment, objective and call in the ear and more important, in the heart of all the baptised as the major challenge for the Church in the third millennium. Every member of the Church is called to take an active part in the universal mission and to strive, each according to his or her situation, to offer constant spiritual and material collaboration: this is a right and a duty received with the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. “The universal Church, every particular Church, every ecclesial institution and association, just as every individual member of the Church has the duty to work to spread the Lord’s message to the ends of the earth (cf Acts 1,8) so that the Mystical Body may reach the fullness of maturity in Christ” (Cooperatio Missionalis 1).
However, although mission is a duty for every person it is not individual work. Christ chose a group of people to whom to entrust his mission command. “The Twelve are the first to work in the Church's universal mission. They constitute a "collegial subject" of that mission, having been chosen by Jesus to be with him and to be sent forth "to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" ” (RM 61). The Pope, as successor of St Peter the apostle, is the “first missionary” in the Church and walking with him along the roads of the world are bishops, priests, men and women Religious and increasing numbers of lay people. The Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples which has the task of “directing and co-ordinating the work of evangelisation of peoples and missionary cooperation” (Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus art.85) could never fulfil its mission without the support of the whole Church.
Of all those with a special call for mission, members of institutes of Consecrated Life are particularly important: since the missionary dimension is part of the very nature of the Church, it can never be optional for men and women Religious because “Over and above the charisms proper to those Institutes which are devoted to the mission ad gentes or which are engaged in ordinary apostolic activity, it can be said that the sense of mission is at the very heart of every form of consecrated life.” (Vita Consecrata, 25).
In fact the history of missionary activity is written with the life and heroic testimony even to the point of martyrdom, of thousands of men and women Religious who go to the furthest and most remote corners of the earth to carry the Good News of Christ. The history of the Church’s mission would certainly be much shorter without the generous contribution of all those missionaries inspired certainly not by thirst for dominion of land or sterile self-assertion, who spread like the Gospel seed from the glaciers of Alaska to the Savana of Africa, from multi-cultural Asia to the vast watery expanse of Oceania.
Today the social and religious situation of the world is extremely changeable, complex and at times contradictory. Pressing phenomena, new situations beg to be illuminated by the Word of God. How can we be insensitive to the cry of humanity and the fact that the number of missionaries is ever smaller? It is not only a question of numbers, we must revive our faith, strengthen our commitment, coordinate better the available means and personnel, avoid wasting energy and concentrate on the essential. In a word we must return to a radical reading of the Gospel, we must recognise the signs of the times, trust in the word of the Lord and not ourselves be hampered by doubt, misunderstanding, spirit of self-sufficiency. The Holy Spirit led the first group of believers to form a community and one of the main goals of missionary work is to live fraternal communion, one in heart and mind (cfr RM 26), because communion is the first form of mission.
“ In the promising season of the new evangelisation that we are living, it is necessary to continue to cultivate fruitful communion among the missionary institutes, the bishops and the particular Churches engaging in a constant, loving dialogue at the national and diocesan levels, with the Unions of Superiors of male and female orders and recognising different charisms, tasks and ministries” (John Paul II, address Meeting for Religious Superiors organised by Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples 31 May 2002).
As we prepare to celebrate the Year of the Eucharist - a sacrament which “appears as both the source and the summit of all evangelisation, since its goal is the communion of mankind with Christ and in him with the Father and the Holy Spirit ” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia n.22) - let us pray fervently before Christ present in the Most Holy Sacrament, confiding in the intercession of Mary Assumed into heaven, that communion and collaboration among the different institutes involved in missionary activity may be a form of concrete witness for the many brothers and sisters who have yet to encounter the Lord Jesus Christ. (Card. Crescenzio Sepe) (Agenzia Fides 27/7/2004, Righe 57 - Parole 775)