Mexico City (Agenzia Fides) - "First of all, I would like to thank you for inviting me to inaugurate this Missionary Year in Mexico. Pope Francis wanted a Missionary Month for the Universal Church in October 2019, but the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the magazine of the Pontifical Mission Societies here in Mexico gave you the right motivation to celebrate a whole year dedicated to mission": with these words His Exc. Mgr. Giovanni Pietro Dal Toso, Assistant Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and President of the Pontifical Mission Societies (PMS), began his speech regarding the historic-pastoral Day on October 2, dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the magazine "Ad Gentes" and to the beginning of the Missionary Year in Mexico (see Fides, 1/10/2018).
In his lectio magistralis on the theme "A missionary Church for the man of today: action and prayer in our Pontifical Mission Societies", the Archbishop reiterated that "the Church exists to evangelize" therefore to make Christ known to man, and "the missionary Year must help us to put the whole life of the Church in this perspective", as the Second Vatican Council teaches. This is not a "peripheral" theme but of the core of our being Christians. Of particular relevance is the role the Pontifical Mission Societies has as a function of support for the mission ad gentes. "The missio ad gentes is still valid today, because many still do not know Christ", reiterated Mgr. Dal Toso. "This is true in truly missionary lands, if we think that of the more than 7 billion men on earth, two billion do not know Christ. But it is also true of places where many are nominally baptized, but in reality live in an objective state of distance from God and his Church".
The President of the PMS then focused on the Trinitarian origin of the mission, pointing out that "it is not a work accomplished by us, but in the first place it is the work of God, to which we have the privilege to participate", and offered some considerations in the Latin American perspective. Starting from Aparecida, where "the Latin American Church has drawn an analysis of its reality and an important ecclesial and pastoral project", the Archbishop asked himself what has changed in these 11 years. "One thing, no doubt, has changed and that was fruit of Providence - he said -. Now, it is Pope Francis who rows the 'boat of St. Peter', a pastor of these lands and who, of the ecclesial event of Aparecida, was a fundamental protagonist". He therefore highlighted two aspects related to the Latin American context: missionary discipleship and popular piety.
The "evangelizing force" of popular piety and its importance for the Christian and missionary life of the faithful has been widely recognized by the documents of the magisterium. In particular, Mgr. Dal Toso underlined two fundamental elements: the meeting and the closeness, which are "characteristic elements of God's work in the history of salvation". Being close to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which recalls Mary's meeting with an Indian, to whom she assures her permanent closeness, the Archbishop noted that, despite the colorful and multifaceted reality of popular piety, which characterizes millions of Latin Americans, what is worrying is "the significant number of Catholics who abandon the Church to enter other religious groups or the spread of a lifestyle far from faith". These processes cannot be explained without referring also to the weaknesses present within the Church: little consideration of Christian initiation, spirituality centered on the political dimension of faith, few priests poorly distributed, scarce missionary formation in seminaries, evangelization carried out with little ardor, failure to accompany the lay missionaries ... The proclamation must aim at a personal encounter with Christ, and "in the shrine of Guadalupe we can see how God wants to find man through the Virgin, with a language that man himself can understand".
On the subject of missionary discipleship, the President of the PMS considers "illuminating the fact that from Aparecida we have stopped talking about disciples and missionaries, referring to ourselves as ‘missionary disciples’". This concept reaffirms the co-responsibility of every baptized person in the Church's mission, solemnly affirmed by the Council, which will also be the theme of the extraordinary Missionary Month, as highlighted by the Archbishop: "today we need baptized persons with a strong personality and disinterested vocation who are missionaries".
"Popular piety - he continued - can become an important basis for forming missionary disciples through Christian initiation, that is, through an existential path of identification with Christ ... The Missionary Year must promote faith, so that it may become a missionary faith and, therefore, a faith in which missionary disciples are called to cross the other side of the new situations of today's man and his way of life to bring the salvation that Jesus Christ offers everyone".
In the last part of his speech, Mgr. Dal Toso focused on the relationship between the mission and the means of social communication, in the context of the 50 years of the missionary magazine Ad gentes: "After 50 years, we can only say that to use the language of his contemporaries continues to be essential for today's missionary: this is what Jesus himself did. And today the language of our contemporaries is more than a media language ... thanks to the internet we have gone from 'mass media' to 'social media', to 'personal media' ... ". After mentioning the experience of Pauline Jaricot and the network that gave rise to the Society of Propagation of the Faith, Mgr. Dal Toso focused on the reality of the digital world and the "missionary potential of the network" with its anthropological implications. He then concluded by asking a question that wants to be a stimulus: "In today's digital world, it is man himself who is changing: how can our institutions foster the meeting of this man with Jesus Christ alive and carry out their missionary task?".
The President of the PMS concluded his conference with a proposal on the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe: "Our reflections, strategies and plans, also our presence in the media and on the web, are human instruments, but mission is a divine work, and the Pope insists that it is an action of the Holy Spirit ... This is why this shrine, must become a shrine for prayer in favor of missions. This Missionary Year is a special occasion for this Shrine to become a place of missionary prayer, to awaken the sense of mission throughout the People of God". (SL) (Agenzia Fides, 3/10/2018)