Hochiminh Ville (Agenzia Fides) - "How can we define the Pontifical Mission Societies (PMS) with a sentence? They are a worldwide network at the Pope's service to sustain the mission and the young Churches with prayer and charity. The Pope himself states that the PMS are important, but not very well known.
Probably for many of you and it would be reductive to consider them only for its financial aspect". This was repeated by Archbishop Giampietro Dal Toso, President of the Pontifical Mission Societies, speaking yesterday at the Bishop’s Conference of Vietnam, where he is to meet pastoral workers engaged in missionary animation, in view of the Extraordinary Missionary Month of October 2019 (see Fides, 25/4/2019).
Speaking to the Vietnamese Bishops, the Archbishop expressed his thoughts on this local Church, which has "a special vocation in the evangelization of Asia": "With his travels in Asia, Pope Francis also shows us a way, but you who are here have a special responsibility to carry out the main task of the Church, which is the missionary mandate. To the Church in Vietnam, God has entrusted a special responsibility for evangelization".
Thus Mgr. Dal Toso focused on the history of the PMS, defining them as a great instrument of evangelization. "The Pontifical Mission Societies are 4. In order of their founding, they are: the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, the Society of the Holy Childhood, the Society of St. Peter the Apostle. These were born in France in the 19th century. Considering the significant number of missionary institutes born in that period, we can say that the France of that era was characterized by a particular atmosphere of great missionary zeal. In the first half of the 19th century, France experienced a time of holiness. Various saints lived in the Diocese of Lyon at that time: St. John Maria Vianney, St. Peter Julian Eymard, founder of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, St. Peter Chanel, who later became apostle and martyr in Oceania. They were joined by Pauline Jaricot, whom we hopefully will soon be blessed, the foundress of the first Society, the Society of the Propagation of the Faith". The fourth Society, the Pontifical Missionary Union, was founded in Italy thanks to the missionary zeal of Blessed Paul Manna, priest and member of the PIME (Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions). "I would not be correct - he added - if I did not speak of charisma, that is, of a gift of the Holy Spirit. Our Mission Societies would not be comprehensible without the inspiration of the Holy Spirit".
After having briefly illustrated the history of each Society, the Archbishop recalled the anniversary of the centenary of the Maximum Illud, Letter of Pope Benedict XV, in which the Pope "makes a clear distinction between the colonizing action of the European powers and the evangelizing work of the church. It also underlines the urgency of forming a local clergy in mission territories. In that document Benedict XV already mentions the importance of the Pontifical Mission Societies as a tool for the mission".
The President of the PMS then noted that, since then, the Magisterium on the mission has always made reference to the Pontifical Mission Societies. Among other texts, he quoted the Second Vatican Council Decree Ad gentes, which, at number 38, when mentioning the duties of the Bishop regarding the universal mission, states: “The bishop will exhort and help the diocesan congregations to play a role of their own in the missions; he will promote the works of mission institutes among his own faithful, but most especially the papal mission works. For it is only right to give these works pride of place, since they are the means of imbuing Catholics from their very infancy with a real universal and missionary outlook; and they are also the means of making an effective collection of funds to subsidize all missions, each according to its needs" (AG 38).
Dwelling on the theological horizon of the PMS, Archbishop Dal Toso addressed two important issues: the local Church and the universal Church, the relationship between faith and missio ad gentes. Regarding the latter, he reiterated: "We all know that the missionary dimension is very dear to our Pontiff. But I would say even more: on several occasions the Pope has emphasized that the missionary outreach is paradigmatic for all the Church’s activity (see EG 15). All this is not new, because the Second Vatican Council and the Popes who followed, already reaffirmed the missionary nature of the Church. The term "nature" evidently does not simply refer to a dimension, but to the essence of the Church: if it is not missionary, the Church loses its identity".
The President of the PMS then recalled the main tasks of the PMS National Directions, among which he highlighted: "to keep the missionary spirit alive in the Church through missionary animation"; "to encourage prayer for missions"; to cultivate missionary formation, in collaboration with the International Secretariats of Rome, to offer training opportunities to priests, religious and laity involved in the mission.
In the second part of his speech, Mgr. Dal Toso spoke of the Extraordinary Missionary Month of October 2019, calling it "an extraordinary opportunity also for your Churches to renew missionary zeal, which is also the great goal of the Pontifical Mission Societies". He then traced the historical genesis of this initiative, announced by Pope Francis at the 2017 World Mission Day during the Angelus and entrusted with a letter to the Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (CEP), Cardinal Fernando Filoni. Two letters from Cardinal Filoni followed, to Bishops around the world, to the Superiors of religious institutes, to leaders of ecclesial movements and to rectors of major seminaries under the jurisdiction of the CEP.
On the line of the Council, which brought the mission ad gentes back to the responsibility of every baptized person, the choice of the theme of the next Extraordinary Missionary Month is “Baptized and sent. The Church of Christ on mission in the world". "Baptized and sent: in baptism we received the divine life and thanks to it we are prophets, that is, heralds of the mystery of Christ, sent by him", explained the Archbishop. "Prayer, testimony, missionary formation and charity can be concrete ways for every baptized person to express his being a prophet through baptism". Finally, providing some practical suggestions, Mgr. Dal Toso referred to the site www.october2019.va where you can find information and material for the animation. (SL) (Agenzia Fides, 26/4/2019)