A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Francis Speaks – on Mission

Let us reflect on the key phrases that synthesise the three foundations of the life and mission of every disciple.

1. “You shall be my witnesses”  (Acts 1:8)

This is the heart of Jesus’ teaching to the disciples. They are to be witnesses of Jesus, thanks to the grace of the Holy Spirit that they will receive. Every Christian is called to be a missionary and witness to Christ.  And the Church, the community of Christ’s disciples, has no other mission than that of bringing the Gospel to the entire world by bearing witness to Christ.  To evangelise is the very identity of the Church.

Each baptised person is called to mission, and by the mandate of the Church: so, mission is carried out in communion with the ecclesial community, and not on one’s own initiative. Indeed, it was no coincidence that the Lord Jesus sent his disciples out on mission in pairs; the witness of Christians to Christ is primarily communitarian in nature. 

The disciples are urged to live their personal lives in a missionary key: they are sent by Jesus to the world not only to carry out, but also and above all to live the mission entrusted to them. The essence of the mission is to bear witness to Christ, to his life, passion, death and resurrection for the love of the Father and of humanity.  

The observation of Saint Paul VI remains ever valid: “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 41). Paul VI went on to say: “Preaching, the verbal proclamation of a message, is indeed always indispensable”.

In evangelisation, then, the example of a Christian life and the proclamation of Christ are inseparable. They are the two lungs with which any community must breathe, if it is to be missionary.

2. “To the ends of the earth” 

The risen Lord also tells the disciples where they are being sent: “…in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). We clearly see the universal character of the disciples’ mission. The disciples are sent not to proselytise, but to proclaim; the Christian does not proselytise. 

Due to religious persecution and situations of war and violence, many Christians are forced to flee from their homelands to other countries. We are grateful to these brothers and sisters who bear witness to Christ and to the love of God in the countries that accept them. More and more, we are seeing how the presence of faithful of various nationalities enriches the face of parishes and makes them more universal, more Catholic. Consequently, the pastoral care of migrants should be valued as an important missionary activity that can also help the local faithful to rediscover the joy of the Christian faith they have received.

The words “to the ends of the earth” should challenge the disciples of Jesus and impel them to press beyond familiar places in bearing witness to him. No human reality is foreign to the concern of the disciples of Jesus in their mission. Christ’s Church will continue to “go forth” towards new geographical, social and existential horizons, towards “borderline” places and human situations, in order to bear witness to Christ and his love to men and women of every people, culture and social status.  In this sense, the mission will always be a missio ad gentes, as the Second Vatican Council taught.

3. “You will receive power” from the Holy Spirit 

When the risen Christ commissioned the disciples to be his witnesses, he also promised them the grace needed for this great responsibility: “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). Whereas they had previously been weak, fearful and closed in on themselves, the Holy Spirit gave them the strength, courage and wisdom to bear witness to Christ before all.

Just as “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’, except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 12:3), so no Christian is able to bear full and genuine witness to Christ the Lord without the Spirit’s inspiration and assistance. Indeed, it is precisely when we feel tired, unmotivated or confused that we should remember to have recourse to the Holy Spirit in prayer. Let me emphasise once again that prayer plays a fundamental role in the missionary life. The Spirit is the true protagonist of mission. It is he who gives us the right word, at the right time, and in the right way.

I continue to dream of a completely missionary Church, and a new era of missionary activity among Christian communities. I repeat Moses’ great desire for the people of God on their journey: “Would it be that all the Lord’s people were prophets!” (Num 11:29). Indeed, would that all of us in the Church were what we already are by virtue of baptism: prophets, witnesses, missionaries of the Lord, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to the ends of the earth! Mary, Queen of the Missions, pray for us!

Extract from the message of Pope Francis for World Mission Day - 6 January 2022

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