World Mission Sunday 2021 – Message from Pope Francis
“We cannot remain silent about what we have seen and heard” (At 4:20)
Dear brothers and sisters,
when we experience the power of God’s love, when we recognize his presence as a Father in our personal and community life, we cannot help but proclaim and share what we have seen and heard. Jesus’ relationship with his disciples, his humanity revealed to us in the mystery of the Incarnation, in his Gospel and in his Passover show us the extent to which God loves our humanity and makes our joys and sufferings, our desires and our anxieties our own (cf. CONC. ECUM. Vat. II, Cost. Past. Gaudium et spes, 22). Everything in Christ reminds us that the world in which we live and its need for redemption are no strangers to him and also calls us to feel an active part of this mission: “Go to the crosses of the streets and all those you will find, call them”(Mt 22:9). No one is foreign, no one can feel foreign or far away from this love of compassion.
The Experience of the Apostles
The history of evangelization begins with a passionate search for the Lord who calls and wants to establish with every person, where he is, a dialogue of friendship (cf. Jn 15:12-17). The Apostles are the first to tell us this, even remembering the day and time when they met him: “It was about four in the afternoon”(Jn 1:39). Friendship with the Lord, seeing him care for the sick, eating with sinners, feeding the hungry, approaching the excluded, touching the unclean, identifying with the needy, inviting to the Beatitudes, teaching in a new way and full of authority, leaves an indelible imprint, capable of eliciting amazement and an expansive and free joy that cannot be contained. As the prophet Jeremiah said, this experience is the burning fire of his active presence in our hearts that pushes us to mission, even if it sometimes involves sacrifices and misunderstandings (cf. 20:7-9). Love is always on the move and puts us on the move to share the most beautiful and hopeful proclamation: “We have found the Messiah”(Jn 1:41).
With Jesus we have seen, heard and touched that things can be different. He inaugurated, already today, the future times reminding us of an essential characteristic of our human being, so often forgotten: “we were made for the fullness that is achieved only in love” (Enc. Brothers all,68). New times that inspire a faith capable of giving impetus to initiatives and shaping communities, starting with men and women who learn to take charge of their own fragility and others, promoting fraternity and social friendship (cf. ibid.,67). The ecclesial community shows its beauty every time it remembers with gratitude that the Lord loved us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:19). The Lord’s “loving predilection surprises us, and amazement, by its very nature, cannot be possessed or imposed by us. […] Only in this way can the miracle of gratuitousness, of the free gift of oneself, flourish. Even missionary fervour can never be achieved as a result of reasoning or calculation. Putting one another “in a state of mission” is a reflection ofgratitude” (Message to the Pontifical Mission Societies,21 May 2020).
However, the timing was not easy; the first Christians began their lives of faith in a hostile and arduous environment. Stories of marginalization and imprisonment were intertwined with internal and external resistance, which seemed to contradict and even deny what they had seen and heard; but this, instead of being a difficulty or an obstacle that could lead them to fall back or close in on themselves, prompted them to turn every inconvenience, opposition and difficulty into opportunities for the mission. The limits and impediments also became a privileged place to a grease everything and all with the Spirit of the Lord. Nothing and no one could remain unrelated to the liberating announcement.
We have the living witness of all this in the Acts of theApostles, a book that missionary disciples always keep at hand. It is the book that tells how the scent of the Gospel spread as it passed, eliciting the joy that only the Spirit can give us. The Book of the Acts of the Apostles teaches us to live the trials by clinging to Christ, to mature the “conviction that God can act in any circumstance, even in the midst of apparent failures” and the certainty that “those who offer themselves and give themselves to God for love will surely be fruitful (cf. Jn 15:5)” (Exhort. Evangelii gaudium,279).
So are we: even the current historical moment is not easy. The situation of the pandemic has highlighted and amplified the pain, loneliness, poverty and injustices that many people were already suffering from and exposed our false security and the fragmentation and polarization that silently tear us apart. The most fragile and vulnerable have experienced even more their vulnerability and fragility. We experienced discouragement, disenchantment, fatigue; and even conformist bitterness, which takes away hope, has been able to take over our eyes. We, however, “do not proclaim ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord: as for us, we are your servants because of Jesus”(2 Cor 4:5). This is why we hear the Word of life resounding in our communities and families, echoing in our hearts and saying to us: “He is not here, he has risen”(Lk 24:6); A word of hope that breaks all determinism and, to those who allow themselves to be touched, gives the freedom and audacity necessary to stand up and creatively seek all possible ways of living compassion, “sacramental” of God’s closeness to us that abandons no one at the side of the road. In this time of pandemic, faced with the temptation to mask and justify indifference and apathy in the name of healthy social distancing, the mission of compassion capable of making the necessary distance a place of encounter, care and promotion is urgent. “What we have seen and heard”(Act 4:20), the mercy that has been used to us, is transformed into the point of reference and credibility that allows us to recover the shared passion to create “a community of belonging and solidarity, to which to allocate time, commitment and goods” (Enc. Brothers all,36). It is his Word that redeems us daily and saves us from the excuses that lead us to close ourselves in the cowardly of skepticism: “so much is the same, nothing will change”. And faced with the question: “for what purpose should I deprive myself of my security, comfort and pleasures if I cannot see any important results?”, the answer always remains the same: “Jesus Christ triumphed over sin and death and is full of power. Jesus Christ truly lives” (cf. Evangelii gaudium,275) and also wants us alive, fraternal and able to host and share this hope. In the present context there is an urgent need for missionaries of hope who, aoted by the Lord, are able to prophetically remember that no one saves himself.
Like the Apostles and the first Christians, we too say with all our might: “We cannot remain silent what we have seen and heard”(Acts 4:20). Everything we have received, all that the Lord has gradually bestowed on us, has given us because we put it on the stake and give it free of charge to others. Like the Apostles who have seen, listened to and touched the salvation of Jesus (cf. 1 Jn 1:1-4), so today we can touch the suffering and glorious flesh of Christ in the history of every day and find the courage to share with everyone a destiny of hope, that undoubted note that arises from knowing how to be accompanied by the Lord. As Christians we cannot keep the Lord for ourselves: the Church’s evangelizing mission expresses its integral and public value in the transformation of the world and in the custody of creation.
An invitation to each of us
The theme of this year’s World Mission Day, “We cannot keep quiet about what we have seen and heard”(At 4:20), is an invitation to each of us to “take charge” and to make known what we carry in our hearts. This mission is and has always been the identity of the Church: “it exists to evangelize” (St. PAUL VI, Esort. Evangelii nuntiandi,14). Our life of faith weakens, loses prophecy and capacity for amazement and gratitude in personal isolation or closing in small groups; by its very dynamic requires a growing openness capable of reaching and embracing everyone. The first Christians, far from succumbing to the temptation to close themselves in an elite, were attracted to the Lord and to the new life that He offered to go among the peoples and witness to what they had seen and heard: the Kingdom of God is close. They did so with the generosity, gratitude and nobility proper to those who sow knowing that others will eat the fruit of their commitment and sacrifice. Therefore I like to think that “even the weakest, most limited and wounded can be [missionaries] in their own way, because we must always allow good to be communicated, even if it coexists with many fragilities” (Esort. ap. postsin. Christus vivit,239).
On World Mission Day, which is celebrated every year on the penultimate Sunday of October, we remember with gratitude all the people who, through their witness of life, help us to renew our baptismal commitment to be generous and joyful apostles of the Gospel. Let us remember especially those who have been able to set out on their journey, leave land and family so that the Gospel can reach without delay and without fear the corners of peoples and cities where so many lives are thirsting for blessing.
Contemplating their missionary witness spurs us to be courageous and to pray insistently “the lord of the harvest, that he may send workers into his harvest”(Lk 10:2); in fact we are aware that the vocation to mission is not a thing of the past or a romantic memory of other times. Today, Jesus needs hearts that are capable of living the vocation as a true love story, that makes them go to the peripheries of the world and become messengers and instruments of compassion. And it is a call that He addresses to all, though not in the same way. Remember that there are suburbs that are located near us, in the center of a city, or in your family. There is also an aspect of the universal openness of love that is not geographical but existential. Always, but especially in these times of pandemic, it is important to increase the daily capacity to enlarge our circle, to reach those who spontaneously would not feel them part of “my world of interests”, even if they are close to us (cf. Enc. Brothers all,97). To live the mission is to venture to cultivate the same feelings as Christ Jesus and to believe with him that those next to me are also my brother and sister. May his love of compassion also awaken our hearts and make us all missionary disciples.
May Mary, the first missionary disciple, grow in all the baptized the desire to be salt and light in our lands (cf. Mt 5:13-14).
Rome, St. John lateran, 6 January 2021, Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord.