6 January 2022 | Message


Dear brothers and sisters!
These words were spoken by the Risen Jesus to his disciples just before his
Ascension into heaven, as we learn from the Acts of the Apostles: “You shall receive
power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in
Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth” (1:8). They
are also the theme of the 2022 World Mission Day which, as always, reminds us
that the Church is missionary by nature. This year World Mission Day offers us the
opportunity to commemorate several important events in the Church’s life and
mission: the fourth centenary of the founding of the Congregation de Propaganda
Fide, now the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, and the second
centenary of the Society of the Propagation of the Faith. A hundred years ago, the
latter, together with the Society of the Holy Childhood and the Society of Saint Peter
the Apostle, was granted the title “Pontifical”.
Let us reflect on the three key phrases that synthesize the three foundations of the
life and mission of every disciple: “You shall be my witnesses”, “to the ends of the
earth” and “you shall receive the power of the Holy Spirit”.
1. “You shall be my witnesses” – The call of every Christian to bear witness to
This is the central point, the heart of Jesus’ teaching to the disciples, in view of
their being sent forth into the world. The disciples are to be witnesses of Jesus,
thanks to the grace of the Holy Spirit that they will receive. Wherever they go and
in whatever place they find themselves. Christ was the first to be sent, as a
“missionary” of the Father (cf. Jn 20:21), and as such, he is the Father’s “faithful
witness” (cf. Rev 1:5). In a similar way, 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 evangelize is the very identity of the Church.
A deeper look at the words, “You shall be my witnesses”, can clarify a few ever
timely aspects of the mission Christ entrusted to the disciples. The plural form of
the verb emphasizes the communitarian and ecclesial nature of the disciples’
missionary vocation. Each baptized person is called to mission, in the Church and
by the mandate of the Church: consequently, mission is carried out together, not
individually, in communion with the ecclesial community, and not on one’s own
initiative. Even in cases where an individual in some very particular situation carries
out the evangelizing mission alone, he must always do so in communion with the
Church which commissioned him. As Saint Paul VI taught in the Apostolic
Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, a document dear to my heart: “Evangelization is
for no one an individual and isolated act; it is one that is deeply ecclesial. When the
most obscure preacher, catechist or pastor in the most distant land preaches the
Gospel, gathers his little community together or administers a sacrament, even
alone, he is carrying out an ecclesial act, and his action is certainly attached to the
evangelizing activity of the whole Church by institutional relationships, but also by
profound invisible links in the order of grace. This presupposes that he acts not in
virtue of a mission which he attributes to himself or by a personal inspiration, but in
union with the mission of the Church and in her name” (No. 60). 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. Hence, in
carrying out the mission, the presence of a community, regardless of its size, is of
fundamental importance.
In addition, 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; not only to bear witness, but also and above all
to be witnesses of Christ. In the moving words of the Apostle Paul, “[we are]
always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be
manifested in our bodies” (2 Cor 4:10). The essence of the mission is to bear
witness to Christ, that is, to his life, passion, death and resurrection for the love of
the Father and of humanity. Not by chance did the apostles look for Judas’
replacement among those who, like themselves, had been witnesses of the Lord’s
resurrection (cf. Acts 1:21). Christ, indeed Christ risen from the dead, is the One to
whom we must testify and whose life we must share. Missionaries of Christ are not
sent to communicate themselves, to exhibit their persuasive qualities and abilities
or their managerial skills. Instead, theirs is the supreme honour of presenting Christ
in words and deeds, proclaiming to everyone the Good News of his salvation, as the
first apostles did, with joy and boldness.
In the final analysis, then, the true witness is the “martyr”, the one who gives his or
her life for Christ, reciprocating the gift that he has made to us of himself. “The
primary reason for evangelizing is the love of Jesus which we have received, the
experience of salvation which urges us to ever greater love of him” (Evangelii
Gaudium, 264).
Finally, when it comes to Christian witness, 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). For this reason, the testimony of an authentic Christian life is fundamental for
the transmission of the faith. On the other hand, the task of proclaiming Christ’s
person and the message is equally necessary. Indeed, Paul VI went on to say:
“Preaching, the verbal proclamation of a message, is indeed always indispensable…
The word remains ever relevant, especially when it is the bearer of the power of
God. This is why Saint Paul’s axiom, “Faith comes from what is heard” (Rom
10:17), also retains its relevance: it is the word that is heard which leads to belief”
(ibid., 42).
In evangelization, then, the example of a Christian life and the proclamation of
Christ are inseparable. One is at the service of the other. They are the two lungs
with which any community must breathe, if it is to be missionary. This kind of
complete, consistent and joyful witness to Christ will surely be a force of attraction
also for the growth of the Church in the third millennium. I exhort everyone to take
up once again the courage, frankness and parrhesía of the first Christians, in order
to bear witness to Christ in word and deed in every area of life.
2. “To the ends of the earth” – The perennial relevance of a mission of universal
In telling the disciples to be his witnesses, the risen Lord also tells them where they
are being sent: “…in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the
earth” (Acts 1:8). Here we clearly see the universal character of the disciples’
mission. We also see the “centrifugal” geographical expansion, as if in concentric
circles, of the mission, beginning with Jerusalem, which Jewish tradition considered
the centre of the world, to Judea and Samaria and to “the ends of the earth”. The
disciples are sent not to proselytize, but to proclaim; the Christian does not
proselytize. The Acts of the Apostles speak of this missionary expansion and
provide a striking image of the Church “going forth” in fidelity to her call to bear
witness to Christ the Lord and guided by divine providence in the concrete
conditions of her life. Persecuted in Jerusalem and then spread throughout Judea
and Samaria, the first Christians bore witness to Jesus everywhere (cf. Acts 8:1, 4).
Something similar still happens in our own day. 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 do
not remain locked in their own suffering but bear witness to Christ and to the love
of God in the countries that accept them. Hence, Saint Paul VI encouraged them to
recognize the “responsibility incumbent on immigrants in the country that receives
them” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 21). 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 in every
age and impel them to press beyond familiar places in bearing witness to him. For
all the benefits of modern travel, there are still geographical areas in which
missionary witnesses of Christ have not arrived to bring the Good News of his love.
Then too 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. The Church must constantly keep pressing
forward, beyond her own confines, in order to testify to all the love of Christ. Here I
would like to remember and express my gratitude for all those many missionaries
who gave their lives in order to “press on” in incarnating Christ’s love towards all
the brothers and sisters whom they met.
3. “You will receive power” from the Holy Spirit – Let us always be strengthened
and guided by the 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). According to the account in Acts, it was precisely following the descent
of the Holy Spirit on the disciples that the first act of witnessing to the crucified and
risen Christ took place. That kerygmatic proclamation – Saint Peter’s “missionary”
address to the inhabitants of Jerusalem – inaugurated an era in which the disciples
of Jesus evangelized the world. 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. All Christ’s missionary disciples are called to
recognize the essential importance of the Spirit’s work, to dwell in his presence
daily and to receive his unfailing strength and guidance. 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 emphasize once again that prayer plays a
fundamental role in the missionary life, for it allows us to be refreshed and
strengthened by the Spirit as the inexhaustible divine source of renewed energy
and joy in sharing Christ’s life with others. “Receiving the joy of the Spirit is a
grace. Moreover, it is the only force that enables us to preach the Gospel and to
confess our faith in the Lord” (Message to the Pontifical Mission Societies, 21 May
2020). The Spirit, then, is the true protagonist of mission. It is he who gives us the
right word, at the right time, and in the right way.
In light of this action of the Holy Spirit, we also want to consider the missionary
anniversaries to be celebrated in 2022. The establishment of the Sacred
Congregation De Propaganda Fide in 1622 was motivated by the desire to promote
the missionary mandate in new territories. A providential insight! The Congregation
proved to be crucial for setting the Church’s evangelizing mission truly free from
interference by worldly powers, in order to establish those local Churches which
today display such great vigour. It is our hope that, as in its past four centuries, the
Congregation, with the light and strength of the Spirit, will continue and intensify its
work of coordinating, organizing and promoting the Church’s missionary activities.
The same Spirit who guides the universal Church also inspires ordinary men and
women for extraordinary missions. Thus it was that a young French woman, Pauline
Jaricot, founded the Society for the Propagation of the Faith exactly two hundred
years ago. Her beatification will be celebrated in this jubilee year. Albeit in poor
health, she accepted God’s inspiration to establish a network of prayer and
collection for missionaries, so that the faithful could actively participate in the
mission “to the ends of the earth”. This brilliant idea gave rise to the annual
celebration of World Mission Day, in which the funds collected in local communities
are applied to the universal fund with which the Pope supports missionary activity.
In this regard, I think too of the French Bishop Charles de Forbin-Janson, who
established the Association of the Holy Childhood to promote the mission among
children, with the motto “Children evangelize children, children pray for children,
children help children the world over”. I also think of Jeanne Bigard, who
inaugurated the Society of Saint Peter the Apostle for the support of seminarians
and priests in mission lands. Those three Mission Societies were recognized as
“Pontifical” exactly a hundred years ago. It was also under the inspiration and
guidance of the Holy Spirit that Blessed Paolo Manna, born 150 years ago, founded
the present-day Pontifical Missionary Union, to raise awareness and encourage
missionary spirit among priests, men and women religious and the whole people of
God. Saint Paul VI himself was part of this latter Society, and confirmed its papal
recognition. I mention these four Pontifical Mission Societies for their great
historical merits, but also to encourage you to rejoice with them, in this special
year, for the activities they carry out in support of the mission of evangelization in
the Church, both universal and local. It is my hope that the local Churches will find
in these Societies a sure means for fostering the missionary spirit among the People
of God.
Dear brothers and sisters, 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 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!