This Sunday on the 24th of October we are celebrating the 84th Mission Sunday. Annually, World Mission Sunday is celebrated on the next-to-last Sunday in October. This Sunday is an important day in the life of the Church because it teaches how to give: as an offering made to God, in the Eucharistic celebration and for all the missions of the world. This Sunday is set aside to think about our Mission to the world and is a reminder to us as to who we are and what we have to do. The mission comes directly from Jesus to his disciples to go out to the whole world and proclaim the gospel to all creation. In his message the Holy Father says that “It is only from this encounter with the Love of God that transforms our existence, that we can live in communion with Him and among ourselves and offer our brethren a credible testimony, giving reason for our hope.” The theme for the 84th World Mission Sunday is: “Building Ecclesial Communion is the Key to the Mission.” World Mission Sunday is annually organized by the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. In one of his messages for the World Mission Sunday, Pope John Paul II had explained that the offerings that will be collected on this Sunday are destined for a common fund of solidarity, distributed in the Pope’s name, by the Society for the Propagation of the Faith among the missions and missionaries of the entire world.
Pope Benedict XVI in his message says that the month of October, with the celebration of World Mission Sunday, offers to diocesan and parish communities, institutes of consecrated life, ecclesial movements and the entire People of God an opportunity to renew the commitment to proclaim the Gospel and to give pastoral activities greater missionary perspective. This annual event invites us to live intensely the liturgical and catechetical, charitable and cultural processes through which Jesus Christ summons us to the banquet of his word and of the Eucharist, to taste the gift of his presence, to be formed at his school and to live ever more closely united to him, our teacher and Lord. According to the Holy Father every World Mission Sunday offers us all “an occasion for renewing their commitment to proclaim the Gospel and give pastoral activity a greater missionary character.” The Pope then mentions that the commitment and task belongs to the entire Church, which is “missionary by her very nature,” and he continues: “In a multi-ethnic society that experiences increasing forms of solitude and alarming indifference, Christians should learn to offer signs of hope and become universal brothers, cultivating the great ideals that transform history and, without false illusions or unnecessary fears, work to make the planet a home for all peoples.”
The Pontiff then refers to the words of Jesus in John’s Gospel: “He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” Only on the basis of this encounter with the Love of God that changes life can we live in communion with him and with one another and offer our brothers and sisters a credible witness, accounting for the hope that is in us. An adult faith, capable of entrusting itself totally to God with a filial attitude fostered by prayer, meditation on the word of God and study of the truth of the faith, is a prerequisite for furthering a new humanism founded on the Gospel of Jesus. Furthermore, in many countries the various ecclesial activities are resumed in October, after the summer break, and the Church invites us to learn from Mary, by praying the Holy Rosary, to contemplate the Father’s plan of love for humanity, to love her as he loves her. This indeed he says is the meaning of our mission. Here the Father calls us to be his sons and daughters loved in the beloved Son, and to recognize that we are all brothers and sisters in him who is the gift of salvation for humanity divided by discord and sin, and the revealer of the true face of God who “so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life”.
The Gospel of John tells us how some Greeks, who had arrived in Jerusalem for the paschal pilgrimage, address to Philip and make a request that they want to see Jesus. It also resonates in our hearts the commitment to, and task of, Gospel proclamation is a duty of the whole Church, “by her very nature missionary”, and invites us to become champions of the newness of life made up of authentic relationships in communities founded on the Gospel. In a multi-ethnic society that is experiencing increasingly disturbing forms of loneliness and indifference, Christians must learn to offer signs of hope and to become universal brethren, cultivating the great ideals that transform history and, without false illusions or useless fears, must strive to make the planet a home for all peoples. Like the Greek pilgrims of two thousand years ago, the people of our time too, even perhaps unknown to them, ask believers not only to “speak” of Jesus, but to “make Jesus seen”, to make the face of the Redeemer shine out in every corner of the earth before the generations of the new millennium and especially before the young people of every continent, the privileged ones to whom the Gospel proclamation is intended. They must perceive that Christians bring Christ’s word because he is the truth, because they have found in him the meaning and the truth for their own lives.
After mentioning that “so too the men of our time, sometimes unconsciously, ask believers not only to ‘speak’ of Jesus but to ‘make Jesus visible,’ to make the Redeemer’s Face shine in every corner of the earth before the generations of the new millennium and especially before the youth of every continent.” The Pope’s message continues: “These considerations regard the missionary mandate that all the baptized and the entire Church have received, but that cannot be fulfilled in a credible manner without a profound personal, communal, and pastoral conversion. In fact, the awareness of the call to announce the Gospel not only inspires every individual believer, but all the diocesan and parochial communities, to an integral renewal and to an ever greater openness to missionary cooperation among the Churches, to promote the proclamation of the Gospel in the heart of every person, people, culture, race, nationality, in every place.”
This awareness is nourished through the work of Fidei Donum priests, consecrated people, catechists and lay missionaries in the constant endeavour to encourage ecclesial communion so that even the phenomenon of “interculturality” may be integrated in a model of unity in which the Gospel is a leaven of freedom and progress, a source of brotherhood, humility and peace. In his Encyclical Fidei Donum, Pope Pius XII, with prophetic insight, encouraged Bishops to offer some of their priests for temporary service in the Churches of Africa, and gave his approval to projects already existing for that purpose. Today it is clear how effective and fruitful this experience has been. Fidei Donum priests are a unique sign of the bond of communion existing among the Churches. They make a valuable contribution to the growth of needy ecclesial communities, while drawing from them freshness and liveliness of faith.” The Church in fact “is in the nature of sacrament a sign and instrument, that is, of communion with God and of unity among men”.
Ecclesial communion is born from the encounter with the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who, as St John says, through the Church’s proclamation reaches out to human beings and creates fellowship with himself and hence with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Again the same writer in the New Testament says that Christ establishes the new relationship between man and God. “He reveals to us that “God is love’ and at the same time teaches us that the fundamental law of human perfection, and consequently of the transformation of the world, is the new commandment of love. He assures those who trust in the charity of God that the way of love is open to all men and that the effort to establish a universal brotherhood will not be in vain, as explained by the documents of the Second Vatican Council.
In this context, the Church becomes “communion” on the basis of the Eucharist in which Christ, present in bread and in wine with his sacrifice of love builds the Church as his Body, uniting us with the Triune God and with one another. In his Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum caritatis Pope Benedict XVI communicates: “The love that we celebrate in the sacrament is not something we can keep to ourselves. By its very nature it demands to be shared with everyone. What the world needs is God’s love; it needs to encounter Christ and to believe in him.” For this reason the Eucharist is not only the source and summit of the Church’s life, but also of her mission: “an authentically Eucharistic Church is a missionary Church”, which can bring all to communion with God, proclaiming with conviction “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us”.
Pope Benedict XVI then recalls the constant commitment of the pastoral workers in promoting ecclesial communion, “so that the phenomenon of “interculturalism” may be incorporated into a framework of unity in which the Gospel is leaven of liberty and progress, a source of fraternity, humility, and peace.” It then highlights that “ecclesial communion is brought about through the encounter with the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who through the Church’s preaching reaches out to all men and establishes them in communion with Himself and therefore, with the Father and the Holy Spirit” and that “the Church becomes “communion” starting from the Eucharist in which Christ, present in the bread and wine, with His sacrifice of love establishes the Church as His Body, uniting us to the one Triune God and among each other.” This love that we celebrate in the Sacrament cannot remain only for ourselves and “by its very nature it demands to be shared with all.” Therefore, “an authentically Eucharistic Church is a missionary Church.” Addressing all the people of good will the Pontiff says: “Dear friends, on this World Mission Sunday in which the heart’s gaze extends to the immense spaces of mission, let us all be protagonists of the Church’s commitment to proclaim the Gospel. The missionary impulse has always been a sign of vitality for our Churches, with their cooperation and their unique witness of unity, brotherhood and solidarity that gives credibility to heralds of the Love that saves.”
In the concluding part of the Message, the Holy Father exhorts us to be aware that we are “active participants in the Church’s task of proclaiming the Gospel,” and renews his invitation to prayer and, in spite of the economic difficulties, to fraternal, concrete aid in support of the younger Churches. Expressing his gratitude for the valuable service carried out by the Pontifical Mission Societies in their support of priests, seminarians, and catechists in the most far off missionary lands and in encouraging the young ecclesial communities, the Pope affectionately acknowledges “who offer their testimony to the Kingdom of God in the most far off and difficult places, often at the cost of their own lives,” particularly the missionaries and those who directly work in the field. To them, says the Holy Father, who are in the vanguard of the Gospel’s proclamation, every believer offers friendship, closeness and support. May God who loves a cheerful giver fill them with spiritual fervour and deep joy. Keeping in mind the generous response of various persons and groups, the Pope says: “As with the “Yes” of Mary, every generous response of the ecclesial community to the Divine invitation to love our brothers and sisters, will raise up a new Apostolic and ecclesial motherhood, leaving us struck by the mystery of the God of love who “when the time had fully come… sent forth his Son, born of a woman” to give faith and boldness to the new Apostles. Pope Benedict says that the missionary zeal has always been a sign of church vitality. He asked all Catholics to pray for an increase in missionary passion and to support missionaries who work on the front lines of evangelization, often under hostile conditions. At the same time he asks everyone to offer as a credible sign of communion among the Churches, financial and human assistance, especially in these times of crisis affecting all humanity. He then imparted his Apostolic Blessing.
FrEugene Lobo S.J. Rome