Pope's Missionary Intention for September 2007
"That by clinging with joy to Christ, missionaries may overcome the daily difficulties encountered."
(Fr Vito Del Prete
PIME, Secretary General, Pontifical Missionary Union)
Missionaries who for Christ's sake leave everything and set out to serve other peoples, churches and cultures, truly experience the fatigue of announcing the Gospel of salvation to the poorest and most neglected people on earth. On their faces they bear the unavoidable scars of those who evangelise in front line on the geographical, anthropological and religious frontiers of humanity. They are signs of the Church's radical missionary vocation and evangelising activity which is often strongly hampered or even prevented by public powers. “Those who announce the Word of God are deprived of their rights, persecuted, threatened, killed simply for preaching Jesus Christ and his Gospel ” (EN. 50).
Also in recent decades the Church's evangelising mission has been marked by a long series of martyrs, men and women who in different pasts of the world have shed their blood in order to remain faithful to Christ and to defend the dignity of the human person. Their martyrdom does not stop the Gospel from being preached, indeed it gives the Church renewed vitality and fidelity to God and to humanity, since she knows that “sine sanguinis effusione non fit remissivo”. Giving one's life to the shedding of blood is the most powerful proof of boundless love for humanity. “There is no greater love than to lay down one's life for one's friends”. Precisely suffering for Christ's sake is what gives joy to missionaries. Their witness is contagious and stirs among the other ecclesial forces a desire to serve the Gospel.
Of quite a different nature are the difficulties which put the workers of the Gospel in crisis. Some years ago Evangelii Nuntiandi indicated a few of them, which still persist today, fatigue, disappointment, compromise, loss of interest, joy and hope (EN. n. 80). Sent by one Church to another for the cause of the Gospel, very often missionaries feel they are in a limbo with regard to human and ecclesial relationships: separated from their home community, and not fully accepted by the hosting ecclesial communities. They are considered strangers, 'spare tires', despite their efforts to adapt and become inculturated. Foreigners are very often accepted only on the basis of benefits to be gained from their presence. Gone is the initial spiritual and apostolic framework of communion for mission among the Churches which led them to set out for mission. Redemptoris Missio mentions this real concern, where it affirms that the young Churches are tempted to “close the doors to missionaries” to preserve their own identity, to undertake a valid process of inculturation and “to grow independently of external influences” (cf. RM n. 85).
In addition to this missionaries often feel their presence and activity is useless. Energies and material resources spent for activities of social development appear to bring inadequate results. Development plans end in failure, due to resistance, hostility and selfishness on the part of the very people they were meant to help. It seems impossible to change people's way of thinking in the human and gospel sense.
Nor are things better with regard to the preaching of the Gospel. Missionaries are seen as bearers of a foreign faith and culture, on which weigh unjustly serious historical condemnations for which they are not responsible. So they are often tempted “to limit under various pretexts the field of missionary activity” (EN n. 50), especially in countries where there is a generic and violent attitude of suspicion towards the Christian religion, as in Muslim majority countries and in many parts of south east Asia.
The task of proclaiming Jesus Christ is immense and disproportionate compared with human strength. The difficulties would be insurmountable if it were merely human work. However we know not we, but Jesus Christ and his Spirit are the principal agents of mission. Missionaries are only collaborators. Like Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, our duty is to pray for all missionaries all over the world, that the Spirit may increase their faith and allow them to experience every day the consoling presence of Christ who is with them all through life and at every moment.
P Vito del Prete
Agenzia Fides 3/9/2007