Before ascending to heavenly glory, Jesus told his disciples that with the power of the Holy Spirit, they would be his witnesses to the “ends of the earth,” spreading the Good News to all nations. That ever-new mission entrusted to the Church “is still only beginning and we must commit ourselves wholeheartedly to its service,” said Saint John Paul II in his encyclical on the Church’s missionary mandate (Redemptoris Missio, 1).
Just as Peter, Paul and the other Apostles then took the Gospel to Rome and Greece, Asia and Africa, thereby changing the world, so too do disciples today leave their homes and are sent forth to evangelize peoples in all the nations, which is known in Latin as the mission ad gentes. With the New Evangelization of revitalizing our own personal faith and re-proposing the love of Jesus to those for whom the salt of Christian faith has lost its flavor, side-by-side is the never-ending mission to those who do not yet believe in Christ. Newness of life in the Risen Lord is offered to all and so the Church does not hesitate to go to every corner of the earth so that that everyone might personally encounter his merciful love (Redemptoris Missio, 10, 34).
“The world vitally needs the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” affirms Pope Francis in his Message for World Mission Day 2017 on Sunday, October 22. Amidst the difficulties in human condition, he says, “the Gospel helps to overcome narrowness, conflict, racism, tribalism, and to promote everywhere, and among all, reconciliation, fraternity, and sharing.”
All the baptized have an apostolic mandate to share the Good News of deliverance from sin, suffering and death in the circumstances of their own lives. Everywhere they go is in a sense mission territory. Some people – clergy, consecrated religious and laity – also have an added special vocation to propagate the faith in foreign missions patterned on the journeys of the Apostles. Like Pope Francis said of Saint Junípero Serra, they go to “bring to birth and nurture God’s life” in people in other lands and build up the Church there, while also “learning and valuing their particular customs and ways of life.” This latter extraordinary missionary activity is nevertheless a joint responsibility of the whole People of God, including the supporting role played by local diocesan churches and all the Christian faithful at home.
Here in this archdiocese, our Office of Missions facilitates this cooperative effort involving the foreign missions, the Pontifical Mission Societies in Rome and the ministries and faithful of the Church of Washington. Through a variety of activities, including World Mission Day, the office is committed to raising missionary awareness and enthusiasm, promoting vocations and missionary formation, encouraging the material and spiritual support of missionaries in the field, and more in the work of salvation. For example, the office provides informative resources on the missions, sends staff and other speakers to visit schools to talk to children about sharing the love of Jesus with others, assists parishes and oversees our archdiocesan Missionary Cooperative Plan, which offers ways for people to participate in the missions through monetary assistance.
The missions have many material needs in setting up chapels, schools, medical clinics, housing and supporting works of charity, especially in poor countries. But while “the missionary Church is certainly involved on these fronts,” said Saint John Paul II, “her primary task lies elsewhere: the poor are hungry for God, not just for bread and freedom. Missionary activity must first of all bear witness to and proclaim salvation in Christ” (Redemptoris Missio, 81, 83).
In light of the salvific and shared nature of evangelization, an essential form of missionary cooperation is to pray for the missions and missionary vocations even if we might never get the chance to journey to other lands. One of the patron saints of missions, Thérèse of Lisieux, never left the cloister in France, but by and through her prayers, she fruitfully participated in the spread of the Gospel to the ends of the earth. So too can each of the faithful at home, through their prayers in the grace of God, help others around the globe to know the saving love of Jesus Christ. In fact, a wonderful habit is to offer a daily prayer for the missions.
Mission is at the heart of the Christian faith. In communion with God, all of us – young people, adults, families, priests, bishops and religious – are continually sent forth to proclaim to all the Good News of Christ our Savior (Message for World Mission Day 2017). Whether it is to our local community or to other nations, all of these are mission lands, ground for us to spread the seeds of the transformative love of the Risen Lord. To learn more about the work of our Office of Missions, please visit adw.org/office-missions.
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