Father Anthony Chantry giving Pope Francis a Red Box

As a Mill Hill Missionary Priest I have served under three Popes: St John Paul II, Benedict and Francis. Each of these great spiritual leaders has enriched the Church with their own gifts and individual charisms. 

In visiting 129 countries, Pope St John Paul II celebrated the solidarity and freedom that is ours as a global Church – all of us being sons and daughters of God the Father. 

Pope Benedict’s powerful intellect and profound spirituality brought us fresh perspectives upon the rich traditions of the Church. 

Ten years on: the joy of the Gospel

And on 13 March it will be ten years since Pope Francis first appeared upon the balcony at St Peter’s Square, having just been elected Pope. His first message was simply ‘please pray for me’. He had big shoes to fill and faced a multitude of challenges. The Holy Father knew he could only take on this responsibility with God’s help and our support.

The beginning of his first Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium – ‘The Joy of the Gospel’ left us all in no doubt in as to which direction he intended to lead us:

‘The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness.’

We are to acknowledge who we are by virtue of our Baptism: not just disciples but missionary disciples.

He reminded us that

‘we cannot forget that evangelisation is first and foremost about preaching the Gospel to those who do not know Jesus Christ or who have always rejected him. All of them have the right to receive the Gospel.’ 

The urgent work of mission

As a Missionary Priest, this was music to my ears. From the earliest times the Church has always been missionary, and I believe the work of mission is as urgent now as it was in the time of Jesus. We are called to reach out to others across national, cultural, social, and religious boundaries to proclaim the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

And as Jesus warned us, this may involve rejection, ridicule, and persecution. But by the power of God’s mysterious presence among our human family, the Truth will prevail against all odds.

Pope Francis and the Red Box

I first met Pope Francis at the Vatican in 2016. As he entered the room smiling, always smiling, he filled it with a joy that ran far deeper than one man’s happiness. His energy was palpable, his focus very personal, and his kind words put me at ease instantly. 

I shared with him the history of the Red Box and how through it we try to encourage a missionary spirit among the Catholic people of England and Wales. He was impressed by what the Red Box symbolised: not just a fundraising tool but a reminder in every Catholic home of the needs of our brother and sisters across the world – a call to prayer and charity in support of the missionary outreach of the Church. ‘Please thank the good people of England and Wales,’ were his final words to me.

Being a missionary disciple is a privilege, an honour, and a joy, but it is also an enormous challenge for us all.

‘Often it seems God does not exist: all around us we see persistent injustice, evil, indifference and cruelty. However dark things are, goodness always re-emerges and spreads. Such is the power of the resurrection, and all who evangelise are instruments of that power’ (Evangelii Gaudium).

Thank you for sharing our mission

Your support of Missio is a vital way of expressing the solidarity we enjoy as a global Church, representing the rich traditions of our Church, which is of its essence: missionary. And in the words of Pope Francis,

‘[our] first proclamation must ring out over and over: Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you’ (Evangelii Gaudium).

We give thanks to God for the gift of Pope Francis. Please continue to pray for him.

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