This is an abridged version of the Holy Father’s message for World Mission Sunday 2022, which first appeared in the autumn edition of Mission Today. The full text, with references, is available at here. As Mission Month begins, we join with Pope Francis in being witnesses to Christ’s mission on earth.
‘You shall be my witnesses’
– Acts 1:8
The theme for World Mission Sunday this year is based on the words spoken by the Risen Jesus to his disciples just before his Ascension into heaven: ‘You will 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’ (Acts 1:8).
‘You shall be my witnesses’
This is the heart of Jesus’ teaching to the disciples regarding their mission in the world. The disciples are to be witnesses of Jesus, in every place and situation, thanks to the grace of the Holy Spirit that they will receive. Christ was the first to be sent, as a ‘missionary’ of the Father (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. The Church’s only mission, as the community of Christ’s disciples, is to bring the Gospel to the entire world by bearing witness to Christ. Each baptised 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.
Missionaries of Christ are not sent to communicate themselves, to demonstrate their powers of persuasion or their managerial skills. Instead, they have the supreme honour of presenting Christ in words and actions, proclaiming to everyone the Good News of his salvation, with joy and boldness, as the first apostles did.
In evangelisation, the example of a Christian life and the proclamation of Christ are inseparable. 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 urge everyone to have the courage, frankness and parrhesía (ability to speak the truth) of the first Christians, to bear witness to Christ in word and deed in every area of life.
‘To the ends of the earth’
The words ‘to the ends of the earth’ challenge us all to go beyond our geographical boundaries and comfort zones into situations and places where missionary witnesses of Christ have not arrived, to bring the Good News of his love. The Church must constantly keep looking outwards and testify to all people, whatever their circumstances, the love of Christ. Here I would like to remember and express my gratitude to all those missionaries who have given their lives to share Christ’s love with all the brothers and sisters they encounter.
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. We see in Acts 1:8, that 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. 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 people.
It is precisely when we feel tired, unmotivated or confused that we should remember to turn to the Holy Spirit in prayer. Prayer plays a fundamental role in our missionary life, for it allows us to be refreshed and strengthened by the Spirit, the inexhaustible divine source of renewed energy and joy in sharing Christ’s life with others. It is the Holy Spirit who gives us the right word, at the right time, and in the right way.
A 200 year legacy
The same Spirit which guides the universal Church, also inspires ordinary men and women to undertake extraordinary missions. And so it was that exactly two hundred years ago, a young French woman, Blessed Pauline Jaricot, founded the Association for the Propagation of the Faith (Missio’s APF). She established a network of prayer and fundraising for missionaries, so that the faithful could actively participate in God’s mission ‘to the ends of the earth’.
This brilliant idea gave rise to the annual celebration of World Mission Sunday. The funds collected by parishes worldwide are sent to the universal solidarity fund which the Pope administers to support the mission of the Church throughout the world.
This same Spirit guided and inspired the founders of the other three societies which now make up Missio (the Pontifical Mission Societies). I encourage you to rejoice with them, in this special year, for the evangelising work they enable the Church to carry out globally and locally. My hope is that local Churches will increasingly look to Missio as a tangible means of fostering a 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 our 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!