The following is an edited version of Pope Francis’ message for World Mission Sunday, Sunday October 23. The full text is available online.
Dear brothers and sisters!
These words were spoken by the Risen Jesus to his disciples just before his Ascension into heaven, as we learn from the Acts of the Apostles: “You shall 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” (1:8).
They are also the theme of the 2022 World Mission Day which, as always, reminds us that the Church is missionary by nature. This year World Mission Day offers us the opportunity to commemorate several important events in the Church’s life and mission: the fourth centenary of the founding of the Congregation de Propaganda Fide, now the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, and the second centenary of the Society of the Propagation of the Faith.
1. “You shall be my witnesses” – The call of every Christian to bear witness to Christ
This is the central point, the heart of Jesus’ teaching to the disciples…. The disciples are to be witnesses of Jesus, thanks to the grace of the Holy Spirit that they will receive. Wherever they go and in whatever place they find themselves. Christ was the first to be sent, as a “missionary” of the Father (cf. 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. And the Church, the community of Christ’s disciples, has no other mission than that of bringing the Gospel to the entire world by bearing witness to Christ. To evangelize is the very identity of the Church.
2. “To the ends of the earth” – The perennial relevance of a mission of universal evangelization
In telling the disciples to be his witnesses, the risen Lord also tells them where they are being sent: “…in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Here we clearly see the universal character of the disciples’ mission. We also see the “centrifugal” geographical expansion, as if in concentric circles, of the mission, beginning with Jerusalem, which Jewish tradition considered the centre of the world, to Judea and Samaria and to “the ends of the earth”. The disciples are sent not to proselytize, but to proclaim; the Christian does not proselytize. The Acts of the Apostles speak of this missionary expansion and provide a striking image of the Church “going forth” in fidelity to her call to bear witness to Christ the Lord and guided by divine providence in the concrete conditions of her life. Persecuted in Jerusalem and then spread throughout Judea and Samaria, the first Christians bore witness to Jesus everywhere (cf. Acts 8:1, 4).
Something similar still happens in our own day. Due to religious persecution and situations of war and violence, many Christians are forced to flee from their homelands to other countries. More and more, we are seeing how the presence of faithful of various nationalities enriches the face of parishes and makes them more universal, more Catholic. Consequently, the pastoral care of migrants should be valued as an important missionary activity that can also help the local faithful to rediscover the joy of the Christian faith they have received.
The words “to the ends of the earth” should challenge the disciples of Jesus in every age and impel them to press beyond familiar places in bearing witness to him
3. “You will receive power” from the Holy Spirit – Let us always be 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: “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). According to the account in Acts, 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..
Just as “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’, except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 12:3), so no Christian is able to bear full and genuine witness to Christ the Lord without the Spirit’s inspiration and assistance. All Christ’s missionary disciples are called to recognize the essential importance of the Spirit’s work, to dwell in his presence daily and to receive his unfailing strength and guidance. Indeed, it is precisely when we feel tired, unmotivated or confused that we should remember to have recourse to the Holy Spirit in prayer.
The same Spirit who guides the universal Church also inspires ordinary men and women for extraordinary missions. Thus it was that a young French woman, Pauline Jaricot, founded the Society for the Propagation of the Faith exactly two hundred years ago. Her beatification will be celebrated in this jubilee year. Albeit in poor health, she accepted God’s inspiration to establish a network of prayer and collection for missionaries, so that the faithful could actively participate in the mission “to the ends of the earth”.
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 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!
Rome, Saint John Lateran, 6 January 2022, Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord