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Venerated Brothers in the Episcopate and the Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Welcome! I address my cordial greeting to Cardinal Ivan Dias, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, whom I thank for his cordial words, to the secretary, Archbishop Robert Sarah, to the assistant secretary, Archbishop Piergiuseppe Vacchelli, president of the Pontifical Missionary Societies, to all the collaborators of the Dicastery, and in a particular way to the national directors of the Pontifical Missionary Societies, who have arrived in Rome from all the Churches for the annual Ordinary Assembly of the Higher Council.
I am especially grateful to this congregation, to which, in line with the constitutive act with which it was founded in 1622, Vatican Council II confirmed in its task to "regulate and coordinate, worldwide, both the missionary endeavor as well as missionary cooperation" (decree "Ad Gentes," 29). Evangelization is an immense mission, especially in this our time, in which humanity suffers from a certain lack of reflective and sapiential thought (cf. "Caritas in Veritate," 19.31) and in which a humanism is spreading that excludes God (cf. Ibid., 78).
Because of this, it is still more urgent and necessary to illuminate the new problems that arise with the light of the Gospel, which does not change. We are convinced, in fact, that the Lord Jesus Christ, faithful witness of the love of the Father, "with his Death and Resurrection, is the main propelling force for the true development of every human person and of the whole of humanity" (Ibid. 1). At the beginning of my ministry as Successor of the Apostle Peter, I affirmed forcefully: "We exist to show God to men. And only there where God is seen, does life really begin. Only when we find in Christ the living God, do we know what life is. ... There is nothing more beautiful than being overtaken, surprised by the Gospel, by Christ. There is nothing more beautiful than knowing him and communicating to others friendship with him (Homily at the beginning of the Petrine ministry, April 24, 2005).
The preaching of the Gospel is an inestimable service that the Church can offer to the whole of humanity that travels through history. Coming from the dioceses of the whole world, you are an eloquent and living sign of the catholicity of the Church, which is concretized in the universal breath of the apostolic mission, "to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8), "to the close of the age" (Matthew 28:20), so that no people or environment is deprived of the light and the grace of Christ. This is the meaning, the historic trajectory, the mission and the hope of the Church.
The mission to proclaim the Gospel to all peoples is critical judgment on the planetary transformations that are substantially changing the culture of humanity. The Church, present and operating in the geographical and anthropological frontiers, is the bearer of a message that penetrates in history, where she proclaims the inalienable values of the person, with the proclamation and testimony of the salvific plan of God, made visible and operative in Christ. The preaching of the Gospel is the call to the freedom of the children of God, also for the building of a more just and solidaristic society to prepare us for eternal life. Whoever participates in Christ's mission must inevitably face tribulations, rejection and sufferings, because he is confronted with the resistance and powers of this world. And we, like the Apostle Paul, have no other arms than the word of Christ and of his Cross (cf. 1 Corinthians 1, 22:25). The mission ad gentes calls the Church and missionaries to accept the consequences of their ministry: evangelical poverty, which confers on them the liberty to preach the Gospel with courage and frankness; non-violence, by which they respond to evil with good (cf. Matthew 5:38-42; Romans 12: 17-21); the willingness to give their own life for the name of Christ and for love of men.
As the Apostle Paul demonstrated the authenticity of his apostolate with the persecutions, the wounds and the torments suffered (cf. 2 Corinthians 6-7), so persecution is also proof of the authenticity of our apostolic mission. But it is important to recall that the Gospel "takes shape in human consciences and hearts and expands in history only in the power of the Holy Spirit" (John Paul II, encyclical "Dominum et Vivificantem," 64) and the Church and missionaries have been made ideal by him to fulfill the mission entrusted to them (cf. Ibid., 25). It is the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Corinthians 14) who unites and preserves the Church, giving her the strength to expand, filling Christ's disciples with an overflowing wealth of charisms. It is from the Holy Spirit that the Church receives the authority for the proclamation and the apostolic ministry.
Because of this, I wish to reaffirm forcefully what I already said in regard to development (cf. "Caritas in Veritate," 79), that is, that evangelization needs Christians with arms raised to God in a gesture of prayer, Christians moved by the awareness that the conversion of the world to Christ is not done by us, but is given. The celebration of the Year for Priests, in fact, has helped us to become more aware that the missionary endeavor requires an ever more profound union with him who is the One Sent by God the Father for the salvation of all; it requires sharing that "new lifestyle" that was inaugurated by the Lord Jesus and that the Apostles made their own (cf. Address to the Participants in the Plenary Assembly of the Congregation for Clergy, March 16, 2009).
Dear friends, again my gratitude to all of you of the Pontifical Missionary Societies, who in different ways are committed to keeping high the missionary awareness of the local Churches, driving them to more active participation in the "missio ad gentes," with the formation and sending of men and women missionaries and solidaristic help to the young Churches. My heartfelt gratitude also for the reception and formation of presbyters, of women Religious, of seminarians and laymen in the Congregation's Pontifical Colleges. While I entrust your ecclesial service to the protection of Mary Most Holy, Mother of the Church and Queen of the Apostles, I bless you all from my heart.
[Translation by ZENIT]