Filoni: “We are a Church in a permanent state of mission”

Cardinal Filoni

Filoni: “We are a Church in a permanent state of mission”

By Polo Affatato/.lastampa.it

In view of the World Missionary Day on 22 October, the Prefect of Propaganda Fide recalls that the proclamation of the Gospel follows the logic of Christ, “of dying in order to live”, otherwise “it falls into the temptation of pursuing successes and triumphs”.

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The Gospel is always the same and Christ's love for humanity does not change. But the mission of the Church changes. It is confronted with ever new contexts and challenges, from the secularization that afflicts the nations of the West to the hostility that Christians encounter in countries with an Islamic majority; from geographical areas such as the Amazon, where displacements are problematic, to the risk of the progressive extinction of faith due to the ageing of ecclesial personnel. In the face of these challenges that profoundly question the action of the Church, Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples - who oversees more than a thousand Catholic circumscriptions in Asia, Africa and Latin America - has a firm conviction, "Mission is first and foremost the work of grace, that is to say, of God himself" and is the result of disciples who are "exoded”, that is, “de-centered”, for they have placed Christ, and not themselves, at the core of their lives.” The mission of the Church, then, is not the result of a perfect strategic organization, but "follows the logic of Christ, the logic of dying in order to live, of renunciation for love that gives joy".

On the occasion of the World Missionary Day, which is celebrated on Sunday 22 October, Vatican Insider asked Cardinal Filoni some questions. Your Eminence, what is the mission of the Church in the third millennium? And how has it changed?

Today we can speak of a Church in a permanent state of mission. More than 50 years after the publication of the Council document Ad gentes (1965), the concept of missionary activity has changed a great deal: it has expanded in sociological terms and no longer refers only to some priests, religious and lay people, who are called to go to distant lands. Every baptized person is a missionary by virtue of baptism. In addition, Pope Francis, in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium uses the term "mission" in an open sense, overcoming the expressions used in previous pontifical documents of "mission ad gentes" or "new evangelization". The recipients of this novelty are all Christians who, by virtue of their identity as children of God, received by the baptismal grace, are missionaries. While in the past missionary activity has been linked to the generosity of a few "envoys", in Evangelii Gaudium it is emphasized that the whole Church of God is "permanently in a state of mission ". And today missionary action becomes the thermometer of the same vitality and fruitfulness as the Church".

The approach is different but the content remains the same: could you expand on that?

“The content of the mission is God's love for humankind, revealed in Christ up until the madness of the cross. We are therefore carriers of the Gospel if we are in continuous conversion, if we become disciples, if we build a Church "in a state of exodus", not centered on herself, not self-referential, but ready to seek, as the Good Shepherd does, not one lost sheep but the 99 sheep that are outside the sheepfold. Mission also becomes new for the new areopagos (tribunals ed.), for the new scenarios that a Church "which goes forth" encounters on her way. The disciple is an " exoded ", a de-centered”, those who don’t place themselves but Christ at the centre of their life and missionary action. Otherwise, we fall into the temptation of a Church that pursues successes and triumphs, following the logic of the world. Christ has his logic, the logic of dying to live, of failure for victory, of the obligatory way of renunciation for love that gives joy".

Today we are also witnessing a missionary movement in the opposite direction, from the countries of mission to Europe: what does it mean and how shall we interpret it?

"To understand this movement, first of all I would like to remind you that nobody sends on mission except God alone, involving us in the Passover of his Son. No one receives the mission except those who, in faith, discover themselves sent, involved in the merciful love that saves and transforms. Overcoming the geographical distinction between "Churches that send" and "Churches that receive" requires overcoming the inadequate distinction between "pastoral action" and "mission". It must be said that no Christian community is definitively constituted. No local Church is ever perfectly established. The Gospel is never completely announced. Our hearts will never be fully converted and saved except in the fullness of the Resurrection. The mission is therefore the heart of faith because the movement of God's redeeming love never ends. Every Church always needs renewal, to rejuvenate in her heart, because every one of her children will always need conversion and redemption. Personal evangelical witness to the Gospel remains fundamental for the mission. If faith consists in a personal encounter with Christ, the living encounter with witnesses of Christ is crucial for mission. And missionary activity must facilitate knowledge, encounter and vocational involvement with these witnesses of the mission, who are sometimes martyrs."

If you were to think of some role model "witnesses", as in paradigmatic to awaken missionary conscience, who would you think of?

"Among the many saints and blessed, I would like to cite today in particular a man and a woman of the nineteenth century, the parish priest of Ars and Pauline-Maria Jaricot: a priest, and a lay woman. Giovanni Maria Vianney was a shepherd in a tiny village, while Pauline-Maria Jaricot related to the then developing working-class world. Of John Maria Vianney, we appreciate the sense of missionary activity in parish life. It would be said today, in terms dear to Pope Francis, that he was a parish priest "on the forth", not closed within the walls of his own church. Of Paolina-Maria Jaricot, founder of the Pontifical Work for the Propagation of the Faith, I would like to recall the innovative and creative apostolic enthusiasm, as a lay woman and therefore a forerunner of the Church's times and respect for the Church: her work of evangelization was projected towards faraway lands such as China, the Pacific and the Caribbean, where she contributed to the Gospel also thanks to initiatives such as humanitarian aid and mail exchanges with the missionaries.”

You recently went to Japan, a context in which the missionary work deeply challenges a Church that seems to be in difficulty. What can you tell us about that apostolic journey?

"Japan is one of those places and nations that, for various historical and cultural reasons, present difficult challenges to the Church's mission: in Japan there are very few Catholics and priestly vocations are in decline. One can thus think of the countries with an Islamic majority, where mission is possible only among the tribes; and who would say that, in that great democracy which is modern India, it is difficult even to let a missionary enter as a visitor? Or we can’t fail to forget, among other regions, the Amazon, that you a reach only with small planes and crossing rivers. The Pope has just announced a special Synod of Bishops for the Pan-amazon region, to be held in Rome in October 2019. One is the key that unites these places: in all these contexts there is a need for priests, religious ma and women and lay people who put the identity of Jesus before the eyes of non-Christians through their lives, by approaching everyone with patience and friendship; and who shall always experience with gratitude that in this apostolic work, the essential work is accomplished by Grace, that is by God. Even though there may sometimes be persecutions, missionary activity is like an overwhelming love. You can't control it, it takes you and marks you for all your life. No rationality can cool or kills missionary ardour, because it is the very love of God that radiates towards every man and woman".

What is the "missionary month", announced by Pope Francis for October 2019?

The starting point is to celebrate the centenary of Benedict XV's encyclical Maximum Illud, the first of the missionary encyclicals of the 20th century. It is a fundamental text to understanding evangelization today: at that time the Pope called for the first time the whole community of the faithful to feel responsible for the mission, and at the same time recognized the values present in world religions, abandoning every idea of conquest and talking rather about places and peoples to which the proclamation of the Gospel can be brought. The Magisterium of the Church has then offered new contributions such as the Council decree Ad gentes, the exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi of Paul VI, the encyclical Redemptoris missio by John Paul II, up to the Evangelii gaudium of Pope Francis. Starting from the conscience and missionary responsibility of each baptized person, the missionary month will be divided by thematic weeks and, in every part of the world, the faithful will be called to identify a particular way of celebrating it, with apostolic creativity. It will certainly be a moment of celebration and evangelical joy for the whole Church in the world ".

Thu, 10/19/2017 - 16:50
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