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Mission And Missionaries Today

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For Christians, the month of October of every year is the Extraordinary Missionary Month, centred on the celebration of Mission Sunday: the third Sunday. Through October 2020, we are invited in a special way to spiritual and material sharing, to praying and to serving.   

I wish to share with you, dear readers, some thoughts on mission and missionaries today. I focus on the rich teaching of the church from Vatican II on.


After He prepared well the apostles for the mission, and after his resurrection and before his ascension into heaven, the Risen Lord Jesus Christ gave to the apostles - and to all his followers thereafter - the great commission, their mission: “As the Father sent me I also send you” (Jn 20:21); Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:16); “Preach the Gospel to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15). God wants the salvation of all, and Jesus died for all.    

The Christian life is a life in mission. The Church is missionary by her very nature (Vatican II, Ad Gentes, AG 2): “Evangelizing is, in fact, the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity” (John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, RM 14).  Her mission is evangelization which comprises preaching the word, communicating divine life through the sacraments, praying, and witnessing charity. It is the proclamation of the Gospel, integral salvation, that is, “the liberation from everything that oppresses man, but which is above all liberation from sin and the Evil One” (Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, EN 9). In this context, Pope Francis underlines “the evangelizing power of popular piety” (Evangelii Gaudium, EG 122-126). Moreover, integral ecology is part of the evangelizing mission of the Church (cf. Pope Francis, Laudato Si’).

The centre of evangelization is Jesus Christ “who was crucified, died and is risen” – and lives (RM 44). He is the Good News, “the heart” of catechesis and evangelization (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, CCC 426-429).


Before Vatican II, mission was mainly understood as the evangelization of non-Christians and unbelievers. Missionaries were sent to announce Christ where he was not known, or sufficiently known, and where the Church was not fully implanted. It was, above all, missio ad gentes (AG 6).

After Vatican II, missio ad gentes is also – more explicitly - missio inter gentes, which underlines not only proclamation, but also multifaceted dialogue, commitment to justice and peace, and solidarity with the poor (cf. RM33; EG 15). The mission ad gentes focuses on the proclamation of Christ and his Gospel, the building up of the local church, and the promotion of the values of the Kingdom (cf. AG 23, 27; RM 34).

It is important to note that mission ad gentes continues to be a necessary form of evangelization. Pope John Paul II writes: “To say that the whole Church is missionary, does not preclude the existence of a specific mission ad gentes, just as saying that all Catholics must be missionaries not only does not exclude, but actually requires that there be persons who have a specific vocation to be ‘life-long missionaries ad gentes’” (RM 32; cf. Ibid 31-40). Hence, “the special vocation of missionaries ‘for life’ retains all its validity. It is the model of the Church’s missionary commitment” (RM 66).

Pope Francis urges mission ad gentes: “Today, too, the Church needs men and women, who by virtue of their baptism respond generously to the call to leave behind home, family, country, language and local Church, and to be sent forth to the nations, to a world not yet transformed by the sacraments of Jesus Christ and his holy Church” (Message, 2019 World Mission Day). 


In Asian context, Pope John Paul II stresses the promotion of religious and cultural values dear to the peoples of Asia, such as, “respect for life, compassion for all beings, closeness to nature, filial piety towards parents, elderly and ancestors, and a highly developed sense of community” (Ecclesia in Asia 6).

Like all missionaries, missionaries ad gentes offer Christ and the freedom He provides, to all peoples. They are missionaries on the frontiers, on the peripheries committed to respect the peoples’ “fidelity to their native land, and national culture” (RM 43; cf. GS 53; RM 52-54). Certainly, Christian faith has different cultural forms of expressing itself and thus is enriched (cf. John Paul II, Novo Millenio Ineunte 40; Ecclesia in Asia 21). 


All the baptized in the Blessed Trinity, the community of disciples - priests, religious and lay faithful - are missionaries, agents of evangelization: “I am a mission, always; you are a mission, always; every baptized man and woman is a mission… This mission is part of our identity as Christians” (Pope Francis, Message, 2019 World Mission Day; cf. EG 120). All disciples, who are all missionaries, form the Mystical Body of Christ and serve the local church. United, and led by their authorities, they collaborate with each other according to their specific vocation.

Christian life is “a singular missionary journey of discipleship,” a process of “gradual configuration in Christ” (RFIS 87) so that each one becomes “another Christ” today. “We have to form Christ in us, and thus be his missionaries and preachers” (St. Gregory of Nyssa). Christian discipleship is an ongoing call to mission and to holiness (RM 90).

Christian spirituality is a spirituality of mission, that is, a spirituality “to live the mystery of Christ as sent” (RM 88). As Christ was sent by the Father in the Spirit to preach the Good News, all his disciples are sent by Christ to the world: missionaries ad intra (pastoral ministers and re-evangelizers) and missionaries ad extra (ad gentes). Both are deeply connected and mutually interdependent (cf. RM 34; EG 15).

Missionaries ad gentes are called and sent “to those who are far from Christ.” This especial vocation implies a commitment to an evangelization that “involves the missionary’s whole person and life, and demands a self-giving, without limits of energy or time” (RM 65). The missionary is never – ought not be -  an intruder, but universal brother or sister, man/woman of charity, person of the Beatitudes, holy, contemplative in action (cf. RM 89-91; Ecclesia in Asia, 23). He or she has been given a unique vocation and a consequent commitment. Certainly, “missionaries must always meditate on the response demanded by the gift they have received, and continually keep their doctrinal and apostolic formation up to date” (RM, 65). All, and the missionaries ad gentes in particular, need a deeper conversion for the mission, so that they will “never be robbed of missionary enthusiasm” (cf. EG 90).


Oral preaching and vital witnessing ought not to be separated (cf. Ecclesia in Asia 23). Christ, however, did not save us through his oral preaching but by his passion, death and resurrection; by his saving deeds of unconditional love. Jesus is the witness of God par excellence, and the model for all Christians to follow (cf. RM 42).  He keeps asking us today: You shall be my witnesses …to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8; cf. Ibid 22:21; Mt 28:18-19).   Undoubtedly, “To evangelize is first of all to bear witness” (EN 26): “the witness of the Christian life is the first and irreplaceable form of mission” (RM 42), “living the Gospel above all is the principal contribution we can make” (Pope Francis, May 18, 2013). Indeed: “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers it is because they are witnesses” (EN 41). The witnessing missionary possesses a passion for evangelization, which means a passion for Jesus and passion for his people (cf. EG 268).

In some places, Christians cannot proclaim the Gospel by words. Their preaching is by “silent witnessing,” the loud and attractive voice of the silence of charity, service and prayer (cf. RM 32-34; Ecclesia in Asia 23). Illuminating words of Pope Benedict XVI: “A Christian knows when it is time to speak and when it is better to say nothing and to let love alone speak” (Deus Caritas Est 31). Moreover, the disciples of Christ, that is, the missionaries are to accept courageously suffering and persecution (RM 91). In his Message for World Mission Day (2020), Pope Francis says that love is always ‘on mission’ - a living love that bears the cross of life patiently and joyfully.

The missionaries, collaborators of God and servants of Christ, are asked to be especially today witnesses and ministers of hope. Words to ponder: The future of humanity is in the hands of those who are strong enough to provide coming generations with reasons for living and hoping (Vatican II, GS 31; cf. EN 28).  

In closing, we underline what we all know well: the continuing need and help of prayer. Prayer is the lung, “the deep breath” of life and evangelization.  We are not afraid! Jesus is with us. We have his word: “Remember I am with you always, to the end of time” (Mt 28:20)

May our Mother Mary, the first missionary and the most committed to the mission of her Son, our Lord and Savior, accompany us!

By Fr. Fausto Gómez, OP.