EXTRAORDINARY MISSIONARY MONTH
Why designate October 2019 as a global missionary month? Pope Francis stated at the beginning of his message proposing this special month:
“For the month of October 2019, I have asked that the whole Church revive her missionary awareness and commitment as we commemorate the centenary of the Apostolic Letter Maximum Illud of Pope Benedict XV (30 November 1919)…[This] has made me realize once again the importance of renewing the Church’s missionary commitment and giving fresh evangelical impulse to her work of preaching and bringing to the world the salvation of Jesus Christ, who died and rose again.”
(From the Vatican, 9 June 2019, Solemnity of Pentecost)
1. We must therefore go back a hundred years to the text of Pope Benedict XV, which is about 16 pages long.
In his apostolic letter, Benedict XV speaks of the dramatic reality of the missions in 1919, the disorganization of the missions, deprived of missionaries after the 1914-1918 war, the "billion pagans" (who were present at that time), the rapid promotion of the local clergy, the liberation from the colonial actions of countries with their economic and military interests, the duties of the missionaries according to each one’s own gifts and personality, and also the duties of the faithful and the churches throughout the world.
Thus, Benedict XV gave a strong missionary impetus to the universal Church ad extra, especially in religious communities and in the arrival of new missionary societies and institutes, such as the Maryknoll, Scarborough Missions, and the Quebec Foreign Missions.
2. One hundred years later, the present Pope sends a message of about three pages, with a twofold objective: on the one hand, to "foster an increased awareness of the missio ad gentes (mission to the nations)", and on the other hand, to "take up again with renewed fervour the missionary transformation of the Church’s life and pastoral activity". (From the Vatican, 22 October 2017, World Mission Sunday)
3. The two Popes have the same Biblical and theological foundations:
a. "Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature." (Mk 16:15)
b. "Go, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit." (Mt 28:19)
c. "As the Father sent me, so I also send you." (Jn 17:18)
d. "You will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8)
["God wants all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth." (1 Tim 2:4)
Jesus is the one sent by God, the Church is the one sent by Jesus Christ, the Church is essentially missionary, Christians are witnesses of Jesus Christ.]
4. However, between the two texts, there are very different emphases:
- Benedict XV was especially directed to the mission of evangelizing those who do not know Jesus Christ, ad gentes. Francis, on the other hand, is also and equally committed to the missionary transformation of the whole Church, according to his vision in "The Joy of the Gospel" of 2013.
- Benedict XV gives several concrete applications for and to "the nations" to whom the mission "ad extra" is directed. In his short message, Francis hardly develops the meaning and modalities of the mission "ad extra".
5. This world missionary month, therefore, wants to serve the double objective mentioned by Pope Francis. Moreover, the theme chosen is very broad in itself: "Baptized and Sent: the Church of Christ on Mission in the World".
6. On the one hand, this objective goes hand in hand with the movement that exists in French-speaking Canada, where we are trying to live a missionary turning point – which is not easy to define and, even less so, to achieve.
On the other hand, for us—members, associates and affiliates of the Quebec Foreign Mission Society (Société des Missions-Étrangères du Québec)—this missionary month is a great opportunity to reflect on our 100th anniversary of foundation, to reflect and clarify together, "the risk of meeting in the service of the Gospel" today.
We will then be able to deepen three basic points in our mission:
our personal encounter with Jesus Christ, our fraternal and community encounters in the service of the Gospel, and our commitments and testimonies in the service of Jesus Christ among different cultures and peoples.
7. In this broad objective of Pope Francis, let us unite in this Eucharist, with Jesus, the One sent by God the Father, to carry out his great mission on earth, in love and communion. Amen.
Mgr. Jean Louis Martin, pmé