Address to Pontifical Mission Societies

Author: Cardinal Jozef Tomko

The Celebration of the Great Jubilee


Cardinal Jozef Tomko, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples

Jubilee is missionary feast ‘par excellence’

The annual Assembly of the National Directors of the Pontifical Mission Societies was opened this year with an address on Monday, 8 May, by Cardinal Jozef Tomko, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. Here is the English text of his speech.

In this year of the Great Jubilee 2000, the usual annual Assembly of the National Directors of the Pontifical Mission Societies has a special significance. This year you come from 115 countries from all the continents as qualified representatives of the Church's missionary movement. But you also come as pilgrims of the Great Jubilee to renew yourselves in the task that the Church has entrusted to you in your respective countries.

This gathering is very special because the year 2000 is very special.

It concerns first of all the anniversary of the Incarnation of the Son of God but also the birth of the Church's mission.

It also involves the passing from the second to the third millennium after Christ, a transition that invites one to reflect on the history of humanity and on the role of the Church's mission. It therefore also calls for reflection on your missionary task at the beginning of the new millennium, and on the new century that is already beginning to unfold in this first year of the new period of activity.

In many respects "now is the time of salvation" ("nunc tempus salutis") for the Pontifical Mission Societies that are called to give a lead in missionary effort of the Church. Now more than ever, we need to reflect on our missionary commitment in its widest sense, in time and in space, in order to respond faithfully to the great commandment of the risen Lord who accompanies his Church "to the close of the age" (Mt 28:20), in order to bring the mission "to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8). It is indeed a time to reflect on the mission that covers all time and space.

1. Mission rooted in the mystery of the Incarnation

The Jubilee is a time of memory, but in a particular way with regard to mission. The mission was born "when the time had fully come" (Gal 4:4) and the loving plan of God was unveiled in the mystery of the redemptive Incarnation: "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (Jn 3:16). The Jubilee is the feast of the redemption offered to the whole of humanity by the Only-begotten Son, who was the Missionary sent by the Father for the salvation of humanity: "for us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven ... and became man ... he died [and] rose", as we recite in the Profession of Faith. The Jubilee is also the missionary feast par excellence, because it is the anniversary of the birth of the mission in time, as the continuation of the "missions" of the Son and the Spirit within the Trinity.

In fact, the mission did not end with the life of Jesus Christ on this earth, but on the contrary it only began with him. Before ascending to heaven, he sent his Church to continue the mission: "As the Father has sent me, even so I send you" (Jn 20:21). It is not a simple optional invitation, but rather a solemn command stemming from his authority: "All authority [exousia] in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations ... and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Mt 28:19-20). All nations, to the close of the age! The mission of the Church is not limited to one period or to one continent, nor is it a purely human reality. It does not depend only on our human strength, but is rather the work of the Spirit: "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses ... to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8). It is a divine-human work that is given the assurance of divine assistance: " I am with you to the close of the age". All we Christians, and all the more so the direct collaborators of the Pontifical Mission Societies, should feel very humble and very honoured to be called to contribute with our poor human strength to this great historical divine work; we enter into the flow of mysterious activity which the Triune God carries out through his Church to the end of time.

This Jubilee of salvation, Jubilee of Mission, is for us An event that challenges us and involves us personally, and at the same time it is the source of a new inspiration and of a new impulse for generous dedication to the work of animation and of cooperation that the Church and the Holy Spirit entrusts to us.

It is very significant that John Paul II, the Supreme Pastor of the Catholic Church, wished to address a heartfelt invitation to the whole Church from the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, at the moment that he himself referred to as the "culmination of his pilgrimage". Calling for a renewal of its obedience to the missionary commandment of the Lord, he said: "From this place, where the Resurrection was revealed first to the women and then to the Apostles, I exhort all the members of the Church to renew themselves in their obedience to the commandment of the Lord to bring the Gospel to the end of the earth. At the dawn of a new millennium there is a great need to shout the Good News from the roof tops: 'For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life' (Jn 3:16)" (L'Osservatore Romano, p. 5; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 29 March 2000, p. 1).

What does it mean for the Pontifical Mission Societies, and specifically for the National Directors, to renew their obedience to the commandment of the Lord? What situation does the mission find itself in today, after 2,000 years? What is our field of action if we are to be faithful to this commandment?

2. Mission in the world today

When John Paul II published the Encyclical Redemptoris missio, his affirmation at the beginning of this important document caused some surprise: "The mission of Christ the Redeemer ... is still very far from completion" (RM, n. 1). Some people were wondering: how can one say this after 2,000 years of evangelization?

However, all one has to do is look at the statistics of the population of our planet which contains six billion people. Two thirds of these do not yet know Jesus Christ, while the number of Catholics is over a billion and that of all Christians nearly two billion. The growth in numbers of Catholics is slower than that of non-Christians. Despite the continual increase in those belonging to the Catholic Church, the percentage is around 17.4%, with a slight drop in the last few decades.

The map of the missions is also changing. With massive immigration, various regions of old Europe are already experiencing the reality of mission ad gentes, thus pointing to the need of a vigorous re-evangelization or new evangelization. At the same time the young Churches in Africa are growing and now account for 15% of the population. Not to speak of Latin America, which is beginning to open up to active mission in the other continents. The missionary movement is not only from North to South, but is in all directions, because the new Churches are growing with a missionary consciousness that is always more open to the whole world, to all nations, as Redemptoris missio already pointed out: "There is a new awareness that missionary activity is a matter for all Christians.... No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all the peoples" (RM, nn. 2-3).

It is symptomatic that all the recent Synods of Bishops in the continents have had the proclamation of Christ as a common theme, with some variations.

The Assembly of the Synod (for Africa, America, Asia and Oceania) drew the whole world's attention to the young missionary Churches, to their vitality and to their growing pains. The whole Church has gained in terms of a deeper sharing, a greater universality lived together, a greater cultural enrichment. The young Churches, even with their economic poverty and shortage of personnel, are beginning to send missionaries, at least temporarily, within their own country, to neighbouring countries, and even outside their own continent. Alongside the always necessary missionaries for life, who also recruit vocations outside of Europe and America, new forms of missionary cooperation are also emerging gradually, for example the Fidei donum diocesan priests who go on mission for a few years. The help offered by sisters and lay people is also most valuable. Often these do not have material support, nor can they get the necessary subsidies. They are often attracted, in an exaggerated way, by the richer countries of Europe and North America. While on the one hand there are already Indian missionaries in Africa and Latin America, and Latin Americans in Africa and Asia, new problems arise that need to be taken into account both by the Bishops and by the Pontifical Mission Societies. The new genuinely missionary movement must be sustained by the cooperation of the universal Church. But the huge emigration of priests and sisters towards the West, which is materially prosperous but poor in vocations, needs to be analyzed and regulated by the pastors on both sides. Steps should be taken to ensure that this development is not damaging to the young Churches nor that it creates an alibi for the ancient churches that could appear to be dispensing themselves from a more incisive family and vocations apostolate, and resorting happily to these resources which are however badly needed in the countries of origin. The missionary animation of the Pontifical Mission Societies can help the richer communities not to become closed in on themselves, or to be contented with mere material aid, but to remain open to also giving their own sons and daughters for the Lord either at home or abroad.

Besides these general observations that are based on some recent experiences, I would like to briefly touch on some points in the different continents, using the statistics of the Annuario Statistico della Chiesa del 1998:

Africa has seen a century of rapid evangelization: from two million Catholics in 1900 to 116 million today, which is 15% of the population, with a local hierarchy for the most part, with many vocations for the priesthood and religious life, with a great effort to apply the orientations of the Synod and of the Post-Synodal Exhortation Ecclesia in Africa, which were warmly received. There is no shortage, however, of internal and external challenges, such as in their abandonment by the world powers, economic and military exploitation, tribal disputes, the lack of an enlightened ruling class, etc. The regions most evangelized are those most affected by troubles caused by internal and external problems, especially in the countries bordering the Great Lakes. The Church is paying a heavy price in terms of lives, oppression, limitations and sacrifices. The death of four Rwandan Bishops and one Congolese, the imprisonment of Bishop Misago and the confinement of Bishop Kataliko are eloquent signs of this. As the pastors of Congo and of the ACEAC were unable to meet for several years, last November our Congregation eventually managed to organize a meeting of all the Bishops of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi, gathering them together outside their own respective countries in Nairobi. But the situation is still dramatic, and not only in that zone. We think of Liberia, Sierra Leone, Congo-Brazzaville, Angola, Zimbabwe, not to speak of the situations of drought in Ethiopia, North Kenya (where I consecrated the new Bishop of Lodwar, in the arid savanna), the precarious situation in the two Congos, etc. Another problem is that of the Catholic presence in the Muslim States of North Africa, as I was able to experience during my recent visit to Libya. But the local Church is increasingly more conscious and ready for action, even if it often lacks the means to face certain situations.

Asia is the continent towards which the mission ad gentes needs to be more and more addressed. With 60% of' the world population, 85% of which are non-Christian, it is also the continent that is least evangelized. The Catholic Church reaches only 2.9% or 105 million, of whom 60 million live in the Philippines and 17 million in India. In, various countries, baptized Catholics constitute a minority of 0.5% or even less. Many external difficulties for evangelization persist, such as political and ideological ones (China, Viet Nam, Laos), cultural and religious (fundamentalism, fanaticism and nationalism in some groups of the ancient religions), economic and social (growing secularism and materialism).

There exists in certain countries a real campaign against the mission and against conversions, as I was able to note in the press and television during the visit of the Holy Father to India in November 1999, which I accompanied. Catholics have suffered. violence, attacks on their churches and even deaths in India, Indonesia and East Timor, while in Pakistan the abused law against blasphemy now appears to be somewhat regulated.

Tensions within the Church are also not yet resolved, such as those of a theological or organizational nature (discussions on Jesus Christ as the only Saviour, on mission, inter-rite tensions, interference in the appointment of Bishops and in the government of the local Churches). But the mission continues in the various forms possible, especially through means of dialogue.

In central Asia further ecclesiastical circumscriptions have been created in Kazakhstan and Cambodia. The first baptisms of local people have taken place in the new community of Outer Mongolia. And in the meantime we are awaiting the hour of the great China.

With the publication of the Post-Synodal Exhortation Ecclesia in Asia, this Church has a pastoral programme which the FABC has analyzed in its plenary assembly of January 2000 in Bangkok, at which I was able to take part. The task of missionary animation on the part of the National Directors in assisting the Bishops is therefore a vast one and of great importance.

Latin America, where 43% of all the Catholics in the world are living, continues to show satisfactory signs with regard to the mission ad gentes. At the beginning of October 1999 there took place in Parana, Argentina, the missionary congress, which should have been COMLA VI, but which became CAM I with the united presence of North, Central and South America. The next CAM 2 Congress will take place in Guatemala, Central America, in the year 2003. Having taken part as papal envoy in all the missionary congresses since 1987, I can give witness to the noteworthy contribution of this assembly for the growth of the missionary consciousness of the Churches that are beginning to "give from their own poverty" and "go out beyond their own frontiers" towards other continents. One should recall that all over America there still exist pockets of population that are ready for first evangelization or for maturing in the faith.

The Congregation of Propaganda Fide is still responsible for nine Dioceses in North America (Canada and Alaska) and for 74 circumscriptions in Latin America and in the Caribbean. In the meantime the more mature circumscriptions continue to pass to the competence of the Congregation for Bishops, that is to "common law". The National Directors of the whole American continent should now draw up the lines for stricter missionary collaboration in which Latin America could bring more thrust and fire, and that of North America more organizational efficiency, in view of common cooperation for the mission ad gentes.

The floating continent of Oceania, with its eight million Catholics in a total population of 30 million, manifested very particular missionary problems in the Synod of Bishops that was celebrated in 1998 and whose post-synodal directives are awaited: enormous distances, small scattered isolated communities, lack of local vocations, ageing of missionaries, proliferation of the sects, etc. Important themes for the respective National Directors!

But also Europe has to resolve its own serious questions regarding mission ad gentes, as was evident at least to some extent in the Synod of Bishops of this old continent. Through the considerable influx of non-baptized immigrants, the mission ad gentes comes to Europe and reaches the populations belonging to other religions that have come out of communism, as for example: Albania, Kosovo, Bosnia-Hercegovina, which are still under the jurisdiction, of Propaganda. In certain regions there are also large sections of those who "have lost a living sense of the faith, or even no longer consider themselves, members of the Church" (RM, n. 33), sometimes not even baptized, completely dechristianized. Here we see the new forms of the famous "new Areopagus" of mission which John Paul II talked about in the Encyclical Redemptoris missio (n. 37). The Holy Father addressed this warning to Europe in particular: "Even in traditionally Christian countries, there are regions that are under the special structures of the missions ad gentes, with groups and areas not yet evangelized. Thus, in these countries too there is a need not only for a new evangelization, but also, in some cases, for an initial evangelization" (RM, n. 37).

The Churches in Europe must remain open to the mission ad gentes, because "missionary activity renews the Church, revitalizes faith and Christian identity, and offers fresh enthusiasm and incentive. Faith is strengthened when it is given to others! It is in commitment to the Church's universal mission that the new evangelization of Christian peoples will find inspiration and support" (RM, n. 2).

The National Directors of Western and Eastern Europe have a great responsibility in reawakening the faith, through missionary animation and cooperation. Good organization is important, but the deeper animation is what creates the "fire of the mission".

3. Tasks of the Pontifical, Mission Societies

Faced with this brief panorama of the missionary world, the role of the Pontifical Mission Societies appears to be ever more providential. and demanding. A few years ago, visiting some major seminaries in Africa, for example the Bigard Memorial Seminary in Nigeria, I was struck by the work of the two lay people Stephanie and Jeanne Bigard, who founded the Work of St Peter for the benefit of the local clergy.

Last year I went to Lyons and Paris in France, to the sources of the Pontifical Society for the Propagation of the Faith. Visiting the house and chapel of Pauline Jaricot and rereading her writings, I realized once again that the Pontifical Mission Societies are truly charismatic. All four of them are a gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church, each one having its genuine charism confirmed by the Church. Whoever accepts to be National Director accepts to enter into the spirit of the charism, to take it on, to live it and make it bear fruit: "Do not quench the Spirit" (1 Thes 5:19). Fidelity to the Spirit requires a lot of listening of courage, and of creativity, especially at this historical time of change of the Jubilee Year 2000.

The Pontifical Societies must therefore reaffirm with clarity their own charismatic identity, seeking new expression but always in continuity with their roots. Today there are many local or regional initiatives, promoted by individual dioceses, associations, groups and aid agencies. Even a quick glance at the foundational charism of each of the four Societies reveals that they were not conceived by a single category of persons nor in a limited geographic space, but were tenaciously anchored in the universality and catholicity of the Church. One can recall the slogans such as "all the Churches for the whole Church" or "children helping children", "all priests for the whole Church". Such characteristics remain the principal motive for the works to remain "Pontifical", besides being dependent on the local Bishops.

The Instruction Cooperatio missionalis warns that "care should be taken not to limit one's range of action to one objective or isolate oneself with regard to other general initiatives of missionary cooperation, in particular those of the Pontifical Mission Societies, so as to safeguard the principle of universal equity in the distribution of funds" (n. 18).

The works must have a popular character and use methods that are inspired by simplicity. Mission still attracts the faithful of every class. One should educate them to missionary prayer in the spirit of the Pater Noster, involving children, housewives, old and sick people, being present in the seminaries, in novitiates, in movements, and working so that "particular Churches should therefore make the promotion of the missions a key element in the normal pastoral activity of parishes, associations and groups, especially youth groups" (RM, n. 83). Mission is not only a question of World Mission Sunday but it has to do with the essential life of the Church which is missionary by her nature! A missionary spirituality should reach all members of the People of God and find various forms of association in its animation. The zealous nature of the little Communities which Pauline Jaricot was able to spread quickly in various countries, is very striking; there exist various "missionary groups" , in the seminaries, zealous groups in the parishes, "mission clubs" or "cells" among children in Latin America, and the Missionary Union of the Clergy has also flowered in various countries.

Missionary animation on every continent and in every Church, both of old and new foundation, must move along two straight lines that however coincide, that is: to inform and to form. Animation has a precise aim: to orientate the whole ecclesial community towards missionary cooperation and thus have every particular Church and every person in the Church involved not only by right, but also in fact, in the Church's missionary effort. And that is true—we need to repeat it—for every Church, even the young ones.

Cooperation must be first of all spiritual through prayer and the offering of sacrifices in communion with Christ and his plan of salvation. One of the tasks and one of the greatest and long-lasting fruits of this type of cooperation, that must not be forgotten in any country, is the promotion of missionary vocations, particularly those for life; another task linked with this is collaboration in the formation of the local clergy and religious.

Animation should also give rise to material cooperation, always keeping in mind the warning of the Encyclical Redemptoris missio, that "generosity in giving must always be enlightened and inspired by faith" (RM, n. 81), so that it be at the same time a receiving for those giving in terms of spiritual growth. One must insist on everyone's obligation, both pastors and national directors, to forward the whole collection of World Mission Sunday to the Central Fund which the Holy See has destined for the purpose of first evangelization and of the evergrowing needs of the young Churches, almost all of which are situated in poor zones. Conscience demands that the intention of the donors be respected, and the sense of ecclesial, solidarity and distributive justice be followed. Let us remember that the number of these Churches, in just a short time, has increased from 877 to 1,045, that is, by 18%, while the number of major seminaries increased from 99 to 374, not to speak of the 50,000 students in minor seminaries. We cannot abandon the subsidies to catechists, who number more than 400,000, and it is necessary to reactivate the programme of construction of little churches, of dispensaries with first aid service, and of other indispensable social and educational projects. The Pontifical Societies in every nation, but especially in the better-off ones, should come to an agreement with other aid bodies to coordinate the subsidies in a spirit of true human, Christian and ecclesial solidarity.


The Great Jubilee constitutes an important theme for the Church, of listening to the call of the risen Lord to take seriously his solemn missionary commandment. In Rome there are multiple occasions for recapturing the "fire of the mission": yesterday the Holy Father went to the Colosseum for the Ecumenical Commemoration of Witnesses to the Faith in the 20th Century and of the "new martyrs" of our age; in June the Missionary Expo will be opened; from 18 to 22 of October the World Missionary Congress will take place, with the theme "Jesus, source of life for all"; likewise the International Missiological Congress, with the launching of the activity of the Catholic Missiological Association. The culmination will be on 22 October with the celebration of the World Missionary Day in St Peter's Square, which will include a Mass with the Holy Father. But the Pontifical Mission Societies in the individual nations should commit themselves to having some memorable celebration of mission in this Jubilee Year, which is a new opportunity for jubilation "for your partnership in the Gospel" (Phil 1:5), and of thanksgiving because "our Gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit" (1 Thes 1:5).  

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
31 May 2000, page 9

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