The Apostolic Duty of the Church

Author: Pope Paul VI


Pope Paul VI

On Friday May 10th the Holy Father spoke to the Directors of the Pontifical Missionary Societies. Among those present was Cardinal Agagianian, Prefect of the S. Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

Venerable Brothers and dear Sons,

Once again it gives Us great pleasure to be with you who are responsible for the Pontifical Missionary Societies. We thank you for not ending your annual meeting without coming here to do homage to the Vicar of Christ and to receive the comfort of his words. We speak to you with pleasure, Venerable Brothers and dear Sons.

Church’s Missionary Duty

The familiarity and brevity of this meeting are small indication of all the esteem, affection and confidence We place in your work. Your zeal, your aspirations, your difficulties, and above all, the spirit which pervades your untiring activity is well known to Us. Therefore We can assure you that We follow the development of your work with great goodwill and the liveliest interest.

The topics discussed during your meeting permit Us to see once again the importance of your contribution to life's daily necessities and to the organization of the Missions. This is not all. We also know the generous efforts you are continually making to update the Pontifical Societies, so that they can maintain there modernity and efficiency.

These efforts make it possible for the Pope and the Holy See to meet the changing needs of the missions and missionaries ever more adequately and quickly. These needs involve not only the spread of the Faith, but also the enormous social problems found in the missionary countries. They are linked to the dialogue with the world and to the non-Christian cultures as proposed and desired by the Ecumenical Council. But your work, Venerable Brothers and dear Sons, is not only of an administrative nature—that of collecting the necessary means and distributing them according to the needs of the various missionary zones. Today your Societies are especially called upon to make all Christians aware of the Church's great missionary duty.

All Are Called to Spread the Gospel

In the aftermath of the Council, which has so clearly delineated the true face of the Bride of Christ and her essential missionary dimension, there is still much to be done so that dioceses and parishes may be come fully aware of their responsibilities to the missions. In actual fact, the Church's problems in missionary countries interest only a small portion of the Christian population, and for the most part, they are still regarded as the concern of specialists. A radical change of view is need. There must be a new doctrinal approach based on the divine plan of salvation put into effect by Christ, and continued in time by the Church. The Ecumenical Council teaches: "Since the whole Church is missionary, and the work of evangelization is a basic duty of the People of God... Thus, from a vivid awareness of their own responsibility for spreading the Gospel, they will do their share in missionary work among the nations" (Decr. Ad gentes, n. 35). Therefore, all Christians, by reason of their baptism, and not only the Hierarchy, are qualified to spread the message of the Gospel, and are responsible for its propagation.

In the light of this "mission" of the Church, the vitality of its various organizations and apostolic works, of its individual, specific, local missions must be measured.

Too often by emphasizing some big, internal problems of the Church, one runs the risk of identifying them with the "mission of the Church". Actually, they are only aspects of its unique and greatest mission. One must realize that every specific, local, personal "mission", every apostolic work, whatever it may be, must always be developed in keeping with the great task of the Church—the evangelization of the world. Without this fundamental link no apostolic undertaking, however noble and urgent, would have its full and proper meaning. Instead it would run the risk of becoming an end in itself, of losing sight of the real horizons of the Kingdom of God, and thereby damaging the true "mission" of the Church.

Faith Judged by Works

Thus, even at the level of the individual, everyone has a yardstick to measure his own involvement in the Christian faith. Real faith, as opposed to dilettantism or sterile conformity, will manifest itself in works, and especially in missionary work. Everyone, in his own life, must bear the stamp of the missionary. His charity will suggest to him his own personal role as a "missionary" among missionaries. This he can do by uniting himself to them in prayer, by a brotherly sharing in their sacrifices, and by offering them useful and generous help, so that together with them he may have the merit of spreading

the Word of God and expanding his Kingdom on earth.

You see, Venerable Brothers and dear Sons, what a vast amount of work lies before you. You must help all Catholics, and in particular priests and consecrated souls, to understand the great responsibility of all towards those who have not yet received the light of the Gospel. We have many reasons, therefore, to thank the Lord and to rejoice in finding you so untiring and generous in your noble and indispensable work. May you continue so with ever greater enthusiasm. May the Lord bless your zeal and your undertakings! To you and to all your collaborators We impart Our paternal Apostolic Blessing.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
23 May 1968, page 3

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