Meeting with some 110 national directors of The Pontifical Mission Societies on June 3, Pope Francis thanked the members of the network for their generous service, which is “often performed behind the scenes and amid many difficulties.”
“The greatest dream is that of an ever closer and more coordinated missionary cooperation among all members of the Church,” Pope Francis said, confirming the directors, currently in Rome taking part in the yearly general assembly, in their “call to become leaven, to help promote and foster a missionary style in the Church and support the works of evangelization.”
The national directors oversee the work of the four Pontifical Mission Societies in their countries. The societies, which operate under and cooperate with the Dicastery for Evangelization, are the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, the Society of St. Peter Apostle, the Holy Childhood Association, and the Missionary Union of Priests and Religious.
As Pope Francis pointed out, the Societies were founded by a bishop, Charles de Forbin-Janson, a priest, Paolo Mana, and two laywomen, Pauline Jaricot and Jeanne Bigard: “That is to say, representatives of different categories of the baptized,” he said. “This is a sign that commits us to involve all members of the People of God in missionary activity! Let us not stop dreaming of a new era of missionary activity among Christian communities.”
The societies rely on donations to fund their work in places where the Gospel has yet to be proclaimed or where the Church is too young or poor to stand on its own. There are 1,100 dioceses worldwide that fall under these categories and are considered mission territories.
Francis said the Church’s mission in the world has its “heart” and its source in the very Heart of Jesus. Missionary work “does not come naturally,” yet it is born in “those who allow themselves to be drawn by the love of Christ” and feel “the desire to bring to everyone the mercy and compassion flowing from his Heart.”
The audience, which took place in the Clementine Hall of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, saw the participation of 110 National Directors of the Pontifical Mission Societies, including the National Director of TPMS-USA, Monsignor Kieran Harrington. They hail from every continent and were accompanied by Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Pro-prefect of the Dicastery for Evangelization, and Archbishop Emilio Nappa (President of TPMS).
The Pope invited the directors, and by extension, every member of this international missionary network, to reflect on the charism and mission of the Societies by contemplating Jesus’ merciful and compassionate Heart, which inspired Blessed Pauline Marie Jaricot, the foundress of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith.
By doing so, Francis said, “we discover the greatness of God’s plan for humanity” and “the infinite measure of His love.” Jesus shows us this love “in His compassion for those who are wounded, in His concern when faced with suffering, in the mercy with which He anoints sinners, in His sacrifice for the sins of the world.”
The “heart” of the Church’s evangelical mission is, therefore, “to reach all through the gift of God’s infinite love, to seek all, to welcome all, to offer our lives for all, excluding no one.”
Pope Francis reiterated that the vocation of the Pontifical Mission Societies is to be “instruments for promoting responsibility for the missions on the part of all the baptized.” He recalled that the Societies are not “a mere agency for the distribution of funds for those in need of help,” but a reality called to support the “mission of evangelization in the Church fostering the missionary spirit among the people of God.”
The Pope, therefore, urged The Pontifical Mission Societies to intensify, “with the boldness and creativity of the Holy Spirit,” their missionary efforts not only in the newly evangelized countries but also in those of ancient Christian tradition “marked by a serious crisis of faith.”