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The Church is missionary by her nature

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 19 April 1995 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. Heir to and continuation of the apostles who were sent to witness to Christ and to preach the Gospel "to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8), the Church possesses the note of "catholicity" from which her "missionary" nature derives. This second characteristic, part of her mystery, comes "from on high." The Second Vatican Council notes this in the Decree Ad Gentes, according to which, "The pilgrim Church is missionary by her very nature, since it is from the mission of the Son and the mission of the Holy Spirit that she draws her origin, in accordance with the decree of God the Father" (AG 2). It is a mystery established by the divine trinitarian plan which is fulfilled in the Church and made manifest as permanently her own, since the day of Pentecost.

2. Being essentially missionary does not mean merely that the Church has a universal mission to all humanity. It means that in her constitutive reality, in her soul, and thus it could be said in her very "psychology," she possesses a dynamism that concretely unfolds in preaching the Gospel, in spreading the faith and in calling to conversion. All this is proclaimed "to the very ends of the earth." This interior drive, intimately linked to her mission, comes from the Holy Spirit and is therefore part of her mystery. The dynamism that comes from it is thus expressed as a distinctive characteristic of the whole Church. This is shown in a concrete and effective way especially in those who, starting with the apostles, go to regions far from their land for the sake of the Gospel. Even if all are not called personally to go to mission lands, each one in the Church and with the Church has the task of spreading the light of the Gospel, according to the saving mission passed on by the Redeemer to the ecclesial community. Indeed, all are called to cooperate in this mission.

3. We must insist on deepening the trinitarian origin of this missionary dynamism, to which the Decree Ad Gentes refers (cf. nn. 2, 3, 5). This dynamism flows from the "fountain-like love," that is, from the "love of God the Father," from "his great and merciful kindness." He is the God who creates us and "gratuitously calls us to share in his life and in his glory." He "pours out his divine goodness" in order to be "all in all" (1 Cor 15:28). It is from his infinite generosity destined for every creature that the Church's missionary movement stems as the Holy Spirit's gift, a movement committed to spreading the message of salvation in the world.

4. The dynamism of divine life was first communicated in the Incarnation of the eternal Son of God, sent by the Father to bring mankind revelation and salvation. The coming into the world of the Word made flesh (cf. Jn 1:14) can be considered a "type" or "archetype"--as the Fathers would say--of the Church's missionary drive. Going beyond the frontiers of ancient Israel, it extends the kingdom of heaven to all humanity. This drive is carried out in particular by the "leap" of missionaries, who, like the apostles, leave their native countries to proclaim the divine message to "all nations" (Mt 28:18).

The first missionary, the only begotten Son sent on earth by the Father to redeem the world, sends the apostles out to continue his mission (cf. Jn 20:21). The missionary typology of the "Word made flesh" also includes the self-emptying of the one who exists in the form of God and who assumed the form of a servant, becoming like men (cf. Phil 2:6-7). The Pauline concept of "kenosis" allows us to see in the Incarnation the first example of the self-emptying of those who accept Christ's mandate and leave everything to bring the Good News "to the very ends of the earth."

5. In affirming the transcendent origin of the missionary dynamism of his Incarnation, Jesus also reveals in it his purpose, which consists in opening to all the way back to God. Jesus marked this path out first. He declared: "I came from the Father and have come into the world. Now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father" (Jn 16:28). He explained that the aim of this "going" was to prepare a place "in his Father's house" for the disciples, to whom he said: "I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be" (Jn 14:3). Jesus' return to the Father was carried out through a sacrifice in which he showed his love for men "to the end" (Jn 13:1).

He wants men to participate in his ascent to the Father. To bring about this participation, he sends his apostles, and together with them, the whole Church, which extends his preaching and activities in all places and in all ages.

6. We have emphasized the fact that Christ's missionary activity culminated in the offering of his sacrifice. According to the Father's plan, Jesus spent only a short period of his earthly life preaching, which was limited to the "lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Mt 15:24). At the start, he also limited the ministry of the Twelve to this (cf. Mt 10:6). However, with the sacrifice of the cross he totally fulfilled the missionary purpose of his coming on earth: the salvation not only of the people of Israel or the Samaritans, but also the "Greeks" (cf. Jn 12:20-24), indeed, all humanity (Jn 12:32).

This fact sheds light on the Church's missionary activity, which must be marked by a sacrificial note foretold by Jesus: "No disciple is above his teacher, no slave above his master" (Mt 10:24). "You will be hated by all because of my name" (Mt 10:22).

We must follow the divine Master on the way of the cross. This is the way of the Church and the way of missionaries, as the Council recalls: "The Church, prompted by the Holy Spirit, must walk in the same path on which Christ walked: a path of poverty and obedience, of service and self-sacrifice to the death, from which death he came forth a victor by his resurrection" (AG 5).

7. On this way of the Church and her missionaries, Christ is not only the initiator and the perfect example. He is also the one who supplies the necessary energy to proceed, communicating the Holy Spirit to his Church in every age. As we read again in the Council, to achieve universal salvation, "Christ sent from the Father his Holy Spirit, who was to carry on inwardly his saving work and prompt the Church to spread out" (AG 4). Let us return once again to the trinitarian source of the Church's missionary dynamism, which the Holy Spirit kindled at Pentecost. He continuously nourishes it in hearts, as the Love of the Father and the Son-- ignis, caritas --which imparts to the Church the fire of eternal Charity.

Pentecost was not only a moment of intense emotion. It was the start of a dynamism of supernatural origin which developed throughout the Church's history (cf. RM 24). As on the day of Pentecost, so in our times the Holy Spirit continues inwardly to inspire missionary enthusiasm and to give hierarchical and charismatic gifts (cf. 1 Cor 12:4ff.), which make the Church "one in communion and in ministering" (AG 4; cf. LG 4). This intimate unity of Jesus' disciples is expressed in "fraternal communion," in being "of one heart and mind" (RM 26).

8. The Holy Spirit illumines and inflames the whole person with divine love, working effectively in minds and hearts. He intervenes deeply in the Church's missionary activity, which he himself at times "visibly anticipates...just as he unceasingly accompanies and directs it in different ways" (AG 4). Thus the Church, moved "by the grace and love of the Holy Spirit," fulfills her mission, opening up for all men "a firm and free road to full participation in the mystery of Christ" (AG 5)."

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai pellegrini di lingua francese

Chers frères et sœurs,

J’accueille avec joie les personnes de langue française. En particulier, je salue cordialement les séminaristes du diocèse de Metz venus à Rome dans la perspective de leur ordination sacerdotale. J’adresse mes vœux amicaux aux jeunes étudiants et aux autres pèlerins du Liban. Mes encouragements vont à tous les jeunes des collèges et lycées, notamment ceux du collège Stanislas à Paris qui préparent leur Profession de Foi, et aux enfants du catéchisme de Villebrumier. Enfin, je salue spécialement les étudiants de la Faculté libre de philosophie comparée, de Paris. À tous et à toutes, je souhaite d’être d’ardents messagers du Christ Ressuscité, Chemin, Vérité et Vie! De grand cœur, je donne ma Bénédiction Apostolique à tous les francophones ici présents.

Ai pellegrini di espressione inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I offer a warm welcome to the pilgrimage of young people from the Archdiocese of Boston, led by Cardinal Law. I also welcome the Officers and students of the Britannia Royal Naval College and the Royal Naval Engineering College. My greeting likewise goes to the members of the Irish Heart Foundation and to the choir of St. Macdara’s College. To the Coro San Benildo from the Philippines I express my gratitude for their praise of God in song. Upon all the English–speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, especially those from England, Ireland, Taiwan, Japan, Australia, Canada and the United States, I cordially invoke the joy and peace of the Risen Christ.

Ai pellegrini tedeschi

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit diesen Gedanken über die Kirche und ihr missionarisches Wirken heie ich Euch, liebe Schwestern und Brüder aus den deutschsprachigen Ländern, die Ihr in so groer Zahl an dieser Audienz teilnehmt, sehr herzlich willkommen. Mein besonderer Gru gilt den Jugendlichen, vor allem der Ministranten–Diözesan–wallfahrt des Bistums Essen und der Jugendwallfahrt aus der Diözese Regensburg.

Euch allen wünsche ich in diesen österlichen Tagen eine erneuerte Liebe zur Kirche und vertiefte Glaubensfreude. Dazu erteile ich Euch, Euren lieben Angehörigen in der Heimat sowie all jenen, die uns über Radio Vatikan und das Fernsehen verbunden sind, von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di lingua spagnola

Queridos hermanos y hermanas,

Con gran alegría saludo a los peregrinos de España y América Latina. En particular a las Hijas de María Auxiliadora, a los Cruzados y Milicia de Santa María, a la Asociación Navarra Nuevo Futuro, a los Belenistas de Pamplona, así como a las diversas parroquias y estudiantes españoles. Dirijo también un especial saludo a los grupos de peregrinos de México y Costa Rica. Que el gozo de la Resurrección del Señor os anime a ser siempre misioneros de paz y esperanza. A todos os deseo una feliz Pascua, y de corazón os imparto la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai pellegrini di espressione portoghese

Caríssimos Irmãos e Irmãs,

As minhas saudações cordiais e votos de felicidades, alegria e paz por Jesus Cristo, nossa Páscoa, aos peregrinos de língua portuguesa, nomeadamente aos visitantes que vieram de Portugal. Grato pela vossa presença! Quero encorajar a fé que vos trouxe a Roma, a vossa fé pascal: que ela se traduza em boas obras, dando testemunho de que “ressuscitastes” com Cristo, para uma “vida nova” como baptizados. E que Nossa Senhora seja para todos amparo na fidelidade a Deus e ao próximo!

Ai pellegrini polacchi

Witam pielgrzymów z Polski. Są tu mianowicie: kapłani archidiecezji krakowskiej – z okazji 15. rocznicy święceń oraz z okazji 1. rocznicy święceń (już was święcił mój następca), pielgrzymka KSM–u z Częstochowy, pielgrzymka Liceum Księży Pallotynów z Chełmna nad Wisłą, pielgrzymka księży pallotynów z Polski oraz z Ukrainy, pielgrzymka z parafii św. Łukasza Ewangelisty z Rui (diecezja legnicka – tam, gdzie Henryk Pobożny pobił Tatarów), z Kielc – pielgrzymka bankowców, grupa turystyczna “Sigma Travel” z Warszawy oraz “Anda” z Miejskiej Górki, a poza tym inni uczestnicy audiencji, nie objęci tymi grupami, pochodzący z kraju oraz z zagranicy.

Ai gruppi di pellegrini italiani

Saluto ora con affetto i pellegrini di lingua italiana. In particolare, il gruppo della parrocchia San Giuseppe di Montefiascone e sono lieto di benedire, al termine dell’Udienza, la statua del loro santo Patrono, il Custode del Redentore. Saluto i professionisti della squadra di ciclismo “Amore & Vita – Galatron”, come pure i dilettanti ed i giovanissimi “Mamma e Michela Fanini”, venuti insieme ai dirigenti e agli accompagnatori.

Mi rivolgo poi con grande cordialità agli scolastici della Compagnia di Gesù ordinati diaconi proprio ieri ed ai seminaristi del biennio propedeutico del Seminario Arcivescovile di Catania, esortando ciascuno a seguire con intatta fedeltà il divino Maestro nella realizzazione del suo universale disegno di salvezza.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli

Desidero, inoltre, formulare vivissimi voti augurali per la Santa Pasqua agli ammalati, agli sposi novelli ed ai giovani presenti a questa Udienza. Tra i giovani, vorrei ricordare quelli della parrocchia di Castelleone (diocesi di Cremona), i ragazzi e ragazze venuti a Roma da varie parti d’Italia per la “professione di Fede” e i partecipanti al pellegrinaggio della gioventù pallottina, provenienti da Nazioni di diversi continenti. Gesù risorto, apparso a Pietro, ai discepoli ed alle pie donne, sia per voi, cari giovani, il primo ed insostituibile Maestro nella ricerca del senso dell’esistenza e nell’orientamento vocazionale, come lo è stato per San Vincenzo Pallotti, del quale quest’anno celebriamo il bicentenario della nascita. Il Signore, vincitore della morte, rechi conforto e consolazione a voi, cari ammalati, che con le vostre sofferenze prendete parte più intensamente al suo sacrificio pasquale; doni a voi, cari sposi novelli, il gusto e la gioia della vita da accogliere e promuovere sempre come dono del suo infinito amore.

Augurandovi, carissimi, di essere gioiosi ed intrepidi testimoni della Pasqua, di gran cuore tutti vi benedico.

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