By Bernardo Cervellera

Oct 17 2020

“Leaving” one’s culture and one’s country is possible only if one is rich in faith in Jesus Christ. This makes the difference. For many, the pandemic has meant closure, isolation, fear of contagion, disinterest, depression, nihilism. For many others it has meant reaching out, nurturing, comforting, consoling, crying, hoping. Missionaries are not just humanitarian workers. The greatest gift we can give to the world is not a little of our well-being, but faith itself.

ROME – With the world sinking into the abyss of the pandemic, with foreign travel becoming increasingly difficult, with mandatory quarantines from one country to another, does it make any sense to talk about mission and moreover, mission in other non-Christian countries?

Moreover: with the economic crisis that advances and is about to overwhelm Italy and the world, with the poverty that is emerging even in areas that were once rich or well-off, with the disorientation of the elderly and young people in our country, would it be even right to consider being a foreign missionary for a religion often itself branded as “foreign”?

We, the missionaries of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) believe so.

The pandemic, its trail of death, the tragedy of struggling healthcare systems, the lockdowns have brutally confronted us with the precariousness of our life, and faced with disappearing friends, our feeling alone and helpless, the question arises again and again: what is the point of living? Is the well-being we have sought; the health we have taken care of enough to be happy?

Happiness lies in great love, where we feel welcomed and comforted. This is the reason for faith and mission. Faith is above all the discovery, the experience of having been loved as never in the world by one who is Man and God, and for this reason He never betrays, and we feel this love in the friendship of someone who is His.

This great love defies the pandemic. In this period there have been priests who have comforted the terminally ill and sometimes died of Covid-19 themselves. There were also doctors and nurses who risked so much. In India, which has become the second country in Asia for infections, while in full lockdown every parish opened a soup kitchen for the poor, for the millions of day labourers who, due to the closure of shops and factories, found themselves without work from one moment to the next, without wages, without a roof over their heads, without food.

For many, the pandemic has meant closure, isolation, fear of contagion, disinterest, depression, nihilism. For many others it has meant reaching out, nurturing, comforting, consoling, crying, hoping.

In the message published for World Mission Sunday 2020, which will be celebrated in Italy on October 18, Pope Francis he writes: “We are indeed frightened, disoriented and afraid. Pain and death make us experience our human frailty, but at the same time remind us of our deep desire for life and liberation from evil. In this context, the call to mission, the invitation to step out of ourselves for love of God and neighbour presents itself as an opportunity for sharing, service and intercessory prayer. The mission that God entrusts to each one of us leads us from fear and introspection to a renewed realization that we find ourselves precisely when we give ourselves to others.”

Mission means coming out of ourselves, allowing ourselves to be filled with “love of God and neighbour” because we are inhabited by the certainty that the God who is Man is at our side. This being filled and inhabited is always valid, even in the pandemic and perhaps especially in the pandemic.

At this time in history  – and the missionary month of October falls perfectly – we must look at the missionaries. Pope Francis has defined missionaries and mission as the “paradigm of the life and pastoral care of the Church”.

Paradigm means: model, example, measure. Of what? Of going out in the name of a good received, communicating to others the root of the joy that dwells there.

And why go abroad, with all the good that could be done in Italy? Going abroad means rediscovering and witnessing to what really lasts in life: beyond the changes in climate, clothing, food, culture, language, faith remains, the person of Jesus in the missionary. This witness also becomes important for those who remain at home, in Italy.

Too often in Italy we perceive our missionaries as simple humanitarian workers: people who build wells, or schools, or chapels, or orphanages. Of course, this too, but only if one is motivated, driven, supported by the desire to communicate the mystery of the life of Jesus.

In Italy, precisely because we have a much higher standard of living than many African or Asian or Latin American countries, we think that after all the missionary should only go to the marginalized, to the outskirts of the city. But there are suburbs and solitudes even in the city centres. The real problem for Christians in Italy is to rediscover that the greatest gift we can give to the world is not a little of our well-being, but faith itself, the true treasure for which we have left everything and followed the Lord.

It is impressive to look at the statistics of the Church around the world. The latest available say that between 2015 and 2016 baptized Catholics on the planet went from 1285 million to 1299 million, with an overall relative increase of 1.1 percent. With two major exceptions: in Africa, the Catholic population grew by 23.2% from 2010 to 2016; in Asia, it grew by more than 1%, remaining at 11% of the continent’s population (4.5 billion, or 60% of the world population); in Europe there is a growth of 0.2%.

Pope Francis says World Mission Sunday that every Christian must hear the call of God Who says: ” Whom shall I send” (Isaiah 6, 8). And we hope that instead of being dominated by indifference or fear, we can respond like the prophet Isaiah: “Here I am, send me!”. – AsiaNews


(This article also appeared in the weekly “Ortobene”, Nuoro)