On the Sunday on which we celebrate World Mission Day, the Pope has called for an Extraordinary Missionary Month to be held in October 2019, “with the aim of fostering an increased awareness of the missio ad gentes and taking up again with renewed fervour the missionary transformation of the Church’s life and pastoral activity”. The announcement is contained in a letter addressed yesterday to Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, the Dicastery which had proposed the initiative and will be in charge of its preparation. Last June, Pope Francis had already expressed his desire to proclaim an extraordinary month when he met with the participants in the General Assembly of the Pontifical Mission Societies. The Pope asks all the faithful “to take to heart the proclamation of the Gospel and to help their communities grow in missionary and evangelizing zeal” in order to enhance “the love for the mission”, which “is a passion for Jesus, but at the same time is a passion for his people”, as affirmed by St John Paul II. Pope Francis recalls that on 30 November 2019 “we will celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the promulgation of the Apostolic Letter ‘Maximum Illud’, with which Pope Benedict XV sought to give new impetus to the missionary task of proclaiming the Gospel. In 1919, in the wake of a tragic global conflict that he himself called a ‘useless slaughter’, the Pope recognized the need for a more evangelical approach to missionary work in the world, so that it would be purified of any colonial overtones and kept far away from the nationalistic and expansionistic aims that had proved so disastrous. ‘The Church of God is universal; she is not alien to any people’, he wrote, firmly calling for the rejection of any form of particular interest, inasmuch as the proclamation and the love of the Lord Jesus, spread by holiness of one’s life and good works, are the sole purpose of missionary activity. Benedict XV thus laid special emphasis on the missio ad gentes, employing the concepts and language of the time, in an effort to revive, particularly among the clergy, a sense of duty towards the missions”.
“That duty – Pope Francis writes – is a response to Jesus’ perennial command to ‘go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature’ (Mk 16:15). Obeying this mandate of the Lord is not an option for the Church: in the words of the Second Vatican Council, it is her ‘essential task’, for the Church is ‘missionary by nature’”.