“We cannot but speak about what we have seen and heard,” taken from the Acts of the Apostles, is the theme chosen by Pope Francis for World Mission Day 2021 which will be observed on October 24th.
In the message released on Friday, the Pope emphasizes that “Once we experience the power of God’s love, and recognize his fatherly presence in our personal and community life, we cannot help but proclaim and share what we have seen and heard.”
What the Apostles tell us
Pope Francis explains that Jesus’ relationship with his disciples and his humanity, “shows us the extent to which God loves our humanity and makes his own our joys and sufferings, our hopes and our concerns.”
He notes that “Everything about Christ reminds us that he knows well our world and its need for redemption, and calls us to become actively engaged in this mission.”
Focusing his attention on the experience of the Apostles, Pope Francis writes that the Apostles tell us that “The history of evangelization began with the Lord’s own passionate desire to call and enter into friendly dialogue with everyone, just as they are.”
Experiencing the Lord’s friendship, compassion and teaching, says the Pope “left an indelible mark on them [the Apostles], awakening amazement, expansive joy and a profound sense of gratitude.”
The Pope points out that “With Jesus, we too have seen, heard and experienced that things can be different.” “The ecclesial community reveals its splendour whenever it recalls with gratitude that the Lord loved us first.”
Challenges of the pandemic
However, Pope Francis stresses that life can be difficult. The Book of Acts, he says “teaches us to endure hardship by clinging firmly to Christ.”
Referring to the current Coronavirus pandemic, the Pope writes that the virus has “brought to the fore and amplified the pain, the solitude, the poverty and the injustices experienced by so many people. It has unmasked our false sense of security and revealed the brokenness and polarization quietly growing in our midst.”
He goes on to say that “Those who are most frail and vulnerable have come to feel even more so. We have experienced discouragement, disillusionment and fatigue; nor have we been immune from a growing negativity that stifles hope.”
He is not here, but has risen
Yet, Pope Francis says, “we can hear the powerful message of life that echoes in our hearts and proclaims: ‘He is not here, but has risen’”.
This message, comments the Pope, is one of hope that “shatters every form of determinism and, to those who let themselves be touched by it, bestows the freedom and boldness needed to rise up and seek with creativity every possible way to show compassion…”
Amid this pandemic, underlines the Pope, “when there is a temptation to disguise and justify indifference and apathy in the name of healthy social distancing, there is urgent need for the mission of compassion, which can make that necessary distancing an opportunity for encounter, care and promotion.”
In our present circumstances, he continues, “there is an urgent need for missionaries of hope who, anointed by the Lord, can provide a prophetic reminder that no one is saved by himself.”
A call to serve
In his message, Pope Francis describes the theme of this year’s World Mission Day as a summons to each of us to ‘own’ and to bring to others what we bear in our hearts.”
“I like to think that ‘even those who are most frail, limited and troubled can be missionaries in their own way, for goodness can always be shared, even if it exists alongside many limitations,’” the Pope says.
On World Mission Day, which is celebrated each year in October, Pope Francis observes that it is an opportunity to “recall with gratitude all those men and women who by their testimony of life help us to renew our baptismal commitment to be generous and joyful apostles of the Gospel. Let us remember especially all those who resolutely set out, leaving home and family behind, to bring the Gospel to all those places and people athirst for its saving message.”
When we contemplate their missionary witness, writes the Pope, “we are inspired to be courageous ourselves.”
He also points out that “the call to mission is not a thing of the past, or a romantic leftover from earlier times.” Today too Jesus needs “messengers and agents of compassion.” he says.
Concluding his message, Pope Francis stresses that “Always, but especially in these times of pandemic, it is important to grow in our daily ability to widen our circle, to reach out to others who, albeit physically close to us, are not immediately part of our “circle of interests.”
To be on mission, he adds, “is to be willing to think as Christ does, to believe with him that those around us are also my brothers and sisters.”