Pope Francis said that he continued to “dream of a completely missionary Church” in a message published on Thursday.
Writing in his World Mission Day message, released on Jan. 6, the Solemnity of the Epiphany, the pope called for renewed efforts to spread the Gospel.
“Dear brothers and sisters, I continue to dream of a completely missionary Church, and a new era of missionary activity among Christian communities,” he wrote.
World Mission Day — also known as World Mission Sunday — was established by Pope Pius XI in 1926. It is usually observed on the third Sunday of October and will be celebrated this year on Sunday, Oct. 23.
This year’s theme is “You shall be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). The pope described Christ’s words in the Acts of the Apostles as “the heart of Jesus’ teaching to the disciples.”
In his message, Pope Francis emphasized that every member of the Church has a shared responsibility to witness to Christ.
Describing the apostolic exhortation as “a document dear to my heart,” he cited its much-quoted line that “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”
Pope Francis wrote: “In evangelization, then, the example of a Christian life and the proclamation of Christ are inseparable. One is at the service of the other. They are the two lungs with which any community must breathe, if it is to be missionary.”
“This kind of complete, consistent, and joyful witness to Christ will surely be a force of attraction also for the growth of the Church in the third millennium.”
He recalled that St. Paul VI underlined the responsibility of immigrants to evangelize the countries that receive them.
“More and more, we are seeing how the presence of faithful of various nationalities enriches the face of parishes and makes them more universal, more Catholic,” Pope Francis said.
“Consequently, the pastoral care of migrants should be valued as an important missionary activity that can also help the local faithful to rediscover the joy of the Christian faith they have received.”
The pope noted that 2022 marks several significant missionary anniversaries. It is the fourth centenary of the founding of the Congregation de Propaganda Fide, which oversaw the dramatic expansion of the Catholic world following its foundation by Pope Gregory XV.
The body is known today as the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and is led by the Filipino Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle.
“The establishment of the Sacred Congregation De Propaganda Fide in 1622 was motivated by the desire to promote the missionary mandate in new territories,” Francis wrote.
“A providential insight! The Congregation proved to be crucial for setting the Church’s evangelizing mission truly free from interference by worldly powers, in order to establish those local Churches which today display such great vigor.”
“It is our hope that, as in its past four centuries, the Congregation, with the light and strength of the Spirit, will continue and intensify its work of coordinating, organizing, and promoting the Church’s missionary activities.”
The body is the oldest of four Pontifical Mission Societies (PMS), an umbrella group of Catholic missionary societies under the pope’s jurisdiction.
A worldwide collection is held each year on World Mission Day for the PMS, which consists of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, the Society of St. Peter the Apostle, the Society of the Holy Childhood, and the Pontifical Missionary Union.
The first three bodies were granted the title “Pontifical” 100 years ago, the pope observed in his message.
A Vatican agency announced shortly before the New Year that 22 Catholic missionaries were killed in 2021, half of them in Africa.
“The Church must constantly keep pressing forward, beyond her own confines, in order to testify to all the love of Christ,” the pope wrote.
“Here I would like to remember and express my gratitude for all those many missionaries who gave their lives in order to ‘press on’ in incarnating Christ’s love towards all the brothers and sisters whom they met.”