· Vatican City ·

Reflection on Pope Francis’ message for World Missionary Day

Responding to the call
to mission

06 February 2021

Since the time of Christ, the Church’s perennial missionary mandate has remained clear and unchanged: Go out to all the world, witness to what you have seen and heard, and invite everyone to experience God’s compassionate love. Following in the footsteps of the first apostles and disciples, we too are called to actively take part in this ecclesial mission through the witness of our holy lives and by reaching out in friendship and kindheartedness to those who await a confirmation of God’s love.

During my more than fifty years as a professed religious, I have witnessed an ever-deepening missionary thrust in my own congregation, the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Listening intently to Christ’s appeal, as he speaks particularly through our Supreme Pontiffs and bishops, a good number of our sisters, previously engaged in more traditional ministries in Europe and the Americas, have become part of our Congregation’s response to the call to mission in their own homeland or in developing nations throughout the world.

Since Vatican ii called religious to deep reflection and assimilation of their founding charism, the Apostles have sought to weave the missionary zeal of our Foundress, Blessed Clelia Merloni, into the essential fabric of our personal and corporate lives and mission. Convinced that the Congregation’s title of “Apostles” is both a name and a mission, the sisters now collaborate with local bishops, priests, religious and laity in several developing countries in Africa and Latin America as well as in underserved pastoral areas in their countries of origin.

During visits to the communities during my term as superior general of our Congregation, I was privileged to walk with my sisters directly involved in the Church’s mission in young and vibrant ecclesial communities, as well as in those whose original fervor needs to be fanned into flame once again.

Today, young and not so young missionaries share their lives, prayer and passion for evangelization with the young women whom they had evangelized and who are now members of our community. Regardless of their country of origin, they are imbued with their vocation as missionary disciples. Together they bring the healing and loving touch of Jesus to all, in the areas of healthcare, education and the promotion of the human dignity of each person. Their joyful synergy and indefatigable collaboration witness to the ongoing proclamation of Christ’s presence in the world.

The Apostles are fond of saying that where one or more of us are, the spirit of our Foundress, of the Congregation and Christ himself are present. Together with their lay collaborators, the sisters initiate projects to sensitize others to the Church’s world-wide mission and encourage them to promote and participate in it. Communication of missionary activities through social media creates awareness, solidarity and opportunities to offer assistance to the various ministries in the form of prayer, volunteer service and material sustenance. Spreading news of missionary activity also serves to remind all that we are each responsible for building up the Body of Christ, especially in the lives of our most vulnerable brothers and sisters. Precious is the contribution of the retired and infirm members of the community, who offer fervent prayer for the missions, particularly during their hours of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.

Recently, some Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus have begun sharing the compassionate love of Jesus in persons living in the peripheries of our cities and towns, by engaging in prison ministry, rehabilitation of persons addicted to substance abuse, the care and reintegration of women and girls who are victims of violence or human trafficking, and assistance to the homeless.

On a personal note, I was recently assigned to our community’s convent in Waterford City, Ireland, where three Apostles serve the local diocese and its parishes in the area of adult and youth evangelization, in whatever form that might take. It is mainly a person-to-person mission of encounter: the opportunity to give the “gratuitous gift of self” to which Pope Francis constantly calls us. A small core team of dedicated clergy, laity, and religious volunteers, motivated and personally led by our Bishop, is currently launching Christ on the Street, an outreach to our homeless brothers and sisters in this culturally diverse city. The ministry begins with and is bolstered by our own prayer and that of all who will commit to praying for it. Missionary teams will befriend these “hidden exiles”(Cf. Fratelli Tutti, n. 97) by listening to them, bringing the living Jesus Christ to those whose days and nights are often spent in loneliness, hunger and the hardships of the night, made more lonely by the impression that they are “invisible” to those who pass them by without even a smile or a friendly word.

I have occasionally mused that this type of ministry is so tiny, compared to the enormous levels of religious indifference and situations of wide-spread human injustice that plague much of today’s world. Reading a page of the Gospel in those moments is enough to remember that, rather than preach in one of the great cultural and commercial centers of his time, Jesus chose to preach to and heal the “invisible” people of his own land, in remote villages void of importance to anyone beyond their own simple inhabitants. It was to and through persons such as these that the Good News began to spread. As in the time of Jesus, so has it happened countless times in the course of the centuries that those who come to bring Jesus to the disadvantaged, discover Him in the eyes of those whom they encounter.

Who of us could not seek out, find and encourage the Christ within those who await us along our daily journey of life? Can we reach out with a smile, a listening ear, some gesture of human contact? As we speak about what we have seen and heard from Jesus, may we, to our amazement and delight, discover Him already present in each of our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of the same Father.

Sr M. Clare Millea, ascj