The Church’s Extraordinary Missionary Month begins under the gaze of St Therese
Vatican City, Oct 1, 2019 / 02:35 pm (CNA) – Pope Francis opened the Extraordinary Missionary Month Tuesday invoking St. Therese of Liseux, the patron saint of missionaries.
“Saint Therese of the Child Jesus shows us the way: she made prayer the fuel for missionary activity in the world,” Pope Francis said Oct. 1 during his homily at Vespers in St. Peter’s Basilica.
“This is also the Month of the Rosary: how much are we praying for the spread of the Gospel and our conversion from omission to mission?” the pope asked.
October is dedicated to reflection and prayer for the missionary work of the Church. Pope Francis chose October 2019 to be an Extraordinary Missionary Month for the Church to mark the centenary of Benedict XV’s apostolic letter Maximum illud, on the propagation of the faith throught the world.
Fr. Fabrizio Meroni of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions told CNA that “when Pope Francis entrusted to us the preparation and implementation of the Extraordinary Missionary Month … he stated: ‘do not forget that prayer is the real soul, the beating heart, of all missionary work of the Church.’”
“If the missio ad gentes, if the missionary life of the Church, the evangelization, is really facing a serious crisis, it is because faith and Church and structures are less and less interested in the salvation of the world,” Meroni said.
“The Church is meant to be the sacramental beginning of the salvation of the world,” he said.
Fr. Meroni said that his advice to local churches who seek to renew their missionary approach to the pastoral work of their communities, parishes, and diocese is to take into serious consideration the central key role of cloistered contemplative life, which can “rekindle their missionary passion and zeal for the salvation for the world.”
Pius XI declared St. Therese of Liseux, a 19th century cloistered Carmelite sister, the patroness of missions in 1927. The saint, who died at the age of 23, offered prayer and sacrifice for the sake of missionaries and wrote of her burning desire to save many souls in her spiritual autobiography The Story of a Soul.
Pope Francis led Vespers in St. Peter’s Basilica to begin the Extraordinary Missionary Month on the feast of St. Therese of Lisieux.
Frédéric Fornos Fornos, the director of the Pope’s World Prayer Network, said at a Vatican press conference: “On this day when we celebrate St. Therese of Lisieux, patron of missions, who learned to pray for the mission of the church with the apostolate of prayer, it is beautiful to remember that prayer is a way to love.”
Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, said, “October is traditionally considered the month of missionaries; we proposed that [this year] it would be an Extraordinary Missionary Month, extraordinary in its intensity and extraordinary in its vision.”
Filoni explained that this month is not about doing philanthropy because philanthropy is “not the first dimension of missionary life.” The first dimension of missionary life is “a passion for Jesus” and “a passion for people,” he said.
The theme of the Extraordinary Missionary Month is “Baptized and sent: the Church of Christ on mission in the world.” Pope Francis stressed that this means that “no one is excluded from the Church’s mission.”
“In this month the Lord is also calling you, because you, fathers and mothers of families; you, young people who dream great things; you, who work in a factory, a store, a bank or a restaurant; you who are unemployed; you are in a hospital bed… The Lord is asking you to be a gift wherever you are, and just as you are, with everyone around you,” the pope said.
Pope Francis pointed to the example of two other missionaries as exemplars of zeal for the Gospel. The first was St. Francis Xavier, whom the pope said is “perhaps, after St. Paul, the greatest missionary of all time.”
The other was Venerable Pauline Jaricot, a 19th century French lay woman who helped to found the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, and supported the Church’s missionary work with the offerings she made from her wages.
“This extraordinary Missionary Month should jolt us and motivate us to be active in doing good,” Pope Francis said.
“Can we, who have discovered that we are children of the heavenly Father, keep silent about the joy of being loved, the certainty of being ever precious in God’s eyes? That is a message that so many people are waiting to hear. And it is our responsibility,” he said.