Ongoing Formation 2022
SPEECH OF POPE FRANCIS
TO PARTICIPANTS IN THE GENERAL CHAPTER OF THE COMBONI MISSIONARIES
The essential trait of the Heart of Christ is closeness, compassion, tenderness.
Saturday, June 18, 2022
Dear brothers, good morning and welcome!
I am happy to meet you. I thank the Superior General for the words he addressed to me on behalf of all of you who participate in the 19th General Chapter of the Comboni Missionaries of the Heart of Jesus. You invited me to your home to celebrate the feast of the Sacred Heart next Friday. Thank you, I’ll be there with my prayer; but already today we live this meeting of ours in the perspective and in the spirit of the mystery of the Heart of Christ, to which the charism of St. Daniel Comboni is linked.
The theme and motto of your Chapter also orient us in this direction: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Rooted in Christ together with Comboni ”. In fact, the mission – its source, its dynamism and its fruits – totally depends on union with Christ and on the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus clearly said it to those whom he had chosen as “apostles”, that is, “sent”: “Without me you can do nothing” (Jn 15: 5). He didn’t say: “you can do little”, no, he said: “you can’t do anything”. What does it mean? We can do many things: initiatives, programs, campaigns… many things; but if we are not in him, and if his Spirit does not pass through us, everything we do is nothing in his eyes, that is, it is worth nothing for the Kingdom of God.
Instead, if we are like branches well attached to the vine, the lymph of the Spirit passes from Christ into us and whatever we do bears fruit, because it is not our work, but it is the love of Christ that acts through us. This is the secret of Christian life, and in particular of mission, everywhere, in Europe as in Africa and in the other continents. The missionary is the disciple who is so united to his Master and Lord that his hands, his mind, his heart are “channels” of Christ’s love. This is the missionary, he is not one who proselytizes. Because the “fruit” that he wants from his friends is none other than love, his love for him, what comes from the Father and gives us with the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit of Christ that carries us forward.
This is why some great missionaries, like Daniel Comboni, but also, for example, like Mother Cabrini, lived their mission feeling animated and “pushed” by the Heart of Christ, that is, by the love of Christ. And this “push” has allowed them to go out and go beyond: not only beyond geographical limits and boundaries, but first of all beyond their own personal limits. This is a motto that for you must “make noise” in your heart: go further, go further, go further, always looking at the horizon, because there is always a horizon, to go beyond. The thrust of the Holy Spirit is what makes us come out of ourselves, from our closures, from our self-referentiality, and makes us go towards others, towards the peripheries, where the thirst for the Gospel is greatest. It is curious that the worst temptation that we religious have in life is self-reference; and this prevents us from going further. “But to go further I have to think about it, to see…”. Go, go, go! Go to the horizon, and may the Lord accompany you. But when we start with this psychology, this “mirror” spirituality, we stop going further and always go back to our heart that is sick. We all have a sick heart and God’s grace saves us, but without God’s grace kaputt, everyone! This is important: with the Spirit to go further.
The essential trait of the Heart of Christ is mercy, compassion, tenderness. This should not be forgotten: the style of God, already in the Old Testament, is this. Closeness, compassion and tenderness. There is no organization, no, closeness, compassion, tenderness. And then I think that you are called to bear this witness of the “style of God” – closeness, compassion, tenderness – in your mission, where you are and where the Spirit will guide you. Mercy, tenderness is a universal language, which knows no boundaries. But you carry this message not so much as individual missionaries, but as a community, and this implies that not only the personal style, but also the community style, must be taken care of. Jesus told his friends: “By how you love each other they will recognize that you are my disciples” (cf. Jn 13:35), and the Acts of the Apostles confirm this, when they narrate that the first community of Jerusalem enjoyed the esteem of all the people because people saw how they lived (cf. 2,47; 4,33): in love. And many times, I say this with bitterness – I speak in general, not of you because I don’t know you -, many times we find that some religious communities are a real hell, a hell of jealousies, of power struggle … And where is love? It is curious, these religious communities have rules, they have a way of life …, but love is lacking. There is so much envy, jealousy, struggle for power, and they lose the best, which is the testimony of love, which is what attracts people: love between us, that we don’t shoot each other but we always go on.
To this end, so that the lifestyle of the community gives good witness, the four aspects on which you have decided to work in your Chapter are also important: the rule of life, the formative journey, the ministry and the communion of goods. Discernment concerns the modality, the way in which these elements are set up and lived, so that they can respond as much as possible to the needs of the mission, that is, of witness. This is very important: it is part of the “urgent ecclesial renewal” in a missionary key to which the whole Church is called (cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 27-33). It is a conversion that starts from the conscience of each one, involves every community and thus comes to renew the entire institute.
I would like to point out that here too, even in the commitment to these four aspects – interconnected with each other – everything must be done in docility to the Spirit, so that the necessary plans, projects, initiatives, all respond to the needs of evangelization, and I also mean the style of evangelization: that it is joyful, meek, courageous, patient, full of mercy, hungry and thirsty for justice, peaceful, in short: the style of the Beatitudes. This matters. Even the rule of life, formation, ministries, the management of goods must be set on the basis of this fundamental criterion. “An evangelizing community knows that the Lord has taken the initiative, he has loved us first […]. An evangelizing community is supportive, standing by people at every step of the way, no matter how difficult or lengthy this may prove to be. It is familiar with patient expectation and apostolic endurance. Evangelization consists mostly of patience […]. It cares for the grain and does not grow impatient at the weeds […]. The disciple is ready to put his or her whole life on the line, even to accepting martyrdom, in bearing witness to Jesus Christ, yet the goal is not to make enemies but to see God’s word accepted and its capacity for liberation and renewal revealed. Finally an evangelizing community is filled with joy; it knows how to rejoice always. It celebrates every small victory, every step forward in the work of evangelization” (Evangelii gaudium, 24).
Here, dear brothers, I wanted to recall this passage from Evangelii gaudium, knowing that you have it in mind, precisely for the pleasure of sharing with you the passion for evangelization. The Lord bless you and Our Lady keep you. Good continuation of the Chapter works. I cordially bless you and all your brothers. And I ask you, please pray for me. Thank you!
PS. Sorry for any mistake in my translation
Evangelii gaudium, 20-24
A Church which goes forth
20. The word of God constantly shows us how God challenges those who believe in him “to go
forth”. Abraham received the call to set out for a new land (cf. Gen 12:1-3). Moses heard God’s call: “Go, I send you” (Ex 3:10) and led the people towards the promised land (cf. Ex 3:17). To Jeremiah God says: “To all whom I send you, you shall go” (Jer 1:7). In our day Jesus’ command to “go and make disciples” echoes in the changing scenarios and ever new challenges to the Church’s mission of evangelization, and all of us are called to take part in this new missionary “going forth”. Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the “peripheries” in need of the light of the Gospel.
21. The Gospel joy which enlivens the community of disciples is a missionary joy. The seventy-two disciples felt it as they returned from their mission (cf. Lk 10:17). Jesus felt it when he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and praised the Father for revealing himself to the poor and the little ones (cf. Lk 10:21). It was felt by the first converts who marvelled to hear the apostles preaching “in the native language of each” (Acts 2:6) on the day of Pentecost. This joy is a sign that the Gospel has been proclaimed and is bearing fruit. Yet the drive to go forth and give, to go out from ourselves, to keep pressing forward in our sowing of the good seed, remains ever present. The Lord says: “Let us go on to the next towns that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out” (Mk 1:38). Once the seed has been sown in one place, Jesus does not stay behind to explain things or to perform more signs; the Spirit moves him to go forth to other towns.
22. God’s word is unpredictable in its power. The Gospel speaks of a seed which, once sown, grows by itself, even as the farmer sleeps (Mk 4:26-29). The Church has to accept this unruly freedom of the word, which accomplishes what it wills in ways that surpass our calculations and ways of thinking.
23. The Church’s closeness to Jesus is part of a common journey; “communion and mission are profoundly interconnected”. In fidelity to the example of the Master, it is vitally important for the Church today to go forth and preach the Gospel to all: to all places, on all occasions, without hesitation, reluctance or fear. The joy of the Gospel is for all people: no one can be excluded. That is what the angel proclaimed to the shepherds in Bethlehem: “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people (Lk 2:10). The Book of Revelation speaks of “an eternal Gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tongue and tribe and people” (Rev 14:6).
24. The Church which “goes forth” is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice. An evangelizing community knows that the Lord has taken the initiative, he has loved us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:19), and therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast. Such a community has an endless desire to show mercy, the fruit of its own experience off the power of the Father’s infinite mercy. Let us try a little harder to take the first step and to become involved. Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. The Lord gets involved and he involves his own, as he kneels to wash their feet. He tells his disciples: “You will be blessed if you do this” (Jn 13:17). An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others. Evangelizers thus take on the “smell of the sheep” and the sheep are willing to hear their voice. An evangelizing community is also supportive, standing by people at every step of the way, no matter how difficult or lengthy this may prove to be. It is familiar with patient expectation and apostolic endurance. Evangelization consists mostly of patience and disregard for constraints of time. Faithful to the Lord’s gift, it also bears fruit. An evangelizing community is always concerned with fruit, because the Lord wants her to be fruitful. It cares for the grain and does not grow impatient at the weeds. The sower, when he sees weeds sprouting among the grain does not grumble or overreact. He or she finds a way to let the word take flesh in a particular situation and bear fruits of new life, however imperfect or incomplete these may appear. The disciple is ready to put his or her whole life on the line, even to accepting martyrdom, in bearing witness to Jesus Christ, yet the goal is not to make enemies but to see God’s word accepted and its capacity for liberation and renewal revealed. Finally an evangelizing community is filled with joy; it knows how to rejoice always. It celebrates every small victory, every step forward in the work of evangelization. Evangelization with joy becomes beauty in the liturgy, as part of our daily concern to spread goodness. The Church evangelizes and is herself evangelized through the beauty of the liturgy, which is both a celebration of the task of evangelization and the source of her renewed self-giving.