October 24 marks World Mission Day, which consecrates October as missionary month
World Mission Day celebrates the missionary activity of the universal Church and promotes the support of solidarity and support projects around the world. Thus, the driving force behind this occasion is solidarity, in all its forms and declinations, and involves catechists, seminaries that train new priests especially in areas of greatest poverty and degradation, and organizations that provide health and humanitarian support and relief for children and those most in need in the initiatives.
This day only reconfirms October missionary month. The missionary consciousness of the Church has deep roots. We think of St. Paul of Tarsus, who was the most important missionary of the Gospel of Jesus among the Greek and Roman pagans, but also of many others who became bearers of God’s word to distant and often hostile populations.
Throughout the centuries many humanitarian, health and economic initiatives have been promoted and organized by religious and lay missionaries to bring a significant contribution to the less fortunate parts of the world. We have already mentioned some of them in the past, such as Operation Mato Grosso, which deals with the education of young people through service and mission in different parts of the world.
Since the 1960s, what was an occasional yearning that took the form of episodic interventions without precise rules has become coordinated and defined according to codified criteria and a widespread organizational network. In this context of reevaluation and reorganization of missionary work comes the request of the Italian Work of the Propagation of the Faith for the proclamation of World Mission Day.
What is World Mission Day
World Mission Day was proclaimed in 1926 by Pope Pius XI. Strongly desired by the Work of the Propagation of the Faith, it is a celebration dedicated to missionary solidarity and involves the whole Church as an instrument of charity in the world. Since 1963, each World Mission Day has been defined by a papal message proclaiming its intentions and anticipating the fundamental themes that will be its protagonists.
It is celebrated every year on the penultimate Sunday in October, so this year it falls on October 24.
But before we get to World Mission Day, which is the culmination of Missionary October, a spirituality journey unfolds in five weeks, each dedicated to a specific theme for reflection. Let’s look at this year’s ones:
- 3 – First Sunday of Missionary October: BROTHERS, for a universal brotherhood in Christ;
- 10 – Second week of Missionary October: FREE, going out of ourselves to be free to give of ourselves;
- 17 – Third week of Missionary October: SERVANTS, serving one another;
- 24 – Fourth week of Missionary October and World Mission Day: SOLIDATE, attentive to the cry of the poor in solidarity;
- 31 – Fifth week of Missionary October: LOVING sent to be witnesses and prophets of love
What is this year’s theme: witnesses and prophets
This year falls the 95th World Mission Day. The theme for Missionary October 2021 is Witnesses and Prophets, and it concludes a journey of missionary reflection and formation that has unfolded over the past two years, with the 2019 theme, Baptized and Sent, examining the missionary vocation as an integral part of all the baptized, and the 2020 theme Weavers of Fraternity, focusing on the need and willingness on the part of missionaries to live out Jesus’ plan as disciples who love as He loved.
Witnesses and Prophets is an invitation to confront the world in which we live, a world disrupted and profoundly changed by many events, of which the pandemic is only the latest. Precisely in a world that is increasingly complex and difficult to relate to, it becomes necessary to recognize the Kingdom of God, already present and alive, and to become its heralds and prophets to bring hope to those struggling in darkness, in the manner of the biblical prophets. A mission of proclaiming the Kingdom of God, then, but also of practical and concrete action to make it more real and tangible for those who need it most.
Pope Francis’ Message for World Mission Day
As he does every year, the Pope wrote a message for World Mission Day. This year in particular, the Pontiff wanted to remind that we are all called to be active participants in Jesus’ mission of love and compassion and message of Redemption.
“Everything in Christ reminds us that the world in which we live and its need for redemption are not foreign to him, and he also calls us to feel an active part of this mission” […] “no one is a stranger, no one can feel a stranger or distant in relation to this love of compassion.”
Pope Francis recalled how Jesus’ example, witnessing the many healings, the acts of mercy He directed toward the poor, the sick, the excluded, animated the apostles with great joy and an irrepressible desire to do the same. Similarly, the early Christians had to face a hostile and arduous environment, clash with unbelief and often violence, but this rather than winning them over made them stronger, more determined, able to turn every inconvenience and obstacle into a strength in their mission of evangelization.
Above all, the pope indicated that the way forward is that of compassion, of dedicating oneself to one’s neighbor, in the name of a mission of mercy and hope. “No one is saved alone,” the pontiff reminded, emphasizing that we are never alone when we work good in the name of Jesus, and, at the same time, reminding us that we cannot keep the Lord to ourselves alone. Again, he called for greater openness that would enable us to reach out and embrace everyone.
The Pope concluded his message by thanking the missionaries and likening the missionary vocation to a love story: “Today Jesus needs hearts that are capable of living the vocation as a true love story, which makes them go to the peripheries of the world and become messengers and instruments of compassion” […] “To live the mission is to venture to cultivate the same sentiments as Christ Jesus and to believe with Him that those who are next to me are also my brother and sister. May His love of compassion also awaken our hearts and make us all missionary disciples.”