-- Jesus was a missionary. As the Word of God, he is the light of all nations 1 As the Word made flesh, he brought God's own life into our midst. 2 Before returning to the Father, he sent the Church to continue the mission given him by the Father and empowered her with his Spirit: "As the Father has sent me, so I send you" (Jn 20:21). 3
-- The Church, therefore, is missionary by her very nature. She continues the mission of the Son and the mission of the Holy Spirit by proclaiming to the ends of the earth the salvation Christ offers those who believe in him. 4 We are faithful to the nature of the Church to the degree that we love and sincerely promote her missionary activity. As teachers and pastors we are responsible for keeping alive a vibrant Catholic missionary spirit in the United States.
-- Our purpose in writing this pastoral letter is twofold:
First, to provide a theological and pastoral instrument for mission animation in order to stimulate interest in and a personal sense of responsibility for the Church's mission to other peoples. Jesus' great commission to the first disciples is now addressed to us. Like them, we must go and make disciples of all the nations, baptize them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them everything that Jesus has commanded.5 This mission to the peoples of all nations must involve all of us personally in our parishes and at the diocesan and universal levels of the Church.
Second, to affirm missionaries in their efforts to proclaim the gospel and promote the reign of God. Jesus Christ, the Lord of all, is with them as they go forth in his name.6 So must the entire Church in the United States be with them as they carry out our common mission under difficult and often dangerous circumstances. Our focus in this pastoral is the proclamation of the gospel to peoples outside the United States. While we are acutely conscious of our continuing need to evangelize in our own country, that challenge, as great as it is, must never cause us to forget our responsibility to share the good news of Jesus with the rest of the world.
-- Over the centuries, the Church has frequently reflected on her founding by Christ as a missionary community with a vision of God's reign that stretches beyond the horizon of history. Our own time has seen the promulgation of the Second Vatican Council's Decree on the Church's Missionary Activity (Ad Gentes) and Pope Paul VI's Apostolic Exhortation On Evangelization in the Modem World (Evangelii Nuntiandi). These important documents stress the essential missionary nature of the Church and outline a contemporary charter for her mission through sensitive adaptation to new conditions.
-- We commemorate Ad Gentes and Evangelii Nuntiandi with this pastoral letter on the mission of the Church in the United States to other lands. We do so as members of the college of bishops, all of whom "are consecrated not just for one diocese alone, but for the salvation of the whole world."7 Our concern must be for the whole Church, but especially for "those parts of the world where the Word of God has not yet been proclaimed."8
-- Concern for world mission springs from the same principles we set forth in our pastoral letters The Challenge of Peace and Economic Justice for All: Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy. These letters offer substantial help for understanding our Church's mission to other peoples and nations. As we said in The Challenge of Peace:
The theological principle of unity has always affirmed a human inter-dependence; but today this bond is complemented by the growing political and economic interdependence of the world, manifested in a whole range of international issues.9
When the Church brings Christ's message to the ends of the earth, she helps foster this unity. As we stated:
The risen Lord's gift of peace is inextricably bound to the call to follow Jesus and to continue the proclamation of God's reign. Matthew's Gospel (Mt 28:16-20; cf. Lk 24:44-53) tells us that Jesus' last words to his disciples were a sending forth and a promise: "And know that I am with you always, until the end of the world!" In the continuing presence of Jesus, disciples of all ages find the courage to follow him. To follow Jesus Christ implies continual conversion in one's own life as one seeks to act in ways which are consonant with the justice, forgiveness and love of God's reign. Discipleship reaches out to the ends of the earth and calls for reconciliation among all peoples so that God's purpose, "to be carried out in the fullness of time: namely, to bring all things in the heavens and on earth into one under Christ's headship," (Eph 1: 10) will be fulfilled.10
-- Our pastoral, Economic Justice for All: Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy, shows how the Church's mission in an interdependent world has important implications for economic policy. Here we follow the traditional principles of Catholic teaching on interdependence as expressed in the writings of recent popes. These principles affirm the dignity of the human person, the unity of the human family, the right of all to share in the goods of the earth, the need to pursue the international common good, and the imperative of distributive justice in a world ever more sharply divided between rich and poor.11
-- This pastoral letter presents the challenge to the Church in the United States with regard to world mission. We write conscious of our unity with John Paul II, our Pope, and with the Church throughout the world.
-- In their publications and personal communications, missionaries emphasize how greatly the missionary context has changed since the Second World War, and even since the promulgation of Ad Gentes and Evangelii Nuntiandi.12 It is important that we understand this change.
-- From the earliest days, European missionaries served immigrants to the New World and the native people they found on these shores. Many journeyed from Spain, France, England and other countries to give heroic witness to the gospel in colonial America. Missionaries such as Isaac Jogues and Junipero Serra made major contributions to shaping our identity as Catholics with a mission.
-- Missionaries accompanied the millions of poor and destitute people who vitaked our growing nation in the 19th and early 20th centuries. At this time, too, heroic witness was not uncommon. Two of these missionaries, Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini and Bishop John Neumann, are celebrated as saints.
-- In God's providence, our own people have accepted the challenge of sharing the gift of faith we have received. Especially in this century, but even in the last, missionaries were sent to announce the gospel to other nations and peoples. Religious congregations and missionary societies, some of them founded in our own country, played a prominent part in this work. The bishops of the United States underscored their commitment to world mission when they, established Maryknoll as The Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America in 1911. Dioceses also sent priests, religious and laity to mission lands. This proud tradition continues at the present time.
-- People young and old encouraged these missionaries with prayers and sacrifices, assisted them financially and welcomed them on visits home. The Society for the Propagation of the Faith and the Association of the Holy Childhood -- the Pontifical Mission Aid Societies -- have been principally responsible for fostering this popular support, performing the central role in universal missionary cooperation that the Second Vatican Council has affirmed:
It is right that these works [i.e., the Pontifical Mission Aid Societies] I be given first place, because they are a means by which Catholics are imbued from infancy with a truly universal and missionary outlook and also as a means for instigating an effective collecting of funds for all the missions, each according to its needs.13
The Church has commissioned these organizations to awaken and deepen the missionary conscience of the People of God; to inform them about the needs of universal mission; and to encourage local churches to pray for and support one another with personnel and material aid.
-- A significant contemporary development in world mission is the shifting of the Church's center of gravity from the West, from Europe and North America, toward the East and South. In Latin America, Africa and Asia the Church is experiencing either profound revitalization or enormous growth. Indeed, the Christian energy of these local churches has begun to overflow into missionary service of the gospel.14
--The lands to which missionaries went used to be called "the missions." These countries were seen as mission-receiving. Other countries were thought of as mission-sending; they did not see themselves in need of receiving missionaries. A deeper understanding of the theology of mission leads us to recognize that these distinctions no longer apply. Every local church is both mission-sending and mission-receiving.
-- These changes have brought about a new self-understanding, both for the former "mission countries" which have taken the missionary mandate of the Church as their own, and for those which have long ceased to think of themselves as "mission countries." Together we are coming to see that any local church has no choice but to reach out to others with the gospel of Christ's love for all peoples. To say "Church" is to say "mission."
-- Missionaries have always seen their principal tasks as preaching the gospel to those who have not heard it, baptizing them with the waters of salvation, caring for their physical well-being and forming Christian communities. These missionaries were also sent to lend pastoral assistance to other established churches in need. The magnificent work of these men and women has been an invaluable service to the Church, and today's missionaries build on their achievements.
-- At times in the past, missionaries brought not only the strengths but also some of the weaknesses of Western civilization. It often happened that they labored in lands where their own country had political and economic interests. In areas where their home country was the colonial power, those to whom they were sent sometimes found it difficult to distinguish the Church's missionary effort from the colonizing effort, which proved critical when the colonial empires were dismantled after World War II.
-- Today missionaries work primarily in established local churches, to whose life and vitality they want to contribute. The need to cooperate with diocesan bishops and authorized pastoral workers requires adaptation to local institutions and culture. When missionaries come from a country like the United States, which has great political and economic interests throughout the world, their participation in the life of the local church can place them in conflict with the policies of their own government or, indeed, of their host government. Nevertheless, they must be in union with the diocesan bishop and the local church which they have been sent to serve.15
-- In the postcolonial era, missionaries inevitably confront the effects of long Western domination in the Third World. As they work with others to promote the reign of God, they face the challenge of clearly distinguishing their Christian mission from colonial and neocolonial practices. Missionaries sometimes work in countries where freedom of conscience, freedom of religion and other basic human rights are either overtly or subtly restricted. These, especially, need to know that we are one with them and understand the very difficult situations in which they labor.
-- Mission work still calls for heroic witness to the faith. We are proud of Jean Donovan, a lay woman; Ita Ford and Maura Clarke, Maryknoll sisters; Dorothy Kazel, an Ursuline sister; James Miller, a De La Salle Christian Brother; William Woods, a Maryknoll priest; Stanley Rother, an Oklahoma diocesan priest; and many others who have died violent deaths serving their brothers and sisters in Christ. Nor can we forget missionaries like Bishops Francis X. Ford and James E. Walsh who have suffered imprisonment or exile because of their Christian witness. May their courageous response to the gospel inspire us to expand our missionary commitment to all peoples.
-- The missionary task of the Church is rooted theologically in the Blessed Trinity. The very origin of the Church is from the missions of the Son and the Holy Spirit as decreed by the Father, "the fountain of love," who desires the salvation of the whole human race.16 I To continue his mission in time, Christ gave the missionary mandate to his followers to "make disciples of all the nations" (Mt 28:19), and he sent the Holy Spirit, the promised one of the Father,17 who impels the Church to share the gospel with the world. Like all good news, the gospel of salvation is irrepressible. The spontaneous need to communicate it comes from the quickening presence of the Holy Spirit in every aspect of church life. The Holy Spirit is the spirit of universal mission18 and reconciliation.19 The same Spirit who accompanies and quickens the missionary activity of the Church likewise precedes that activity, offering those beyond the Church's visible limits a participation in the paschal mystery of Christ.20
-- We must pray for and earnestly desire a sense of urgency regarding our missionary task. This sense of urgency flows from the demands of being faithful disciples of Jesus, from our responsibility to share his gospel and from a concern that all our brothers and sisters participate as fully as possible in his life and saving mystery. We see this urgency in the life of Jesus, God's beloved Son, who was sent to proclaim the good news of the kingdom: "This is the time of fulfillment. The reign of God is at hand! Reform your lives and believe in the gospel!" (Mk 1:15).
-- When the people of Capernaum tried to restrict Jesus' mission to themselves, he answered, "To other towns I must announce the good news of the reign of God, because that is why I was sent" (Lk 4:43). In his very person, in all that he said and did, and especially in his death and resurrection, that kingdom was already breaking into the world. It will be perfectly established, however, only in the fullness of time.
-- Jesus called a small number of men and women to be his disciples, to share intimately in his life and his vision of God's reign, and to spread his word to other times and places. 21 He selected twelve of them to be his apostles 22 promised them the Holy Spirit as an abiding presence, and commissioned them to be his "witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, yes, even to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). These apostles were established as the foundation of the Church,23 which was divinely constituted as the effective sign, the herald, the seed, and the promoter of the kingdom, indeed its initial budding forth on earth.24
-- Nearly twenty centuries of Christian history have elapsed, and Jesus' prayer: "Your kingdom come!" (Mt 6:9-13; Lk 11:2-4) is still our prayer. The mission he gave his apostles and disciples continues to be the Church's mission. As we read in the preface to the decree Ad Gentes:
Having been divinely sent to the nations that she might be "the universal sacrament of salvation" (Lumen Gentium) the Church, in obedience to the command of her Founder (Mk 16:15), strives to preach the Gospel to all men.25
Like the men and women who first responded to Jesus' invitation, those who respond in our time develop a personal relationship with Christ that sustains them in their mission.
-- St. Paul expressed the urgency of mission when he wrote to the Corinthians: "Preaching the gospel is not the subject of a boast; I am under compulsion and have no choice. I am ruined if I do not preach it!" (I Cor 9:16). And preach the gospel he did, not only in neighboring towns and cities, but to every nation he was able to reach. Like St. Paul, we are called to share the gospel by the witness of our lives and the explicit proclamation of salvation in Jesus Christ.26 The Council calls this "the greatest and holiest duty of the Church."27
-- The human and spiritual needs of peoples beyond our borders call us to the urgency of mission. Mission always expresses a concern for the life of others. Moved by the Spirit, we ardently desire that our brothers and sisters have life, and in abundance,28 and that they be saved by faith in Christ through the grace of God. This is our prayer in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.
-- We rejoice that Christians of other churches share and participate in the mission of our Lord. John Paul II has urged that those who share Christ's mission "must show forth his unifying love in action."29 Today the dangers from proselytizing are real. Nevertheless, where there can be mutual respect among the different religious traditions, there are increasing opportunities in mission work for collaboration in prayer, good works, the use of media, community service and social action. Such collaboration is itself a witness to the reconciling spirit of God.
-- Often those who have not heard the gospel are doubly poor, doubly hungry, doubly oppressed. They are materially poor, lacking possessions; they are spiritually poor, lacking that hope which springs from the knowledge and love of Christ. Their hunger is not only for bread and rice, but also for the Word that gives meaning to their existence. They are oppressed not only by social injustice but also by the sin at its root.
-- By the same token, people are saved not only as individuals but also as members of sociocultural groups. They must experience the redemption not only of their souls but also of their whole bodily existence, not only in a world to come but also beginning here on earth. They must participate in the mystery of Christ not passively or minimally but rather as fully as possible, with intelligence, freedom and a lively sense of responsibility. Those who rejoice in the life poured into their hearts by the Spirit of Christ must be not only receivers of the Word but also missionaries to others.
-- Mission is characterized not by power and the need to dominate, but by a deep concern for the salvation of others and a profound respect for the ways they have already searched for and experienced God. The ground in which we are called to plant the gospel is holy ground, for before our arrival God has already visited the people he knows and loves.30 In this ground, sown with the seeds of God's word, a local church is born, a church that expresses its vitality in the language of its own culture, a church also called to be missionary beyond its own borders.
-- As soon as a local church is established, Christ calls it to share the gospel it has received. Such sharing is essential for the Church's vitality, since those who give life to others find it for themselves. So it was with Jesus throughout his life, and especially in his death and resurrection. Sharing is essential to every level of church life; it applies to dioceses and parishes as well as families and individuals. The local church cannot live in isolation, unconcerned for other peoples. As human beings created by the Father of all, as disciples of the risen Jesus who is Lord of all, and as Christians who have received the Holy Spirit, we are united with the entire human family. This union shapes our attitudes and moves us to respect other peoples and their cultures, to make their concerns our own and to share with them the gospel riches we have received.31
-- The Church has now been planted on all the continents and in most nations. It has grown and matured in countries once thought of as mission territories. Local churches in these countries recognize the importance of sharing the unique insights which accompanied the gospel's flowering in their cultures. Several, like Nigeria, South Korea, Mexico, Colombia and the Philippines, have established their own foreign mission societies. Moreover, missionary institutes, orders and congregations are drawing members from former mission countries and sending them to other peoples.
-- Each new incarnation of the gospel must be shared, even if the growth of the local church is as yet modest. As we have seen, mission is mutual, not one-directional. Christian peoples and local churches will share the gospel with one another in various ways, from each according to its special gifts and abilities, to each according to its needs.32
-- Even as we go out to other nations to announce the good news, we must remain open to the voice of the gospel speaking to us in a myriad of cultural and social expressions. We must be willing to welcome new immigrants into our parishes, to respect the cultural treasures of these newcomers and allow ourselves to be enriched and strengthened by their witness to the faith. In this we come to see more clearly how the local church expresses the life of the universal Church. As Pope John Paul II said in a message to the curial cardinals, "The Church is a communion of churches, and indirectly a communion of nations, languages and cultures. Each of these brings its gifts to the whole.33 Mission involves mutual ministry and dialogue among the local churches of the world.
-- Each local church must carry out its mission to other nations and cultures with great sensitivity. Peoples inevitably communicate out of their historical experience. Nevertheless, we must constantly strive to transcend culturally-based limitations in our manifestation of the Church's life. If we fail to link Christian values with what is already good in a culture, we merely export an expression of faith foreign to that culture, one the people cannot fully accept. It expresses someone else's faith experience, not their own.34 Mission must therefore humbly imitate the example of Jesus, who did not cling to his divine privileges but became like us in all things save sin.35
-- There are, it is true, expressions of faith and morals in the Scriptures that are meaningful in every cultural milieu. The Lord's Prayer, the beatitudes, the commandments, the story of Jesus, and the sacraments all tend to bond human beings together in one faith and one Church.36 Cultural differences remain significantly important, however.
-- Jesus' call to discipleship was a free invitation. In the same way, the Church does not coerce others to accept the gospel and join her ranks. Mission presupposes love for those being evangelized and, as Paul VI said, "the first sign of this love is respect for the religious and spiritual situation of those being evangelized."37 The Church extends an invitation, realizing that others may not respond. If we extend our invitation well, witnessing in the love of God and the image of Christ, and with the fire of the Holy Spirit, we have fulfilled Christ's mandate.38 Acceptance of the gospel and conversion to Christ is the working of God's grace, a mystery beyond comprehension which we accept
-- The way we extend Christ's free invitation to others differs according to local circumstances.40 The context of mission in Japan or India, for example, is vastly different from that in Bolivia or the Philippines. The recent document on dialogue and mission of the Vatican Secretariat for Non-Christians emphasizes the role of dialogue with adherents of other great religions.41 While dialogue takes many forms,
Before all else, dialogue is a manner of acting, an attitude and a spirit which guides one's conduct. It implies concern, respect, and hospitality towards the other. It leaves room for the other person's identity, his modes of expression, and his values. Dialogue is thus the norm and necessary manner of every form of Christian mission, as well as of every aspect of it, whether one speaks of simple presence and witness, service, or direct proclamation. Any sense of mission not permeated by such a dialogical spirit would go against the demands of true humanity and against the teachings of the gospel.42
-- Dialogue goes beyond collaboration and discussion with members of other great religions. It includes the sharing of faith, religious experiences, prayer, contemplation. In such sharing, all parties are mutually enriched.
The sometimes profound differences between the faiths do not prevent this dialogue. Those differences, rather, must be referred back in humility and confidence to God who "is greater than our hearts" (I Jn 3:20).43
-- Though dialogue is a vital characteristic of mission, it is not the goal of missionary proclamation. The Secretariat for Non-Christians goes on to say:
According to the Second Vatican Council, missionary proclamation has conversion as its goal: "that non-Christians be freely converted to the Lord under the action of the Holy Spirit who opens their hearts so that they may adhere to him" (AG 13).44
-- Pope John Paul II emphasized this same point in his homily in Calcutta:
While esteeming the value of these (non-Christian) religions, and seeing in them at times the action of the Holy Spirit who is like the wind which "blows where it will" (Jn 3:8), the Church remains convinced of the need for her to fulfill her task of offering to the world the fullness of revealed truth, the truth of the redemption in Jesus Christ. 45
The fact that the Holy Father spoke these important words in India, a predominantly non-Christian country, makes them especially significant.
-- In this work of dialogue and evangelization, the Church must be a leaven for all cultures, at home in each culture. True inculturation occurs when the gospel penetrates the heart of cultural experience and shows how Christ gives new meaning to authentic human values. However, the Church must never allow herself to be absorbed by any culture,46 since not all cultural expressions are in conformity with the gospel. The Church retains the indispensable duty of testing and evaluating cultural expressions in the light of her understanding of revealed truth. Cultures, like individual human beings and societies, need to be purified by the blood of Christ.
-- Solidarity with others and faithfulness to the gospel demand that we respond to people's genuine needs and hungers, even those of which they may be unaware. As noted above, human hunger takes two forms. While spiritual hungers reflect our highest aspirations, physical hungers can be so great as to blunt or even block them. Some. social hungers may indicate the presence of oppression, preventing people from developing in an atmosphere of peace and justice. In a human being, in a society, in the world, when one member suffers all suffer.
-- A holistic approach to mission recognizes that humanity's hungers are so interwoven that the spirit cannot be satisfied without attending to the body.47 As we read in a recent instruction from the Holy See:
Liberation is first and foremost from the radical slavery of sin. Its end and its goal is the freedom of the children of God, which is the gift of grace. As a logical consequence, it calls for freedom from many different kinds of slavery in the cultural, economic, social and political spheres, all of which derive ultimately from sin and so often prevent people from living in a manner befitting their dignity.48
The Church's seriousness about responding to all genuine human needs is further stressed in a subsequent document:
The Church is firmly determined to respond to the anxiety of contemporary man as he endures oppression and yearns for freedom. The political and economic running of society is not a direct part of her mission. But the Lord Jesus has entrusted to her the word of truth which is capable of enlightening consciences. Divine love, which is her life, impels her to a true solidarity with everyone who suffers. 49
-- Clearly, then, neither the Church as a whole nor the Church in the United States can remain indifferent to the suffering, inequities and oppression that afflict so much of the world's population. These evils openly contradict Christ's gospel. Jesus came to bring good news to the poor, proclaim liberty to captives, give sight to the blind and release prisoners.50 His mission became that of the Church, and it is now ours.51
-- Had Jesus merely said that his mission was to set people free from sin and all forms of oppression,52 his words would have fallen on deaf ears. He had to work at this task of liberation. He not only talked about freeing the poor and oppressed but, undeterred by criticism, actually welcomed the poor and sinners to share at his table. Like Jesus, we must be able to accompany others in their suffering and be willing to suffer with them.
-- in its openness to all, the Church's mission makes a special option for the poor and powerless. "The special option for the poor, far from being a sign of particularism or sectarianism, manifests the universality of the Church's being and mission."53 This special option is deeply rooted in the mission of Jesus, who rejected no one but was especially sensitive to those who needed him most. The poor, destitute and powerless of the world help us see and evaluate the evils of our society and the evils that one society or nation inflicts on another. Accompanying the poor assures us of the relevance of our message of salvation.
-- The option for the poor also implies the need to evangelize the powerful and influential. If the gospel call to conversion can reach their hearts, they will help construct a new society. In our option for the poor, we join our aspirations and commitment to those of our brother bishops of Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Oceania as expressed in their pastoral statements.54
-- Central to the Church's missionary task is a mission spirituality. This is true for those personally engaged in bringing the gospel to other nations as well as those at home who pray, work and sacrifice for the world mission of the Church. Mission spirituality begins with the gospel, a commitment to following Christ, and openness to the Holy Spirit. We need to hear the gospel and be continually formed by it. When we listen to the Word, we experience Christ present to us, calling us to a new life and giving us the Spirit who transforms us into missionaries. In order to share the gospel with others, we must love it deeply and have a profound appreciation of its values. Equally important is a loving relationship with the person of Christ and his Church. Faithfulness to Christ in communion with the Church is the cornerstone of the entire missionary edifice.
-- In baptism and confirmation, where human commitment and divine grace become one, we respond to Christ's invitation and are empowered to join in his mission. Through these sacraments, the Church, a missionary community, welcomes us and pledges her support. We need this support to take the risks required for our mission to the whole human family. Baptism expresses in word and symbol our readiness to die and be buried with Christ in the hope one day of rising with him.55 Confirmation, in which all share in the Spirit of Pentecost, expresses our eagerness to take part in the Church's mission to all nations.
-- The connection between Christian discipleship and Christian mission is well expressed in the ancient tradition of the multiplication and sharing of loaves.56 Although each Gospel presents the tradition in its own way, all of them emphasize the missionary implications of the passage. The disciples are overwhelmed by the demands of the mission, and ask Jesus to send the people away to provide for their own needs. Jesus replies that the disciples themselves should give the crowd something to eat. He then takes bread, blesses, breaks, and gives it to the disciples to distribute. When they share the little they have, everyone is wonderfully nourished. Through these accounts, some of the most beautiful and moving in Scripture, the New Testament relates mission to the Christian experience of hospitality and Eucharist. Like the disciples in Mark's Gospel who gathered in small communities of fifty and a hundred, we must be willing to share Christ's nourishment with other parishes and dioceses.57 We must also be willing to bring this nourishment to other lands and gather all nations, all peoples, at the table of the Lord.58
-- Hospitality and food sharing are important symbolic events in all cultures. Like the disciples, we must be prepared to share what we have and to accept what others offer us. In the simple act of sharing, we join others in their joys and suffering and accompany them on their life's journey.59
-- The Eucharist sustains and nourishes each Christian's commitment to the Church's mission. In the Eucharist where Christ shares his very person with us, we learn to share the gospel, prayer, our resources, our very selves. We thus imitate the ideal of Christian sharing which Acts 2:42-47 attributes to the early Christian community in Jerusalem.60 Maturity in that sharing fosters the impulse to reach out to the whole world with the good news of salvation.
-- The universal sharing inspired by the Eucharist is very demanding. This is why the New Testament authors emphasized it in their accounts of Jesus' Last Supper. Before the multiplication of loaves, the disciples protested that sharing with all would be costly. They thought in material terms. Financial sacrifice, however, is nothing compared with the real cost of discipleship with Jesus, which requires the gift of our lives. Sometimes this gift means the shedding of blood. For most people, however, it means daily giving, a sharing which requires the dying with Christ that we pledge in baptism.
-- To share in Christ's glory, each person must be willing to be baptized in Christ's passion and drink his cup of suffering.61 That is Jesus' message to his disciples.62 By this willingness to suffer with Christ and with one another in him, we commit ourselves to the new covenant, to new relationships which transcend every consideration of race, sex, family, nationality, economic or social standing.
-- The Eucharist is the primary proclamation of the love Christ showed by his death and resurrection. It is the heart of the gospel. Like those who first ate and drank at the table of the Lord, we who gather today at that table have no choice but to proclaim his gospel to all. 63 The Eucharist nourishes our mission spirituality and strengthens our commitment to give of ourselves and our resources to the development of the diocesan and universal Church as a people aware of our responsibility for, and interdependence with, all peoples of the earth. Vatican Council II clearly equates the renewal of local churches with the degree of their gracious sharing and loving concern for those beyond their borders. This sharing and concern should not be limited to prayers and financial assistance, but should include sharing personnel as well.64
-- Spirituality is lived in a specific culture. The environment in which American Catholics are called to witness their faith is strongly marked by individualism, consumerism and materialism. Thus our mission spirituality must embrace a developed asceticism, the virtue of self-denial that fosters life and authentic freedom. If we lack the spirit of mortification and sacrifice, we cannot hear Jesus' call to follow the narrow path. Our natural inclination toward avarice and greed will dominate and hold us in bondage. Jesus' call is clear: we are not only to pray and give alms, we are also to fast.65
-- Prayer is likewise a key element in mission spirituality. In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed that the Father take away the cup of suffering, but only if it were according to the Father's will. He also asked the disciples to pray that they might be spared the test. Without prayer, our commitments risk remaining mere words. In prayer we join Mary in her Magnificat, and show ourselves to be a people of hope, confident that God's promises will be fulfilled. With Mary and the apostles and disciples,66 we pray to be empowered by the Holy Spirit as we pursue the Church's mission to all nations.
-- In concluding this letter, we challenge young people to consider following Christ as missionaries. There is no doubt that Jesus is calling many of you to serve the Church as priests and religious in foreign lands. We pray that you will have the courage to respond to that call with the complete gift of yourselves. Your brothers and sisters in mission lands are counting on you to share the riches of the gospel with them. The Church is counting on you, too.
-- While some of you are called to dedicate your whole life to Christ in another culture, others are called to devote a few important years. It is true that secular agencies accomplish much good, but the Church's mission extends beyond earthly realities and requires heroic sacrifice for the sake of the kingdom.67
-- We are inspired by the increase of committed lay missionaries who answer the call to serve the gospel in other lands. You bring important expertise and enthusiasm into missionary activities. Your growing number is a sign of great hope for the future of world mission. We recognize the special difficulties lay persons face missionary work and your enormous trust that God will provide for you and your families.
-- We are grateful to the Catholics of the United States for your continued concern for the missionary activity of the Church, for missionaries themselves and for the young churches of the developing world. You have responded generously to missionaries who visit your parishes through the Missionary Cooperation Plan to explain their work and needs. Many of you also belong to parish mission societies, and others participate in special programs of daily prayer and regular sacrifice for world mission. Your tradition of prayer and generous giving is a strong witness to the missionary vitality of the Church.
-- We are grateful to families of missionaries, especially to parents who have encouraged their sons and daughters to serve the Church. The need has not diminished. We pray that young families will continue to follow this example of generosity.
-- We renew our prayer that all will continue to support missionary activity in every way, especially through the Pontifical Societies, namely the Society for the Propagation of the Faith and the Association of the Holy Childhood. We commend the work of the directors of these societies for their continued efforts to educate the faithful to the mission challenge. The Secretariat for Latin America, established by the bishops of the United States to assist the Church in Central and South America, also merits continued support. Like Paul, we rejoice "at the way you have all continually helped promote the gospel from the very first day" and pray that "he who has begun the good work in you will carry it through to completion, right up to the day of Christ Jesus" (Phil 1:3-6).
-- We also express our gratitude to you in the service of the Church in the United States. Whether as lay leaders, religious, educators, deacons or priests, you share the service of leadership with us. In this time of transition from one missionary context to another, you have worked hard to preserve unity in our missionary efforts even when our faith was tested and many were confused. We ask that you join us in praying for an increase in missionary vocations, in supporting those involved in mission education, and in helping to make others more aware of the needs of the universal Church and their role in meeting these needs.
-- We extend special thanks to religious congregations and societies of men and women who educate, form, and give so many of their members to the missionary work of the Church. Much of your work goes unrecognized. We commend you especially for the sensitive care you give those missionaries who return home because of illness or age, or who have been exiled from their missions by political oppression.
-- We are encouraged by the large number of dioceses that send priests, religious and laity to staff special mission projects. We hope their example will inspire other dioceses to undertake similar programs.
-- We appeal to all educators to help give Catholics a better understanding of the task and demands of mission today. Theological studies should include a strong missionary emphasis, so necessary for the formation of future priests and leaders.68 Further, authors of catechetical texts should highlight the missionary responsibility of every Christian so that young people may be educated from an early age in this essential aspect of the Church's life.
-- We urge the fullest celebration of World Mission Sunday in every parish. The Church has designated this day for Catholics worldwide to recommit themselves to the missionary task and to support the Church financially in its outreach. World Mission Sunday, under the aegis of the Propagation of the Faith, uniquely celebrates the unity and universality of the Church. It gives us, in the words of Pope John Paul II, "an excellent occasion for an examination of conscience with regard to our missionary obligation, and for reminding all the faithful that each one is involved in this duty."69
-- Our gratitude to you, the missionaries, is especially profound. You have left home and family, even risking your lives for the sake of the gospel to the nations. Moreover, this time of transition has imposed an additional burden: the challenge of adapting your missionary efforts to a new context.
-- As missionaries you are sent to place yourselves at the service of the local church in union with its bishop.70 Your role is a humble and difficult one. We affirm our solidarity with you and pledge you our support. You make visible the universal commitment of the Church in the United States, sometimes at the cost of misunderstanding or indifference from those who lack your experience.
-- We ask that you share with us your experience as well as the faith experience of the people you serve. On your visits home, you are a missionary from another local church to ours. Our faith is deepened and broadened as we learn from you. You enrich us in our understanding of the problems and challenges of the universal Church.
-- Jesus is "the missionary of the Father;"71 each Christian is his witness. Let his voice proclaim the gospel through us as we bring the good news of salvation to the ends of the earth.