.- Leaders of missionary communities from around the world gathered at the Vatican today to meet with Pope Benedict. During his discussion with the missionaries, he praised the increase in the number of lay faithful involved in evangelization and encouraged the heads of the religious orders to draw inspiration from their founders.
"Your assembly" the Pope told the group "bears eloquent witness to the continuing vitality of the missionary impulse in the Church and the spirit of communion uniting your members ... to the Successor of Peter and his universal apostolic ministry."
Their connection to the Peter’s Successor “remains the criterion and guarantee of the spiritual fruitfulness of all missionary activity,” Benedict XVI explained. Without this unifying connection, a foretaste of “God's plan in Christ for the whole human family” could not be experienced here on earth.
Looking at the worldwide effort to spread the Gospel, the Holy Father pointed to one of several promising signs of renewal over the last few decades. This beacon of hope "has been the growing desire of many lay men and women ... to cooperate generously in the 'missio ad gentes' (to the world). As Vatican Council II stressed, the work of evangelization is a fundamental duty incumbent upon the whole People of God."
"Given the extent and the importance of the contribution made by [lay people], ... the proper forms of their cooperation should naturally be governed by specific statutes and clear directives respectful of each institute's proper canonical identity."
Benedict XVI expressed his gratitude to all the missionaries who, "today as in the past, ... continue to leave their families and homes, often at great sacrifice, for the sole purpose of proclaiming the Good News of Christ and serving Him in their brothers and sisters. Many of them, also in our time, have heroically confirmed their preaching by the shedding of their blood, and contributed to establishing the Church in distant lands."
Despite the "decrease in the number of young people who are attracted to missionary societies, and a consequent decline in missionary outreach, ... the mission 'ad gentes' is still only beginning," said the Pope.
"While conscious of the challenges you face, I encourage you to follow faithfully in the footsteps of your founders, and to stir into flame the charisms and apostolic zeal which you have inherited from them, confident that Christ will continue to work with you and to confirm your preaching with signs of His presence and power."