As “Ad Gentes,” the only Italian magazine dedicated to the foreign missions, suspended publication last week due to a lack of subscribers, a priest has emphasized the Church's need to embrace its missionary ideals.
“We should be enthusiastic for Jesus Christ, who gave us the vocation of being missionary … we should turn back to Christ in order to bring the mission back to people,” Fr. Piero Gheddo, a priest of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions since 1953, told CNA June 20.
“The Church is missionary. Everybody must keep in mind the need to go to those who are far away, to evangelize, to bear the Gospel of Christ.”
Fr. Gheddo lamented that “these topics have almost disappeared from the Church’s public agenda.”
Noting that in Italy the missionary ideal has been lost and missionary vocations have dropped severely, he attributed this to two factors.
First, the idea of being missionary in one's own territory – he explained that Italians have been preoccupied with missioning within their own country.
“But,” he said, “if Italy isn’t sending missionaries all over the world, it betrays its mission as a bearer of the patrimony of Church, since the Vatican is an enclave within Italy.”
His second point is that missionary activity was politicized after 1968 – secular trends began to strongly influence missionary institutions.
As a result, said Fr. Gheddo, speaking about Christ became secondary to carrying out social work.
Fr. Gheddo provided the very recent example of an event managed by Italian missionaries April 25 at the Roman arena in Verona.
“The theme of the meeting was ‘The Arena of Peace and Disarmament,’ but none of the speeches dealt with the peace hailing from Christ.”
“Instead, political requests were promoted, such as a the decrease in the Italian defense spending.”
“Yet John XXIII, in his encyclical ‘Pacem in Terris’, clearly underscored that peace is that which is borne by Christ, who says,‘I am your peace’. We have lost sight of this.”
The Church needs, Fr. Gheddo said, to “go back to our roots, back to a precisely missionary identity.”
He added that Pope Francis' desire that the Church go to the peripheries is a “huge push in this sense,” and he hopes it might reverse the demise in Italy's missionary culture.
“When Pope Francis speaks about going outside, to the peripheries, it is often interpreted as a push for social action. It is a social action, but it is not just this.”
“The Pope means that you have to go outside, to the nations, to bring the message of Christ.”