Pope Francis calls for ‘mission of compassion’ spurred by pandemic

30656542146_c630cd1d4a_k.jpg Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square on Oct. 22, 2016. Credit: Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk.

Pope Francis urged Catholics on Friday to engage in a "mission of compassion" to a world ravaged by the coronavirus crisis. 

Writing in his World Mission Day message, released on Jan. 29, the pope warned Catholics not to succumb to the temptation of justifying indifference on the basis of COVID-19 restrictions.

"In these days of pandemic, when there is a temptation to disguise and justify indifference and apathy in the name of healthy social distancing, there is urgent need for the mission of compassion, which can make that necessary distancing an opportunity for encounter, care and promotion," he wrote in the message signed on Jan. 6, the Feast of the Epiphany.

World Mission Day -- also known as World Mission Sunday -- was established by Pope Pius XI in 1926. It is usually observed on the third Sunday of October and will be celebrated this year on Sunday, Oct. 17. 

This year's theme is "We cannot but speak about what we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:20). The pope described the theme as "a summons to each of us to 'own' and to bring to others what we bear in our hearts." 

In the message, he reflected on the missionary drive of the early Church, as described in the Acts of the Apostles.

"The first Christians, far from yielding to the temptation to become an elite group, were inspired by the Lord and his offer of new life to go out among the nations and to bear witness to what they had seen and heard: the good news that the Kingdom of God is at hand," he wrote.

He encouraged readers to think of the missionaries who, in centuries past, risked their lives so that Catholics today could know the faith. 

He said: "We know that the call to mission is not a thing of the past, or a romantic leftover from earlier times. Today too Jesus needs hearts capable of experiencing vocation as a true love story that urges them to go forth to the peripheries of our world as messengers and agents of compassion." 

"He addresses this call to everyone, and in different ways. We can think of the peripheries all around us, in the heart of our cities or our own families. Universal openness to love has a dimension that is not geographical but existential." 

Quoting from his latest encyclical, "Fratelli tutti," he added: "Always, but especially in these times of pandemic, it is important to grow in our daily ability to widen our circle, to reach out to others who, albeit physically close to us, are not immediately part of our 'circle of interests.'"

"To be on mission is to be willing to think as Christ does, to believe with him that those around us are also my brothers and sisters. May his compassionate love touch our hearts and make us all true missionary disciples."

A worldwide collection is held each year on World Mission Day for the Pontifical Mission Societies, an umbrella group of Catholic missionary societies under the pope's jurisdiction. They include the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, the Society of St. Peter the Apostle, the Holy Childhood Association, and the Missionary Union of Priests and Religious.

In 2019, the Societies distributed around $130 million from the World Mission Sunday collection. But the pandemic is likely to have significantly reduced the collection in 2020, with potentially serious consequences for missionary territories that depend on it.

The pope said in his message that, like the first Apostles, Catholics today were living in difficult times.

"The pandemic has brought to the fore and amplified the pain, the solitude, the poverty and the injustices experienced by so many people," he wrote. 

"It has unmasked our false sense of security and revealed the brokenness and polarization quietly growing in our midst. Those who are most frail and vulnerable have come to feel even more so." 

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"We have experienced discouragement, disillusionment and fatigue; nor have we been immune from a growing negativity that stifles hope."

Nevertheless, he said, the resurrection of Jesus still proclaims a "powerful message of life." 

"'What we have seen and heard,' the mercy we have experienced, can thus become a point of reference and a source of credibility, enabling us to recover a shared passion for building 'a community of belonging and solidarity worthy of our time, our energy and our resources,'" he said, referring again to "Fratelli tutti." 

"The Lord's word daily rescues and saves us from the excuses that can plunge us into the worst kind of skepticism: 'Nothing changes, everything stays the same.'" 

Citing his 2013 apostolic exhortation "Evangelii gaudium," he continued: "To those who wonder why they should give up their security, comforts and pleasures if they can see no important result, our answer will always remain the same: 'Jesus Christ has triumphed over sin and death and is now almighty. Jesus Christ is truly alive' and wants us to be alive, fraternal, and capable of cherishing and sharing this message of hope." 

"In our present circumstances, there is an urgent need for missionaries of hope who, anointed by the Lord, can provide a prophetic reminder that no one is saved by himself."

The pope concluded his message by invoking the Virgin Mary.

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"May Mary, the first missionary disciple, increase in all the baptized the desire to be salt and light in our lands," he wrote.

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