Audience to participants at the General Chapter of the Missionaries of Africa

Chapter Communication - Audience with Pope Francis

Audience to participants at the General Chapter of the Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers),

This morning, in the Vatican Apostolic Palace, the Holy Father Francis received in Audience the participants of the General Chapter of the Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers).

We publish below the speech that the Pope addressed to those present at the Audience:

Address of the Holy Father

Translation :

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning and welcome!

I thank the Superior General for the words with which he introduced this meeting of ours.

Unfortunately, with great regret, I had to postpone my trip to Congo and South Sudan. Indeed, at my age it is not so easy to go on a mission! But your prayers and example give me courage, and I am confident that I will be able to visit these peoples, whom I carry in my heart. Next Sunday, I will try to celebrate Mass with the Roman Congolese community. Not the next one, on 3 July, the day I was supposed to celebrate in Kinshasa. We will take Kinshasa to St Peter’s, and there we will celebrate with all the Roman Congolese, of whom there are many!

I remember the celebration of your 150th anniversary, which we experienced three years ago together with your Missionary Sisters. Please give them my greetings too!

For this General Chapter, you have chosen to work on mission as prophetic witness. We will make a brief reflection on this. But first I want to tell you that I really enjoyed hearing that you lived these days “with gratitude” and “with hope”. This is very beautiful. Looking back with gratitude is a sign of good spiritual health; it is the “Deuteronomic” attitude that God taught his people (cf. Deut 8). Cultivate the grateful memory of the path that the Lord has made us take. And this gratitude is what feeds the flame of hope. Those who do not know how to thank God for the gifts that He has sown along the way – albeit tiring and at times painful – do not even have a hopeful soul, open to God’s surprises and trusting in His providence. In particular, this spiritual attitude is decisive for the germs of vocation that the Lord arouses with his Spirit and his Word to mature. A community in which one knows how to say “thank you” to God and one’s brothers and sisters, and in which one helps each other to hope in the Risen Lord is a community that attracts and supports those who are called. So, onwards with gratitude and hope.

We now come to the subject of mission as prophetic witness. This is where fidelity to your roots is at stake, to the charism that the Spirit has entrusted to Cardinal Lavigerie. The world is changing, Africa too is changing, but that gift retains its charge of meaning and strength. And it retains it in you to the extent that it is always led back to Christ and the Gospel. If salt loses its taste, what good is it? (cf. Mt 5:13). Father General recalled the exhortation that the Founder used to repeat: “Be apostles, nothing but apostles! And the apostle of Jesus Christ is not someone who proselytises. The proclamation of the Gospel has nothing to do with proselytism. If at any time any of you find yourselves proselytising, please stop, be converted, and then continue. Proclamation is something else. The apostle is not a manager, he is not a learned lecturer, he is not an IT “wizard”, the apostle is a witness. This is true always and everywhere in the Church, but it is especially true for those who, like you, are often called to live the mission in contexts of first evangelisation or prevalent Islamic religion.

Witness essentially means two things: prayer and fraternity. A heart open to God and a heart open to our brothers and sisters. First of all being in the presence of God, letting Him look at you, every day, in adoration. There to draw the sap, in that “abiding in Him”, in Christ, which is the condition for being apostles (cf. Jn 15:1-9). It is the paradox of the mission: you can only go if you remain. If you are not able to remain in the Lord, you could not go.

Recently, the testimony of Charles de Foucauld has been proposed to the veneration of the universal Church: it is another charism, certainly, but it also has much to say to you, as to all Christians of our time. Prayer and fraternity: the Church must return to this essential nucleus, to this radiant simplicity, naturally not in a uniform manner, but in the variety of its charisms, its ministries, and its institutions; but everything must allow this original nucleus to shine through, which goes back to Pentecost and to the first community, described in the Acts of the Apostles (cf. 2:42-47; 4:32-35).

We are often inclined to think of prophecy as an individual reality – and this is a dimension that always remains true, following the model of the prophets of Israel – but prophecy is also and I would say above all communitarian: it is the community that gives prophetic witness. I think of your fraternities, made up of people from so many countries, from different cultures. It is not easy, it is a challenge you can only accept by counting on the help of the Holy Spirit. And then this small community of yours, which lives of prayer and fraternity, is itself called to dialogue with the environment in which it lives, with the people, with the local culture. In these contexts, where often, in addition to poverty, you experience insecurity and precariousness, you are sent to live the sweet joy of evangelising. St Paul VI uses this word in his Evangelii Nuntiandi. Evangelising is the mission of the Church, evangelising is the joy of the Church. Incidentally: take Evangelii nuntiandi, which is still in force today, and it will give you many, many insights for reflection and mission. I thank the Lord with you for this great gift of evangelisation.

May Our Lady, our Lady of Africa, accompany you and protect you. I pray for you, I give you my blessing; bring it also to your brothers and sisters and to the faithful of your communities. And please do not forget to pray for me. Thank you!

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