This first appeared in Comboni Missions magazine Spring 2019.
A Milestone Anniversary to Inspire the Evangelizing Call of All Christians
by: Kathleen M. Carroll
For a hundred years the Church has marked October as Mission Month. This year it takes on even greater significance as Pope Francis has named it “The Extraordinary Month of Mission” (EMM) in observance of the anniversary of a papal document emphasizing the importance of mission. Pope Benedict XV wrote Maximum Illud in 1919 as a break with a Eurocentric model of evangelization that underscored the profound importance of mission. As is customary, the Latin title comes from the text’s opening words, translated as “the great and sublime mission.”
For those living in established Catholic faith communities, mission may be something that comes to mind only on World Mission Sunday. That one day late in October might mean a five-minute talk from a visiting missionary or a second encounter with the collection basket, but it should mean much more. The Church is essentially missionary in character. It does not engage in mission for one Sunday, or even one month, out of the year and do “regular” stuff every other day. Mission is the regular stuff. Christ did not found his Church so we could have fish frys, potluck suppers, and bingo. He commissioned his first followers to “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). Mission was their job, and it is our job too.
With his declaration of the Extraordinary Month of Mission, Pope Francis is asking the Church to pray and act specifically for the advancement of the Church’s evangelizing mission. He described Maximum Illud as a “milestone in the evolution of the Church’s missionary work.” It repeats the Great Commission, while also recognizing the importance of religious training for those who will return to serve in their own communities of origin—a keystone of the charism of the Comboni Missionaries.
Maximum Illud highlights the importance in developing local churches and their people so that they may thrive. It was the impetus for the foundation of seminaries in countries throughout the world, designed to educate clergy and religious from within each culture.
Pope Benedict XV wrote of the hardships of mission: “Whoever leaves his country, his nearest and
dearest, to propagate the Christian name, often exposes himself to long and dangerous journeys, joyfully ready to suffer the greatest trials in order to gather in a harvest of souls to Christ.” It was the pope’s intention to support missionaries with the best education and preparation possible, while holding them to the highest standard.
He encourages those embarking upon the missionary life with these words, “Above all…it is a holy life that is indispensable for those who are getting ready for the apostolate. Indeed, it is necessary that the one who preaches God be, in fact, a man of God.’
Benedict XV emphasized the need for Christians to adopt the work of mission in their own lives, but also to keep a vibrant concern for areas outside their native land, writing that one must have a greater love for Christ than one’s country.
During his announcement of the Extraordinary Month on October 22, 2018, Pope Francis said, “Today, World Mission Day is celebrated on the theme: ‘Mission at the heart of the Christian faith.’ I urge everyone to live the joy of mission by witnessing the Gospel in the environs where each one lives and works. At the same time, we are called upon to support with affection, concrete help, and prayer, the missionaries who have gone out to proclaim Christ to those who still do not know Him.”
The theme of the Mission’s Extraordinary Month is “Baptized and Sent: Christ’s Church on Mission in the World” to remind us that each of us is called to mission by our baptism.
The aim of the EMM is to encourage Catholics into a deeper relationship with Jesus through prayer; to look to and learn from the actions and sacrifices made by our saints, martyrs, and living missionaries; to rediscover and renew our understanding of overseas mission (ad gentes); to financially support mission.
Pope Francis has proposed four focus areas in celebration of the Extraordinary Month of Mission.
Apersonal encounter with Jesus Christ living in his Church: in the Eucharist, in the Word of God.
Testimony: missionary saints, martyrs, and confessors of the faith as an expression of the Church.
Missionary formation: biblical, catechetical, spiritual, and theological.
The Comboni Missionaries are always focused on mission and an outreach to the people of the world who have not yet heard the Good News. This year, though, in unity with the universal Church, we will strive to emphasize mission in an extraordinary way. We encourage you, too, to find creative new ways to live out your own missionary call and to continue, as you are able, to support us with your prayers and donations.
We do not have a product to sell. It has nothing to do with proselytizing; we are not selling a product. We have a life to communicate: God, his divine life, his merciful love, his holiness!”—Pope Francis