Blessed Pope Paul VI:
“The love for Missions is love for the Church, love for Christ!”
“Love for Missions is love for the Church, love for Christ. A Christian must be open to the spiritual needs of those who do not know Christ, and there are hundreds of millions”: these are the words Blessed Paul VI addressed to the diocesan directors of the Pontifical Mission Societies of Italy, received in audience on June 28, 1978, a few weeks before his death.
On World Mission Day, 2014, at the conclusion of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops, Pope Paul VI (1897-1978), born Giovanni Battista Montini, was proclaimed Blessed.
In his fifteen years of Pontificate (21 June 1963-6 August 1978) Paul VI gave a strong impetus to the missionary conscience of the Church, missionary animation and cooperation, continuing an effort that he had already manifested as Archbishop of Milan.
During the missionary Magisterium of Paul VI, the conciliar decree “Ad Gentes” on the Missionary Activity of the Church emerges, completed by the Motu proprio “Ecclesiae Sanctae”, with the rules for the application of certain Decrees of the Second Vatican Council; the Message “Africae terrarum” in defense of the African identity and its traditional values; the Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Nuntiandi” on the commitment to proclaim the Gospel to the people of our time.
Along with these documents we cannot overlook the wealth of letters, messages and speeches, at all levels and on the most varied occasions, on the missionary responsibility of the whole Church. With the Apostolic Letters “Benegnissimus Deus” (1965) and “Graves et Increscentes” (1966) he stressed the importance and relevance of the Pontifical Society of St. Peter Apostle and the Pontifical Missionary Union. In his Letter to the International Missionary Conference in Lyon (1972), commemorating the anniversary of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, he asked for a growing awareness of the modern problem of evangelization in order to renew the impetus to missionary activity.
In his message to the Missionary Congress in Mexico and Latin America (1977) he called on all the local Churches “to make all of the Latin American Church a missionary Church”.
Throughout his Pontificate, with the exception in 1964, Pope Paul VI always sent a message on the occasion of World Mission Day in October. The latter, which he had already prepared when he died, still insists on the responsibility of the people of God for missionary work.
Paul VI always put emphasis on the missionary character of the great liturgical solemnities of Easter, Pentecost and Epiphany, with the consecration of priests and bishops in missionary countries, the delivery of the crucifix to the departing missionaries, the beatification of representatives of the missionary Church or martyrs for faith … in this context, we must remember even four ordinations of Bishops and priests, entirely or in part of mission territories, and the administration of the sacrament of Baptism and first Communion to the catechumens in Africa and Asia. Paul VI visited the Urban College several times, he also presided the ordination of some priests (1973), and on the day of Pentecost in 1972 he celebrated the “Mass of the Nations” at St. Peter the Apostle College.
During Paul VI’s pontificate the ecclesiastical territories entrusted to the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples went from 759 to 863. He appointed 604 Bishops in mission territories, mainly indigenous. He created 27 Cardinals belonging to the mission territories, and 18 of them were the first Cardinals in the history of their country. During his pontificate the national Bishops’ Conferences increased from 11 to 48. By establishing the Synod of Bishops (1965) he called the representatives of the Episcopate of the entire world, thus including Churches in mission territories, to assist the Pope in the governing of the universal Church. He also pursued the internationalization of the Roman Curia, by calling in positions of responsibility priests and bishops from other continents besides Europe.
Paul VI was the first pope to visit all the continents and mission lands (in fact he was called the Apostle of the People): Holy Land and India in 1964, Europe in 1967, America in 1968, Africa in 1969, the Far East and Oceania in 1970. In his meeting with the young Churches, he always invited them to become aware of their missionary responsibility, both in their territories and throughout the world.