By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — In a world that often seems dark and full of suffering and violence, Christians can offer hope by sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Pope Francis wrote in a message for World Mission Sunday 2013.
“It is necessary to proclaim courageously and in every situation the Gospel of Christ, a message of hope, reconciliation (and) communion, a proclamation of God’s closeness, his mercy, salvation and a proclamation that the power of God’s love is able to overcome the darkness of evil and guide us on the path of goodness,” the pope wrote.
World Mission Sunday will be celebrated Oct. 20 at the Vatican and in most dioceses.
The message for his first Mission Sunday since becoming pope is filled with phrases and ideas that have been featured prominently in the speeches and homilies Pope Francis has given during the first four months of his pontificate, including at World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro.
Pope Francis’ message emphasized the obligation of all Christians to share the faith with others and do so with respect. He also pointed to the stifling damage done to the church by the failure to evangelize and the sacrifices made by many Christians around the world currently facing oppression or even persecution because of their faith.
“Everyone should be able to experience the joy of being loved by God, the joy of salvation,” he said. “It is a gift that one cannot keep to oneself, but it is to be shared.”
“If we want to keep it only to ourselves, we will become isolated, sterile and sick Christians,” the pope wrote.
Each Christian has a responsibility to share the gift of faith with others, he said, and the strength of one’s faith “can be measured by the ability to communicate it to others, to spread and live it in charity, to witness to it before those we meet and those who share the path of life with us.”
Pope Francis said he knows some people today hesitate sharing the faith because they somehow think it will limit other people’s freedom, when in reality faith empowers people and frees them from despair and from chasing pleasure or material possessions that cannot last and, therefore, cannot make them happy forever.
A true Christian does not try to impose the Christian faith on anyone, but proclaims the good news through word and deed with respect, the pope wrote. “The church’s missionary spirit is not about proselytizing, but the testimony of a life that illuminates the path, which brings hope and love.”
In his message, the pope offered thanks to and prayers for the many Christians in different parts of the world who “experience difficulty in openly professing their faith and in enjoying the legal right to practice it in a worthy manner.”
They are “courageous witnesses” of the Gospel, he said.
Pope Francis’ message also was filled with praise and thanksgiving for priests, religious and laypeople who have left their homelands to spread the Gospel. He asked those, especially from traditionally Catholic countries, to make sure that in their letters and visits home, they tell others of their experience so that they can help people at home “rediscover the enthusiasm and joy of sharing the faith.”
He thanked the churches in traditionally mission territory, such as Africa, for their willingness to send priests and religious to other countries, including in Europe and North America.
“Sending missionaries is never a loss, but a gain,” he said.
Pope Francis urged all Catholics to take responsibility for the church’s missionary activity, including by giving financial support to the Pontifical Mission Societies.
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