By Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Having come to know Jesus through the Scriptures and in the Eucharist, Catholics are called to share with others the hope and joy that come from faith and that endure even when life gets difficult, Pope Francis said.
“What the world needs is the love of God, to encounter Christ and believe in him. For this reason, the Eucharist is not only the source and summit of the life of the church, it is also the source and summit of her mission,” Pope Francis wrote, quoting the late Pope Benedict XVI.
The connection between the missionary call of every disciple and the gift of Jesus present in the Eucharist was at the center of Pope Francis’ message for World Mission Sunday, which will be celebrated Oct. 22. The Vatican released the text of the message Jan. 25.
The theme the pope chose for the 2023 celebration is “Hearts on fire, feet on the move,” which he said was inspired by the story of Jesus and the disciples on the road to Emmaus after the resurrection. The Bible says the disciples’ hearts “burned within them” as Jesus explained the Scriptures and how they recognized him when he broke bread with them, and they set off to share the good news with others.
World Mission Sunday 2023 will be celebrated during the assembly of the Synod of Bishops, and Pope Francis also used his message to talk about the missionary profile of the synod.
“The urgency of the church’s missionary activity naturally calls for an ever-closer missionary cooperation on the part of all her members and at every level. This is an essential goal of the synodal journey that the church has undertaken, guided by the key words: communion, participation, mission.”
The synodal process, he said, is “not a turning of the church in upon herself, nor is it a referendum about what we ought to believe and practice, nor a matter of human preferences. Rather, it is a process of setting out on the way and, like the disciples of Emmaus, listening to the risen Lord. For he always comes among us to explain the meaning of the Scriptures and to break bread for us, so that we can, by the power of the Holy Spirit, carry out his mission in the world.”
While Pope Francis often warns against proselytism — using pressure or coercion to get someone to convert — he insisted that the church exists for mission and that every person in the world has the right to hear the Gospel.
“Today more than ever, our human family, wounded by so many situations of injustice, so many divisions and wars, is in need of the good news of peace and salvation in Christ,” he said. “I take this opportunity to reiterate that ‘everyone has the right to receive the Gospel. Christians have the duty to announce it without excluding anyone, not as one who imposes a new obligation, but as one who shares a joy, signals a beautiful horizon, offers a desirable banquet.'”
A person who has truly encountered the risen Lord necessarily will be “set on fire with enthusiasm to tell everyone about him,” the pope said.
So, for the Catholic Church, “the primary and principal resource of the mission are those persons who have come to know the risen Christ in the Scriptures and in the Eucharist, who carry his fire in their heart and his light in their gaze. They can bear witness to the life that never dies, even in the most difficult of situations and in the darkest of moments.”
Just like the disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus immediately went to tell others about their encounter with him, the pope said, “our proclamation will be a joyful telling of Christ the Lord, his life, his passion, his death and resurrection, and the wonders that his love has accomplished in our lives.”
Pope Francis thanked those who have dedicated their lives to sharing the Gospel with people far from their homelands and thanked all Catholics who pray for and donate to the church’s missionary outreach.
“Let us set out again with burning hearts, with our eyes open and our feet in motion,” the pope said. “Let us set out to make other hearts burn with the word of God, to open the eyes of others to Jesus in the Eucharist, and to invite everyone to walk together on the path of peace and salvation that God, in Christ, has bestowed upon all humanity.”