March 2019 Allocutcio
Fr. Liam O Cuiv
The Legion and the call for an Extraordinary Missionary Month
“The pilgrim Church is missionary by her very nature” the Second Vatican Council tells us. (Decree Ad Gentes on The Mission Activity Of The Church, 2)
Pope Francis in October 2017 called for an Extraordinary Mission Month to be celebrated this coming October throughout the world, with the aim of fostering ardour in the Church’s ‘ad gentes’ evangelising activity. His call is to mark the centenary of the letter Maximum Illud of Pope Benedict XV which, at the end of the First World War, called for a new missionary effort. The letter, despite an overly negative view of non-Christian religions, has been described as a milestone in the evolution of the Church’s missionary work. At that time there was a realisation that missionary activity had been too closely linked to colonial expansion.
Writing just under a year ago to international leaders of Ecclesial Movements, New Movements and Lay Associations, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples said “I invite each of you to take part in this initiative of Pope Francis by reflecting on the ways that you can live the Extraordinary Missionary Month of October 2019, so that it may be a font of new missionary activity within your ecclesial realities and in service to the whole Church.”
The Legion of Mary since its foundation has always been active in enlisting all in the Church’s evangelising work. In speaking of missionary activity, we speak of that directed to those who do not yet know Christ or believe in him. The Handbook correctly points out that the number of people on the global scale who do not know Christ is expanding faster than the number of true believers.
This is also true in many parts of the world where there is a real need of new evangelisation. All round us in today’s world are many men and women who, though coming from nominally Christian societies, do not know Christ.
The Handbook tells us that “the Legion offers itself as a tried and tested instrument for winning converts and ensuring their perseverance”. If the only players in missionary activity are outsiders: priests, religious or lay missionaries, there is a danger that the Gospel message itself may be seen as foreign to the local culture. Here we see the strength that the Legion of Mary offers: “Local in membership, with missionary leaders initially as Spiritual Directors, it will instruct, form and move new converts to evangelise continually and systematically. Unlike the missionary, its members do not penetrate society from the outside. They are already there, able, with due formation, to act as light, salt and leaven in the community, in the manner of the first Christians”.
In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI said that the greatest gift the Church can offer Latin America is the Catholic Faith, which as Fr. Bede McGregor has stated, is the greatest gift the Legion can offer to the peoples of Africa, Latin America or Asia or Oceania, or indeed Europe. Nor is missionary activity to be seen as proselytism. Just a few months ago Pope Francis affirmed: “We do not have a product to sell. It has nothing to do with proselytising; we are not selling a product. We have a life to communicate: God, his divine life, his merciful love, his holiness!”
As legionaries we not only thank God for our Founder, Frank Duff, and his call to all the baptised to be active in evangelisation, but we treasure the contributions of Venerable Edel Quinn, Alfie Lambe and many others who have left their homelands to travel for Christ. However, we acknowledge the millions of legionaries who may have never left home yet continue a most valuable work by their prayers in union with Mary, by the witness of their lives and by their loving service to Christ her Son, and to the Gospel, offering credible witness in a world that seeks testimony to the truth.
For Pope Francis “today missionary activity still represents the greatest challenge for the Church” We must be ‘permanently in a state of mission’ with trust in God and great courage, he says.
We certainly do not need to wait until the month of October to take new initiatives. Let us constantly seek the spiritual, biblical, and catechetical formation we need to be aware of the challenges and how we can best meet them.
I will conclude with the words of St. John Paul II: We ask you, Mary, to help us to fulfil this mission of evangelisation which your Son has given to his Church and which falls to us. Mindful of your role as Help of Christians, we entrust ourselves to you in the work of carrying the Gospel ever deeper into the hearts and lives of all the people. We entrust to you our missionary mandate and commit our cause totally to your prayers.