Addressing the Little Missionary Sisters of Charity on Friday, Pope Francis spoke to them about their charism for evangelization, especially to the poor, encouraging them to be joyful in their mission.
“You are called, and are by vocation, ‘missionaries’; that is, evangelizers, and at the same time you are at the service of the poor. Sisters, be missionaries without borders,” the Pope said May 26 at the Vatican’s Consistory Hall.
“To all, but especially to the poor, in whom you are called to recognize the flesh of Christ, bring the joy of the Gospel that is Jesus Himself. To all, show the beauty of God’s love manifested in the merciful face of Christ. With this beauty fill the hearts of those you encounter. Closeness, encounter, dialogue, and accompaniment are your missionary approach. And do not let yourselves be robbed of the joy of evangelization.”
The Little Missionary Sisters of Charity are holding their 12th General Chapter in Rome throughout the month of May. They are also known as the Don Orione Sisters, after their founder, St. Luigi Orione. The Italian priest founded the order in 1915 to perform works of charity among the poor, orphans, the aged, and the handicapped.
Pope Francis thanked the sisters for their apostolate “in the various activities of youth ministry, in schools, in homes for the elderly, in the little ‘Cottolengo’ institutes, in catechesis and oratories, with new forms of poverty, and in all places where Divine Providence has placed you.”
Mission and service “help you overcome the risks of self-referentiality, of limiting yourselves to survival and self-defensive rigidity” and “make you take on the dynamics of exodus and giving, of coming out of yourselves, of walking and sowing,” he reflected. “For all these purposes, it is vital to nurture communion with the Lord” in prayer, he added.
“In the Church, mission is born of the encounter with Christ … The centre of the Church’s mission is Jesus. As His disciples, you are called to be women who work assiduously to transcend, projecting towards the encounter with the Master and the culture in which you live.”
Missionaries must be “bold and creative,” the Pope said. “The convenient criterion of ‘it has always been the case’ is not valid. It is not valid. Think of the aims, the structures, the style and the methods of your mission.”
“We are living in a time when we need to rethink everything in the light of what the Spirit asks us,” Pope Francis maintained. “This demands a special look at the recipients of the mission and reality itself: the look of Jesus, which is the look of the Good Shepherd; a gaze that does not judge, but which grasps the presence of the Lord in history; a gaze of closeness, to contemplate, to be moved, and to stay with the other as often as necessary; a deep look of faith; a respectful gaze, full of compassion, that heals, frees, and comforts.”
This gaze “will make you courageous and creative and will help you always to be in search of new ways to bring the Good News that is Christ to all.”
He also said that missionary must be free, “without anything of his or her own. I never tire of repeating that comfort, lethargy and worldliness are forces that prevent the missionary from ‘going out’, ‘starting out’ and moving on, and ultimately sharing the gift of the Gospel. The missionary can not walk with the heart full of things (comfort), an empty heart (lethargy) or in search of things extraneous to the glory of God (worldliness).”
“The missionary is a person who is free of all these ballasts and chains; a person who lives without anything of his own, only for the Lord and His Gospel; a person who lives on a constant path of personal conversion and works without rest towards pastoral conversion.”
A missionary must also be “inhabited by the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit Who reminds the disciples of all that Jesus said to them, Who teaches them, Who bear witness to Jesus and leads the disciples, in turn, to bear witness to Him. The missionary is asked to be a person obedient to the Spirit, to follow His movement.”
This obedience should lead them “to become capable of perceiving the presence of Jesus in so many people discarded by society,” he said. “You too, dear sisters, be in this sense spiritual people, let yourselves be led, driven and guided by the Spirit.”
Pope Francis said a missionary’s spirituality must be based on Christ, the Word of God, and on the liturgy. A ‘holistic’ spirituality, involving the whole person in its various dimensions, based on complementarity, integrating and incorporating. It allows you to be daughters of heaven and daughters of the earth, mystical and prophetic, disciples and witnesses at the same time.”
“Finally, the missionary is required to be a prophet of mercy … Your charism of service to the poor demands that you exercise the prophecy of mercy, that is, to be people centred on God and on the crucified of this world. Let yourselves be provoked by the cry of help from so many situations of pain and suffering. As prophets of mercy, announce the Father’s forgiveness and embrace, a source of joy, serenity and peace.”
“Along with the other institutes and movements founded by Don Orione, you form a family. I encourage you to walk the paths of collaboration with all the members of this rich charismatic family … Cultivate between you the spirit of encounter, the spirit of family and cooperation.”
Francis concluded by offering the Visitation as “an example for your mission and for your service to the poor.”
“Like the Virgin Mary, go on your way, in haste – not the rush of the world, but that of God – and, full of the joy that dwells in your heart, sing your Magnificat. Sing the love of God for every creature. Announce to today’s men and women that God is love and can fill the heart of those who seek Him and who let themselves be encountered by Him.”