Cardinal Fernando Filoni’s celebratory message to the congregation at the Eucharistic Celebration on the occasion of the 350th Anniversary of the Church’s “Mission to Siam”, at the Hall of Pope St. John Paul II in Sampran on May 18.
“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19).
Dear Reverend Fathers, Brothers, Sisters and Catechists,
I am very pleased to address to you on this happy occasion when you celebrate the 350th anniversary of the establishment of the Apostolic Vicariate of Siam (1669-2019). This historic event becomes an opportune moment to draw your attention to the evangelising mission of the Church in this beloved Nation.
Let me begin this address with the words of the risen Lord: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the son and of the Holy Spirit.”
These words of the Lord Jesus are better known as the “baptismal command” of Jesus to his Apostles (Mk 16:15-16; Lk 24:46-49; Jn 20:21-23). Before ascending to heaven, he gives a special mandate to them to preach the Gospel, the Gospel of life to all. It is therefore wish of the Redeemer that this mission should continue in this world until the end.
The Apostles, following the footsteps of Jesus, continued with the mission of proclaiming the Gospel. They were the first missionaries. Through their preaching, the spread of the Gospel had begun. The apostolic period becomes an important stage in the history of the mission.
The best-known missionary of the early period of the Church was Paul of Tarsus. His encounter with the risen Lord near Damascus was the turning point in his life. Saul, the Church’s persecutor became Paul the apostle, a committed preacher of the Gospel. He entrusted to others the preaching of the Gospel to Jewish communities in the diaspora while he dedicated his mission to the Romans, Greeks, Macedonians, Illyrians, etc. Paul was the first and still remains the greatest missionary because of his apostolic spirit, the extent of his evangelical activity and his solid organization of the Churches. Due to his extensive activity among the pagans, he is called the “Apostle of the Gentiles”.
From a doctrinal point of view, the desire for missionary cooperation stems from the fact that the Church on earth is, by its very nature, open to all peoples and nations, so became missionary (Ad gentes, 2). Following the Apostles, the Church has the obligation to preach this universal plan of God for the salvation of all peoples. The reason for the missionary activity lies in the will of God who wishes all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1Tim 2:4).
All of us gathered here, have a common vocation, namely to follow Christ, even though in different ways. We are called to be the disciples of Christ.
All of us, as disciples of Christ, are called to an apostolic courage based upon trust in the Holy Spirit who is the principal agent of the mission.
The baptismal command of Jesus has a special significance to all of you who are gathered here; you have a vocation to preach the Gospel: religious men and women, seminarians and catechists who have taken this call to announce Jesus Christ.
To Religious men and women, as men and women belonging to various institutes, you have a special role in the mission of the Church. Members belonging to institutes of consecrated life have an obligation to missionary activity, as it derives from your very consecration (CIC, can.573,§1). In particular, all religious will contribute to the missionary apostolate by the witness of their consecrated life of prayer and penance (CIC, can.673).
As religious, your vocation includes a triple dimension of consecration, communion and mission. Your consecration is therefore oriented to mission. As members belonging to religious institutes, especially the missionary institutes, you have a “special duty‟ for the work of evangelisation. This work, in turn, demands adequate preparation of candidates belonging to your institutes as well as an attention to the renewal of the members ‟spiritual, moral and physical energies” (Redemptoris missio, 66).
You are a vital part of the ecclesial community in Thailand. Every religious institute exists for the Church and must enrich her with its distinctive charisms, according to its particular spirit and specific mission.
The Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, which is responsible for the mission territories as well as for missionary coordination throughout the world, takes this occasion to thank you, all the religious men and women, for your contributions in various ways to the work of evangelisation in this country.
To seminarians – dear young men, God has put the gift of vocation into your hearts and on your part you have make yourselves available in a generous and total manner for the service of God and the Church.
You have chosen the priestly vocation. There is no better expression than the one used by St. John Mary Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests. He saw priesthood as the love of the heart of Jesus. This shows the loftiness of the Sacrament of Holy Orders and implies a closeness to Jesus himself. A priest takes up the mission of Jesus and acts in the person of Christ – in persona Christi (CIC, can.1008). The expression “in the person of Christ” underlines an identification with Christ. The priest is another Christ – alter Christus. This special friendship or identification with Christ should be a thought for reflection during your seminary years.
First of all, the right attitude to and understanding of the priesthood is an essential condition. Priesthood means service to the Church and humanity. It is neither an individualistic vocation, nor a social status, nor a voluntary service, nor a self-promotion. Priesthood is a lifelong commitment to Christ and his Church.
I take this opportunity to encourage you in your formation years in the seminary. You are going to be one day in the footsteps of Jesus the Good Shepherd. As students, you are called to appreciate the spiritual values, the spiritual and pastoral dimension and the human maturity.
So, as seminarians, you must have an adequate training which should include a solid spiritual, moral and intellectual basis and a satisfactory discipline. In particular, without a sound spiritual formation your entire life as a priest will soon be in crisis. The insistence on being well educated and prepared for the apostolate is part of your vocation as seminarians who are going to be future servants of God and humanity. The future of the Church in Thailand depends on the learning and formation that you receive during your seminary years.
In particular, make efforts to learn more about the missionary nature of the Church keeping in mind that the Church is entrusted with the same mission of Christ to announce the Jesus to humanity. As future priests you should be aware of this responsibility and thereby to play your part in the missionary activity.
During your seminary period, you have very many opportunities to meet with lay people in your dioceses or parishes and you know how much they admire you and love you for the choice you have made to become priests, and the respect and love they show towards you whenever you come into contact with them. This favourable attitude, affection and prayers of the lay people should be an encouragement to you in your vocational discernment.
To Catechists Among the lay faithful who become evangelisers, catechists have a place of honour. You are servants of the Word of God, not only you but also your families. Strengthened by the apostolic spirit, they make a singular and absolutely necessary contribution to the spread of the faith by their efforts. Catechists are specialists, direct witnesses and irreplaceable evangelisers in our mission territories (Redemptoris missio, n.73).
A catechist in mission territories is identified by four elements: a call from the Holy Spirit, an ecclesial mission, collaboration with the diocesan bishop’s apostolic mandate, and a special link with the propagation of the faith or missionary activity. A catechist therefore has received a special call from the Holy Spirit and to be a catechist means a special charism recognised by the Church (Guide for Catechists, 2).
I am aware of the fact that all of you live and work in different and difficult pastoral situations and that you face a lot of problems in your apostolate. However, you go ahead with your apostolate because of your unconditional love for Christ, the Redeemer of humanity. It is edifying to learn of your contribution to the spread of the faith, especially in the mission stations in collaboration with the pastors. May God bless you and your families.
The pastoral context of Asia: All of you live and work in the vast continent of Asia where there is greater need for the missionary action of the church. Asia is the earth’s largest and most diverse continent and is home to nearly two-thirds of the world’s population.
The most striking feature of the continent is the variety of its people who are heirs to ancient cultures, religions and traditions. Moreover, Asia is the cradle of the world‟s major religions – Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. Also Asia is the birthplace of many other spiritual traditions such as Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Zoroastrianism, Jainism, Sikhism and Shintoism. Millions also espouse traditional or tribal religions.
However, Christianity is the least widespread religion in Asia. Asia is a sector of humanity rich in cultures and organized religions but with more than 85 percent of its members un-baptised. Asia is the missionary continent par excellence. The universal Church requests your willing cooperation for missionary activities in this vast continent.
We need to reflect that our mission as baptized persons in Asia, is indeed a true mission, especially in relation to the multiplicity of cultures and religious expressions, in addition to the secular realities of the families and jobs, when the witnessing of our faith brings us into confrontation with the multitude of non-baptised persons, with their mentality and life style, if not, at times, contrasting with the Gospel and the dignity of the person. The Christian life, is, therefore, a sign and a challenge for the search of the true sense of existence.
Dear brothers and sisters: It is Jesus Christ who has called you as religious, seminarians and catechists to take part in his mission. Christ is the content or the subject matter of your mission because you are called to announce Christ and proclaim his message of salvation. You have a special vocation to follow Christ closely and to contribute to his saving mission.
It is therefore essential to look up to Jesus for he is the greatest evangeliser. In the economy of salvation, the Incarnation inaugurated the mission of Christ the Son of God as the Redeemer of humanity. The incarnation of Christ is the visible sign of the compassionate love of God the Father for humanity. The risen Jesus entrusts the missionary mandate to all the baptized.
We should always take into account that all of us are baptized in the faith of the Church in order to be Christians, that is, sacramentally we are sons of God in the world, part of the People of God, among whom some are constituted as apostles, others as pastors, consecrated persons and catechists in this sense, and others, finally, as missionaries of life in the matrimony.
The Holy Father Pope Francis describes our mission as “passion for Jesus Christ” and, at the same time, as “passion for the people”. The Lord’s Paschal feast that we celebrate in this Easter time expresses the victory of the Lord’s passion for the humanity.
As I end these reflections, I would like to encourage you in your worthy mission of proclaiming Christ the Redeemer of the universe. I commend you to the maternal intercession of the Mother of Christ, the star of new evangelization.
May God bless you all.