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No. 38

No. 38 of Ad Gentes points out the role of the bishops in missionary activity.  Their role flows from the very nature of the episcopal office.  Every bishop is consecrated for the whole Church.  The first sentences of the number bring this out: “All bishops, as members of the body of bishops which succeeds the college of the apostles, are conse-crated not for one diocese alone, but for the salvation of the whole world.  The command of Christ to preach the Gospel to every creature (Mk 16:15) applies primarily and immediately to them - with Peter, and subject to Peter.”  A footnote points out that these ideas about the office of bishop were already in nos. 23-24 of Lumen Gentium, the Vatican II dogmatic constitution on the Church.

The first result of this universal responsibility of bishops is something that is very important, yes, necessary today, says the number.  It is the “communion and cooperation” of one church with another.  Here the document is referring to dioceses when it speaks about churches.  This “communion and cooperation” takes place all over the world in the mission collection on Mission Sunday and in the collections for the other pontifical mission works.

The bishop is the primary missionary of his diocese.  If he has zeal for the missions, his whole diocese will be mission minded.  He should seek “to raise up among his people, especially among those who are sick or afflicted, souls who with a generous heart will offer prayers and works of penance to God for the evangelization of the world.”  Here again we see the supernatural viewpoint of the Council Fathers, which is in line with Jesus’ words, “Beg the harvest master to send out laborers to gather his harvest” (Mt. 9:38).

The document goes on to remind bishops of other things they can do for the missions.  They can “foster vocations to missionary institutes” like our own Mariannhill Missionary Congregation or they can “exhort and assist diocesan congregations to undertake their own work in the missions.”  The individual bishop should “promote the works of missionary institutes among his people, especially the pontifical works for the missions.”  There are four pontifical works for the missions: the Pontifical Society for the Propagation of Faith, the Pontifical Society of St. Peter the Apostle, the Pontifical Society of the Holy Childhood and the Pontifical Missionary Union.

No. 38 says that the pontifical works for the missions should be given first place in a diocese among all works for the missions because they best of all educate our Catholic people to the needs of the universal Church.  Here is the sentence: “It is right that these works should be given first place, because they are a means by which Catholics are imbued from infancy with a truly universal and missionary outlook and also a means for instigating an effective collecting of funds for all the missions.”  In the next vocation article I shall explain, God willing, the four pontifical works. 

O Mary, inspire in all bishops a truly universal and missionary zeal for the spread of the faith to the ends of the world.  Amen.