VATICAN CITY – To be a missionary is to highlight the experience of others and respect their freedom rather than judge and impose practices upon them, Pope Francis said.
Pope: Being a missionary begins with respect
In an audience March 11 with the Spanish bishops' Commission for Missions and directors and volunteers of the development agency Misión América, which supports missionary projects in Africa and Latin America, the Pope said that missionaries are called to be like Christ in bearing witness to the realities of the communities they serve.
Reflecting on a passage from St. John's Gospel, he said that just as Jesus showed his wounded hands and side to the disciples after the Resurrection, missionaries must make visible "the reality of pain, sin, death."
"Not to condemn," the Pope specified, "but to heal, to heal humanity."
Spreading awareness of the realities in Latin America, one of Misión América's four areas of focus, is nothing other than "showing the outstretched hand of Christ, who offers us the greatest refuge in his wounds," Pope Francis said.
St. John's Gospel later recounts how Jesus let St. Thomas put his finger into Jesus' side so that he could believe in the Resurrection. The episode, Pope Francis said, shows how Jesus was always respectful of others' needs and their "times and spaces."
"Jesus is always attentive to the need, but above all to the person in their entirety," the Pope said.
"True equality, true justice, is not imposing one single and utilitarian plan for all," he said, rather it involves "being able to accompany each person in their freedom, so that each can respond to God's call, to the plan that God has for each one of us according to his time, his path, his patience."
The Pope also praised the group's efforts to support missionaries with lay volunteers who, through prayer and service, are in solidarity with "those who, moved by the same Spirit, are walking throughout the world."
Such a "collaboration for peace" between religious and lay people, he said, "produces new realities creating bridges and destroying fears and bitterness."
Founded in 1993, Misión América has worked to spread awareness about Latin American life, promote human rights and dignified forms of labor, support social and pastoral projects by missionaries and foster collaboration between missionaries and other grassroots organizations. As Misión América has grown, it has promoted similar projects in Africa.