ROME — Pope Francis’s recent message to the pontifical mission societies is a reminder that the church’s primary mission is to proclaim the Gospel, not run institutions with businesslike efficiency, said Filipino Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle.
In an interview with Vatican News published May 28, Tagle, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, said that the pope “is not against efficiency and methods” that could help the church’s missionary activities.
However, the cardinal said, “he is warning us about the danger of ‘measuring’ church mission using only the standards and outcomes predetermined by the models or schools of management, no matter how good and useful these may be.”
“The tools of efficiency can help but should never substitute for church mission,” he said. “The most efficiently run church organization may end up being the least missionary.”
The pope sent the message May 21 to the mission societies after their general assembly was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
While the mission societies raise awareness and promote prayer for the missions, they also raise money to fund myriad projects in some of the world’s poorest countries. Pope Francis warned, however, that fundraising can never be their first priority.
Tagle said Pope Francis sees a danger in donations becoming “merely funds or resources to be used, rather than tangible signs of love, of prayer, of sharing the fruits of human labor.”
“The faithful who become committed and joyful missionaries are our best resource, not money per se,” the cardinal said. “It is also good to remind our faithful that even their small donations, when put together, become a tangible expression of the Holy Father’s universal missionary charity to churches in need. No gift is too small when given for the common good.”
In his message, the pope warned of “pitfalls and pathologies” that may threaten the missionary societies’ unity in faith, such as self-absorption and elitism.
“Instead of leaving room for the working of the Holy Spirit, many initiatives and entities connected to the church end up being concerned only with themselves,” the pope said. “Many ecclesiastical establishments, at every level, seem to be swallowed up by the obsession of promoting themselves and their own initiatives, as if that were the objective and goal of their mission.”
Tagle told Vatican News that God’s gift of love is at the heart of the church and its mission in the world, “not a human plan.” If the actions of the church are separated from this root, they “are reduced to mere functions and fixed plans of action.”
“God’s surprises and ‘disturbances’ are considered destructive of our prepared projects. For me, to avoid the risk of functionalism, we need to return to the spring of the church’s life and mission: God’s gift in Jesus and the Holy Spirit,” he said.
In calling for church organizations to “break every mirror in the house,” the cardinal said that Pope Francis was also denouncing a “purely pragmatic or functional view of mission” which ultimately leads to narcissistic behavior that makes the mission more about one’s success and achievements “and less about the good news of God’s mercy.”
Instead, he continued, the church must embrace the challenge of helping “our faithful see that faith is a great gift of God, not a burden,” and it is a gift to be shared.