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ROME – The Vatican’s point-man on missionary outreach, and also one of Asia’s most important Church figures, says Europe is becoming a “mission territory.”

“The faith is a gift from the Holy Spirit,” said Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle on Thursday. “We are really concerned, not only for Europe, but for all the world, regarding evangelization.”

However, he insisted quoting St. Paul, “no one can see Jesus, no one can profess faith in Jesus, without the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit also works through witnesses.”

Tagle, from the Philippines, was created a cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012, and is now the head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. Speaking with reporters during the presentation of World Mission Sunday, to be marked this weekend, the prelate argued that he’s not an “expert” when it comes to the Church in Europe, and chose instead to speak about his home continent.

“Asia is a world of mission, and now they say that Europe is also becoming a mission territory,” he said. “Our experience in Asia is that, though the Holy Spirit is always the major agent in evangelization, we also need living witnesses. Those who through their witness of life, quality of relationship, compassion for the poor, give a living announcement of the Gospel.”

The key for a successful evangelization, Tagle argued, is the Holy Spirit and attracting people to the life that is the faith: “If we start with very high and technical concepts, some might not be able to follow it. You start with the wonderful witness, and then they open the door to the faith.”

Archbishop Giampietro Dal Toso, President of the Pontifical Mission Societies and Assistant Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, noted that next year will be one full of big moments for the Church’s missionary efforts, since 2022 will mark the 400th anniversary of the Congregation (which was originally known as Propaganda Fide), and the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the Pontifical Mission Societies. However, he chose to highlight the beatification of Pauline Jaricot, set to take place in Lyon, France, on May 22.

“There is much talk in these times about the promotion of women in the Church,” Dal Toso said. “A glance at history tells us that women have had an enormous impact on the life of the Church, and this is one of those examples that shows how real inspiration finds a place in the Church, perhaps precisely because it comes from a woman.” Jaricot, a French laywoman founder of the Society of the Propagation of the Faith and the Living Rosary Association, was born in 1799.

As the Spanish archbishop noted, during the nineteenth century there was an enormous flowering of female religious institutes dedicated to schools, orphanages, catechesis, missions, hospitals, but the soon-to-be-blessed was not a nun. Nevertheless, “Pauline was a great missionary,” Dal Toso said, adding that “it seems important to me to note that the key to understanding this woman was her missionary anxiety.”

She founded prayer groups, attempted to build a factory that would meet the spiritual needs and promote the dignity of workers amidst the de-Christianization of France after the French Revolution. In doing so, she changed the concept of missionary activities, focusing on her neighbors instead of distant lands.

The theme chosen for the 2021 celebration of the World Mission Sunday is taken from the Acts of the Apostles: “We cannot but speak about what we have seen and heard.”

“In these days of pandemic, when there is a temptation to disguise and justify indifference and apathy in the name of healthy social distancing, there is urgent need for the mission of compassion, which can make that necessary distancing an opportunity for encounter, care and promotion,” the pope wrote in his message released in January.

“Our life of faith grows weak, loses its prophetic power and its ability to awaken amazement and gratitude when we become isolated and withdraw into little groups,” the pope continued.

As Tagle noted, the celebration is marked by local churches more so than in the Vatican. In fact, though it’s easy to predict that Pope Francis will reference it during his Sunday Angelus prayer, at this point there’s nothing in his calendar indicating that he will say a public Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica to mark the occasion.

“The planning for the celebration usually happens on the local level and we respect the creativity of the local churches, their need also, and we’re amazed at how creative they are,” Tagle said.

However, the entire month of October has been dubbed by Francis as “Mission Month,” with his monthly prayer intention dedicated to the subject: “We pray that every baptized person may be engaged in evangelization, available to the mission, by being witnesses of a life that has the flavor of the Gospel.”

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma