Blessed James Alberione

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The missionary problem is one that must concern and arouse the apostle writer the most. For if he really loves God and human beings he cannot remain indifferent to the fact that hundreds of millions of people are born, live and die without ever coming to know, love and adore the true God; that countless peoples and tribes are unaware that a Redeemer was born and has died for them, and that they themselves are called to a legacy of grace, beatitude and glory!
In practical terms the apostle attends to the missions by keeping his readers informed and by seeking their cooperation and prayers for the missions.
Knowledge of the missions
Complete knowledge of the missions includes:
- The precise meaning of the word "missions" as understood by the Church, in other words, the mandate to evangelize, to bring the faith to pagan peoples.
- The twofold end of missionary activity: the generic end that seeks God's glory and people's salvation; the specific end that aims to establish the Church of Jesus Christ in a perfect and lasting manner where it is not yet constituted.
- The study of mission activity [examines its] doctrinal, descriptive and operational parts. [It looks at] doctrine in the general part. Here it considers the basic idea of mission; it investigates the philosophical and theological reasons why the Church has the right and duty to propagate the faith; as well as the biblical, patristic, dogmatic, liturgical and apostolic reasons.
The specific part examines missionary activity in its modes of expression, that is, its claim (juridical part) and its method. The descriptive part, that is, the history of the past and the description of the present, missionography (study of the religions, analogy, missionary geography, missionary statistics and so on). The operational part [considers work] in the field and as a cooperator. The former concerns the personnel working in the missions. The latter
envisages the help that Catholics, who live in countries where the Church hierarchy is already duly established, can give to missionaries.
Complementing this overview is a study of the means, the ways and the prejudices concerning the missions.
The means of the missions are manifold and they vary depending on the circumstances of time, place, persons, and the political and social conditions. Thus, among the many means there is mission geography. This answers such basic questions as Where to go? Which places? What are these people like?
The ways of the missions are the ways of the heart. Great success in missionary work just as a great lack of success depends largely on having found or followed these ways or not. In this, the Apostles and great missionaries followed the insight and tact of the Divine Teacher as is clear, for example, in the call of the Apostles, in his talk with the Samaritan woman, with Zacchaeus, and in his way of captivating the crowds.
These ways vary, they depend on the circumstances and they require study, experience and adaptation.
Massaia,1 for example, moved around Ethiopia practicing medicine. The pagans came to him to be cured of smallpox and he took advantage of this to lead them to God. The first
Jesuits managed to enter China as astronomers; others in other ways.
All missionaries have undertaken works of charity in a variety of ways. Witness to such charity is the many hospitals, people's homes, orphanages, schools, and charitable organizations... opened in almost all the mission lands.
There are also a number of prejudices and misunderstandings regarding the missions, the missionaries and their works. Among the most common is that missionaries are much-prized propagators of the ideas and power of the countries they come from. It is well known that people hostile to the faith are grateful to missionaries not because of their work of evangelization but because, in these far-off countries, they can open up ways for their own country's political influence and trade. Thus, at times, it happens that while Religious are persecuted at home they are being helped abroad for political and commercial interests. Centuries-old experience shows, instead, that if the missionary's only contribution is his nationalism, then it pollutes and sterilizes both religious and political propagandizing. The good missionary, while not getting involved in political propaganda will, indirectly, make his own country known and loved abroad.
A knowledge of the missions is a necessity for some, a help for others.
It is a necessity for the clergy, for missionaries, apologists, scholars, and opponents...
For the clergy, to top up and complete their theology studies so that they can fully partake in their pastoral mission.
For missionaries, to learn the theory of their future practical work and to treasure the experience of those who have already preceded them.
For scholars, to grasp the importance of mission work both from a scientific-theoretical and practical point of view.
For apologists, to make use of in their battle against the Church's enemies, particularly against Protestants and Muslims, who try to spread their errors by invading even our field and stealing our ripened harvest.
Our opponents, both theorists and those in the field, who attempt to paralyze missionary work.
It is useful and important that everyone, the good and the bad, believers and non-believers, rulers and subjects all know about the missions so that they will not hinder them, but rather foster them in every way, in accordance with the Church's directives.
The apostle writer who has a profound knowledge of missionary work will know how to profit from every occasion to propagate it in the way he judges appropriate for the glory of God and the salvation of people's souls.
Cooperating with the missions
Cooperation is a beneficial way of learning more about the missions. Here, more than ever, we can apply the saying: "You do not properly esteem and assist what you are unaware of or uninformed about."
Let us recall the most common forms of cooperation: missionary vocations and indigenous clergy, beneficence, pontifical missionary works, all the other works and associations.
Vocations. To implement the missionary program, to expand the foreign missions and to set up indigenous missions all require vocations: men and women religious, priests and lay people, men and women catechists.
The apostle writer has to resolve to arouse, support and train vocations:
- Encouraging parents to generously offer their children for the holy cause of God's glory and people's salvation.
- Making people understand that divine Providence generally raises up vocations among those who are less well-off or poor so as to give the faithful a way of sharing in the results of the missionary apostolate by way of financial support.
- Persuading people to give their generous and charitable help by means of financial backing
to missionary Institutes and missionary works in the form of scholarships, pensions and offerings of any amount.
Beneficence. In his encyclical Rerum Ecclesiæ2 Pius XI said: "Do not be ashamed or regret having to become almost beggars for Christ and the good of souls." In his Little Missionary Catechism, Rambelli writes: "The Christian who fails to advance the cause of the missions does not love God who wanted the missions, he does not love Christ who died to save all, he does not love the Church which must continue the work of evangelization, he does not love his neighbor whom he must help."
The apostle is to take every opportunity to appeal wholeheartedly for good people to provide, according to their means, for the needs of the missions by way of beneficence.
Particular forms of cooperation are: entertainment in favor of the missions, with or without a missionary background, (slide projections, movies, concerts, theater, recitals), making vestments and cassocks, missionary exhibits, lucky-dip stalls, money boxes for the missions, collecting used stamps and postcards, tin foil... oral and written promotion of the missions, offerings for baptisms, arranging for groups of lay people to provide for mission communities, seminaries to provide for
indigenous seminaries, parishes to undertake to help a particular mission, dioceses to adopt an apostolic vicariate or an apostolic prefecture, children's organizations to resolve to cooperate in certain activities.
The ways that divine Providence uses to help the missions and to procure merit for generous people are limitless.
Missionary works. The apostle is, moreover, to avail himself of every occasion to advance the cause of:
- the pontifical missionary works: the propagation of the faith; the works of Saint Peter the Apostle;
- the other missionary works of the clergy, the abolition of slavery;
- all the other general and particular works, those whose goal is to help the missions or whose objective is to help particular missions or specific aspects of missionary activity.
In order to convince people to aid the missions, apart from letting them know about the ways set out above, a further help is to advance convincing and absorbing arguments of a practical and theoretical nature such as the obligation which every Christian has to cooperate, an obligation which flows from the duty of piety towards God and charity towards one's neighbor.
Pray for the missions
Prayer is the first and most important form of missionary cooperation. It is open to all, always, everywhere.
One could say that there is hardly a pontifical document about missionary cooperation that fails to assign a place of honor to prayer, nor a missionary, writing from his field of apostolate, who does not first ask for the help of prayer.
The Gospel, theology and history - all are in agreement in affirming the ineffable efficacy of prayer.
The Gospel refers to the insistence, the reminders, the reproach and the pledges of the Divine Teacher. If the Father hears our prayer when we ask for something good it will be even more true when we ask for what Jesus Christ himself taught us to ask for: "that his name be blessed throughout the world, his divine will be fulfilled, his kingdom of justice and love be affirmed everywhere."
Theology cautions that the ultimate aim of the missionary apostolate, "supernatural life", cannot find any commensurate means except in grace, a priceless victory of our humble prayer which, in turn, is an appeal to the Wisdom of God who knows the ways
of Redemption, to the Power of God who knows how to implement such ways, and to the Goodness of God who wills such ways.
Lastly, history records, with proof incontrovertible, how much the hidden sacrifices of people unseen, in the absolute quiet of the cloister or before the altar, have contributed to the propagation of the faith.
Convinced of the great need and importance of prayer for the missions the apostle is to arouse people - particularly children and Sisters - to pray to the Lord of the harvest to send good workers to his harvest and to implore enlightenment and heavenly grace for pagans.
He is to have everyone come to an awareness of the meaning of the petition in the Our Father "adveniat regnum tuum" ["your kingdom come"]; he is to promote public and private prayer, the imposing work of the Apostolate of Prayer, the need and the way to transform one's own life into continuous prayer.
Hand in hand with the cooperation of prayer goes that of suffering. The apostle is to explain its nature, its need and effectiveness. Let him promote days of suffering in favor of the missions, urge the generous offering of voluntary suffering in particular, and on up to the offering of life itself. There are many more souls predestined to be victims of expiation and love than people think. Often such people do not fulfill their
mission because no one enlightens or guides them.
The union of all the faithful through the cooperation of prayers and works will convert the world.
* * *
Written works on the missions can vary a great deal. Advisable among the many are those of a geographical, religious and biographical background.
In the first case the main part will concern the study of peoples and their moral habits so as to move the reader to have compassion on such populations. In the second case it is the story of the religious who consecrate themselves to the work of the missions for only the religious are able to dedicate themselves to such work. In the third case it is the story of the life of the great missionaries and thus of all that concerns the missions.
Whichever method is chosen there is only one goal. That goal is to make the missions known so as to inspire people to take up missionary work and to pray for the missions because here, more so than in other areas, generosity arises out of conviction.

1 * Guglielmo Massaia (1809-1886), a Piedmontese missionary Capuchin, Cardinal in 1884, was much admired by Fr Alberione, who dedicated the film Abuna Messias (1938) to him.

2 * Of 1926, on the development of the missions among the "pagans".