PARAGUAY, by José Aníbal Argüello •
During the recent Holy Week, 950 youths, the majority of them Paraguayan and those from Brazil, Chile, Argentina, among others, have participated in the Catholic University Missions.
We confirmed our Faith, responding to the call that was manifested to us in different ways and through different people to take the message of joy, salvation, hope and love to the people as Christ entrusted to us. “Go therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Mt. 28: 19-20)
During the preparation for the missions, we became aware that we were not going on mission “to have a good experience,” but because we were sent by someone. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said:
“One doesn’t begin to be a Christian because of an ethical decision or a great idea, but rather because of an encounter with an event, with a Person, who gives new horizons to life, and with that, a decisive orientation.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Vatican City, November 13, 2007), and Pope Francis added to this “Thanks solely to this encounter – or renewed encounter – with God’s love, which blossoms into an enriching friendship, we are liberated from our narrowness and self-absorption. We become fully human when we become more than human, when we let God bring us beyond ourselves in order to attain the fullest truth of our being. Here we find the source and inspiration of all our efforts at evangelization. For if we have received the love which restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others?” (Evangelii Gaudium, 8).
Some youths have gone on missions for several years…for others (the majority); it was their first experience. However the same fire that is born of God’s Spirit that overcomes us, enkindled us all; it takes over our being, and sends us forth and accompanies us in the mission.
A new missionary generation reaching out
Throughout those holy days, we brought Pope Francis’ words, in his apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel) to life. We are the new missionary generation reaching out to the periferies…youths encountering the alienated, vulnerable, forgotten, marginalized, and the spiritual poor.
“20. Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the “peripheries” in need of the light of the Gospel.
21. The Gospel joy, which enlivens the community of disciples, is a missionary Joy. The seventy-two disciples felt it as they returned from their mission (cf. Lk. 10:17). Jesus felt it when he rejoiced in the Holy spirit and praised the Father for revealing himself to the poor and the little ones (cf. Lk. 10:21). It was felt by the first converts who marveled to hear the apostles preaching “in the native language of each” (Act 2:6) on the day of Pentecost. This joy is a sign that the Gospel has been proclaimed and is bearing fruit. Yet the drive to go forth and give, to go out from ourselves, to keep pressing forward in our sowing of the good, seed, remains ever present. The Lord says: “Let us go to the next towns that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out” (Mk. 1:38). Once the seed has been sown in one place, Jesus does not stay behind to explain things or to perform more signs; the Spirit moves him to go forth to other towns.
22. God’s word is unpredictable in its power. The Gospel speaks of a seed which, once, sown, grows by itself, even as the farmer sleeps (Mk. 4:26-29). The Church has to accept this unruly freedom of the word, which accomplishes what it wills in ways that surpass our calculations and ways of thinking.
23. The Church’s closeness to Jesus is part of a common journey; “communion and mission are profoundly interconnected”.  In fidelity to the example of the Master, it is vitally important for the Church today to go forth and preach the Gospel to all: to all places, on all occasions, without hesitation, reluctance or fear. The joy of the Gospel is for all people: no one can be excluded. That is what the angel proclaimed to the shepherds in Bethlehem: “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will come to all the people (Lk. 2:10). The Book of Revelation speaks of an “eternal Gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation an tongue an tribe and people” (Rev 14:6).
24. The Church, which “goes forth”, is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice. An evangelizing community knows that the Lord has taken the initiative, he has loved us first (cf. 1 Jn. 4:19), and therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast. Such a community has an endless desire to show mercy, the fruit of its own experience of the power of the Father’s infinite mercy. Let us try a little harder to take the first step and to become involved. Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. The Lord gets involved and he involves his own, as he kneels to wash their feet. He tells his disciples: “You will be blessed if you do this” (Jn. 13:17). An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others. Evangelizers thus take on the “smell of the sheep” and the sheep are willing to hear their voice. An evangelizing community is also supportive, standing by the people at every step of the way, no matter how difficult or lengthy this may prove to be. It is familiar with patient expectation and apostolic endurance.”
We brought all of Pope Francis’ words to life, when we carried out the evangelizing, multiplying-effect that uses the five loaves of bread and two fish, to multiply our talents at the service of God’s plan.
No calculator is capable of expressing in numbers or statistics, the thousands of homes that have been visited, through this culture of encounter. The millions of shared smiles; the looks of understanding; the arms loaded with self-reliant and mercy; the children who – in thousands of cases – have had their first encounter with Christ; the “listening therapy” that was put into practice – many times conquering the language barrier; youths who have been recharged with joy, the message and witness of missionaries, who encouraged them to live Christian values; the sacraments that have been administered to those who are at a disadvantage because they are on the peripheries. Moreover it comforts us and makes us happy to be that young Church reaching out, obedient, and a bearer of the Church and of Christ, to reach out and encounter our neighbors.
Aware of this sending forth, of this privilege, we are called to persevere in this mission. We cannot allow this experience of encounter to be extinguished, or to become fleeting, or that it is nothing more than a chapter of our lives. This missionary generation, the generation of Benedict XVI and of Francis, is the generation of youth reaching out, to encounter a brother/sister. To the encounter of a brother/sister, a bearer of joy, that Easter Joy, that is capable of transforming everything that one finds on his/her way.
Now, it is up to us to persevere in the mission. Persevere in the day-to-day mission, in our families, university, work, courtship, marriage, and in all spheres, until the joy of the Gospel is a fundamental characteristic…a letter of introduction for those who see us on the streets, and that they clearly identify us as missionary disciples. To be and seem…to be missionaries and seem like missionaries… we can persevere with Easter joy.
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
our life for your Mission