Pope Francis’ decision to include a year spent in mission territory in the training curriculum of diplomatic Nunciature personnel, comes just a few months after the announcement made by the Pope himself in the concluding speech of the Synod for the Amazon. This announcement now becomes reality for new students of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy in the academic year 2020/2021.

First, it is interesting to note the context in which this project was first announced: the need for, and difficulty in finding, priests for the missions.

The Pope had quoted the negative response one sometimes receives: “No, I am not suitable for this”. “Well,” commented the Pope, “this must be reformed… Young religious have a great vocation and it is necessary to train them in apostolic zeal to go to the peripheries”.

Immediately afterwards, Pope Francis spoke of future diplomats, hinting at a “suggestion” he had received: “In the curriculum of the diplomatic service of the Holy See, young priests should spend at least a year in missionary territory. Not doing an internship in the Nunciature as they do now, which is very useful, but simply in the service of a bishop in a place of mission”.

Now this proposal becomes concrete. In his letter to the President of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, the Pope writes:

“I am convinced that such an experience will be useful for all the young men preparing for or beginning priestly service, but especially for those who will someday be called to work with the Pontifical Representatives and, afterwards, will in turn become Envoys of the Holy See to nations and particular Churches”.

The commitment of future Apostolic Nuncios will serve as an example, so that other priests will accept the invitation to spend time in mission.

There is no doubt that the decision, now formalized by the Successor of Peter, represents a truly significant change in the course of studies for those who will serve in the Nunciatures and who will, in many cases, be made bishops at a relatively young age.

A fundamental piece of the curriculum now becomes the year dedicated to missionary service in the field, far from home, getting one’s hands dirty in pastoral work, in the frontier Churches.

A year of change, of fatigue, of new experiences, which will allow a better and deeper understanding of the reality of the Church, of her problems and difficulties, but also of her hopes and the comforting beauty of her daily life.

A year that will allow the students of the Ecclesiastical Academy themselves, their superiors and the bishops of their dioceses of origin, to better discern individual vocations. A year that could also dissuade someone from undertaking this service.

It will certainly be an experience destined to change the outlook and perspective for those who will one day be called to represent the Pope in various countries, thus underlining the importance for the local Churches of helping the Pope by sending good and capable priests in his service.

Once again, Pope Francis reminds us that the whole Church – diplomatic service included – is either missionary or she is not. She either evangelizes or she is not Church.

“If the Church is not on the move, she decays, she becomes something else”, as the Pope stated in the important book interview with Gianni Valente, “Without Him We Can Do Nothing”.

In this recent publication that deserves to be taken to heart, Pope Francis says:

“Mission is not a tried and tested company plan. Neither is it a public spectacle organized to flaunt how many people are associated with it thanks to our marketing. The Holy Spirit works as He wills, when He wills and where He wills”.

“Mission’s mysterious fruitfulness does not consist in our intentions, in our methods, in our impulses and in our initiatives, but rests precisely in this ‘vertigo’: the ‘vertigo’ we perceive when we hear Jesus’ words: ‘Without me you can do nothing’”.

(Source: Andrea Tornielli, Vatican editorial director, Vatican News)

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Progressive Catholic journalist, author and educator. Working on social justice, equality and Church renewal.