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Cardinal Tagle: An encounter with the Lord is always missionary

World Mission Day 2021, with the theme “We cannot but speak about what we have seen and heard”, will be celebrated throughout the Church this Sunday, October 24th.

By Christopher Wells

Ahead of World Mission Day this Sunday, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle – the prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples – says the zeal that inspired the Apostles came from the experience of the power of God’s love in Jesus.

“They experienced the friendship of Jesus, they heard His Beatitudes, they saw how the poor received the good news, they saw how Jesus touched the sick.”

Speaking at a press conference in the Vatican, Cardinal Tagle said that a “gripping… deep experience” of Jesus leads to a “state of mission” that is at the same time a reflection of gratitude. Missionaries, he said, bear the “gospel of compassion and hope” fuelled by gratitude.

Cardinal Tagle, recalling the teaching of Pope Francis in his Message for the day, explained that the experience of Jesus means that we cannot “keep the Lord to ourselves.” Our experience, instead, “is given to us as a gift to be shared with others.”

Our own faith grows deeper when it is shared, the Cardinal said, and becomes weak when we keep it to ourselves. We can see this in the witness of the many missionaries who were inspired by their experience of the Lord to go forth, precisely out of gratitude for the gift they have received.

“So we are reminded this Sunday, this World Mission Sunday, that spirituality, an encounter with the Lord, is always missionary,” Cardinal Tagle said. “And mission is always also spiritually grounded, in an experience that moves us out of ourselves to share Jesus with all the nations.”

Cardinal Tagle concluded his presentation with a quotation from Pope Francis’ message, in which the Holy Father describes the missionary vocation as a love story: “Jesus needs hearts capable of experiencing vocation as a true love story that urges them to go forth to the peripheries of our world as messengers and agents of compassion.”

Evangelisation: the vital statistics

During the press conference, the Holy See Press Office also presented statistics about the Church provided by the Fides News Service’s “Statistical Yearbook of the Church.” The statistics concern 2019, and include a comparison to the previous year.

The statistics show that the total number of Catholics throughout the world grew by 15.4 million people, with all continents showing growth except for Europe. The number of Catholics as a percentage of the total world population also rose slightly, to 17.74%.

Fides noted that the number of lay missionaries rose by over 34,000, swelling the ranks to more than 400,000 people. The total number of bishops in the world decreased by 13, for a total of 5,364; while the total number of priests in the world increased to 414,336. Once again, a significant decrease in the number of priests was noted in Europe (-2,608), America (-690), and Oceania (-69); while increases were seen in Africa (+1,649) and Asia (+1,989).

The statistics also provided data on the Church’s commitment education. Throughout the world the Church runs 72,667 nursery schools; 98,925 elementary school; and 49,552 secondary schools. There are approximately 2.4 million high school students and 3.8 million university students.

The report shares statistics concerning the important work of charitable institutions managed by the Church, including more than 5,200 hospitals and almost 15,000 dispensaries (with the largest number in Africa and the Americas), as well as numerous aid facilities for the care of persons with disabilities; elder-care homes; orphanages; and leper hospitals.

Finally, the Statistical Yearbook notes that there are a total of 1,117 ecclesiastical circumscriptions (dioceses and similar structures) dependent on the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. Most of these are located in Africa (517) and Asia (483), while smaller numbers are found America (71) and Oceania (46).

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