Now John in his prison had heard what Christ was doing and he sent his disciples to ask him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or must we wait for someone else?’ Jesus answered: ‘Go back and tell John what you hear and see: the blind see again, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, the Good News is proclaimed to the poor, and happy is the one who does not lose faith in me.’ Matthew 11:2-5
This characteristic is to be kept in mind in this work of evangelization which the Congregation proposes to carry out: clear and expressed preference for the apostolate among the poor, since their evangelization is the sign that the Kingdom of God is present on earth. Constitutions, 12, 1
The missionary vocation of the Congregation does not allow just any kind of apostolic work without discrimination. The purpose of its existence in the Church is explicitly to evangelize the poor; this work ought to be preferred over any other task carried out by its ministers. Both the origins and the later development of the Congregation clearly confirm and express its option for the poor.
1. The Specialty of the Congregation of the Mission Is, like Jesus Christ, to Dedicate Itself to the Poor
The Church has always felt the need for, and encouraged, the evangelization of the poor:
It is true—there is not in the Church of God a single Company which has the poor for its portion, and which gives itself so completely to the poor as never to preach in large cities. This is what our missionaries profess to do; it is their special characteristic: to be, like Jesus Christ, devoted to the poor. Our vocation, then, is a continuation of his, or, at least, it is in harmony with his in its circumstances1.
2. The Spirit Guides the Church So That We May Work for the Poor
The Church in general, and the Religious Congregations and Institutes of Apostolic Life in particular, have frequently been accused of serving the rich more than the poor. This is an old charge. Some people have used this criticism of the Church to advance their own causes against the Church, separating themselves from her and denying the Church’s holiness. Saint Vincent used the example of the conversion of a heretic to solidify the missionaries in their special work:
What happiness for us as missionaries, to be able to verify the guidance of the Holy Spirit in our work of instructing and sanctifying the poor2.
The Founder also experienced great consolation when he discovered, through correspondence and other means, the entire Congregation’s dedication to the poor. To a missionary he wrote:
We are inspired when we understand that it is the Lord who wishes the Company to dedicate itself to the service and the care of the poorest3.
3. Priests Should Hand Themselves over to the Poor in a Special Way
In recent times, the Church has not ceased to manifest its great concern for the poor, those whom it considers the “chosen ones” of the body of Christ. At the same time, it carefully tries to sensitize religious congregations and the secular clergy to the painful drama of those who do not have the wherewithal to live. The Church says in this respect:
The Church embraces with love all those who are afflicted with human problems. Indeed, she recognizes in the poor and the suffering the likeness of her poor and suffering Founder. She does all she can to relieve their need and in them she strives to serve Christ4.
Addressing itself specifically to priests, Vatican II stated:
Although the priest has obligations toward all people, the poor and the lowly are entrusted to him in a special way. The Lord himself showed that he was united to them, and the fact that the Gospel was preached to them is mentioned as a sign of Messianic activity (Luke 4:18)5.
- Given a choice between different ministries, would I choose to work with the most poor?
- How many of those who see my work would be able to conclude that the Holy Spirit directs the Church?
- Am I happy to hear that missionaries opt for the poor in a preferential way?
Lord our God, you have given birth to the Congregation for the evangelization of the poor. For the good of the Church and the good of all your people, never let this Company depart from its vocation. We pray in your name Lord Jesus, who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.