Pope Francis warned church organizations and institutions against “temptations and maladies” that make them forget about the Church’s mission for the poor.
In a message to Pontifical Mission Societies, the pontiff said those involved with the church’s missionary activity should be wary and not justify their lack of concern for the poor.
“For the Church, a preference for the poor is not optional,” said Pope Francis.
In a 10-page message, the pontiff enumerated “pitfalls” that should be avoided by those working with the Church, including “self-absorption,” “control anxiety,” “elitism,” “isolation from the people,” “abstraction,” and “functionalism.”
The pope noted that church organizations and agencies “sometimes end up … devoting energy and attention primarily to promoting themselves and to advertising their own initiatives.”
“Some seem to be dominated by an obsession to continually redefine their own importance and their own bailiwicks within the Church, under the guise of relaunching their specific mission,” he said.
Pope Francis also warned that some church institutions and agencies “presume to exercise supremacy and control over the very communities they are meant to serve.”
“This attitude is almost always accompanied by the claim that they are exercising the role of ‘overseers’ called to determine the legitimacy of other groups,” he said.
“They end up acting as if the Church was a product of our own calculations, plans, agreements and decisions,” said the pontiff.
He also warned against an “elitist feeling … among those who are part of groups and organized institutions in the Church” whose main goal at times is to promote their own “oligarchic privileges.”
The pope said that the “elitist temptation” is accompanied by “a sentiment of superiority and of intolerance towards the rest of the baptized.”
He said that once they become “self-absorbed,” institutions and entities connected to the Church lose contact with reality and fall prey to abstraction.
“They needlessly multiply instances of strategic planning in order to produce projects and guidelines that serve only as means of self-promotion for those who come up with them,” said Pope Francis.
He said that “self-absorbed and elitist organizations” often end up imitating secular models of worldly efficiency, like those rooted in competition, whether economic or social.”
Since his election in 2013, Pope Francis has repeatedly warned that a “Church afraid of entrusting herself to the grace of Christ and focusing on the efficiency of its bureaucracy is already dead.”
The pope started his message by reflecting on the celebration of the feast of the Ascension, which he said defined the Church’s mission that “is the work of the Holy Spirit and not the consequence of our ideas and projects.”
“This is the feature that makes missionary activity bear fruit and preserves it from the presumption of self-sufficiency, much less the temptation to commandeer Christ’s flesh, ascended to heaven, for narrowly ‘clerical’ projects and aims,” he said.
Recalling his apostolic exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel,” the pope reiterated several “features of mission” that center on faith as a gift from God and not a result of proselytism.
“If one follows Jesus, happy to be attracted by him, others will take notice,” he said.
“The joy that radiates from those attracted by Christ and by his Spirit is what can make any missionary initiative fruitful,” he said.
He urged mission societies to be always grateful and humble and to focus on recognizing “the real condition of real people, with their own limits, sins and frailties.”
Pope Francis said the Church “is not a customs office and anyone who participates in the mission of the Church is called not to impose unnecessary burdens on people already worn out or to require demanding programs of formation in order to enjoy what the Lord gives easily, or to erect obstacles to the will of Jesus, who prays for each of us and wants to heal and save everyone.”
He said the Pontifical Mission Societies should let their work be illuminated by the “spark of true love for the Church as a reflection of love for Christ.”
“Move forward with enthusiasm!” he said.
“There is much to do on the journey that awaits you. If there are changes to make in procedures, it is good that these point toward unburdening rather than increasing the load, aiming at operational flexibility and not producing more rigid bureaucracies that involve the threat of introversion,” said the pontiff.
The Pontifical Mission Societies, which are under the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, include the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, the Missionary Childhood Association, the Society of St. Peter Apostle, and the Missionary Union of Priests and Religious.
The societies help poor churches and communities around the world and support more than 9,000 health clinics, 10,000 orphanages, 1,200 schools, 80,000 seminarians and 9,000 religious sisters and brothers in more than 1,150 mission dioceses — mostly in Africa and Asia.