Pope Francis spoke to African-based missionaries gathered at the Vatican on Friday, applauding their efforts to show compassion to the continent's most vulnerable.
The Society of African Missions was received by the pope at the Consistory Hall of the Vatican Apostolic Palace.
The order has been in Rome for its General Chapter, taking place at the Vatican from April 30 to May 24. The theme of this year's meeting is “A family faithful to its missionary charism in today's complex and changing context.”
The pope commended the order's dedication to its communal life, which he said leads to greater acts of charity toward the suffering victims on the “peripheries” of society, especially in the rural populations where the Christian faith is fragile.
“Faithful to your roots, you are called, as a family and since you are a family, to bear witness to the risen Christ through the love that unites you to one another, and with the radiant joy of an authentic fraternal life,” he said.
“Evangelization is always carried out by a community that acts '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,'” he further added, quoting Evangelii Gaudium.
The Society of African Missions was founded in 1856 by Servant of God, Melchior de Marion Brésillac and its first superior general, Fr. Augustin Planque. The order seeks to provide the people of Africa with spiritual and physical nourishment, including education, interreligious dialogue, and aid to displaced people.
The pope applauded the order for continuing to follow in the footsteps of its founders, with members even placing themselves in dangerous situations to advance the Gospel.
He pointed to the example of an Italian priest, a member of the order, who was kidnapped last September by unknown gunmen in Niger. The pope promised to pray for the priest, who is still believed to be in captivity.
“I would like to join in your prayer for your brother Fr. Pierluigi Maccalli, kidnapped for several months in Niger, and to assure the concern and attention of the Holy See regarding this worrying situation.”
He challenged the members to undergo greater conversion, immersing themselves into charitable works, reflections on scripture, and the sacraments. This dedication to the spiritual life will lead its members to find Christ in the work they do and further embrace their commitment to the vulnerable, he said.
“I also encourage you to persevere in your commitment, in close collaboration with members of other religions and institutions, at the service of children and the most fragile people, victims of war, disease, and human trafficking,” he said.
“Because the option for the least, for those that society rejects and sets aside, is a sign that concretely manifests the presence and solicitude of the merciful Christ.”
Concluding his address, Pope Francis invoked the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary that the group may witness the faith with a renewed zeal, listening to the Holy Spirit for opportunities to extend beyond the familiar and to new paths of evangelization.
“I encourage you to persevere, with renewed enthusiasm and dynamism, on the path travelled by the Society of African Missions and which has produced many fruits of conversion to Christ,” he said.
“With this hope, I entrust your missionary family to the intercession of the Virgin Mary, asking her to support your efforts.”