Pope Francis: Without ‘Apostolic Zeal,’ Church is Just Another NGO

AP Images/Alessandra Tarantino

In his homily at Mass Thursday morning, Pope Francis said that the Church has to keep going back to the heart of its mission of evangelizing and comforting those who suffer, or it runs the risk of becoming just a philanthropic organization or an NGO.

Organization and good planning help, said the Pope, but this is not what the Church is really about. “When we forget our mission, forget poverty, forget apostolic zeal and we trust in these means, the Church slowly slides into an NGO and becomes just a nice institution: powerful, but not evangelical, because it lacks its spirit, its poverty, its healing strength,” he said.

Reflecting on the gospel passage of the day, which refers to Jesus sending out His disciples two by two, without any material assistance, the Pope said the Church of today must follow the same style.

The Pope expressed his admiration that Jesus sent His disciples out with nothing, ordering them to bring “no bread, no bag, and no money in their belts.” Francis said that the good news “is to be announced in poverty” because “salvation is not a theology of prosperity.”

The mission of the Church is to heal and to care, Francis said, returning to the image of the Church as a field hospital. “There are so many injured people, so many wounded!” he said.

“This is the mission of the Church: to heal the wounds of the heart, to open doors, to free, to proclaim that God is good, that God forgives all, that God is Father, that God is tender, that God is always waiting,” he said.

The Pope also said Christians should not be looking for a pat on the back or recompense for what they do for others. In the Gospel passage, the disciples are described as returning “happy” from their work. But, he said, Jesus merely told them, “When you have done all that you had to do, say to yourself: ‘We are useless servants.'”

“What would be the most beautiful praise for an apostle?” Francis asked. “He was a worker of the Kingdom, a worker of the Kingdom. This is the greatest praise, because it follows the way of Jesus: to heal, to watch over others, to proclaim the good news,” he said.

Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.