The ‘enrolment document’ for a mission without frontiers


Fr. Romeo Ballan


Jesus is on a journey: he resolutely takes the road for Jerusalem (Gospel of last Sunday). It is a missionary and communitarian journey, filled with teachings for the disciples. Just a little earlier Jesus had sent on the mission his Twelve (Lk 9,1-6). In a short time Luke (Gospel) tells of the mission of the 72 disciples: “The Lord appointed seventy-two other disciples and sent them out ahead of him in pairs, to all the towns and places he himself was to visit” (v. 1). The ‘enrolment document’ and the instructions for the two groups of missionaries – the 12 apostles and the 72 disciples – are practically the same. It surprises, therefore, this nearness and repetition, as if to underline the urgency of Mission.

Who were those 72 disciples? Here the number is a symbolic number that brings us to the totality of mission: 72 (or 70, according to the various texts) was the number of peoples of the earth, according to the ‘table of nations’ (Gn 10:1-32)); of the same number were the elderly of Israel. Besides, 12 is a multiple number of 12, so that it stands to indicate the totality of God’s people. Mission, then, is not simply the duty of some (namely the 12), but the work also of laypeople, that is, of all. In these numbers we see a message of universality of mission, in its origin, extension and recipients.

The instructions are manifold and equally important, in the style of the new mission that Jesus has launched. Since then, his instructions are forever valid, whether addressed to us or to future evangelisers.

- “He sent them out” (v. 1): the initiative of the call and of the sending belongs to God, the master of the harvest; the readiness to answer belongs to the disciples.

- “in pairs”: in small groups; it is necessary to be in communion with at least another person for a credible witness. This is how Peter and John went (Ac 3-4; 8:14); and also Barnabas and Saul who were sent by the community of Antioch (Ac 13:1-4). The proclamation of the Gospel is not left to solitary inventiveness, but it is the work of a community of believers: even if this is really small, as in the case of parents, the first educators in the faith of their children. The commitment to announce the Gospel together with others is not just a question of greater effectiveness, but the fact that, doing it together, it expresses communion and is a guarantee of the Lord’s presence: “For where two or three are present, I shall be there with them” (Mt 18:20).

- He sent them out “ahead of him”: they are bearers of someone else’s message; they are not the owners or the protagonists, they are the forerunners of Someone who is more important, who will come later, for whose coming they must prepare the minds and hearts of the recipients, who are all over the face of the earth.

- “The harvest is rich but few are the labourers” (v. 2) available. Today the situation is the same as it was yesterday. The challenges of mission are partially different according to times and places but, as a whole, they are equally demanding. Today, then, the same solutions Jesus was proposing in his time are still valid.

- “Ask … start off …” (v. 2-3): The solution that Jesus offers is twofold: “Ask … and start off …” (v. 2-3). To ask: so that we may live the mission in harmony with the Owner of the harvest, because mission is grace to be implored for ourselves and for others. And to start off: because for every vocation, common or personal, it is the Lord who loves, calls and sends off. “To ask and to start off”: two essential and non-negotiable moments of mission. (*)

- The message to proclaim is twofold: the gift of peace (the Shalom) in its most inclusive biblical sense, for individuals and families (v. 5); and the message that “the Kingdom of God is very near you” (v. 9.11). The Kingdom of God is being made and develops in history; the Kingdom is first of all a person: Jesus, the fullness of the Kingdom. Those who welcome Him find life, joy and mission: and announce Him to the entire human family.

- The style of mission of Christ and of his disciples is the opposite of the rulers of the day or of the multinational companies. Mission is not based on the resolve to rule, on arrogance and greed (things of wolves: v. 3), but on a proposal that is humble, respectful, free from human securities (purse, sandals, v. 4); it is attention for the weakest (the sick, v. 9), it is offered freely, without looking for a reward (v. 20).

- The Gospel of Jesus is a message of true life, because it invites to trust only in God, who is the father and Mother (1st Reading); and to trust in Christ crucified and risen (2nd Reading) for the salvation of all.

- The labourers are few, poor and feeble, facing a vast world; Paul finds strength only in the cross of Christ (v. 14)… They are signs and assurances that the Kingdom belongs to God, that Mission is His.

The Pope's Words

(*)  - “The Church today is in need of many apostles to evangelise the world of the new millennium and expects to find these evangelisers among you, young men and women” (Lima, Peru, 02.02.1985).

- “Get in the first line among those who are prepared to leave their own land for a mission without frontiers. Through you, Christ wishes to reach the whole of humanity”.

John Paul II
Message for the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, 1985

In the steps of Missionaries

- 4/7: St. Elizabeth of Portugal (1271-1336), a Franciscan tertiary who worked for peace and reconciliation in her own family and between Portugal and Spain.

- 6/7: Bl. Maria Teresa Ledóchowska (1863-1922), who worked for the liberation of African slaves, and founded the Missionary Sisters of St. Peter Claver.

- 6/7: Bl. Nazaria I. March Mesa (1889-1943), she migrated from Spain to Mexico, and was a missionary and foundress in Bolivia and Argentina.

- 7/7: Bl. Peter To Rot (Papua-New Guinea, 1912-1945), a married man and catechist, who was killed by the Japanese with a lethal injection, towards the end of the Second World War.

- 7/7: Bl. Maria Romero Meneses (1902-1977), a Salesian nun in Nicaragua, who spent her life in works of charity.

- 9/7: SS. Augustine Zhao Rong (+1815) and numerous companions, martyred in China between 1684 and 1930. With their lives and words they bore witness to the Gospel of Christ.

- 9/7: St. Paolina (Amabile Visintainer) of the Dying Heart of Jesus (1865-1942), an Italian who migrated to Brazil, where she worked in the care of the poor and the sick, and founded an Institute of nuns.

- 10/7: Bl. Emanuel Ruiz and his 10 companions (8 Franciscan missionaries and 3 blood brothers Maronite laypeople), martyred for their faith by Muslim people at Damascus (Syria) in 1860.


Compiled by Fr. Romeo Ballan, mcci - Combonian Missionary (Verona)

Translated by Fr. Henry Redaelli, mccj

Website:    “The Word for Mission”