VATICAN CITY (CNS) – The pontifical mission societies are called to inspire all Catholics to share the Gospel, a work that requires funding but can never be about money, Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis receives a gift as he greets national directors of the pontifical mission societies in the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican June 3, 2023. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

“Please do not reduce the societies to money,” the pope told the Vatican-based officers and national directors of the societies June 3 during their annual meeting.

The four societies, which operate under and cooperate with the Dicastery for Evangelization, are the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, Society of St. Peter Apostle, Holy Childhood Association and the Missionary Union of Priests and Religious.

The societies rely on donations to fund their work in places where the Gospel has yet to be proclaimed or where the church is still being established — areas traditionally called “mission territories.”

“They certainly need money, which is a means, but do not reduce them to that, for they are bigger than money,” Pope Francis told the officers and directors. “Money is what we need to move forward. Yet if spirituality is missing and they become merely a business, then immediately corruption arises.”

“Indeed, even in these days, we have seen newspaper reports of alleged corruption having occurred in the name of the church’s missionary work,” the pope said without providing more details.

Earlier in the week, the Associated Press ran a story claiming the Vatican was investigating transfers made between funds related to the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States, although the story said the transfers “appear to be fully legal.”

The societies promote missionary awareness and offer direct aid to dioceses and religious orders and help fund the education of priests, religious and lay workers for the church in mission lands.

Pope Francis insisted the societies “are not merely an agency for the distribution of funds for those in need of help, but a reality called to support the mission of evangelization in the church, both universal and local and to foster the missionary spirit among the people of God.”

The directors and staff of the societies, he said, must be bold and creative, relying on the help of the Holy Spirit to educate all Catholics about their role in evangelization.

“I invite you to promote the missionary responsibility of the baptized, supporting the capillary network of national offices, both in newly evangelized countries and those of ancient Christian tradition, who perhaps need another first evangelization,” the pope said, adding that some traditionally Christian countries are experiencing “a serious crisis of faith and are in need of renewed evangelization and pastoral conversion.”

Reminding his audience that June is a month dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the pope asked them to remember why sharing the Gospel is so important.

“As we contemplate the heart of Christ, we discover the greatness of God’s plan for humanity,” he said. “Indeed, the Father ‘so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.'”

“In the pierced heart of the Crucified we can discover the infinite measure of the Father’s love: he loves us with eternal love; he calls us to be his sons and daughters and to share in the joy that comes from him,” the pope said.

In Jesus’ “compassion for those who are wounded, in his concern when faced with suffering, in the mercy with which he anoints sinners, in his sacrifice for the sins of the world,” Pope Francis said, Jesus “has shown us the heart of God.”

And, like him, the pope said, Christians must reach out to share the good news that God is “a father who always awaits us, sees us from afar, comes toward us with open arms; a father who turns no one away, but welcomes all; who excludes no one, but calls everyone.”