(OSV News) – Amid wars in the Middle East and Ukraine, this year’s World Mission Sunday is “even more important” than ever, said an executive from the U.S. offices of the Pontifical Mission Societies.

The universal Catholic Church marked the observance Oct. 22, and the collection taken up that day forms the primary financial support for the societies, which have a presence in some 1,100 dioceses in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Pacific Islands and parts of Europe.

Lay missionary Josseline Montes Jiménez, right, teaches religious acclamations to members of Los Monckis, a street gang, during a May 18, 2023, visit to their hangout in Monterrey, Mexico. (OSV News photo/Nuri Vallbona, Global Sisters Report)

Pope Francis’ theme for the 2023 World Mission Sunday was “Hearts on fire, feet on the move,” which recalls the encounter between two disciples and the risen Christ on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24:13-35).

In an Oct. 18 message he recorded for the Pontifical Mission Societies and posted by the societies on X (formerly Twitter), Pope Francis said that World Mission Sunday was about “worship and mission.”

Speaking in Spanish, Pope Francis urged the faithful to “recognize the Father and worship him in spirit and truth, and go out to announce that message. Not as one who proselytizes, but as one who shares a great grace.”

He described it as a mission “shared with brothers,” that says “this is what I feel, this is the grace I received, I pass it on to you, I give it to you.

“You can do this if you are capable of worshipping,” said Pope Francis.

With “the ongoing situation in the world,” World Mission Sunday “should actually open us to be even more generous,” Ines San Martin, vice president of marketing and communications for the societies’ U.S. office, told OSV News from Rome ahead of the observance. “Now more than ever, the church in the Holy Land needs us, the church in Ukraine needs us.”

“The oldest church has to help the youngest church currently suffering so much due to the devastation of war. We at TPMS strive to model peace by supporting all those suffering from conflicts around the world,” Msgr. Kieran Harrington, national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies, said.

The societies’ worldwide network, which operates at the service of the pope, consists of four organizations designated as pontifical by Pope Pius XI in 1922.

The Society for the Propagation of the Faith supports the evangelization efforts of the local church; the Missionary Childhood Association educates children about their part in the church’s missionary outreach; the Society of St. Peter the Apostle trains the next generation of missionary clergy and consecrated religious; and the Missionary Union of Priests and Religious focuses on forming clergy, religious and pastoral leaders more deeply in their role as evangelizers.

The collection taken up on World Mission Sunday forms the primary financial support for the Pontifical Mission Societies, with U.S. Catholics donating about $30 million in 2022.

The generosity of the nation’s Catholic faithful “cannot be underscored (enough),” said San Martin.

“World Mission Sunday is a concrete response to what is happening in the world,” she said.

Cardinal Christophe Pierre, papal nuncio to the U.S., noted in a reflection for the autumn 2023 issue of Mission magazine, published by the societies, that the collection makes it possible “to provide annual subsidies to missionary dioceses, and to directly support mission seminaries and religious formation houses, the education of children in mission schools, the building of chapels and churches, as well as sustaining homes for orphaned children, the elderly and the sick.”

The support is far more than financial, said San Martin.

“When we say that (the societies) feed the poor, we do mean hunger, but we also mean the hunger of the soul,” said San Martin. “And World Mission Sunday is a great response to give peace — not just material peace, but also spiritual peace to those in need.”

Having a missionary spirit “means we truly are open to our brothers and sisters, and (we are) sharing with others the joy that comes from having met Christ,” she said.

That joy can help to build peace among communities and nations, San Martin said.

“Do you really hate your brother when you see Christ in him?” she said.

Yet “the problem is that we have in many ways given up our missionary animations,” San Martin admitted. “It should be a desperate need (for us) to go out and spread the Gospel, to really answer the great command (of Christ) to make disciples of all nations.”

World Mission Sunday is an opportunity for Catholics to recommit themselves to fulfilling that task, she said, adding “it truly does start with knowing that Jesus died for us to save us.”

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis’ special envoy went to Washington to explore what the Vatican’s role could be in bringing about an end of hostilities in Ukraine, said the president of the U.S. bishops’ conference.

Discussing Cardinal Matteo Zuppi’s July 17-19 trip to the U.S. capital, Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of Military Services said the cardinal talked about humanitarian responses and avenues toward ending hostilities in Ukraine in his July 18 meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden.

Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, on a peace mission to Moscow on Pope Francis’ behalf, speaks with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow at the patriarch’s residence at the Danilov monastery in Moscow June 29, 2023. (CNS photo/Courtesy of the Russian Orthodox Church, Department for External Church Relations)

In an interview with Vatican News published July 20, Archbishop Broglio stressed that the purpose of Cardinal Zuppi’s meeting was “certainly not mediation, but an opportunity to see what the Holy See could do to help in an eventual end of hostilities in Ukraine,” yet he noted that “at the present time that seems somewhat unrealistic.”

“The church is concentrating on what we do best, which of course is humanitarian assistance, so that was the primary focus of Cardinal Zuppi’s intervention,” he said.

The cardinal and the president met for more than an hour at the White House, which Archbishop Broglio said “gives an indication of how much importance the president of the United States attributed to the gesture on the part of Pope Francis to send the cardinal to the United States.”

While in the United States, the cardinal also met with Archbishop Broglio, members of the U.S. Helsinki Commission and the Senate Prayer Breakfast.

Cardinal Zuppi, archbishop of Bologna and president of the Italian bishops’ conference, hand-delivered a letter from Pope Francis to President Biden during their meeting, the Vatican said in a July 19 statement.

A July 18 White House readout said the two “discussed the Holy See’s efforts providing humanitarian aid to address the widespread suffering caused by Russia’s continuing aggression in Ukraine, as well as the Vatican’s advocacy for the return of forcibly deported Ukrainian children.”

President Biden also “shared his wishes for Pope Francis’ continued ministry and global leadership and welcomed the recent nomination of a U.S. archbishop as cardinal,” the statement said, referring to Chicago-born Cardinal-designate Robert Prevost, prefect of the Dicastery for Bishops.

Archbishop Broglio told Vatican News that U.S. Catholics have shown a “tremendous” response to the war by sending humanitarian assistance to Ukraine and organizing prayer initiatives throughout the country.

He also said he was “concerned” about U.S. cluster bombs being sent to Ukraine which he said are “indiscriminate in the victims” they create, noting that “any escalation (of the war) is going to be dangerous.”

“There’s always a danger in war that the innocent will be injured or will be harmed or can even lose their lives (on) the peripheries of a military action, and that certainly should always be avoided,” he said.

Cluster bombs refer to munitions that release smaller explosives across a wide area while in the air, making them less precise in their targeting. The Pentagon confirmed that U.S.-provided cluster bombs arrived in Ukraine July 13 and they have since been used in combat.

Archbishop Broglio expressed his gratitude for Pope Francis doing everything he can to “echo the message of peace, which is really the message of our Savior.”

“I’m very grateful for this gesture,” he said.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis has asked Italian Cardinal Matteo Zuppi of Bologna to lead a mission “to help ease tensions in the conflict in Ukraine,” the Vatican press office said.

Pope Francis greets Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, president of the Italian bishops’ conference, during a meeting with representatives of most of Italy’s 227 dioceses and their programs to encourage the financial support of church activities during an audience in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican Feb. 16, 2023. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

The appointment of the cardinal, who is president of the Italian bishops’ conference and a longtime member of the Sant’Egidio Community, was confirmed May 20 by Matteo Bruni, director of the Vatican press office.

While Bruni said “the timing of such a mission and its modalities are currently being studied,” he said Pope Francis has never lost hope that some kind of dialogue could “initiate paths of peace.”

By referring to Cardinal Zuppi’s task as a “mission,” Bruni appeared to affirm that it was the same peace mission Pope Francis was referring to April 30 when he told reporters returning to Rome with him from Budapest, Hungary, that he had a plan underway.

Spokesmen for the Ukrainian and Russian governments denied knowing anything about the pope’s plan, although Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, insisted they had been informed.

Pope Francis met May 13 at the Vatican with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who tweeted that he asked the pope “to condemn Russian crimes in Ukraine. Because there can be no equality between the victim and the aggressor.” The Ukrainian leader also said he reiterated his insistence on a “just peace” that involves Russia leaving all the Ukrainian territory it occupies.

Il Sismografo, an Italian blog that closely follows the Vatican, had reported May 18 that Zelenskyy and President Vladimir Putin of Russia “each agreed to talks with the Holy Father’s two special envoys to discuss and achieve a truce.”

The blog had said there were “preliminary agreements” from the Vatican, Kyiv and Moscow that Cardinal Zuppi would go to Ukraine and Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, the Russian-speaking prefect of the Dicastery for Eastern Churches, would serve as papal envoy to Moscow. However, the archbishop’s office May 19 denied that he was involved.

Cardinal Zuppi, 67, has been involved with the lay Community of Sant’Egidio for almost 50 years. The community serves the poor, the elderly and has served as a mediator and hosted several formal peace talks, including the talks that in 1992 led to the end of the civil war in Mozambique. Cardinal Zuppi, a parish priest at the time, was involved in the negotiations.

At the Sant’Egidio Community’s annual religions for peace meeting in October, Russia’s war on Ukraine was the key focus.

Cardinal Zuppi told the gathering that “without dialogue only weapons remain.”

However, “dialogue by no means treats all motives as equal, it does not avoid the question of responsibility, and it never confuses the aggressor and the victim,” he said. Stopping the exponential spiral of war is possible only by recognizing the truth.