ECCLESIA IN AMERICA


CHAPTER VI
THE MISSION OF THE CHURCH IN AMERICA TODAY: THE NEW EVANGELIZATION
"As the Father has sent me, even so I send you" (Jn 20:21)

Sent by Christ

66. The Risen Christ, before his Ascension into heaven, sent the Apostles to preach the Gospel to the whole world (cf. Mk 16:15) and conferred on them the powers needed to carry out this mission. It is significant that, before giving his final missionary mandate, Jesus should speak of the universal power he had received from the Father (cf. Mt 28:18). In effect, Christ passed on to the Apostles the mission which he had received from the Father (cf. Jn 20:21), and in this way gave them a share in his powers.

Yet "the lay faithful too, precisely as members of the Church, have the vocation and mission of proclaiming the Gospel: they are prepared for this work by the sacraments of Christian initiation and by the gifts of the Holy Spirit". 239 They have been "in their own way made sharers in the priestly, prophetic and kingly functions of Christ". 240 Consequently, "the lay faithful, in virtue of their participation in the prophetic mission of Christ, are fully part of this work of the Church" 241 and so should feel called and encouraged to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom. Jesus' words: "You too, go into the vineyard" (Mt 20:4), 242 must be seen as addressed not only to the Apostles but to all who desire to be authentic disciples of the Lord.

The basic task for which Jesus sends out his disciples is the proclamation of the Good News, that is, evangelization (cf. Mk 16:15-18). Consequently, "to evangelize is the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her most profound identity". 243 As I have said on other occasions, the new and unique situation in which the world and the Church find themselves at the threshold of the Third Millennium, and the urgent needs which result, mean that the mission of evangelization today calls for a new program which can be defined overall as a "new evangelization". 244 As the Church's Supreme Pastor, I urgently desire to encourage all the members of God's People, particularly those living in America " where I first appealed for a commitment "new in its ardor, methods and expression" 245 " to take up this project and to cooperate in carrying it out. In accepting this mission, everyone should keep in mind that the vital core of the new evangelization must be a clear and unequivocal proclamation of the person of Jesus Christ, that is, the preaching of his name, his teaching, his life, his promises and the Kingdom which he has gained for us by his Paschal Mystery. 246

Jesus Christ, the "good news" and the prime evangelizer

67. Jesus Christ is the "good news" of salvation made known to people yesterday, today and for ever; but he is also the first and greatest evangelizer. 247 The Church must make the crucified and risen Christ the center of her pastoral concern and her evangelizing activity. "Everything planned in the Church must have Christ and his Gospel as its starting-point". 248 Therefore, "the Church in America must speak increasingly of Jesus Christ, the human face of God and the divine face of man. It is this proclamation that truly makes an impact on people, awakens and transforms hearts, in a word, converts. Christ must be proclaimed with joy and conviction, but above all by the witness of each one's life". 249

Individual Christians will be able to carry out their mission effectively to the extent that they make the life of the Son of God made man the perfect model for their work of spreading the Gospel. The simplicity of his manner and his choices must be normative for everyone in the work of evangelization. In this perspective, the poor will certainly be considered among the first to be evangelized, following the example of Christ, who said of himself: "The Spirit of the Lord . . . has anointed me to preach good news to the poor" (Lk 4:18). 250

As I have already noted, love for the poor must be preferential, but not exclusive. The Synod Fathers observed that it was in part because of an approach to the pastoral care of the poor marked by a certain exclusiveness that the pastoral care for the leading sectors of society has been neglected and many people have thus been estranged from the Church. 251 The damage done by the spread of secularism in these sectors " political or economic, union-related, military, social or cultural " shows how urgent it is that they be evangelized, with the encouragement and guidance of the Church's Pastors, who are called by God to care for everyone. They will be able to count on the help of those who " fortunately still numerous " have remained faithful to Christian values. In this regard the Synod Fathers have recognized "the commitment of many leaders to building a just and fraternal society". 252 With their support, Pastors will face the not easy task of evangelizing these sectors of society. With renewed fervor and updated methods, they will announce Christ to leaders, men and women alike, insisting especially on the formation of consciences on the basis of the Church's social doctrine. This formation will act as the best antidote to the not infrequent cases of inconsistency and even corruption marking socio-political structures. Conversely, if this evangelization of the leadership sector is neglected, it should not come as a surprise that many who are a part of it will be guided by criteria alien to the Gospel and at times openly contrary to it.

The encounter with Christ spurs evangelization

68. An encounter with the Lord brings about a profound transformation in all who do not close themselves off from him. The first impulse coming from this transformation is to communicate to others the richness discovered in the experience of the encounter. This does not mean simply teaching what we have come to know but also, like the Samaritan woman, enabling others to encounter Jesus personally: "Come and see" (Jn 4:29). The result will be the same as that which took place in the heart of the Samaritans, who said to the woman: "It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world" (Jn 4:42). The Church, which draws her life from the permanent and mysterious presence of her Risen Lord, has as the core of her mission a duty "to lead all people to encounter Christ". 253

She is called to proclaim that Christ is indeed the Living One, the Son of God, who became man, died and rose again. He alone is the Savior of every person and of the whole person; as the Lord of history, he is constantly at work in the Church and in the world through his Spirit, until the end of time. This presence of the Risen One in the Church makes it possible for us to encounter him, thanks to the invisible working of his life-giving Spirit. This encounter takes place in the faith received from and lived in the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ. The encounter with Christ then has an essentially ecclesial dimension, and it leads to a life commitment. Indeed, "to encounter the living Christ means to accept the love by which he loves us first, to choose him, to adhere freely to his person and his plan, which consists in proclaiming and in bringing about the Kingdom of God". 254

The calling gives rise to a search for Jesus: ""Rabbi' (which means Teacher), "where are you staying'. He said to them: "Come and see'. They came and saw where he was staying; and they stayed that day with him" (Jn 1:38-39). This "staying" is not limited to the day of one's call, but rather extends to the whole of life. To follow Jesus involves living as he lived, accepting his message, adopting his way of thinking, embracing his destiny and sharing his project, which is the plan of the Father: it involves inviting everyone to communion with the Trinity and to communion among ourselves in a just and fraternal society". 255 The burning desire to invite others to encounter the One whom we have encountered is the start of the evangelizing mission to which the whole Church is called. This mission has become particularly urgent today in America, five hundred years after the first evangelization, as we prepare to commemorate with gratitude the two thousandth anniversary of the coming of the only-begotten Son of God into the world.

The importance of catechesis

69. The new evangelization in which the whole continent is engaged means that faith cannot be taken for granted, but must be explicitly proposed in all its breadth and richness. This is the principal objective of catechesis, which, by its very nature, is an essential aspect of the new evangelization. "Catechesis is a process of formation in faith, hope and charity; it shapes the mind and touches the heart, leading the person to embrace Christ fully and completely. It introduces the believer more fully into the experience of the Christian life, which involves the liturgical celebration of the mystery of the Redemption and the Christian service of others". 256

Well realizing the need for a complete catechesis, I made my own the proposal of the Fathers of the 1985 Extraordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops to compose "a catechism or compendium of all Catholic doctrine regarding both faith and morals", which could serve as "a point of reference for the catechisms or compendia that are prepared in the various regions". 257 This proposal was implemented with the publication of the typical edition of the Catechismus Catholicae Ecclesiae. 258 In addition to the text of the Catechism, and for a better utilization of its contents, I intended that a General Directory for Catechesis should also be compiled and published. 259 I heartily recommend the use of these two resources, of universal value, to everyone involved in catechesis in America. It is to be hoped that both documents will be employed "in the preparation and the evaluation of all parochial and diocesan programs of catechesis, bearing in mind that the religious situation of young people and adults calls for a catechesis which is more kerygmatic and more organic in its presentation of the contents of the faith". 260

It is necessary to acknowledge and encourage the outstanding work done by so many catechists throughout America as authentic messengers of the kingdom: "Their faith and their witness of life are an integral part of catechesis". 261 I wish all the more to encourage the faithful to take up, with commitment and love of the Lord, this service to the Church, generously offering their time and their talents. Bishops for their part should be concerned that catechists receive appropriate formation to enable them to carry out this task, so indispensable in the life of the Church.

In catechesis it will be useful to keep in mind, especially on a continent like America where the social question takes on such importance, that "growth in the understanding of the faith and its practical expression in social life are intimately connected. Efforts made to favor an encounter with Christ cannot fail to have a positive repercussion in the promotion of the common good in a just society". 262

The evangelization of culture

70. My Predecessor Paul VI widely remarked that "the split between the Gospel and culture is undoubtedly the drama of our time". 263 Hence the Synod Fathers rightly felt that "the new evangelization calls for a clearly conceived, serious and well organized effort to evangelize culture". 264 The Son of God, by taking upon himself our human nature, became incarnate within a particular people, even though his redemptive death brought salvation to all people, of every culture, race and condition. The gift of his Spirit and his love are meant for each and every people and culture, in order to bring them all into unity after the example of the perfect unity existing in the Triune God. For this to happen, it is necessary to inculturate preaching in such a way that the Gospel is proclaimed in the language and in the culture of its hearers. 265 At the same time, however, it must not be forgotten that the Paschal Mystery of Christ, the supreme manifestation of the infinite God within the finitude of history, is the only valid point of reference for all of humanity on its pilgrimage in search of authentic unity and true peace.

In America, the mestiza face of the Virgin of Guadalupe was from the start a symbol of the inculturation of the Gospel, of which she has been the lodestar and the guide. Through her powerful intercession, the Gospel will penetrate the hearts of the men and women of America and permeate their cultures, transforming them from within. 266

Evangelizing centers of education

71. Education can play an outstanding role in promoting the inculturation of the Gospel. Nonetheless, Catholic centers of education, and those which, although non-denominational, are clearly inspired by Catholic principles, will be able to engage in authentic evangelization only if at all levels " including that of the university " they clearly preserve their Catholic orientation. The content of the education they impart should make constant reference to Jesus Christ and his message as the Church presents it in her dogmatic and moral teaching. Only in this way will they train truly Christian leaders in the different spheres of human activity, and in society, especially in politics, economics, science, art and philosophical reflection. 267 Hence, "it is essential that the Catholic university be truly both things at once: a university and Catholic. Its Catholic character is an essential element of the university as an institution, and therefore does not depend simply on the decision of the individuals who govern the university at any particular time". 268 Pastoral work in Catholic universities will therefore be given special attention: it must encourage a commitment to the apostolate on the part of the students themselves, so that they can become the evangelizers of the university world. 269 In addition, "cooperation between Catholic universities throughout America needs to be encouraged, for their mutual enrichment"; 270 this will help put into effect, at the university level too, the principle of solidarity and interchange between the peoples of the whole continent.

Something similar must also be said about Catholic schools, particularly with regard to secondary education: "A special effort should be made to strengthen the Catholic identity of schools, whose specific character is based on an educational vision having its origin in the person of Christ and its roots in the teachings of the Gospel. Catholic schools must seek not only to impart a quality education from the technical and professional standpoint, but also and above all provide for the integral formation of the human person. 271 Given the importance of the work done by Catholic educators, I join the Synod Fathers in gratefully encouraging all those devoted to teaching in Catholic schools " priests, consecrated men and women and committed lay people " "to persevere in their most important mission". 272 The influence of these educational centers should extend to all sectors of society, without distinction or exclusion. It is essential that every possible effort be made to ensure that Catholic schools, despite financial difficulties, continue to provide "a Catholic education to the poor and the marginalized in society". 273 It will never be possible to free the needy from their poverty unless they are first freed from the impoverishment arising from the lack of adequate education.

In the overall work of the new evangelization, the educational sector occupies a place of honor. For this reason, the activity of all Catholic teachers, including those working in non-denominational schools, should be encouraged. I also make an urgent appeal to men and women religious not to abandon this field which is so important for the new evangelization. 274

As a fruit and an expression of the communion existing between all the particular Churches of America, certainly strengthened by the spiritual experience of the Synodal Assembly, an effort must be made to promote gatherings of Catholic educators at the national and continental levels, in an attempt to coordinate and expand the educational apostolate in every context. 275

To carry out these tasks, the Church in America requires a degree of freedom in the field of education; this is not to be seen as a privilege but as a right, in virtue of the evangelizing mission entrusted to the Church by the Lord. Furthermore, parents have a fundamental and primary right to make decisions about the education of their children; consequently, Catholic parents must be able to choose an education in harmony with their religious convictions. The function of the State in this area is subsidiary; the State has the duty "to ensure that education is available to all and to respect and defend freedom of instruction. A State monopoly in this area must be condemned as a form of totalitarianism which violates the fundamental rights which it ought to defend, especially the right of parents to provide religious education for their children. The family is the place where the education of the person primarily takes place". 276

Evangelization through the media

72. For the new evangelization to be effective, it is essential to have a deep understanding of the culture of our time in which the social communications media are most influential. Therefore, knowledge and use of the media, whether the more traditional forms or those which technology has produced in recent times, is indispensable. Contemporary reality demands a capacity to learn the language, nature and characteristics of mass media. Using the media correctly and competently can lead to a genuine inculturation of the Gospel. At the same time, the media also help to shape the culture and mentality of people today, which is why there must be special pastoral activity aimed at those working in the media. 277

On this point, the Synod Fathers suggested a range of concrete initiatives to make the Gospel effectively present in the world of social communications: the training of pastoral workers for this task; the support of high-quality production centers; the careful and effective use of satellite and other new technologies; teaching the faithful to be "critical" in their use of the media; joining forces in order to acquire and manage new transmitters and TV and radio networks, as well as coordinating those already in operation. Catholic publications also deserve support and need to develop the excellence sought by all.

Business people should be encouraged to provide economic support for quality products promoting human and Christian values. 278 But a program as vast as this is far beyond the resources of the individual particular Churches of the American continent. Therefore, the Synod Fathers proposed an inter-American coordination of current activities in the field of social communications, aimed at fostering mutual awareness and coordination of current projects in the field. 279 The challenge of the sects

73. The proselytizing activity of the sects and new religious groups in many parts of America is a grave hindrance to the work of evangelization. The word "proselytism" has a negative meaning when it indicates a way of winning followers which does not respect the freedom of those to whom a specific kind of religious propaganda is directed. 280 The Catholic Church in America is critical of proselytism by the sects and, for this reason, rejects methods of this kind in her own evangelizing work. Presenting the Gospel of Christ in its entirety, the work of evangelization must respect the inner sanctuary of every individual's conscience, where the decisive and absolutely personal dialogue between grace and human freedom unfolds.

This must be borne in mind especially with regard to the sisters and brothers of the Churches and Ecclesial Communities separated from the Catholic Church, long-established in some regions. The bonds of true though imperfect communion which, according to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, 281 these communities already have with the Catholic Church must enlighten the attitudes of the Church and her members towards them. 282 These attitudes, however, must not be such that they weaken the firm conviction that only in the Catholic Church is found the fullness of the means of salvation established by Jesus Christ. 283

The success of proselytism by sects and new religious groups in America cannot be ignored. It demands of the Church on the continent a thorough study, to be carried out in each nation and at the international level, to ascertain why many Catholics leave the Church. Pastoral policies will have to be revised, so that each particular Church can offer the faithful more personalized religious care, strengthen the structures of communion and mission, make the most of the evangelizing possibilities of a purified popular religiosity, and thus give new life to every Catholic's faith in Jesus Christ, through prayer and meditation upon the word of God, suitably explained. 284 No one can deny the urgency of prompt evangelizing efforts aimed at those segments of the People of God most exposed to proselytism by the sects: immigrants, neighborhoods on the outskirts of the cities or rural towns with no regular presence of a priest and therefore marked by widespread religious ignorance, families of simple people suffering from material difficulties of various kinds. From this point of view too, base-communities, movements, family groups and other forms of association in which it is easier to build interpersonal bonds of mutual support, both spiritual and economic, have shown themselves to be very helpful.

Moreover, as some of the Synod Fathers indicated, it is necessary to ask whether a pastoral strategy directed almost exclusively to meeting people's material needs has not in the end left their hunger for God unsatisfied, making them vulnerable to anything which claims to be of spiritual benefit. Hence, "it is indispensable that all remain united to Christ by means of a joyful and transforming kerygma, especially in liturgical preaching". 285 A Church which fervently lives the spiritual and contemplative dimension, and which gives herself generously to the service of charity, will be an ever more eloquent witness to God for men and women searching for meaning in their lives. 286 To this end, it is more necessary than ever for all the faithful to move from a faith of habit, sustained perhaps by social context alone, to a faith which is conscious and personally lived. The renewal of faith will always be the best way to lead others to the Truth that is Christ.

For the response to the challenge of the sects to be effective, there is a need for an appropriate coordination of initiatives among dioceses, aimed at bringing about a more effective cooperation through shared projects which will produce better results. 287

The mission ad gentes

74. Jesus Christ entrusted to his Church the mission of evangelizing all nations: "Go therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Mt 28:19-20). There must always be a dynamic awareness of the universality of the evangelizing mission which the Church has received, as there has been consistently throughout the history of the pilgrim People of God in America. Evangelization is most urgent among those on this continent who do not yet know the name of Jesus, the only name given to men and women that they may be saved (cf. Acts 4:12). Unfortunately, the name of Jesus is unknown to a vast part of humanity and in many sectors of American society. It is enough to think of the indigenous peoples not yet Christianized or of the presence of non-Christian religions such as Islam, Buddhism or Hinduism, especially among immigrants from Asia.

This obliges the Church in America to be involved in the mission ad gentes. 288 The program of a new evangelization on the American continent, to which many pastoral projects are directed, cannot be restricted to revitalizing the faith of regular believers, but must strive as well to proclaim Christ where he is not known.

Likewise, the particular Churches in America are called to extend their missionary efforts beyond the bounds of the continent. They cannot keep for themselves the immense riches of their Christian heritage. They must take this heritage to the whole world and share it with those who do not yet know it. Here it is a question of many millions of men and women who, without faith, suffer the most serious kind of poverty. Faced with this poverty, it would be a mistake not to encourage an evangelizing effort beyond the continent with the excuse that there is still much to do in America or to wait until the Church in America reaches the point, basically utopian, of full maturity.

With the hope that the American continent, in accordance with its Christian vitality, will play its part in the great task of the mission ad gentes, I make my own the practical proposals presented by the Synod Fathers: "to maintain a greater cooperation between sister Churches; to send missionaries (priests, religious and lay faithful) within the continent and abroad; to strengthen or create missionary institutes; to encourage the missionary dimension of consecrated and contemplative life; to give greater impetus to mission promotion, training and organization". 289 I am sure that the pastoral zeal of the Bishops and of the sons and daughters of the Church throughout America will devise concrete plans, also at the international level, to implement with great dynamism and creativity these missionary proposals. CONCLUSION

With hope and gratitude

75. "I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20). Trusting in this promise of the Lord, the pilgrim Church in America prepares enthusiastically to meet the challenges of today's world and those that will come in the future. In the Gospel, the Good News of the Resurrection of the Lord is accompanied by the invitation to fear not (cf. Mt 28:5, 10). The Church in America wishes to walk in hope, as the Synod Fathers declared: "With serene trust in the Lord of history, the Church prepares to cross the threshold of the Third Millennium freed from prejudice, hesitation, selfishness, fear or doubt, and convinced of the fundamental and primary service which she must provide as a testimony to her fidelity to God and to the men and women of the continent". 290

Furthermore, the Church in America feels especially impelled to walk in faith, responding with gratitude to the love of Jesus, "the merciful love of God made flesh (cf. Jn 3:16)". 291 The celebration of the beginning of the Third Christian Millennium can be the right moment for the People of God in America to renew "their thanks for the great gift of faith", 292 which they first received five centuries ago. The year 1492, beyond its historical and political meaning, was the great year of grace when America welcomed the faith: a faith which proclaims the supreme gift of the Incarnation of the Son of God two thousand years ago, and which we will solemnly commemorate in the Great Jubilee now so close.

This twofold sense of hope and gratitude must accompany every pastoral action of the Church on the continent, permeating with the spirit of the Jubilee the various initiatives in the dioceses, parishes, religious communities, ecclesial movements, and the activities which will be organized at both regional and continental levels. 293

Prayer to Jesus Christ for the families of America

76. I therefore invite all the Catholics of America to take an active part in the evangelizing initiatives which the Holy Spirit is stirring in every part of this immense continent, so full of resources and hopes for the future. In a special way, I invite Catholic families to be "domestic Churches", 294 in which the Christian faith is lived and passed on to the young as a treasure, and where all pray together. If they live up to the ideal which God places before them, Catholic homes will be true centers of evangelization.

In concluding this Apostolic Exhortation, in which I have taken up the proposals of the Synod Fathers, I gladly welcome their suggestion to compose a prayer for the families of America. 295 I invite individuals, communities and ecclesial groups, wherever two or more gather in the Lord's name, to strengthen through prayer the spiritual bond between all American Catholics. Let everyone join in the prayer of the Successor of Peter, invoking Christ who is "the way of conversion, communion and solidarity in America":

We thank you, Lord Jesus, because the Gospel of the Father's love, with which you came to save the world, has been proclaimed far and wide in America as a gift of the Holy Spirit that fills us with gladness.

We thank you for the gift of your Life, which you have given us by loving us to the end: your Life makes us children of God, brothers and sisters to each other. Increase, O Lord, our faith and our love for you, present in all the tabernacles of the continent.

Grant us to be faithful witnesses to your Resurrection for the younger generation of Americans, so that, in knowing you, they may follow you and find in you their peace and joy. Only then will they know that they are brothers and sisters of all God's children scattered throughout the world.

You who, in becoming man, chose to belong to a human family, teach families the virtues which filled with light the family home of Nazareth. May families always be united, as you and the Father are one, and may they be living witnesses to love, justice and solidarity; make them schools of respect, forgiveness and mutual help, so that the world may believe; help them to be the source of vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life, and all the other forms of firm Christian commitment. Protect your Church and the Successor of Peter, to whom you, Good Shepherd, have entrusted the task of feeding your flock. Grant that the Church in America may flourish and grow richer in the fruits of holiness.

Teach us to love your Mother, Mary, as you loved her. Give us strength to proclaim your word with courage in the work of the new evangelization, so that the world may know new hope.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother of America, pray for us!

Given at Mexico City, January 22, in the year 1999, the twenty-first of my Pontificate.

 

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