NOW IS THE TIME TO TAKE A GREAT STEP FORWARD IN THE WORK OF EVANGELIZATION
John Paul II
Audience with Bishops from Columbia on their "ad limina" visit on 15 June 1996.

Dear Brothers,

1. I receive you today with great joy Pastors of the Archdiocese of Cali and of the Vicariates and Prefectures Apostolic of Colombia, at this last meeting of your <ad limina> visit, during which you have renewed your communion and that of your ecclesial communities with the Successor of Peter, strengthening the "bond of unity, charity and peace. (<Lumen gentium>, n. 22). In this spirit I am grateful for the deferential words which Bishop Hector Julio Lopez Hurtado, Vicar Apostolic of Ariari, has addressed to me on behalf of you all.

I am well aware that you encounter many difficulties in the exercise of your pastoral ministry in the present history of Colombian society. This is why I would like to express my appreciation of your selfless work, as I encourage you to persevere in your commitment to be heralds, apostles and teachers of the Gospel (cf. 2 Tm 1:11). I am likewise grateful to the priests, deacons, religious and lay communities who effectively work with you in the Church's missionary activity.

Christ's name must resound throughout Colombia

2. The mission you have received and which, as an expression of your pastoral charity, you must carry out with courage and generosity, is to proclaim Christ, Redeemer of man. You must proclaim him in the concrete social and cultural situation of your communities and peoples, and also to all the nations of the earth, showing special pastoral concern for "those parts of the world in which the word of God has not yet been proclaimed or in which, especially on account of the scarcity of priests, the faithful are in danger of falling away from the obligations of the Christian life or even of losing the faith itself." (<Christus Dominus>, n. 6)

In fact, God "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tm 2:4), and this is why he accomplished the work of universal redemption in Christ. The first to benefit from this salvation is the Church, called to profess before all peoples that God constituted Christ as the only saviour and mediator, and that she herself was established as the universal sacrament of salvation (cf. <Lumen gentium>, n. 48). Missionary activity is therefore a priority task in the Church one that is essential and never completed, since without it the Church would be deprived of her fundamental meaning and exemplary role (cf. <Redemptoris missio>, nn. 33-34).

3. Both the mission <ad gentes> and the new evangelization to which the whole Church is summoned spring from the certainty that in Christ there are "unsearchable riches" (Eph 3:8), which do not suppress the culture of any age and which men can always turn to for spiritual enrichment. These riches are, first of all, Christ himself, his person, for he himself is our salvation (cf. <Opening Address at the Fourth General Conference of the Latin American Bishops>, Santo Domingo, 12 October 1992, n. 6; <L'Osservatore Romano> English edition, 21 October 1992, p. 7). He is the living image of the Father (cf. Col 1:15), the eternal Truth, infinite Love, and supreme Good; and at the same time, he is the living image of man, of his salvation and of his true greatness, despite the adversities which befall humanity. In Christ, man fully discovers his dignity as a person called to integral development in truth and open to transcendence.

Therefore it is urgent for the name of Jesus Christ, sent by the Father, to resound with renewed force in Colombia and to the ends of the earth, and for the salvation which he achieved through the sacrifice of the Cross and the triumph of the Resurrection to be proclaimed. Today, on the threshold of the third Christian millennium, it is necessary that the Church take a great step forward in her evangelization and enter into a new historical stage of her missionary dynamism (cf. <Christifideles laici>, n. 35). In this regard, as I wrote in the Encyclical <Redemptoris missio>: "The Church must face other challenges and push forward to new frontiers, both in the initial mission <ad gentes> and in the new evangelization of those peoples who have already heard Christ proclaimed. Today all Christians, the particular Churches and the universal Church, are called to have the same courage that inspired the missionaries of the past, and the same readiness to listen to the voice of the Spirit" (n. 30).

4. Your communities' growing openness to missionary co-operation is a hopeful sign of this ecclesial renewal in Colombia. In fact, every particular Church must open herself generously to the needs of others, mutually collaborating through real reciprocity which prepares them to give and to receive, as a source of enrichment for all areas of ecclesial life. This is why I encourage you to continue to imbue the Christian people with a truly universal spirit, and to have a special concern for missionary work, fostering and sustaining missionary endeavours, especially in your own ecclesial community (cf. <CIC> 782, §2).

Whether priests—conscious that "the spiritual gift [they] have received in ordination does not prepare them merely for a limited and circumscribed mission, but for the fullest, in fact the universal mission of salvation 'to the end of the earth'" (<Presbyterorum ordinis>, n. 10)—work with authentic pastoral zeal and volunteer their services to evangelize outside their own region will depend to a large extent on your praiseworthy endeavours. Likewise, it will help men and women religious, called to fulfil an important mission at the present time in the Church, to write new pages of holiness and unselfish devotion in accordance with the ideal of evangelical life which they have embraced. It will also encourage the effective participation of the laity in the work of evangelization, through a renewed pastoral ministry, attentive to lay missionary vitality. In this way you will make the declaration of the Bishops of Puebla a reality in your beloved Colombian land: "Finally, the time has come for Latin America ... to extend ... beyond its own frontiers <ad gentes>. It is true that we ourselves need missionaries. However we must give from our own poverty" (<Third Conference of the Latin American Episcopate>, n. 368).

Revitalize catechesis to meet challenge of sects

5. With regard to the spread of the sects and the proselytizing activity of pseudo-religious groups which entice Colombian society with false hopes of salvation, without always being able to guarantee that their goals are clear and their methods legitimate, a continuous effort to revitalize formation and catechesis at all levels is becoming urgent. Catechetical work must focus on the person of Jesus Christ, using the <Catechism of the Catholic Church> as a most useful tool, to give a complete, prompt and ready answer that reinforces the Catholic faith in its fundamental truths and individual, family and social dimensions.

In this respect, I am pleased to know that your efforts are bearing abundant fruit, especially in the catechetical preparation for the sacraments. It is necessary then to continue working to create and improve the parish structures used for adult catechesis. You must also make responsible use of the time allocated for religious teaching in your nation's schools and colleges. Among other aspects, a proper training for the religious teachers, the updating of teaching programmes, and the creation of structures for assistance and control is required, as well as good pedagogical material suited to those who receive it. It should not be forgotten that Colombia's future depends to a large extent on the education that the younger generations are receiving today.

6. Another important topic regarding the new evangelization to which you are generously committed is the creation of small Christian communities where the faithful can profess their faith joyously and consistently, where they can meet regularly to pray and mutually encourage one another in witnessing to the Gospel. These communities, which remain united to the larger parish community, become an effective means of evangelization and of the initial proclamation of the Gospel. In avoiding all forms of isolation and ideological exploitation through sincere communion with the Bishops, they are a great hope for the Church's life (cf. <Redemptoris missio>, n. 51).

The experience of the Church's community dimension, fostered in these small groups, encourages the formation of real Christian homes and the transmission of the faith to the new generations. Thus a satisfactory environment is created which enables many young people to listen to and follow the call of the Lord to the priestly or religious life, for the benefit not only of your country but also of other nations in the world. It is therefore appropriate to give pastoral encouragement to this flourishing expression of ecclesial life, so that the Gospel may penetrate, with greater depth and efficacy, the hearts of all men and women in social and political structures, in the spheres of learning and work, as well as in the different ethnic groups and among the indigenous peoples. Thus the Church in Colombia will be able to reflect more clearly the four "faces" which you mentioned in your <Global Plan for Pastoral Work>: health care, ministry, solidarity and mission.

Pray ceaselessly for authentic holiness

7. The 2,000-year-old history of the Church amply demonstrates that problems always arise in proclaiming the Gospel and extending God's kingdom. However, the Holy Spirit directs and sustains the whole Church through all ages, "giving life to ecclesiastical structures, being as it were their soul, and inspiring in the hearts of the faithful that same spirit of mission which impelled Christ himself" (<Ad gentes>, n. 4).

For this reason, my final words are intended to provide encouragement and profound hope for all the People of God, pilgrims in Colombia, and especially for their Pastors. Pray ceaselessly to the Holy Spirit the Paraclete for authentic holiness, ardent zeal, constant generosity, far-sighted prudence and the fearless determination you need at the present time to carry out effective pastoral work in your ecclesiastical jurisdictions, acting in solidarity with the needs of all the Churches. The Successor of Peter is very close to you, in his thoughts and his prayers, to encourage you to fight the good fight of faith (cf. 1 Tm 6:12).

As I end this meeting, I ask you to convey my paternal encouragement, my cordial greetings and my affectionate remembrance to your faithful, especially the priests, the religious and your co-workers in the apostolate. I entrust you all to the protection of Our Lady of Chiquinquira and impart my Apostolic Blessing to you as a pledge of constant divine help for the future.


Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
26 June 1996

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