PERSEVERANCE IN MISSION
John Paul II
General Audience of May 17, 1995
1. In one of the previous catecheses on the theme of mission, we already referred to the immense work of evangelization to which the Church is called today, and to the difficulties she meets. We must particularly remember once again that the demographic factor has given rise to a considerable numerical imbalance between Christians and non-Christians, in the face of which we cannot fail to be aware of the human inadequacy and weakness of our resources. Moreover, the complexity of social relations, even at the international and intercontinental level, and the spread of culture by schools and the whole range of social communications, create new problems for missionary activity, which can no longer rely on homogeneous and fundamentally religious popular traditions.
Nor should "the growth in the number of new Churches in recent times" give rise to facile illusions in the faithful. In fact, there "remain vast regions still to be evangelized" (<Redemptoris missio>, n. 37). And among the very peoples who have received the Christian faith a new evangelization, which is deeper and more attentive to new needs and demands, is required. Indeed, "there is a need not only for a new evangelization, but also, in some cases, for an initial evangelization" (ibid.).
2. This is what I wrote in the Encyclical <Redemptoris missio>, stressing that "the mission <ad gentes> faces an enormous task, which is in no way disappearing. Indeed, both from the numerical standpoint of demographic increase and from the socio-cultural standpoint of the appearance of new relationships, contacts and changing situations, the mission seems destined to have ever wider horizons" (ibid., n. 35).
In certain countries evangelization encounters "obstacles ... of a culture nature: passing on the Gospel message seems irrelevant or incomprehensible and conversion is seen as a rejection of one's own people and culture" (ibid). In these cases the passage to Christianity can even lead to persecution, which shows intolerance and contrasts with man's basic rights to freedom of thought and worship. In such cases a sort of cultural withdrawal can be seen which is a precise obstacle to evangelization but in itself also demonstrates a deplorable lack of dialogue and openness to true spiritual, intellectual and moral enrichment.
3. In the Mission Encyclical I mentioned that sometimes the difficulties in missionary activity "seem insurmountable and could easily lead to discouragement, if it were a question of a merely human enterprise" (ibid.). However, we cannot shut out eyes to the human elements of this task. There are real shortcomings and deficiencies and I did not neglect to point them out (cf. ibid., n. 36).
These are primarily: a certain waning of missionary zeal; the sad experience of past and still present divisions among Christians; the drop in the number of vocations; the counter-witness of all those who are not faithful to their missionary promises and commitments; the indifferentist mentality marked by religious relativism, which makes many of our contemporaries think and say that "one religion is as good as another".
But these difficulties serve to increase our understanding of the challenge that missionary commitment must face today more than ever.
We can recall that from the start the Church's mission has always been a challenge: how did that little group of Christ's disciples commit themselves to the work of universal evangelization he had requested? How could that small group of fishermen from Galilee "make disciples of all the nations"? Jesus was well aware of the difficulties that the Apostles would meet; this is why he offers us the same guarantee: "And I know that I am with you always, until the end of the world!" (Mt 28:20).
They believed in him, in his presence and in his power over life and death. The early Church was nourished by this same faith. Although the Church today is aware of the limitations of human strength, she reacts to the difficulties of evangelization with the humility and faith of the first believers and of those who followed. She revives her faith in Christ's almighty presence.
4. A part of this faith is the certitude that the gifts of the Holy Spirit will never fail to renew the missionary zeal of believers for overcoming divisions with the unity of charity, for encouraging the increase and fervor of missionary vocations, for reinforcing the witness that stems from conviction and for avoiding all discouragement. The Church feels she can repeat without arrogance the words of the Apostle Paul: <omnia possum in eo qui me confortat>, "in him who is the source of my strength I have strength for everything" (Phil 4:13).
Therefore "strengthened" by Christ, missionaries face the problems in missionary activity caused by the world's social and cultural conditions. If the recent world-wide demographic evolution leads a large part of the population to be increasingly concentrated in metropolitan areas and missionary activity is no longer carried out "especially in isolated regions which are far from centres of civilization", the Church does not hesitate to recognize that "efforts should be concentrated on the big cities, where new customs and styles of living arise together with new forms of culture and communication", while she must not overlook "the most abandoned and isolated human groups" (<Redemptoris missio>, n. 37).
5. The means for proclaiming the Gospel must be re-examined and the use of the media must be constantly improved. "The first Areopagus of the modern age is the <world of communications>, which is unifying humanity and turning it into what is known as a 'global village'.
The means of social communication have become so important as to be for many the chief means of information and education, of guidance and inspiration in their behavior as individuals, families and within society at large" (ibid.). Up to now these means have not been sufficiently exploited, while everyone is aware of the power they possess and which could serve to extend missionary outreach.
It is also well known that the mass media contribute to the development of a new culture. Well, the Church has the task of implanting the Gospel spirit in this culture. "Involvement in the mass media, however, is not meant merely to strengthen the preaching of the Gospel. There is a deeper reality involved here: since the very evangelization of modern culture depends to a great extent on the influence of the media, it is not enough to use the media simply to spread the Christian message and the Church's authentic teaching.
It is also necessary to integrate that message into the 'new culture' created by modern communications" (ibid.). We must therefore make sure that in the hands of the new apostles, the means of social communication, particularly radio and television because of their enormous influence on the masses, become a valuable tool for evangelization. In this area, lay people are called to play a most important role, which presupposes a serious professional competence and a genuine spirit of faith.
Today too, with divine help, following in St. Paul's footsteps, the Church must be committed to bringing the Gospel leaven to our constantly evolving cultures. They are also God's fields, where we must sow and cultivate the Gospel like good farmers, with steadfast trust in him who gives us strength.
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