VISIT TO MEXICO 90: The New Evangelization
Pope John Paul II
The New Evangelization (Catechize at all levels)
The Pope visited the Gulf port city of Veracruz (7 May) where, at the docks of Malecon, he presided at a service of the Word near the area where Mexico's first evangelizers embarked. The theme of the service was "Faith and the new evangelization"; during his homily the Pope not only praised the first evangelizers of the Americas, but also encouraged everyone to participate in the "New Evangelization".
After greeting the Bishops, clergy, religious and laity present, the Pope said:
We are here in Veracruz to celebrate our faith with joy and to ask the Lord to continue to raise up new evangelizers in Mexico. Evangelization, dear brothers and sisters, is marked by the sign of the Cross, the True Cross.
Two years from now we will celebrate a fact of capital importance: the Fifth Centenary of the encounter between the European world and your continent, the New World. It was a meeting of the races and cultures which shaped your country where discovery, conquest and evangelization occupy a decisive place-brilliant when taken together, yet not without shades of grey. Yet our penetrating Christian gaze allows us to discover within this history God's loving intervention, despite the limitations which are part of every human activity. There is in the course of history, in fact, a mysterious convergence of sin and grace, but throughout its wide course, grace triumphs over the power of sin: "Where sin abounded, grace did more abound" (Rom 5:20), St Paul the Apostle tells us.
Evangelization: new and old
2. The glory of having been the port through which, in 1523, the first evangelizers arrived in Mexico under the standard of the Cross falls to this beautiful port which bears the name "True Cross". They were three Franciscans, among them Fray Pedro de Gante; a year later another group of 12 religious came. In San Juan de Ulua the Christian history of your country had its start; effectively and deeply Christ's message has continued to shape its mentality, its traits, and its races, giving it form and contributing more than any other cultural factor to its ethnic. and cultural identity. All this has meant that Mexico occupies the unique place it holds among the nations.
Therefore the evangelization begun is still in process, and the Fifth Centenary must be for all a propitious occasion to give it a new vitality and thrust. For this reason the Bishops of all Latin America will gather in Santo Domingo in 1992 to reflect on the Church's present situation in these countries and study, under the Holy Spirit's direction, the task which we all must accomplish now that the third millennium of the Christian era is approaching. In fact, the work of proclaiming the Gospel to all nations-which, as we just heard in the reading of St Mark's Gospel, Christ entrusted to his Church-is a responsibility which falls to all and to each one of those who by the Lord's grace are and call themselves Christians. Five centuries after the beginning of this ecclesial mission on the new continent, Christ risen and exalted at the Father's right, sends us again to evangelize all peoples (cf. Mt 28:19).
The evangelization of America, which was prompted by the Lord and resulted from the activity of so many people, had many limitations as well as difficulties; today they are still awaiting the dispassionate study of history to be seen in their true light. But it also had great successes as the splendid accomplishments which have served as models and support for your people's journey during these centuries show; it is now opportune to reactivate and revitalize them with a vision that is increasingly clear and faithful to the Word of the Lord and working in solidarity.
3. Different figures, full of a deep spirit of faith and of great human worth, can serve as our guides for a renewal of evangelization to which the Latin American Church has been called. Let us recall, for example, Fray Juan de Zumarraga, the first Bishop of Mexico, City, who earned the title "Defender of the Indios" and who was very, concerned about the catechesis not only of the indigenous peoples but also of the colonizers who together gave origin to your characteristic mestizo race. A first and prime result of that catechesis is found in the Indio Juan Diego whom I had the joy of beatifying yesterday and whom the Lord chose through his Mother to begin the evangelizing activity of Mexico.
Father Vasco de Quiroga, first Bishop of Michoacan, developed his mission as bishop as the real father of the Tarascos [Indios of Michoacan]; for that reason they still call him "Tata Vasco"; with fatherly affection he committed himself entirely to the education and advancement of the faithful the Lord entrusted to his care; his "hospitals" were much more than the name implies since they included schools, workshops, warehouses and all the elements that compose a centre for artisans and farmers, with hardware and firming implements, etc. Even today we can appreciate the cultural and Christian inheritance of his heroic missionary and civilizing work on behalf of the Michoacan population. Fray Bartolome de las Casas, Bishop of Chiapas, espoused an uncommon attitude for his times in proclaiming the dignity of the human person of the indigenous populace, adopting their point of view, and taking on their own sufferings, sorrows and state of subjugation; he was always ready to raise his voice to defend the rights of the weakest and the needy in whom he saw Christ's face.
Here are three different figures, three distinct models of evangelizers, worthy of a place of honour among the great pioneers of missionary activity. These three and others besides made these words of St Paul come to life in Mexico: "Although I am free in regard to all, I have made myself a slave to all so as to win as many as possible" (I Cor 9:19). But the apostolic work of so many priests and religious must be reflected on within the whole picture of the missionary activity of the entire Church which receives from Christ the mandate to go and preach the Gospel to all nations. For that reason it must be said along with the Latin-American Bishops at the Puebla Conference that: "the evangelizing work. in Latin America is the result of a unanimous missionary effort on the part of the whole people of God" (n. 9). And this communitarian call to make the Good News present among people continues as a living demand in our own time.
An alive community
4. Through the course of these five centuries your Christian history has passed through various stages, and today the Church which is on pilgrimage in Mexico can rightly boast about being an alive community, active and open to the future. I am filled with joy at knowing that Mexican Catholics represent a quarter of the Latin American Church; that you form a large community of 77 Church territories, with an entirely Mexican hierarchy which accomplishes its mission together with 11,000 diocesan and religious priests working together among the Christian people and leading the pilgrimage of faith.
Your concrete identity is marked by many racial, cultural and religious elements which have established themselves and have shaped the Mexican nation. And this reality of yours has been chosen by the Lord to make you "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people who are his own" (I Pt 2:9). In a word, he has chosen you to be a Christian people. In fact, by Baptism you have been incorporated into the Catholic Church, which has come to be a constitutive part of your identity. Precisely out of this identity springs the following question: What mission do you have today as a Christian People? The answer comes out of the very condition of the baptized: you have been called by the Lord to live and proclaim his Gospel in the world, starting with your history as Mexicans with its light and its shadows, yet convinced that your mission is to bear witness to your faith before the world.
New forms of idolatry
5. To evangelize means to announce the Good News. And the Good News which the Christian communicates to the world is that God, who alone is Lord, is merciful towards all his creatures, loves man with limitless love and has sought to intervene personally in his history by means of his Son Jesus Christ, who died and rose for us, to free us from sin and from all its consequences and to make us sharers in his divine life.
Who is this God who alone is Lord?
We have heard it in the first Scripture reading. The Prophet Ezekiel told us: "Here I am; I myself will take care of my flock and watch over it" (34:11). He is the shepherd who goes looking for the lost sheep, who takes care of the wounded sheep and places all of them under his care and protection (cf. Ez 34:16). Thus he did with the chosen people, sealing with them a covenant and beginning a history of salvation through which Yahweh leads and frees Israel (cf. Instruction Libertatis Conscientia, 44). The Psalm we proclaimed teaches that very thing: "The Lord does justice and defends all the oppressed he taught Moses his ways and his deeds to the children, of Israel" (Ps 103:6-7).
For this reason the Lord in his infinite love wanted to bring the Good News to all nations, making the chosen people an instrument to announce the promised salvation: "I will make you a light to the nations that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth" (Is 49:6). 6.. This action by God reaches its high point in Jesus Christ. And Mary receives this Good News in the Annunciation in order to communicate it later to others; indeed, as soon as she receives the Lord's message she goes off to a city of Judah to take it to Elizabeth her relative and proclaim God's marvels in which she has placed her faith: "My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour" (Lk 1:46-47).
This very God whom the New Testament reveals to us as One and Three, has manifested himself in the humanity of his Son Jesus Christ, conceived in Mary's womb. To evangelize is, above all, to proclaim. Jesus: his life and teachings, his values and choices, his death and resurrection for us. In his preaching and in his deeds we find the meaning of the words "God alone is the Lord" because the whole mystery of Jesus, his teachings, his miracles, his life, are in the service of the Kingdom and the Lordship of God.
He preached the Gospel to the poor, to those without hope, to the little voiceless ones, to the marginalized, to sinners, to those considered impure in their day because they were lepers, to the paralytics and the blind, and in general to all persons who needed to be freed from some sort of evil. "He took away our infirmities and bore our diseases" (Mt 8:17) and taught us that the condition for being his disciple is to follow him.
7. Already in the Old Testament the Psalmist cried out to God: "When you send forth your spirit they are created and you renew the face of the earth" (Ps 104:30). This prayer reaches its full completion on the day of Pentecost, when the Apostles, in the power of the Holy Spirit, began to put their missionary vocation into action. This same prayer accompanies the Church in her task of evangelizing the world. And under the impulse of the same Spirit, we too must continue the task that falls to us as Church, as members of God's People. In Christ's Body which is his Church, all have a mission to carry out, as St Paul teaches us: each one according to the charism received (cf. I Cor 12).
We must proclaim to the world that God alone is Lord. This is what the Bishops pointed Put at the Puebla Conference which I had the privilege of inaugurating during my first visit to this dear country 11 years ago: "Other than God nothing is divine or worthy of worship. Human beings fall into slavery when they divinize or absolutize wealth, power, the State, sex, pleasure, or anything created by God-including their own being or human reason. God himself is the source of radical liberation from all forms of idolatry, because the adoration of what is not adorable and the absolutization of the relative leads to the violation of the innermost reality of human persons: i.e., their relationship with God and their personal fulfilment. Here is the liberating word par excellence: 'You shall do homage to the Lord your God; him alone shall you adore'" (Mt 4: 10; cf. Deut 5:6ff) (Puebla, 491).
Believers' life witness.
8. The first means for proclaiming this message, dear brothers and sisters, is the witness of life of men and women believers who openly express, their faith by following Christ. For this reason my Predecessor Paul VI said in his Apostolic Exhortation on evangelization: "Modern man hears a witness better than he hears teachers; or if he listens to teachers he does so because they bear witness" (Evangelii Nuntiandi, n. 42).Let us forcefully announce to the world that Christ has died and risen for us, and that as St Paul writes, we share in his death and resurrection by Baptism (cf. Rom 6:3-4). Our Baptism and our condition as children of the same Father has led us to look upon every person as a brother or sister. That is why Jesus makes it a condition for our participating in his salvation to give food to the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, console the sorrowing, because "when you do this to one of my least brothers or sisters you do it to me" (Mt 25:40).
Catechesis on all levels
9. The Christian principles you have received from your elders, then, must shape all human relationships. The Gospel values must be the norm of service that must prevail in the shared life of society: in politics, in culture, in education, in family life, in labour relations. Yet without ever confusing the Kingdom of God with or limiting it to earthly goals which are only a portion, an instrument. As the Bishops at Puebla announced: "The Kingdom of God comes to pass through historical realizations, yet it is not identified with these realizations nor exhausted in them" (n. 193).
Finally, a solid catechesis at all levels, especially in the family and among young people, has to follow the announcement of the Good News. The invitation to believe has to be accompanied by timely instruction on all that the Lord has wished to teach us through his Church. It would be an error to catechize without having evangelized previously, just as it would be equally wrong to evangelize without later attending sufficiently to instruction in the faith received.
The Christian formation through catechesis will lead to a more active participation in the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church. In this way, the simple people will find in this and in the practices of popular piety reasons to be informed about their faith. And thus de-christianized circles will become more open to a new encounter with the Lord, and the proselytizing efforts of the sects will find a brake applied to the ambiguities and the confusion they sow.
Dear brothers and sisters, I ask the Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ and our Mother whom you invoked with the name of Guadalupe and who was the first woman to receive the Gospel message in order to announce it to others, to serve as the "star of evangelization" which guides you in the faithful carrying out of this mission which the Lord gives you.
Weekly Edition in English
14 May 1990, page 4
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