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Congregation for the evangelization of peoples

plenary assembly


Rome, 16-18 November 2009


«Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel» (1 Cor. 9:16)

The Servant of God Pope Paul VI, before leaving Nazareth in 1964, had wanted to trace for the People of God and for the whole of humanity, a portrait of Jesus Christ which has remained renowned for its fascination and astuteness.  Like the Pope, we would like to address you, dear brother Bishops of the Church, entrusted to the care of the Congregation for the Evangelization of People (CEP); dear fellow priests, who participate in their pastoral ministry; you, dear missionary religious men and women; dear lay men and women, impassioned with love for the person of Jesus Christ of Nazareth and for his Church, always ready to travel all over the world; you seminarians and novices, deacons who are preparing for the priestly ministry and for the Mission ad Gentes; permanent Deacons; and you, dear Catechists and committed laity, without whom our Churches would have difficulty being built; we would like to address this message to you all.

At the end of this CEP Assembly, we, the members of this Dicastery and all its Collaborators, Consultors and Experts, having been drawn to the humanity and Christianity, as well as the mission, of St. Paul the Apostle «Master of Nations», would like to share with you the missionary impetus which Paul invites us to draw on in search of the new areopaghi of our time.  The attractiveness of his model opens our eyes and, although hidden in the background, is discernible as means for hope in our world, which today has become a "global village". The dynamism of the love of Christ living in us presses us to move out to build these structures of hope.  It is true that what we await as the destiny of all peoples cannot be accomplished other than through He who is to come, Jesus Christ the Accomplisher of Divine Hope for humanity.  During these three days of the Plenary Assembly we have felt ourselves drawn into that force which St. Paul the Apostle of Nations had.  As indicated in the Instrumentum Laboris (IL) there are 20 areopaghi or places to evangelize; with the agreement of the CEP, the Assembly has added a dozen more, although the list is far from exhaustive.  The Assembly during its Session will discern the new areopaghi of our time and look at the ways and means to evangelize them in the spirit of  St. Paul.  

Vatican Council II, in its Decree on Missionary Activities Ad Gentes, teaches that all of us were once both subject and object of the mission of evangelization. Therefore we must be attentive to the models of the great evangelizers, who are the saints, allowing them to awaken us to imitate their example since the «true missionary, is the Saint» (John Paul II, RM 90). Among all the Saints, Paul stands out as an exceptional model.  We must follow his example by revisiting the profile which the Lord Himself has given at the beginning of His Church.

Following the Pauline Year initiated by the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI during which he offered 20 Audiences which invited us to contemplate the portrait of the Apostle of Nations, CEP, which was created exactly for this Mission ad Gentes could not have better chosen a theme for the Assembly:  St. Paul and the new areopaghi. This choice was not meant only for the Assembly; but also for you.

Before anything else we should give thanks to God, that the Church, the living body of the Lord, has without ceasing offered the Memorial of the Paschal Salvation, which fostered “a culture of memory” of the great imitators of Jesus Christ, to whom St. Paul, «the Master of Nations» the Church has dedicated an entire year .  This offers a kairos for the mission ad Gentes.

Our Assembly, which is about to end, is very grateful to the Supreme Pontiff for  his clear message which he addressed to us, as well as for the encounter with him during the general audience of Wednesday 18 November.

We are also grateful to the major Superiors of CEP, for the much appreciated initiative they took to permit us to participate in the fruits of the Pauline Jubilee.  The Instrumentum Laboris has enabled us together to concentrate on the figure of the persecutor of Christ who then became an Apostle possessed by a triple love:  love for Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God; love for his Church with whom he identifies himself - «I am Jesus whom you persecute»; and love for the whole of humanity whom Christ came to save. This view pushes all to evangelize to the extreme corners of the earth, to the most profound and most varied anthropological strata.

It is necessary for you also to reflect on St. Paul, in order to experience the force which propelled him towards the mission ad Gentes, which today passes through innumerable areopaghi.  You will not be able to believe the multiplicity of areopaghi, which will arise in your imagination embued with charity towards the nations.  The more you discern in the spirit that seized St. Paul after his conversion and resurrection to new life, the more you will know the truth of our common vocation to love which creates relations and brings about communion which is kenosis.   The Didaché  has already given us this method of Christian formation which is the soul of missionary formation: «Search each day the face of the saints and you will derive comfort from their speech».

To renew your missionary zeal we invite you all to look to the figure of St. Paul whom the Lord describe to Ananias, the believer, as «This is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and Israelites».  Reflecting on this, we recognize for our part that it is truly God who had chosen him to reveal to the nations  that in Jesus Christ his Son, the blessings destined for them since the election of Abraham, would be accomplished, and that they who «were no people» (1 Peter 2:10), can become «a people» by entering into the Church, the new Israel.  Like St. Paul, we recognize in ourselves the grace of being chosen by God for a mission.  Paul found in the love of Christ for his Church his own identity:  he exists only for this mission: «Woe to me , if I do not preach the Gospel» (1 Cor 9:16).  It should be like this for each one of us.

Regarding Paul, we all realise that for him «mission is a question of love».  It is evident that, as St. Augustine said, a certain power emanates from St Paul summed up in his plea to his followers: «I entreat you, love with me».  We can all say together that : «today (as yesterday and always) mission needs Apostles in love with Christ», like Paul.  No amount of challenge or new areopagus can separate such Apostles from the object of their love: Jesus Christ and his Church.  Let us make of our lives living bridges of love between Christ and his areopaghi,  in order that we too may be on fire in accomplishing the structures of hope to which our missions call us.

Only Apostles with this sense of mission can move towards today’s new areopaghi which are:

-         Making evident the unique point where proclamation and witness of life resound in the silence of the Cross

-         Evangelizing the spreading globalisation of today

-         Making the areopagus of social communications vehicles of true communication  par excellence of He who is the Way, the Truth and the Life: Jesus Christ.

-         Addressing the areopagus of post-modernity in order to  reach all men not only to say: «Without the Creator, the creature would simply vanish» (GS 36, 3) but also to make it possible to admire and taste the fruits of  a “civilisation of love” which receives God.

-         Working to satisfy the hunger and thirst for God which are genuine religious concerns due to the evident proliferation of Sects.

-         Strengthening the areopagus of interreligious and inter-cultural dialogue , as St. Paul did in Athens and later on in Corinth, starting from the most profound faith in the Crucified-Risen Christ, salvation for all men, nation, race, culture.

-         Correcting an attitude of life as a result of a civilisation without God so that, as for the Apostle, the bearer of hope in the present is always., «Christ the hope of glory» (Col 1:27).

-         Transforming in Christ the poverty found today.  «although he was rich he became poor so that we might be enriched by his poverty» as said «blessed are the poor» Mt 5:1).

-         Making the presentation of the Church as Communion, Family of God, fraternal Body of Christ as a new areopagus, a goal much like it was for Paul;  we shall reveal it to the Church herself as «the Mystery hidden from ages past» (Eph 3:1ff), Col 1:24-29).

-         Assisting our ecclesial communities to be missionary oriented so that it will not be said «that the mission came to die with us» (Msgr. A.T. Sanon).

-         Evangelising all Christian vocations by further revealing them as missionary.

-         Promoting the family as a new areopagus waiting for the Church to reveal itself more and more in the  « domestic Church» that each may become witness to God, three persons in one, a Trinitarian Family,  which the world longs for, in spite of  the fierce effort to destroy the human family of  today.

-         Promoting a «new Evangelization» to be revealed as a new culture in the process of globalization that awaits, once again, the new announcement of Jesus as Lord and Savior.

-         Naming persecution as a continuing  areopagus of the Church that is ever ready to witness absolutely to Christ through her martyrs.

-         Becoming a vehicle of communion and work in the midst of all the divisions which tear the Church apart, so that the evangeliser, according to the spirit of St. Paul, will be able to reconcile his brother enemies, asking them as Paul did: «Is Christ divided?» (1 Cor 1:13).

-         Making our particular churches in the heart of the globalized world, areopaghi for the mission ad gentes, given the migratory phenomenon which brings together diverse cultures and religions within the same local area.  It is in this perspective that our megalopolis can also appear as new areopaghi awaiting their Paul.

-         Recognizing the old but always new areopagus of formation which has attracted our attention the most in the course of this Assembly .  More than just an areopagus, it is the humus, the foundation and the condition sine qua non  for all evangelization.  

-         Allowing the areopagus of formation to be that for which St. Paul provided an inspiring model for all generations.  Paul sees formation as a growth in faith as an adult, «until Christ be formed in you» (Gal 4: 19).  It requires time and patience.  It is the condition for all authentic missions, suffering always from a insufficient time for preparation , needing improvisation,  existing in disorder, but to which a simple generosity can truly compensate for much that is lacking.  St. Paul takes his model from Mary, the Woman of «the accomplished time».  «When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman» (Gal 4:4). And we know that Mary offered all herself – body, soul and spirit – so that the words announced by the angel could be realised in her. «And the Word was made flesh»(Jn 1:14).  In the same way Paul, «the Master of Nations», made himself available for the works of all nations so that they could grow in the faith that saves.  He became an outstanding inculturator as demonstrated in his testimony at the Athens areopagus. Therefore, as we have said before, declaring that he could not separate his mission from the founding of the Church at Corinth.  In order to become all in all, according to the logic of the incarnated Word, St Paul, Missionary of the Father, who was sent first to Israel and then to the whole of humanity, became a vector of inter-culture, putting together Jews and Pagans, incorporating the cultural diversity of the latter by assuming it, in order to purify it in the transfiguration in Christ.


This message itself is our reflection on Paul, who did not spare himself, despite fatigue, finally dying as a martyr, so as to announce the Gospel to all Nations.   We want to greet, thank and congratulate the many who have followed him over the centuries.  They are the collaborators of missionaries: men and women, priests, religious men and women, the laity, members of secular Institutes and New Communities of the consecrated, apostolic and missionary life.  They have crisscrossed and continue to crisscross, the routes of the world, like St. Paul, without any fear for their own lives.  Some of them are perhaps tired or sick, to them we say, Courage!  Some of them perhaps know the insidious temptation to become lax; we invite them to refresh themselves by revisiting the profile of St. Paul, deriving from it a stimulus of interior motivation and renewed momentum.  Like Paul some of them are dead because of «hatred for the faith»: we pay homage to them.  Their memory will not be forgotten and we reaffirm, in the certitude of our faith, that the lives they have given are «seeds of Christians».

The Youth, who are the present and the future of the world and the Church, are more than ever the present foundation of our Churches.  Our message is addressed also to you, the Youth.  We invite you to admire and imitate this young ardent man, brilliant pupil of Gamaliel, whom the Risen Christ seized on the way to Damascus, and made him «Master of Nations».  May his fearlessness and his ardour find in you their effect.

May our Lady of Pentecost obtain for us the grace to always help us move towards the routes of the new areopaghi by the power of the Holy Spirit, the first Protagonist of Mission!

Rome, 18 November 2009

Members of the Assembly of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples