PRESS CONFERENCE FOR THE
John Paul II Hall of the Holy See
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is very pleased to be able to present our new document, the Doctrinal Note on some Aspects of Evangelization. I welcome representatives of the media to this press conference. On behalf of His Excellency, Archbishop Angelo Amato, Secretary of the Congregation, I express my gratitude to two of the 18 Cardinal and Bishop Members of our Congregation, His Eminence, Cardinal Francis Arinze, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, and His Eminence, Cardinal Ivan Dias, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, for their willing participation in this morning’s event.
After I give some brief introductory remarks, Archbishop Amato will offer some theological reflections on the Doctrinal Note, followed by comments by Cardinal Arinze on the missionary situation in Africa, and by Cardinal Dias on theologians and evangelization from the Asian perspective. After these opening remarks, we will be pleased to respond to your questions.
The Doctrinal Note addresses a central theme in Catholic and Christian understanding of our belief in Jesus Christ, that of evangelization. As Jesus was sent by the Father to bring the good news of salvation to the world, so He commanded his disciples to proclaim this good news – the Gospel – to the whole world and to all people. This work of evangelization belongs to the very nature of the Church. Because Christians have received this great gift of God’s love in Christ, they naturally have a desire, indeed a duty, to share this gift with their families, friends and neighbors.
In this Advent season, when we anticipate once again this year the beautiful feast of Christmas, we may recall how the Gospel of St. Luke (chapter 2) tells of the angel announcing the good news of the birth of Jesus to the shepherds in the fields around Bethlehem. We might say that the angel was the first evangelist. In keeping with the coming feast, the Congregation offers this new Doctrinal Note as a gift to the Church.
Why a document on evangelization? From its conversations with Bishops around the world, and from its analysis of a certain confusion about whether Catholics should give testimony about their faith in Christ, the Congregation decided to address some specific points which seem to undermine the fulfillment of Christ’s missionary mandate. It does so under three general headings.
The anthropological implications of evangelization address two key factors of human existence: freedom and truth. It is the conviction of Christian faith that God’s revelation of his love for us in Christ brings humanity to the truth of God’s purpose and his divine plan of creation and redemption. To know this truth is a great blessing for humanity, and for each individual human being.
At the same time, human dignity requires that the search for this truth respect human freedom of conscience. In this regard, St. Paul describes "conversion to the Christian faith as liberation"; thus "belonging to Christ, who is the Truth, and entering the Church do not lessen human freedom, but rather exalt it and direct it towards its fulfillment" (n. 7). It follows then that evangelization must never resort to "coercion or tactics unworthy of the Gospel" (n. 8). At the same time, religious liberty requires that evangelization not be impeded by restrictive measures.
The ecclesiological implications of the Doctrinal Note remind us that "Since the day of Pentecost … the Gospel, in the power of the Holy Spirit, is proclaimed to all people so that they might believe and become disciples of Christ and members of his Church. "Conversion" is a "change in thinking and of acting," expressing our new life in Christ; it is an ongoing dimension of Christian life.
For Christian evangelization, "the incorporation of new members into the Church is not the expansion of a power-group, but rather entrance into the network of friendship with Christ which connects heaven and earth, different continents and ages." In this sense, then, "the Church is the bearer of the presence of God and thus the instrument of the true humanization of man and the world." (n. 9)
Finally, the importance of Christian witness to holiness and charity is essential if evangelization is to be credible.
In addressing the ecumenical implications, the Doctrinal Note stands in the mainstream of the modern ecumenical movement, whose origins at the beginning of the last century arose at least in large measure from the concerns of Christian missionaries who saw their evangelizing efforts undercut by their multiple and competing Church structures.
The work of evangelization among various Christians leads to dialogue and a sharing of gifts leading to deeper conversion to Christ. When individual persons decide in conscience to enter the Catholic Church, their decision should be respected without accusing the Catholic Church of a negative form of proselytism.
The Doctrinal Note concludes with a beautiful quotation from the first Encyclical Letter of Pope Benedict XVI: "The love which comes from God unites us to him and ‘makes us a we which transcends our divisions and makes us one, until in the end God is all in all (1 Cor 15:28)’." I hope that this document can serve as an instrument of a renewal of the evangelizing efforts of Catholics and all Christians, and as a guideline toward unity and brotherhood in the whole human family.
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Some Anthropological Implications
Since I come from a country in Africa South of the Sahara, I would like to apply some anthropological implications of evangelization discussed by this Doctrinal Note to areas in Africa South of the great desert. In these regions, African Traditional Religion has been the dominant religious and cultural context for centuries. It is also from that context that most converts to Christianity in these countries in the past two hundred years have come.
African Traditional Religion, making allowance for local variations, is generally marked by belief in one God, in spirits good and bad and in ancestors, with consequent worship which never puts the spirits and ancestors at the same level as the one God who is Creator. This traditional religion permeates a culture which has a marked sense of the sacred, which believes in life after death, which sets high value on marriage, family and human life, and which has a marked sense of community and desire for celebration.
The Christian missionaries found this religious context a providential preparation, a fertile ground to bring the Gospel, the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. Reflecting on this Doctrinal Note of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, one can make the following four observations on evangelization in these areas marked by African Traditional Religion:
1. Missionary proposal of faith in Jesus Christ pays tribute to the human freedom of the African and to his capacity to know and to love that which is good and true. "The obedience of faith" (Rm 16:26) which is given to God who reveals, not only does not do violence to human intellect and will, but it rather ennobles them. To help another human being who freely listens, reasons and reflects, to accept the Message of salvation in Jesus Christ, is an encounter which does honour both to the missionary and to the convert.
2. Our document rightly notes that the Holy Spirit "animates the maternal action of the Church in the evangelization of cultures" (n. 6). In the multiplicity of languages, cultures and peoples in Africa, this challenging, difficult and delicate work of inculturation has begun. There is still a long way to go. The First African Synod in 1994 underlined its importance. The more the local Churches in Africa have well prepared clerics, theologians, religious, academic and pastoral reflection centres and monasteries, working in union with the Apostolic See, the better the promotion of inculturation will proceed.
3. The sharing of our Catholic faith with others who do not yet know Christ should be regarded as a work of love, provided that it is done with full respect for their human dignity and freedom. Indeed if a Christian did not try to spread the Gospel by sharing the excelling knowledge of Jesus Christ (cf Phil 3:8) with others, we could suspect that Christian either of lack of total conviction on the faith, or of selfishness and laziness in not wanting to share the full and abundant means of salvation with his fellow human beings.
4. Conversion to Christianity is rightly seen as liberation, as St Paul puts it in his letter to the Colossians. It is entrance into "the kingdom of his (God’s) beloved Son in whom we have redemption and the forgiveness of our sins" (Col 1:13-14).
I consider this Doctrinal Note of great relevance and actuality.