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The Church perseveres in her mission

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 17 May 1995 - in Italian & Spanish  

"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 especially 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. It 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" (RM 37). 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" (RM 37).

2. This is what I wrote in the Encyclical Redemptoris Missio, stressing: "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" (RM 35).

In certain countries evangelization encounters "obstacles...of a cultural nature: passing on the Gospel message seems irrelevant or incomprehensible, and conversion is seen as a rejection of one's own people and culture" (RM 35). 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 it also demonstrates a deplorable lack of dialogue and openness to true spiritual, intellectual and moral enrichment.

In the Encyclical on mission 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" (RM 35). However, we cannot shut our eyes to the human elements of this task. There are real shortcomings and deficiencies and I did not neglect to point them out (cf. RM 36). These are primarily: a certain waning of missionary zeal; the sad experience of past and still present divisions among Christians; the drop in 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 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: "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. The recent worldwide demographic evolution leads a large part of the population to be increasingly concentrated in metropolitan areas. Missionary activity is no longer carried out "in isolated regions which are far from centers 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" (RM 37).

5. The means for proclaiming the Gospel must be reexamined and the use of the media must be constantly improved. "The first Aeropagus 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" (RM 37). 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. 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" (RM 37). We must therefore make sure that in the hands of the new apostles, the means of social communication, especially 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."

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai fedeli di lingua francese

Chers frères et sœurs,

Je souhaite la bienvenue aux pèlerins de langue française. Je salue en particulier le groupe de pèlerins venus de l’Ile Maurice ainsi que les nombreux groupes de jeunes ici présents.

Que le Christ Ressuscité vous guide chaque jour vers Lui! Que la puissance de la résurrection et la force de l’Esprit vous soient toujours données en partage!

Que Dieu vous garde et vous bénisse! 

Ai fedeli di lingua inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I express prayerful good wishes to the newly–elected Provincials of the Marist Brothers. I greet the young people from Korea and Japan belonging to the Focolare Movement. To the De La Salle University Chorale I express my gratitude for their praise of God in song. Upon all the English–speaking visitors, especially the pilgrim groups from England, Indonesia, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand and the United States, I cordially invoke the joy and peace of the Risen Lord.

Ai fedeli di lingua tedesca

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit diesen Überlegungen richte ich meinen herzlichen Willkommensgru an Euch, liebe Schwestern und Brüder. Mein besonderer Gru gilt der Petrus–Gilde aus Recklinghausen und den Mitgliedern der Niels–Stensen–Gemeinschaft. Möge der Besuch an den Gräbern der Apostel Euer aller Glauben stärken und Euren missionarischen Eifer beflügeln.

Dazu erteile ich Euch, Euren lieben Angehörigen zu Hause und all jenen, die uns über Radio und Fernsehen verbunden sind, von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di espressione spagnola

Saludo con afecto a todos los peregrinos de lengua española presentes en esta Audiencia. De modo particular a los Miembros del Movimiento de Schönstatt, venidos del Ecuador, y de las Comunidades Neocatecumenales de España, así como a los demás grupos provenientes de Argentina, México, Nicaragua y Perú. En este mes de mayo, consagrado a la Santísima Virgen, os encomiendo a su maternal protección y os imparto de corazón mi Bendición Apostólica.

Ai pellegrini di lingua portoghese

Caríssimos Irmãos e Irmãs de língua portuguesa,

Saúdo cordialmente quantos me escutam, e desejo–lhes todo o bem no Senhor. Em particular, saúdo o grupo de Brasileiros anunciados, de São Paulo e do Rio de Janeiro e os que vieram de Cascavel no Paraná, em peregrinação por diversos santuários marianos. Faço votos por que a Santíssima Virgem, Mãe da Igreja, que invocais como Nossa Senhora Aparecida, vos ajude a crescer na fé, imitando Jesus Cristo, e vos abençoe a vós, às vossas famílias e ao Brasil.

Ai fedeli di lingua polacca

Niech będzie pochwalony Jezus Chrystus! Witam pielgrzymów z Polski. Witam w szczególny sposób Księdza Biskupa Polowego wraz z reprezentacją Wojska Polskiego z chórem, orkiestra i przełożonymi. Ponadto witam kapłanów z archidiecezji krakowskiej, którzy przybyli w okazji 20. rocznicy święceń, z Rybarzowic – z parafii MatkiBożej Pocieszenia, z Warszawy – oficerów Wojska Polskiego i Sodalicję Mariańską, z Bydgoszczy, Iławy, Zamościa, Ełku, Gdańska, Szczecina – pielgrzymów, ze Szczecina – z parafii św. Stanisława Kostki, ze Stanów Zjednoczonych – z Chicago, z Piotrkowa Trybunalskiego, z Politechniki Szczecińskiej, z Wadowic – sztafetę biegową młodzieży, pielgrzymów z Żor, Rybnika i Jastrzębia Zdroju. Wszystkim bardzo dziękuję za obecność w dniu dzisiejszym i zażyczenia. Mówi przysłowie polskie: “Majowy deszczyk nie trwa długo”. Mam nadzieję, że nie trwa i w Rzymie. Mam nadzieję też, że jest bardzo potrzebny i we Włoszech i w Polsce. Bardzo wam dziękuję!

Ai fedeli giapponesi

Cari pellegrini del Giappone, benvenuti a Roma.

Spero che voi troviate qualche via di incontro con Cristo attraverso questo pellegrinaggio romano che vi dà occasione di vedere testimonianze della cultura cristiana e della fede. Che il Signore vi conceda grazie in abbondanza.

Rendiamo grazie a Dio.

 Ai visitatori dalla Croazia

Carissimi, il perdurare della guerra in Bosnia Erzegovina e in Croazia, di cui avete personalmente sperimentato gli orrori, richiede la preghiera più ardente e perseverante. La Vergine Santissima, alla quale è dedicato questo mese, dal Suo Figlio, Redentore dell’uomo, ottenga per le martoriate popolazioni il grande dono della pace nella giustizia, il ritorno dei profughi ed esuli alle loro case, e la consolazione per i feriti e per quanti piangono i loro cari.

Ai pellegrini di lingua italiana

Rivolgo un cordiale benvenuto ai pellegrini di lingua italiana, in particolare al gruppo di miei coetanei friulani accompagnati dal Vescovo di Latina-Terracina-Sezze-Priverno, Mons. Domenico Pecile. Grazie, carissimi, per i vostri doni, che ricambio con una preghiera per voi e per i vostri cari.

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Saluto i fedeli di Pontestura in modo speciale gli alpini, e con loro abbraccio Mons. Aldo Mongiano, Vescovo di Roraima in Brasile, e i suoi due fratelli, come lui Missionari della Consolata. Possano germogliare nella vostra Comunità nuove vocazioni missionarie!

* * *

Sono poi lieto di accogliere i componenti l’Associazione “Camminando per mano” di Pavullo nel Frignano (Modena), ai quali esprimo apprezzamento per il Soggiorno per Anziani che stanno realizzando.

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Saluto anche i soci del Lions Club Modena Host e i Dirigenti della New Holland Fiat di Modena, che hanno offerto il trattore agricolo da me poc’anzi benedetto e destinato ad una missione in Eritrea.

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Un pensiero va inoltre ai militari del Comando e del Reggimento Trasmissioni di San Giorgio a Cremano, con i loro familiari; come pure ai membri della Comunità; “Betania” di Marore di Parma, che incoraggio a proseguire con impegno solidale il loro cammino di responsabilità. Un saluto infine ai ragazzi della regione di Chernobyl, ospiti della parrocchia di San Nicola e San Sisto in Bellegra (Roma).

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli

Mi rivolgo ora ai giovani, ai malati ed agli sposi novelli. Cari giovani, siate semplici e puri di cuore portando un raggio di gioia dove c’è tristezza e solitudine; a voi cari malati, auguro di vivere con grande fede la vostra sofferenza offrendola al Padre per la salvezza dei fratelli; e voi, sposi novelli, siate fedeli ministri dell’amore e della vita.

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