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The Church preaches the Gospel to the end of time

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 26 April 1995 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. The Church's universal mission unfolds in time and is fulfilled throughout the history of humanity. Before Christ's coming, the period of preparation (cf. Gal 3:23; Heb 1:1) and expectation (cf. Rom 3:26; Acts 17:30) ended with the coming of the "fullness of time," when the Son of God became incarnate for man's salvation (cf. Gal 4:4). With this event a new period began, which we cannot measure and which will extend to the end of history.

The evangelization of the world is therefore subject to the laws of the succession of centuries and human generations. It addresses every person, era and culture. The Gospel proclamation must always be renewed. It must become ever more complete and profound, even in regions and cultures evangelized long ago. In short, it must begin again every day, until the coming of the "last day" (Jn 12:48).

2. Evangelization should be seen in the perspective which Christ himself gave it. It will come to its fulfillment only at the end of the world: "And this Gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the world as a witness to all nations, and then the end will come" (Mt 24:14).

It has not been granted us to "know the times or seasons" (Acts 1:7) established by God's plan regarding the fulfillment of the work of evangelization, a premise for the coming of God's kingdom. Neither can we know how deep the mission will have to penetrate for "the end to come." We only know that evangelization progresses through history, to which the final meaning will be given when it has been fulfilled. Until that time, there is a mystery of evangelization which at the same time penetrates the very mystery of history.

3. It should be noted that we are still far from a complete evangelization of "all nations" (Mt 24:14; 28:19), and that the vast majority have not yet adhered to the Gospel or to the Church. Then, as I wrote in Redemptoris Missio: "Missionary activity is only beginning" (n. 30). This historical conclusion is not opposed to the heavenly Father's universal saving will to insure that, with the light of Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit, the gift of redemption reaches the heart of every man. There is no doubt that for the Church's task of evangelization this mystery of presence and saving action is fundamental. The mandate Jesus entrusted to the apostles, and therefore to the Church, to "go," "baptize," "teach," and "proclaim the Gospel to every creature" (Mk 16:15), "to all nations" (Mt 28:19; Lk 24:47), "until the end of the age" (Mt 28:20), must be understood in this light.

At the end of Mark's Gospel we read that the apostles "went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs" (Mk 16:20). It could be said that the mission entrusted to them by Christ had awakened a sort of urgent need to fulfill the mandate they had received to evangelize all nations. The first Christians shared this spirit and powerfully felt the need to take the Good News to every region of the world. After 2000 years, the same task and the same responsibility remain unchanged in the Church. Today Christians are still asked to devote themselves, each in his own walk of life, to the important task of evangelization.

4. In an earlier catechesis I recalled the question the disciples asked Christ at the moment of the ascension: "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6).

They had not yet understood what Kingdom Christ had come to establish. The kingdom of God, which extends throughout the world and to every generation, is the spiritual transformation of humanity by a process of conversion, the times of which are known only to the heavenly Father. In fact, to the disciples, as yet incapable of understanding Christ's work, the risen one replied: "It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority" (Acts 1:7).

The Father then has provided a succession of times and seasons for the fulfillment of his saving plan. These kairoi, these moments of grace that mark the stages of the fulfillment of his kingdom, belong to him. Although he is the Almighty, he has decided to work patiently within history, according to the rhythms of human development--personal and collective--taking into account human possibilities, resistance, willingness and freedom.

This divine pedagogy must be the model inspiring all the Church's missionary activity. Evangelizers must patiently accept the times of evangelization, sometimes slow, sometimes even very slow, aware that God, to whom "the times and seasons" belong, tirelessly guides the course of history with sovereign wisdom.

5. The time of expectation, as I have already pointed out, can be long before the favorable time comes. Although encountering resistance, deafness and delay astutely orchestrated by the "ruler of this world" (Jn 12:31), the Church knows that she must act with patience, with deep respect for each ethnic, cultural, psychological and sociological situation. Nevertheless, she can never lose heart if her efforts are not immediately crowned with success. Above all, she can never deviate from the basic task entrusted to her, that of proclaiming the Good News to all nations.

Knowing how to wait for the "times and seasons" of God implies a vigilant attitude. One must make the most of the opportunities and possibilities for Gospel proclamation in changing historical circumstances. The Council recommends this when it recalls: "These circumstances in turn depend sometimes on the Church, sometimes on the peoples or groups or men to whom the mission is directed. For the Church, although of itself including the totality or fullness of the means of salvation, does not and cannot always and instantly bring them all into action" (AG 6). "There are times when after a happy beginning, she must again lament a setback, or at least must linger in a certain state of unfinished insufficiency" (AG 6). This is also part of the mystery of the cross that pervades history.

6. It is well known that down the centuries, for various reasons, entire Christian communities have disappeared. This is the sad message of history, which warns about the possibilities of failure inherent in human activities. Not even the work of evangelization is preserved from this. But history also attests that through God's grace the setbacks, limited to certain places or to certain times, do not impede the general development of evangelization which, in accordance with Christ's words, will gradually spread to all humanity (cf. Mt 24:14). In fact, even amid varying circumstances, the Church continues her mission of evangelization with the same enthusiasm of the first centuries, and the kingdom of God continues to develop and spread.

7. Today too she is aware of the difficulties which arise on her long journey through history. Nevertheless she sincerely believes in the power of the Holy Spirit, who opens hearts to the Gospel and guides her in her mission. The Spirit draws to Christ every man, every culture and people, respecting their freedom and pattern of life and gently guiding all to the truth. However what could seem to human eyes a slow and uneven path, is actually God's method. This certainty sustains and strengthens Christ's followers--starting with pastors and missionaries--in the hope that their work is not in vain and will not be wasted. This hope is based on an eschatological perspective which is at the root of the Church's evangelizing activity as she makes her earthly pilgrimage to the end of time."

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

Ai fedeli francesi 

Chers frères et sœurs,

Je salue cordialement les pèlerins de langue française présents à cette audience et, parmi eux, le groupe de dirigeants et de directeurs de supermarchés du Québec. J’accueille avec joie le pèlerinage du diocèse de Nancy, avec Monseigneur Jean–Paul Jaeger, les jeunes du diocèse de Nevers avec Monseigneur Michel Moutel, ainsi que des élèves et des professeurs de l’école des Francs–Bourgeois de Paris et les enfants de chœur du Vésinet. Je me réjouis de la présence des séminaristes de Nantes. Puissent–ils profiter de ce séjour à Rome pour affermir leur vocation et leur désir de servir le Christ et son glise, dans une disponibilité totale! En invitant les pèlerins à suivre le Christ ressuscité, dans la joie de Pâques, j’accorde à tous de grand cœur ma Bénédiction Apostolique. 

Ai pellegrini di lingua inglese 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I extend special greetings to the English–speaking pilgrims and visitors: may you return to your homelands renewed in faith, hope and love, that you may ever more effectively bear witness to Christ. Upon the visitors from England, Scotland, Ireland, Korea, the Philippines, Thailand and the United States of America I invoke the grace and peace of our Risen Saviour.

Ai fedeli di espressione tedesca 

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit dieser kurzen Betrachtung heie ich Euch, liebe Schwestern und Brüder aus den deutschsprachigen Ländern, sehr herzlich willkommen. Mein besonderer Gru gilt den zahlreichen Jugend und Schülergruppen, vor allem den Firmlingen der PfarreiSt. Michael in Wädenswil sowie den Schülerinnen der Liebfrauenschule der Dominikanerinnen in Dieen. Mit meinen besten Wünschen für Euch und Eure Lieben zu Hause erteile ich Euch allen von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di lingua spagnola 

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Deseo saludar ahora a los visitantes de lengua española, en particular a los sacerdotes de diversas diócesis de España, al grupo del canal televisivo “Clara–Visión” de la diócesis mexicana de Toluca, a un grupo de señoras de Puerto Rico, a los fieles de la parroquia

San Nicolás de Tolentino de Bogotá, así como a los peregrinos argentinos. Al invitaros a todos a colaborar, cada uno según su estado de vida, en la misión evangelizadora de la Iglesia, os imparto mi Bendición Apostólica.

Ai fedeli portoghesi

Queridos Irmãos e Irmãs,

Com cordial afecto, saúdo todos os peregrinos de língua portuguesa, em especial o grupo de ítalo–brasileiros do Estado de Espírito Santo, e as jovens estudantes do Colégio de Nossa Senhora do Alto, na cidade de Faro em Portugal: aprendei a ler e a respeitar “os tempos e momentos” de Deus, para serdes fiéis colaboradores do seu Reino nesta terra dos homens. O Espírito do Senhor ilumine e robusteça o vosso coração para transmitir toda a felicidade e poder da salvação a quantos vivem ao vosso redor. Penhor do muito bem que vos quero, dou–vos a minha Bênção Apostólica.

Ai fedeli polacchi 

Serdecznie witam pielgrzymów z Polski. Szczegółowa lista pielgrzymek została już odczytana. Witam w sposób szczególny archidiecezję łódzką – przybyłą na 75–lecie istnienia z Księdzem Arcybiskupem, Biskupami pomocniczymi i Nuncjuszem – łodzianinem. W szczególny sposób pragnę pobłogosławić akcję duszpasterską, która rozpocznie się 3 maja peregrynacją wizerunku Matki Bożej Częstochowskiej (dar Bazyliki Watykańskiej) po parafiach diecezji łódzkiej.

Witam także pielgrzymów i pielgrzymki z Myślenic, młodzież z Jabłonki Orawskiej, z Andrychowa, z Małych Kóz, z Częstochowy – Dolina Miłosierdzia, z Gdańska, Szczecina, Kołobrzegu, Warmii, chorych z Katowic i Włocławka, chór Akademii Medycznej z Bydgoszczy, chór dziecięcy z Woli Rzędzińskiej koło Tarnowa, prócz tego pielgrzymów z Paryża, Dortmundu i Aachen. Pozdrawiam równocześnie chór ukraiński z Drohobycza. 

Ai fedeli italiani 

Porgo il più cordiale benvenuto ai pellegrini di lingua italiana, in particolare alle numerose Religiose, tra cui le Operatrici Sanitarie e le aderenti al Movimento dei Focolari, come pure ai Diaconi della diocesi di Como, ai seminaristi di Bolzano-Bressanone ed al gruppo di Laici Betlemiti.

Sono poi particolarmente lieto di accogliere il pellegrinaggio diocesano di Siracusa, guidato dall’Arcivescovo, Mons. Giuseppe Costanzo, per ricambiare la Visita da me compiuta nel novembre scorso, quando mi fu dato di consacrare il Santuario della Madonna delle Lacrime.

Grazie, carissimi, per la squisita ospitalità che allora mi avete offerto! Grazie soprattutto per la vostra corale testimonianza di fede e di convinta adesione ai valori cristiani ed alla spiritualità mariana. Vi esorto a proseguire generosamente su questa strada.

Vi guidi la materna protezione della Beata Vergine delle Lacrime. Ed io volentieri imparto a ciascuno di voi, alle vostre famiglie ed all’intera vostra Arcidiocesi l’Apostolica Benedizione.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli 

Ed ora un pensiero ai giovani, ai malati e agli sposi novelli, ispirato all’apparizione di Cristo ai due “discepoli di Emmaus” (cf. Lc 24, 13-35).

Cari giovani sappiate incontrare Gesù nella preghiera e nella riflessione, e il vostro cuore, come avvenne per i viandanti di Emmaus, arderà per i desideri, gli entusiasmi e le certezze che solo il divino Maestro sa suggerire. Voi, cari malati guardando alla misteriosa sofferenza del Signore potrete comprendere che anche il dolore contribuisce validamente alla santificazione della Chiesa ed alla salvezza del mondo. E voi, cari sposi novelli, invitate Gesù a restare con voi; Egli si fermerà stabilmente nella vostra casa, e spezzerà con voi e per voi il pane della sapienza, della gioia e dell’amore. 

La preghiera e l’appello per le sofferenze dell’Africa schiacciata dalla violenza delle armi

In questi giorni di letizia pasquale giungono dall’amato continente africano sempre più frequenti e preoccupanti notizie drammatiche.

Un nuovo terribile massacro ha causato tante vittime innocenti nel Rwanda, tra gente già così provata dal genocidio e dalla guerra. Chiedo ai responsabili di fermarsi di fronte al sangue degli innocenti che grida davanti a Dio. Né posso tacere una grave violazione della libertà religiosa, avvenuta con la recente espulsione di un missionario dal Sudan. E giunta notizia che un simile provvedimento per altri tre missionari è stato preso e poi revocato. Queste misure creano un clima di tensione che turba la convivenza e non favorisce il dialogo interreligioso.

In troppi Paesi africani poi le armi continuano ad imporsi, prolungando annosi conflitti che provocano terribili episodi e seminano distruzione e morte.

Vi invito pertanto ad unirvi alla mia preghiera al Signore Resuscitato, affinché illumini la mente e il cuore di tutti i responsabili. Il rispetto dei diritti fondamentali della persona e l’impegno unanime sul cammino della riconciliazione sono condizioni insostituibili per un futuro di speranza e di pace per quei popoli.

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