Vatican City (Fides Service) – At 11 am on Saturday 24 May, the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II received in audience the participants at the Plenary Assembly of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples and he gave the following speech in Italian.
(Here is our English translation).
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and the Priesthood
Dearest Brothers and Sisters!
1. I welcome and greet with affection all of you who have taken part in the Plenary Assembly of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples. I greet first of all Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, Prefect of your Congregation and I am grateful to him for the words addressed to me on your behalf. With him I greet the Secretaries, the Under-Secretary and the collaborators of the Congregation; I greet the Cardinals, Bishops, the religious men and women and all here present.
During the work of the Plenary you focused on an important aspect of the Church’s mission: “Formation in mission territories”, with reference to priests, seminarians, religious men and women, catechists and lay persons involved in pastoral activities. This theme deserves all your attention.
2. The urgency of preparing apostles for new evangelisation was underlined by the Second Vatican Council and also by the Synods of Bishops held in recent years. The work of the Synodal Assemblies gave rise to significant Apostolic Exhortations, among which I will mention only Pastores dabo vobis, Vita Consecrata, Catechesis tradendae and Christifidelis laici.
Ecclesial communities of recent foundation are in rapid expansion. Precisely because at times there have emerged deficiencies and difficulties in their process of growth, it would seem urgent to insist on the formation of qualified pastoral workers, by means of systematic programmes, suited to meet present day needs, attentive to the need to “inculturate” the Gospel in the different environments.
What is needed is integral formation, suited to prepare competent and holy evangelisers able to fulfil their mission. This demands a long and patient process in which all biblical, theological, philosophical and pastoral reflection finds its strong point in a personal relationship with Christ “the Way, the Truth and the Life” (Jn 14,6).
3. Jesus is the first “formator” and a fundamental effort of every educator will be to help those who are being formed to develop a personal relationship with Him. Only those who have learned to “remain with Jesus” are ready to be sent by him “to evangelise” (cfr Mk 3,14). A passionate love for Christ is the secret of a convinced proclamation of Christ. This is what I was referring to in the recent Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia when I wrote: “It is pleasant to spend time with him, to lie close to his breast like the Beloved Disciple (cf. Jn 13:25) and to feel the infinite love present in his heart” (n. 25).
The Church, especially in missionary countries, needs well prepared persons to serve the Gospel gratuitously and generously, ready therefore to promote the values of justice and peace removing all cultural, racial, tribal and ethnic barriers, able to watch for the “signs of the times” and discover “seeds of the Word” not indulging in reductionism or relativism.
In the first place however it is necessary for these people to be “experts” on God and “in love” with God. “The world – observed by venerable predecessor Paul VI -… is calling for evangelisers to speak to it of a God whom the evangelisers themselves should know and be familiar with as if they could see the invisible” (Ap. Exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi 76).
4. Besides personal intimacy with Christ it is necessary to strive for constant growth in love and service of the Church. It will be helpful, on this matter, with regard to priests, to keep particularly in mind the indications contained on the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Pastores dabo vobis, the Council decrees Presbyterorum Ordinis and Optatam totius, and other texts issued by the different Congregation of the Roman Curia.
“Inasmuch as he represents Christ, the Head, Shepherd and Spouse of the Church, - I wrote in Pastores dabo vobis, - the priest is placed not only in the Church but also in the forefront of the Church. In his spiritual life, therefore, he is called to live out Christ’s spousal love towards the Church, his Bride” (number 22). It is up to the Bishop, in communion with the Presbyterate, to outline a project and establish a programme “which can ensure that ongoing formation is not something haphazard but a systematic offering of subjects, which unfold by stages and take on precise forms” (ibid., n. 79).
5. I would take this opportunity to thank all those who dedicate themselves generously to the educational task in mission territories. How can I fail to recall that no few seminarians, priests, men and women religious and laity from mission territories complete their formative itinerary here in Rome, at Colleges and Centres many of which depend on your Congregation? I am thinking of the Pontifical Urban College, S. Pietro and S. Paolo for priests, Foyer Paul VI for women religious, Centre Mater Ecclesiae for Catechists and the International Centre of Missionary Animation for the spiritual renewal of missionaries. I sincerely hope that for each person the experience in Rome will be one of authentic cultural, pastoral and above all spiritual enrichment.
I also hope that every Christian community will advance with docility at the school of Mary, Mother of Christ and Mother of the Church. In my message for this year’s World Mission Sunday I wrote that “a more contemplative Church ” will be “ a holier Church ” a “ more missionary Church”.
While I ask the Lord that this may be true for every ecclesial Community, especially in mission territories, I assure you all of my prayers and gladly impart to you a special Apostolic Blessing. (Fides Service 23/5/2003 EM lines 72 Words: 977)