The New Evangelization (Catechize at all levels)
The Pope visited the Gulf
port city of Veracruz (7 May) where, at the docks of Malecon, he
presided at a service of the Word near the area where Mexico's first
evangelizers embarked. The theme of the service was "Faith and the
new evangelization"; during his homily the Pope not only praised
the first evangelizers of the Americas, but also encouraged everyone to
participate in the "New Evangelization".
After greeting the Bishops,
clergy, religious and laity present, the Pope said:
We are here in Veracruz to
celebrate our faith with joy and to ask the Lord to continue to raise up
new evangelizers in Mexico. Evangelization, dear brothers and sisters,
is marked by the sign of the Cross, the True Cross.
Two years from now we will
celebrate a fact of capital importance: the Fifth Centenary of the
encounter between the European world and your continent, the New World.
It was a meeting of the races and cultures which shaped your country
where discovery, conquest and evangelization occupy a decisive
place-brilliant when taken together, yet not without shades of grey. Yet
our penetrating Christian gaze allows us to discover within this history
God's loving intervention, despite the limitations which are part of
every human activity. There is in the course of history, in fact, a
mysterious convergence of sin and grace, but throughout its wide course,
grace triumphs over the power of sin: "Where sin abounded, grace
did more abound" (Rom 5:20), St Paul the Apostle tells us.
Evangelization: new and old
2. The glory of having been the
port through which, in 1523, the first evangelizers arrived in Mexico
under the standard of the Cross falls to this beautiful port which bears
the name "True Cross". They were three Franciscans,
among them Fray Pedro de Gante; a year later another group of 12
religious came. In San Juan de Ulua the Christian history of your
country had its start; effectively and deeply Christ's message has
continued to shape its mentality, its traits, and its races, giving it
form and contributing more than any other cultural factor to its ethnic.
and cultural identity. All this has meant that Mexico occupies the
unique place it holds among the nations.
Therefore the evangelization
begun is still in process, and the Fifth Centenary must be for all a
propitious occasion to give it a new vitality and thrust. For this
reason the Bishops of all Latin America will gather in Santo Domingo in
1992 to reflect on the Church's present situation in these countries and
study, under the Holy Spirit's direction, the task which we all must
accomplish now that the third millennium of the Christian era is
approaching. In fact, the work of proclaiming the Gospel to all
nations-which, as we just heard in the reading of St Mark's Gospel,
Christ entrusted to his Church-is a responsibility which falls to all
and to each one of those who by the Lord's grace are and call themselves
Christians. Five centuries after the beginning of this ecclesial mission
on the new continent, Christ risen and exalted at the Father's right,
sends us again to evangelize all peoples (cf. Mt 28:19).
The evangelization of America,
which was prompted by the Lord and resulted from the activity of so many
people, had many limitations as well as difficulties; today they are
still awaiting the dispassionate study of history to be seen in their
true light. But it also had great successes as the splendid
accomplishments which have served as models and support for your
people's journey during these centuries show; it is now opportune to
reactivate and revitalize them with a vision that is increasingly clear
and faithful to the Word of the Lord and working in solidarity.
3. Different figures, full of a
deep spirit of faith and of great human worth, can serve as our guides
for a renewal of evangelization to which the Latin American Church has
been called. Let us recall, for example, Fray Juan de Zumarraga, the
first Bishop of Mexico, City, who earned the title "Defender of the
Indios" and who was very, concerned about the catechesis not only
of the indigenous peoples but also of the colonizers who together gave
origin to your characteristic mestizo race. A first and prime result of
that catechesis is found in the Indio Juan Diego whom I had the joy of
beatifying yesterday and whom the Lord chose through his Mother to begin
the evangelizing activity of Mexico.
Father Vasco de Quiroga, first
Bishop of Michoacan, developed his mission as bishop as the real father
of the Tarascos [Indios of Michoacan]; for that reason they still call
him "Tata Vasco"; with fatherly affection he committed himself
entirely to the education and advancement of the faithful the Lord
entrusted to his care; his "hospitals" were much more than the
name implies since they included schools, workshops, warehouses and all
the elements that compose a centre for artisans and farmers, with
hardware and firming implements, etc. Even today we can appreciate the
cultural and Christian inheritance of his heroic missionary and
civilizing work on behalf of the Michoacan population. Fray Bartolome de
las Casas, Bishop of Chiapas, espoused an uncommon attitude for his
times in proclaiming the dignity of the human person of the indigenous
populace, adopting their point of view, and taking on their own
sufferings, sorrows and state of subjugation; he was always ready to
raise his voice to defend the rights of the weakest and the needy in
whom he saw Christ's face.
Here are three different
figures, three distinct models of evangelizers, worthy of a place of
honour among the great pioneers of missionary activity. These three and
others besides made these words of St Paul come to life in Mexico:
"Although I am free in regard to all, I have made myself a slave to
all so as to win as many as possible" (I Cor 9:19). But the
apostolic work of so many priests and religious must be reflected on
within the whole picture of the missionary activity of the entire Church
which receives from Christ the mandate to go and preach the Gospel to
all nations. For that reason it must be said along with the
Latin-American Bishops at the Puebla Conference that: "the
evangelizing work. in Latin America is the result of a unanimous
missionary effort on the part of the whole people of God" (n. 9).
And this communitarian call to make the Good News present among people
continues as a living demand in our own time.
An alive community
4. Through the course of these
five centuries your Christian history has passed through various stages,
and today the Church which is on pilgrimage in Mexico can rightly boast
about being an alive community, active and open to the future. I am
filled with joy at knowing that Mexican Catholics represent a quarter of
the Latin American Church; that you form a large community of 77 Church
territories, with an entirely Mexican hierarchy which accomplishes its
mission together with 11,000 diocesan and religious priests working
together among the Christian people and leading the pilgrimage of faith.
Your concrete identity is
marked by many racial, cultural and religious elements which have
established themselves and have shaped the Mexican nation. And this
reality of yours has been chosen by the Lord to make you "a chosen
race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people who are his own"
(I Pt 2:9). In a word, he has chosen you to be a Christian people. In
fact, by Baptism you have been incorporated into the Catholic Church,
which has come to be a constitutive part of your identity. Precisely out
of this identity springs the following question: What mission do you
have today as a Christian People? The answer comes out of the very
condition of the baptized: you have been called by the Lord to live and
proclaim his Gospel in the world, starting with your history as Mexicans
with its light and its shadows, yet convinced that your mission is to
bear witness to your faith before the world.
New forms of idolatry
5. To evangelize means to
announce the Good News. And the Good News which the Christian
communicates to the world is that God, who alone is Lord, is merciful
towards all his creatures, loves man with limitless love and has sought
to intervene personally in his history by means of his Son Jesus Christ,
who died and rose for us, to free us from sin and from all its
consequences and to make us sharers in his divine life.
Who is this God who alone is
We have heard it in the first
Scripture reading. The Prophet Ezekiel told us: "Here I am; I
myself will take care of my flock and watch over it" (34:11). He is
the shepherd who goes looking for the lost sheep, who takes care of the
wounded sheep and places all of them under his care and protection (cf.
Ez 34:16). Thus he did with the chosen people, sealing with them a
covenant and beginning a history of salvation through which Yahweh leads
and frees Israel (cf. Instruction Libertatis Conscientia, 44).
The Psalm we proclaimed teaches that very thing: "The Lord does
justice and defends all the oppressed he taught Moses his ways and his
deeds to the children, of Israel" (Ps 103:6-7).
For this reason the Lord in his
infinite love wanted to bring the Good News to all nations, making the
chosen people an instrument to announce the promised salvation: "I
will make you a light to the nations that my salvation may reach to the
ends of the earth" (Is 49:6). 6.. This action by God reaches its
high point in Jesus Christ. And Mary receives this Good News in the
Annunciation in order to communicate it later to others; indeed, as soon
as she receives the Lord's message she goes off to a city of Judah to
take it to Elizabeth her relative and proclaim God's marvels in which
she has placed her faith: "My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit
rejoices in God my Saviour" (Lk 1:46-47).
This very God whom the New
Testament reveals to us as One and Three, has manifested himself in the
humanity of his Son Jesus Christ, conceived in Mary's womb. To
evangelize is, above all, to proclaim. Jesus: his life and teachings,
his values and choices, his death and resurrection for us. In his
preaching and in his deeds we find the meaning of the words "God
alone is the Lord" because the whole mystery of Jesus, his
teachings, his miracles, his life, are in the service of the Kingdom and
the Lordship of God.
He preached the Gospel to the
poor, to those without hope, to the little voiceless ones, to the
marginalized, to sinners, to those considered impure in their day
because they were lepers, to the paralytics and the blind, and in
general to all persons who needed to be freed from some sort of evil.
"He took away our infirmities and bore our diseases" (Mt 8:17)
and taught us that the condition for being his disciple is to follow
7. Already in the Old Testament
the Psalmist cried out to God: "When you send forth your spirit
they are created and you renew the face of the earth" (Ps 104:30).
This prayer reaches its full completion on the day of Pentecost, when
the Apostles, in the power of the Holy Spirit, began to put their
missionary vocation into action. This same prayer accompanies the Church
in her task of evangelizing the world. And under the impulse of the same
Spirit, we too must continue the task that falls to us as Church, as
members of God's People. In Christ's Body which is his Church, all have
a mission to carry out, as St Paul teaches us: each one according to the
charism received (cf. I Cor 12).
We must proclaim to the world
that God alone is Lord. This is what the Bishops pointed Put at
the Puebla Conference which I had the privilege of inaugurating during
my first visit to this dear country 11 years ago: "Other than God
nothing is divine or worthy of worship. Human beings fall into slavery
when they divinize or absolutize wealth, power, the State, sex,
pleasure, or anything created by God-including their own being or human
reason. God himself is the source of radical liberation from all forms
of idolatry, because the adoration of what is not adorable and the
absolutization of the relative leads to the violation of the innermost
reality of human persons: i.e., their relationship with God and their
personal fulfilment. Here is the liberating word par excellence:
'You shall do homage to the Lord your God; him alone shall you adore'"
(Mt 4: 10; cf. Deut 5:6ff) (Puebla, 491).
Believers' life witness.
8. The first means for
proclaiming this message, dear brothers and sisters, is the witness
of life of men and women believers who openly express, their faith
by following Christ. For this reason my Predecessor Paul VI said in his
Apostolic Exhortation on evangelization: "Modern man hears a
witness better than he hears teachers; or if he listens to teachers he
does so because they bear witness" (Evangelii Nuntiandi,
n. 42).Let us forcefully announce to the world that Christ has died and
risen for us, and that as St Paul writes, we share in his death and
resurrection by Baptism (cf. Rom 6:3-4). Our Baptism and our condition
as children of the same Father has led us to look upon every person as a
brother or sister. That is why Jesus makes it a condition for our
participating in his salvation to give food to the hungry, give drink to
the thirsty, clothe the naked, console the sorrowing, because "when
you do this to one of my least brothers or sisters you do it to me"
Catechesis on all levels
9. The Christian principles you
have received from your elders, then, must shape all human
relationships. The Gospel values must be the norm of service that must
prevail in the shared life of society: in politics, in culture, in
education, in family life, in labour relations. Yet without ever
confusing the Kingdom of God with or limiting it to earthly goals which
are only a portion, an instrument. As the Bishops at Puebla announced:
"The Kingdom of God comes to pass through historical realizations,
yet it is not identified with these realizations nor exhausted in
them" (n. 193).
Finally, a solid catechesis at
all levels, especially in the family and among young people, has to
follow the announcement of the Good News. The invitation to believe has
to be accompanied by timely instruction on all that the Lord has wished
to teach us through his Church. It would be an error to catechize
without having evangelized previously, just as it would be equally wrong
to evangelize without later attending sufficiently to instruction in the
The Christian formation through
catechesis will lead to a more active participation in the liturgical
and sacramental life of the Church. In this way, the simple people will
find in this and in the practices of popular piety reasons to be
informed about their faith. And thus de-christianized circles will
become more open to a new encounter with the Lord, and the proselytizing
efforts of the sects will find a brake applied to the ambiguities and
the confusion they sow.
Dear brothers and sisters, I
ask the Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ and our Mother whom you invoked
with the name of Guadalupe and who was the first woman to receive the
Gospel message in order to announce it to others, to serve as the
"star of evangelization" which guides you in the faithful
carrying out of this mission which the Lord gives you.