Part 2: Cardinal Sepe on Church's Missionary Work

Interview with Prefect of Congregation for Evangelization of Peoples

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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 24, 2002 (ZENIT.orgFides).- This is the second part of an interview that Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, gave on the occasion of World Mission Sunday. The first part appeared Wednesday.

Q: In your many pastoral journeys you have witnessed the suffering and hopes of faithful and missionaries who live the faith under difficult conditions. From your direct experience, what must Catholics in other parts of the world do to alleviate these difficulties and to ensure that these Christians do not feel alone in their daily witness?

Cardinal Sepe: First of all, we should remember that in the plan of faith and charity there is no room for solitude. In fact, in the Creed we profess our faith in the “communion of saints.” This article of faith has a profound effect on the life of the Church. St. Theresa of the Child Jesus, patron of the missions, based her love on this spiritual reality which allowed her to be Love at the heart of the Church, to send love to missionaries working in remote regions.

The first gift that every Catholic can give to missionary activity is continual prayer — for example, prayer according to the different missionary intentions chosen by the Pope for the Apostleship of Prayer. Then we can offer fruits of personal sacrifices, however small and insignificant they may appear; we can and should put them in communion. How many sick persons offer their suffering, and some even their last agony for the missions!

Material help is also an expression of the communion of saints if it is the fruit of fasting or little sacrifices, so dear to the people of our parishes — made with love and faith for this purpose. Besides this spiritual union, missionaries need the comfort of loyal and authentic friendship. This friendship is expressed in solidarity with the tasks proper to their mission, exchange of letters, experience.

Other material help must not be neglected: immediate help to the missionary passing through the parish; collections organized by the parish for a mission twinned with the local community; also wide range assistance organized by the respective national offices of the pontifical mission societies.

In this sense, on World Mission Sunday Catholic communities all over the world make collections for distribution to support missionary projects in many different countries. These are only a few examples of concrete acts which express a truth which the Pope does not cease to underline in his teaching: the missionary vocation of every baptized person.

Q: The Holy Father, in line with the times, continually exhorts the Church to use with courage and wisdom the new means of communication for proclaiming the Gospel. You yourself have always encouraged the Church not to lose this opportunity and you have been a communicator, faithful interpreter of the magisterium. How can we sustain and promote the efforts that the missionary world is making in this direction?

Cardinal Sepe: With the new information technology the Church finds herself suddenly facing a new challenge: to evangelize modern man using modern technology, handing on the Gospel message without altering it, but using the language proper to the new means of communication.

In his “Redemptoris Missio” the Holy Father asked us to reflect on the relationship between culture and modern communications, calling the Church to be not merely a spectator but a user of the modern systems of social communications: “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. In particular, the younger generation is growing up in a world conditioned by the mass media. To some degree perhaps this Areopagus has been neglected. 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, No. 37].

The Church, we can say, beginning with the Holy Father himself, has not shied away from this new challenge, she has accepted it. Without fear she has humbly set out on the path; her progress is slow but it cannot be halted. Pope John Paul II has given us the directions: “It is also necessary to integrate that message into the ‘new culture’ created by modern communications” since the new generation is growing up in a world conditioned by the mass media.

Our own missionary congregation has accepted this challenge and does not hesitate to enter the new culture created by the modern means of communication. To understand fully their potential we must study their language, follow their development and use them for the Gospel.

I think for example that our Fides news service has a place in this proposal. It has many projects to put into action the desires of His Holiness who already in 1984 speaking to journalists said greater circulation of ideas and information in the ecclesial community, between the Apostolic See and the local Churches, between local Churches themselves, […] will undoubtedly foster not only a deepening of spirit and collegiality and strengthening of bonds of communion but also growth and maturation of the individual and collection awareness of the members of the People of God.

Each one of the faithful has the right to be informed about what is necessary to take an active part in the life of the Church, says the pastoral instruction “Communio et Progressio” (No. 119). Here I would say that the experience of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 was very useful.

During that unforgettable event, as never before in the history of the Church, the means of communication were involved. We even had an Internet office dedicated to his “circulation of ideas and information in the ecclesial community,” through which we were able to pass on the world the many programs and contents of the jubilee in Rome and in the local Churches around the world, translated in 11 languages.

All this is of encouragement also for the times to come, in which other projects will be launched to enable the missionaries and the local Churches most in need to benefit from this “circulation of ideas and information in the ecclesial community.”

The Congregatio de Propaganda Fide feels itself to be in fact a great family, and in a real family there must be first of all communication to reach communion. Thinking of [the] Fides service and its service to the missions I like to see it as a great laboratory of thought and projects for evangelization through the media. We cannot risk — and I say this with special reference to missionary activity — losing the train of modern social communications.

Unfortunately we all see the ever more aggressive phenomena of the affirmation of schools of thought given to merely secularize logic, which elaborate in their laboratories cultures of consumerism, liberality, etc., and then spread them through the media drawing man outside of himself and robbing him of his dignity as child of God. These secularized cultures quickly influence mentalities and customs because they are transmitted at great speed from one part of the earth to the other, by means of media of which the modern laboratories of power make massive use.

The early Church saw the roads of the Roman Empire, certainly not built for her, as a providential gift for embarking on evangelization. The apostles, who received from the Lord the command to “go out into the whole world and preach the Gospel to every creature,” did not hesitate to use those imperial means of communication to spread the Word of God.

Today the modern technology offers new roads, which we must all use since they wil
l help us to launch truly unprecedented networks: “Such a wide audience would have been beyond the wildest imaginings of those who preached the Gospel before us. Therefore, what is needed in our time is an active and imaginative engagement of the media by the Church. Catholics should not be afraid to throw open the doors of social communications to Christ, so that his Good News may be heard from the housetops of the world!” This was said by Pope John II in his message for the 35th World Communications Day, 2001.

The Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples looks with particular attention to this ocean of possibilities offered by the media; we proceed with audacity — as the Pope says in his call to “put out into the deep,” and we must ask the Lord to give us the strength and the courage to implement pastoral and spiritual initiatives suited to modern times, which allow us use to the maximum effect the tools offered by the information culture, strengthened by confidence in the word of Jesus.

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