The Identity of the Church is Founded on the Mystery of the Person of Christ

Bishop Porteous Speaks on the Relation Between Evangelization and Human Promotion

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SYDNEY, Australia, OCT. 24, 2004 ( Here is the address delivered by Auxiliary Bishop Julian Charles Porteous of Sydney, Australia, during the world theological video-conference on “The Missionary Activity of the Church,” organized by the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy on Oct. 4.

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It is impossible to accept “that in evangelization one could or should ignore the importance of the problems so much discussed today, concerning justice, liberation, development and peace in the world”‘ (EN31). These words of Pope Paul VI, although written nearly thirty years ago, have lost none of their imperative. On September 11, 2004 Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, speaking at the “Men and Religions” meeting, organized by the Community of Sant’Egidio and the Milan Archdiocese opened his address with the following observation:

“After the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall, there was hope for a period of peace and of peaceful and democratic development in the world. Now we know that that hope was altogether illusory. The new scourge of humanity and the new challenge posed to the whole of civilization is terrorism — together with hunger and poverty in the world. Undoubtedly, this represents a challenge for all civilized states that will credibly characterize the whole century that has just begun.”

Evangelii nuntiandi, paragraph 31, acknowledged the profound links between evangelization and human promotion; links of the anthropological, theological and evangelical orders. Gaudium et Spes (n 3) pointed out that it is the human person who is the hermeneutical key to finding the way forward to authentic human promotion: “man considered whole and entire, with body and soul, heart and conscience, mind and will.” Each person lives out their part in the “theatre of human history” (GS n 2) as a subject with social and economic questions, wounded by sin but graced by God’s plan of Redemption, and called in their innermost being to the universal human vocation of a personal culture of love (caritas), to human fellowship, and to contributing to the formation of the civilization of love.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, in his address, went on to note:

“The clash of civilizations can be avoided only through the dialogue of cultures and religions. Dialogue puts respect for the common heritage of all religions and profound respect for the sacred first. However, dialogue in no way means syncretism and abdication of one’s own identity; rather, dialogue can be undertaken only by interlocutors each of whom has his own identity, an identity that they know [and] esteem and by which they commit themselves through the arms of the spirit.”

In the present climate of the threat of terrorism as a consequence of the clash of civilizations the dialogical aspect of evangelization becomes more urgent. The Church must dialogue from the conviction to her own identity. If the human person is, and must always remain, the hermeneutical key for the way forward in this dialogue for human promotion, the Church has already stated clearly her conviction that her own identity is at one and the same time founded in the anthropological, theological and evangelical orders which come together in the hermeneutical key of the person of Jesus Christ. Gaudium et Spes (n 22) stated this clearly when it taught that it is “only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man truly becomes clear.” Jesus Christ “reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling.” He is “the goal of human history, the focal point of the desires of history and civilization, the center of mankind, the joy of all hearts, and the fulfillment of all aspirations” (n 45).

The Church remains faithful to her essential missionary dimension only when she continues to dialogue from the conviction that her identity is founded in the mystery of Jesus Christ. Dialogue requires that it be entered into with a spirit of conviction but without imposition. Thus the Church can remain faithful to her missionary character and at the same time to human promotion.

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