VATICAN CITY, NOV. 16, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of a message Benedict XVI sent to Cardinal Ivan Dias, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, on the occasion of that dicastery’s plenary assembly.
The assembly began today and is under way through Wednesday on the topic “St. Paul and the New Areopagi.”
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To the Venerable Brother, Lord Cardinal Ivan Dias,
Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples
On the occasion of the plenary assembly of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, I wish to express to you, Lord Cardinal, my cordial greeting, which I happily extend to the archbishops, bishops and all those taking part in this assembly. I also greet the secretary, the assistant secretary, the under-secretary and all the collaborators of this dicastery. I add the expression of my sentiments of appreciation and gratitude for the service you render the Church in the area of the mission ad gentes.
The topic you are addressing in this meeting, “St. Paul and the New Areopagi” — also in light of the Pauline Year concluded a short while ago — assists in reliving an experience of the Apostle to the Gentiles while in Athens. After having preached in many places, he addressed the Areopagus and there proclaimed the Gospel using a language that today we could describe as “inculturated” (cf. Acts 17:22-31).
That Areopagus, which at the time represented the center of culture for the refined Athenian people, today — as my venerated predecessor John Paul II would say — “can be taken as a symbol of the new sectors in which the Gospel must be proclaimed” (Redemptoris Missio, 37). In fact, the reference to that event is an urgent invitation to know how to value the “Areopagi” of today, where the great challenges of evangelization are addressed.
You wish to analyze this topic with realism, taking into account the many social changes that have occurred: a realism supported by the spirit of faith, which sees history in the light of the Gospel, and with the certainty that Paul had of the presence of the Risen Christ. Resonating and comforting for us also are the words that Jesus addressed to him in Corinth: “Do not be afraid. Go on speaking, and do not be silent, for I am with you. No one will attack and harm you,” (Acts 18:9-10).
In an effective way, the Servant of God Paul VI said that it is not just a question of preaching the Gospel, but of “affecting and as it were upsetting, through the power of the Gospel, mankind’s criteria of judgment, determining values, points of interest, lines of thought, sources of inspiration and models of life, which are in contrast with the Word of God and the plan of salvation” (Insegnamenti XIII, , 1448).
It is necessary to look at the “new Areopagi” with this spirit; some of these [areas], with present globalization, have become common, whereas others continue to be specific to certain continents, as was seen recently in the special assembly for Africa of the synod of bishops. Therefore, the missionary activity of the Church must be directed to the vital centers of the society of the third millennium.
Not to be underestimated is the influence of a widespread relativistic culture, more often than not lacking in values, which enters the sanctuary of the family, infiltrates the realm of education and other realms of society and contaminates them, manipulating consciences, especially those of the young. At the same time, however, despite these snares, the Church knows that the Holy Spirit is always acting. New doors, in fact, are opened to the Gospel, and spreading in the world is the longing for authentic spiritual and apostolic renewal. As in other periods of change, the pastoral priority is to show the true face of Christ, lord of history and sole redeemer of man.
This demands that every Christian community and the Church as a whole offer a testimony of fidelity to Christ, patiently building that unity desired by him and invoked by all his disciples. The unity of Christians will, in fact, facilitate evangelization and confrontation with the cultural, social and religious challenges of our time.
In this missionary enterprise we can look to the Apostle Paul, imitate his “style” of life and his apostolic “spirit” itself, centered totally on Christ. With this complete adherence to the Lord, Christians will more easily be able to transmit to future generations the heritage of faith, capable of transforming difficulties into possibilities of evangelization.
In the recent encyclical “Caritas in Veritate,” I wished to emphasize that the economic and social development of contemporary society needs to renew attention to the spiritual life and “a serious consideration of the experiences of trust in God, spiritual fellowship in Christ, reliance upon God’s providence and mercy, love and forgiveness, self-denial, acceptance of others, justice and peace. Christians long for the entire human family to call upon God as ‘Our Father!'” (No. 79).
Lord Cardinal, while thanking you for the service that this dicastery renders to the cause of the Gospel, I invoke upon you and upon all those taking part in the present plenary assembly the help of God and the protection of the Virgin Mary, star of evangelization, while I send my heartfelt apostolic blessing to all.
From the Vatican, Nov. 13, 2009
BENEDICTUS XVI PP
[Translation by ZENIT]