The document entitled “A Doctrinal Note on Some Aspects of Evangelization" which is bound to cause much discussion amongst Catholics, was published today at the Vatican. The note emphasizes the need for Catholics to share their faith in Christ and to be “instruments of His presence and activity in the world.”
The document comes as a response “to a certain confusion about whether Catholics should give testimony about their faith in Christ. “The congregation," said Cardinal William Joseph Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, "decided to address some specific points which seem to undermine the fulfillment of Christ's missionary mandate.”
The new document states that there is “growing confusion” regarding the Church’s mission to evangelize. “Some think 'that any attempt to convince others on religious matters is a limitation of their freedom,' suggesting that it is enough to invite people 'to act according to their consciences,' or to 'become more human or more faithful to their own religion,' or 'to build communities which strive for justice, freedom, peace and solidarity,' without aiming at their conversion to Christ and to the Catholic faith.”
However, the document observes that this way of thinking contains the false idea that man can be free apart from the truth. It states that, "while some forms of agnosticism and relativism deny the human capacity for truth, in fact, human freedom cannot be separated from its reference to truth."
In the search for truth, one cannot do it on his own, the note explains. He needs "help from others and trust in knowledge that one receives from others. Thus, teaching and entering into dialogue to lead someone in freedom to know and to love Christ is not inappropriate encroachment on human freedom, 'but rather a legitimate endeavor and a service capable of making human relationships more fruitful'."
Evangelization: Faith in Action
During the presentation, the secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Angelo Amato said that we cannot just teach the basics of the doctrine, but must actively live out the Faith. “Evangelization means not just teaching doctrine but announcing the Lord Jesus though word and deed, in other words, becoming instruments of His presence and activity in the world."
He continued, the "primary task of the Church is to lead mankind to friendship with Jesus Christ, in freedom and respect for the conscience of others. ... respect for different sensibilities and particular traditions cannot preclude the need for freedom or for truth, which are the indispensable prerequisites for any form of dialogue."
In reference to other cultures, the note highlights "Through evangelization, cultures are positively affected by the truth of the Gospel. Likewise, through evangelization, members of the Catholic Church open themselves to receiving the gifts of other traditions and cultures."
Cardinal Fracncis Arinze, prefect of the Disciple of the Sacraments, made a number of observations concerning the regions of sub-Saharan Africa where "African traditional religion has been the dominant religious and cultural context for centuries. It is also from that context that most converts to Christianity in these countries in the past two hundred years have come."
"The sharing of our Catholic faith with others who do not yet know Christ should be regarded as a work of love," he continued, "provided that it is done with full respect for their human dignity and freedom. Indeed if a Christian did not try to spread the Gospel by sharing the excelling knowledge of Jesus Christ with others, we could suspect that Christian either of lack of total conviction on the faith, or of selfishness and laziness in not wanting to share the full and abundant means of salvation with his fellow human beings."
Cardinal Dias, prefect of the Evangelization of the Peoples commented on the note from an "Asian theological perspective." Evangelization "in a context of religious pluralism is nothing new for the Church," but it does present "a particular challenge in modern times because we are living in an age in which people from different religions meet and interact more than in any other period in human history."
On a continent with diverse religious traditions, the cardinal noted "Christians must seek to discover therein the action of the Holy Spirit - in other words the 'seeds of truth' as Vatican Council II chose to call them - and lead them, with no pretensions to superiority, to full knowledge of the truth in Jesus Christ."
Finally, focusing on inter-religious dialogue, Cardinal Dias expressed that "other religions represent a positive challenge for the Church; they stimulate her both to discover and recognize the signs of Christ's presence in the action of the Spirit, and to develop her own identity and bear witness to the integrity of revelation, of which she is the depositary for the good of everyone."
The document can be found here.