Blessed John Paul II and the Church’s Missionary Mandate

JohannesPaul2-portrait (1)Redemptoris Missio (1990)

Two years after writing the Apostolic Exhortation, Christifideles laici, John Paul II wrote a major encyclical entitled Redemptoris Missio, On the permanent validity of the Church’s missionary mandate (1990). He writes this document because he observes a negative tendency in which missionary activity specifically directed “to the nations” appears to be waning (RM 2). He reinforces that the Church still believes in the real possibility of salvation in Christ for all mankind (RM 9). Why do we need missions? Because in Christ alone are we set free from all alienation and doubt, he is the Good News for man and women of every age. “Those who are incorporated in the Catholic Church ought to sense their privilege and for that very reason their greater obligation of bearing witness to the faith and to the Christian life as a service to their brothers and sisters and as a fitting response to God” (RM 11). Pope John Paul II highlights a correct understanding of the Kingdom of God and the role of the Holy Spirit in evangelization. He then discusses three situations in the Church’s missionary activity. The first is the mission to those to whom Christ is not known, the second is among those Christian communities for with adequate and solid ecclesial structures, and with fervent Christian living which bears witness to the Gospel with a sense of commitment to the universal mission. These communities require pastoral care. The third situation is among those countries who were traditionally Christian but where entire groups of the baptized have lost a living sense of faith. In this case we need a “new evangelization” or a re-evangelization (RM 33). The Church everywhere must seek to overcome the difficulties of “fatigue, disenchantment, compromise, lack of interest and above all lack of joy and hope” (RM 36). He makes a special plea, “In this regard, I earnestly ask theologians and professional Christian journalists to intensify the service they render to the Church’s mission in order to discover the deep meaning of their work, along the sure path of “thinking with the Church” (sentire cum Ecclesia)” (RM 36).

Pope John Paul II, then moves on to discuss the parameters of the Church’s mission Ad Gentes. He notes that although the mission is universal, “the criterion of geography . . . is still a valid indicator of the frontiers toward which missionary activity must be directed.” (RM 37). He also notes that “migration has produced a new phenomenon: non-Christians are becoming very numerous in traditionally Christian countries” and this provides new opportunities for mission. In the area of social communications John Paul II notes that,

“Since 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 37).

He also identifies the evangelization of culture with the “commitment to peace, development and the liberation of peoples; the rights of individuals and peoples, especially those of minorities; the advancement of women and children; safeguarding the created world” (RM 37). These are many of the issues discussed in the Compendium of Social Doctrine of the Church.

By faithfully proclaiming Christ, he notes that the Church is furthering human freedom. The Church should strive to promote authentic religious freedom for all people because this is “an inalienable right of each and every human person” (RM 39). He notes that we need to “direct our attention toward those geographical areas and cultural settings which still remain uninfluenced by the Gospel” particularly the south and east (RM 39).

Pope John Paul II discusses the paths of mission which begin with initial witness, “the very life of the missionary, of the Christian family, and of the ecclesial community, which reveal a new way of living” (RM 42). This is followed by the initial proclamation of Christ the Savior, which leads some to conversion and Baptism followed by entry into an existing Church the establishment of new communities which confess Jesus as Savior and Lord (RM 48). He also notes the importance of “ecclesial basic communities” which are provider centers for Christian formation and missionary outreach.

Pope John Paul II then moves on to discuss inculturation;

The process of the Church’s insertion into peoples’ cultures is a lengthy one. It is not a matter of purely external adaptation, for inculturation “means the intimate transformation of authentic cultural values through their integration in Christianity and the insertion of Christianity in the various human cultures.”85 The process is thus a profound and all-embracing one, which involves the Christian message and also the Church’s reflection and practice. But at the same time it is a difficult process, for it must in no way compromise the distinctiveness and integrity of the Christian faith. (RM 48).

In reference to foreign missionaries he notes,

Missionaries, who come from other churches and countries, must immerse themselves in the cultural milieu of those to whom they are sent, moving beyond their own cultural limitations. Hence they must learn the language of the place in which they work, become familiar with the most important expressions of the local culture, and discover its values through direct experience. Only if they have this kind of awareness will they be able to bring to people the knowledge of the hidden mystery (cf. Rom 16:25-27; Eph 3:5) in a credible and fruitful way. (RM 53).

Two principles must be followed to ensure proper inculturation, “compatibility with the gospel and communion with the universal Church.” Bishops, as guardians of the “deposit of faith,” will take care to ensure fidelity and, in particular, to provide discernment, for which a deeply balanced approach is required. (RM 54).

He notes also that “Inter-religious dialogue is a part of the Church’s evangelizing mission” but that this should not distract in any way from “the fact that salvation comes from Christ and that dialogue does not dispense from evangelization.” (RM 55). He notes that “missionaries are being recognized as promoters of development by governments and international experts” but cautions that development should always be based on authentic human development rather than “money or technology” (RM 58).

Pope John Paul II notes the need to develop missionary leaders and promote missionary institutes. He also notes that this is a special concern for all bishops and priests who “are called by virtue of the sacrament of Orders to share in concern for the Church’s mission” (RM 67). This mission should also be a special concern for vocations of the Institutes of Consecrated Life, both institutes of contemplative life and institutes of active life (RM 69). He also stresses the importance of the role of the laity in missionary activity. The lay faithful are called as missionaries by means of their baptism. It is a right and duty based on their baptismal dignity, whereby “the faithful participate, for their part, in the threefold mission of Christ as Priest, Prophet and King” (RM 71). He also highlights the need for prayer and cooperation and the need to “be open to the Church’s universality, and to avoid every form of provincialism or exclusiveness, or feelings of self-sufficiency” (RM 85).

Missionary activity demands a specific spirituality: a life of complete docility to the Spirit, an intimate communion with Christ, a life marked by apostolic charity for the Church and the world, and a commitment to the way of holiness. He notes, “The universal call to holiness is closely linked to the universal call to mission” (RM 90).


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