Pope John Paul II was well aware he was not striking out into new ground. Virtually every pope in the twentieth century had something to say about evangelization:
Twenty-five years after the conclusion of the Council and the publication of the Decree on Missionary Activity Ad Gentes, fifteen years after the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi issued by Pope Paul VI, and in continuity with the magisterial teaching of my predecessors,(Cf. Benedict XV, Apostolic Letter Maximum Illud (1919); Pius XI, Encyclical Letter Rerum Ecclesiae (1926); Pius XII, Encyclical Letter Evangelii Praecones (1951); Encyclical Letter Fidei Donum (1957); John XXIII, Encyclical Letter Princeps Pastorum (1959)) I wish to invite the Church to renew her missionary commitment. The present document has as its goal an interior renewal of faith and Christian life. For missionary activity renews the Church, revitalizes faith and Christian identity, and offers fresh enthusiasm and new incentive. Faith is strengthened when it is given to others! It is in commitment to the Church’s universal mission that the new evangelization of Christian peoples will find inspiration and support.
We’ve examined the first two of those documents cited above. Pope Paul’s Evangelii Nuntiandi doesn’t have the “pedigree” of an encyclical letter, but it may surpass in importance any writing of any pope on evangelization. Perhaps ever.
Pope John Paul cites his motivation:
But what moves me even more strongly to proclaim the urgency of missionary evangelization is the fact that it is the primary service which the Church can render to every individual and to all humanity in the modern world, a world which has experienced marvelous achievements but which seems to have lost its sense of ultimate realities and of existence itself.
In other words, our mission isn’t for self-achievement. A pope doesn’t address this matter (or any matter) for the purpose of a personal legacy. The impulse is simple enough: to help other people. If we believe faith is life-changing and nourishing, why wouldn’t we be eager to share it with other people. And if we don’t, how does it convict our real aims?
“Christ the Redeemer,” I wrote in my first encyclical, “fully reveals man to himself…. The person who wishes to understand himself thoroughly…must…draw near to Christ…. [The] Redemption that took place through the cross has definitively restored to man his dignity and given back meaning to his life in the world.” (Redemptor Hominis 10)
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