Sections 33 and 34 fall under the heading “Mission Ad Gentes Retains Its Value.” This was John Paul II’s premise earlier in this chapter, that the Church never loses or abandons the mandatum of Matthew 28:19-20 and Mark 16:15.
The fact that there is a diversity of activities in the Church’s one mission is not intrinsic to that mission, but arises from the variety of circumstances in which that mission is carried out. (Cf. Ad Gentes 6) Looking at today’s world from the viewpoint of evangelization, we can distinguish three situations.
We will take each of these situations in turn:
First, there is the situation which the Church’s missionary activity addresses: peoples, groups, and socio-cultural contexts in which Christ and his Gospel are not known, or which lack Christian communities sufficiently mature to be able to incarnate the faith in their own environment and proclaim it to other groups. This is mission ad gentes in the proper sense of the term.(Cf. Ibid.)
This would be the situation of the early Christians. They operated as a persecuted minority in an environment of pluralism: various gods and faiths, as well as numerous cultures, often intermixing. They were astonishingly fruitful, producing martyrs, theologians, evangelizers, and laying the ground work for today’s Christian structures: parishes, dioceses, monasteries, hermits, agents of charity in the world.
Today, however, most every non-Christian knows of Jesus and his followers. Their perceptions may be a mixture of accuracy, caricature, and errors. In many environments, this is what we work with, and perhaps it’s a harder task than disciples of the first three centuries faced.
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