13 January, 1986
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,
1. Once again you are faithfully attending the annual meeting of the Pontifical Council for Culture. Coming as you do from Africa, from North and Latin America, from Asia and Europe, your presence reminds us of the vast panorama of cultures throughout the world; some have already been made fruitful by Christ's message, and their fruitfulness endures. Others are still awaiting the light of Revelation, for every culture is open to the highest human aspirations, and capable of fusing with the Gospel to produce something new and creative.
Ours is a troubled century, and that fact is being impressed upon us daily; yet even now a new millennium is dawning, bearing new hope for humankind. The historical process of the inculturation of the Gospel and the evangelization of cultures is far from having exhausted all its latent energies. As new cultures arise, or go through the pangs of rebirth, they encounter the eternal newness of the Gospel. It is obvious that the emergence of new cultures calls for courage and intelligence on the part of all believers and of everyone of good will. Social and cultural change, political upheaval, ideological ferment, religious questionings, ethical probing, all show a world in gestation, in search of form and direction, organic wholeness, prophetic renewal. May we know how to draw fresh responses from the treasury of our hope.
Shaken by socio-political imbalance, scientific discoveries not fully under control, and technical inventions of incredible potential, people are confused as old ideologies fade away and old systems wear out. The new nations provoke the old-established societies, as if to arouse them from their lassitude. The young in search of an ideal are trying to give real meaning to the human adventure. Neither drugs nor violence, neither permissiveness nor nihilism can fill the emptiness of existence. Minds and hearts are seeking light to shine on them, love to bring them warmth. Our era reveals to us how deep is the spiritual hunger of the human mind, how immense its hope.
The beginning of a great work of evangelization
2. The recent Extraordinary Synod of Bishops, in which we had the grace of participating here in Rome, gave us a renewed awareness of these profound hopes of humanity and of the prophetic inspiration of the Second Vatican Council, 20 years ago. At the invitation of Pope John XXIII, father of this Council of modern times, as we are all its sons, we must bring the modern world into contact with the life-giving energies of the Gospel (cf. the Bull Humanae Salutis, Christmas 1961, announcing the Council.
Yes, we are at the beginning of a gigantic work of evangelization of the modern world, which is presented in new terms. The world has entered an era of profound turmoil, on account of the stupefying range of human inventions, which threaten to destroy humanity itself unless they are integrated into an ethical and spiritual vision. We are entering a new era of human culture, and Christians are faced with an immense challenge. Today we are in a better position to gauge the extent of Pope John XXIII's prophetic exhortation to banish the prophets of doom, and to put our hands courageously to the formidable task of renewing the world and its “encounter with the face of the risen Jesus ... shining through the whole Church to bring salvation, joy and light to the nations of the world” (Message Ecclesia Christi, Lumen Gentium, 11th September 1962).
My predecessor Paul VI took up this extremely important lead, and showed exactly how it could best be put into effect: the Council would work at building a bridge to the contemporary world (Opening Allocution of the Second Session, 28th September 1963). I myself decided to set up the Pontifical Council for Culture, for the very purpose of aiding and supporting this work (cf. my letter of 20th May 1982).
What is the Council doing
3. Since then, you have been wholeheartedly at work, and the Bulletin Church and Cultures gives a regular account, in French, English and Spanish, of your productive activities. There is the dialogue you are conducting with bishops, religious institutes, International Catholic Organisations, Universities; consultations which are already bearing fruit; and a network of Correspondents in all parts of the world. Initiatives are being encouraged throughout the Churches, sometimes on the level of a whole continent, as is shown by CELAM's recent decision to create a “Section for Culture”, in order to give a new impetus to the Latin American Church in its mission of evangelizing culture according to the spirit of Evangelii Nuntiandi and of the pastoral option taken by Puebla. Each episcopal conference has been invited to set up an ad hoc body for the cultural apostolate, and a certain number have already begun work. You also continue, in liaison with other Departments of the Holy See, to follow attentively the activity of the international organizations and meetings concerned with culture, science and education, in order to bring them the Church's point of view.
I wholeheartedly rejoice in your Council's activity: one has only to look at the lengthy agenda for your current meeting at San Calisto to see how extensive it is. You will consider the Church's dialogue with cultures, in the light of the recent Synod of Bishops; collaboration with the Departments of the Roman Curia: faith and culture, education and culture, the cultural role of the Holy See in international organisations, conferences and research projects whose interesting results have already been published in various languages, in several continents. Other meetings now in preparation will take you successively to various parts of Europe and America; you will encounter ancient African and Asian civilisations; and the challenge of modern and classical values, the arts, and particularly Christian art, facing the emergence of a civilisation of the universal.
Preparing for a Synod on the laity
4. Dear friends, pursue this complex but necessary and urgent task; there is so much dormant energy, so much willingness waiting to be tapped. The Synod of Bishops committed us all to this with great zeal, by unequivocally placing inculturation at the heart of the Church's mission in the world: “Inculturation is different from a simple external adaptation, because it means the intimate transformation of authentic cultural values through their integration into Christianity and the establishment of Christianity in the various cultures” (Final Relatio, L'Osservatore Romano, English edition, 16 Dec. 1985).
The whole Church is already preparing the forthcoming Synod on the apostolate of the laity. You yourselves can vigorously involve the laity, especially the young, in the decisive dialogue of the Gospel with cultures. I rejoice in your active collaboration with the Pontifical Council for the Laity and with the Congregation for Catholic Education, with the aim of studying together new problems raised by the encounter between the Gospel and the world of education and culture. I know you will want to undertake many new projects corresponding to the mission that has been confided to you.
My good wishes accompany you in this demanding venture; my prayers accompany you, as does my support. With all my heart, I invoke upon you and your work the grace of the Lord Almighty, the sole inspiration of our humble service of the Church, by giving you a special Apostolic Blessing.