15 January 1985
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate, Dear Friends,
1. My joy is great this morning in receiving you in Rome on the occasion of the third annual meeting of the International Council of the Pontifical Council for Culture.
I sincerely thank you for your active presence and for having agreed to devote your time and energies to this close collaboration with the Apostolic See. I greet with particular affection Cardinal Gabriel-Marie Garrone, President of your Committee of Presidency, and also Cardinal Eugenio de Araujo Sales. I likewise turn with gratitude toward the executive leadership of the Pontifical Council for Culture represented by its President, Archbishop Paul Poupard and its Secretary Fr. Hervé Carrier, who, together with their zealous collaborators, both men and women, strive to accomplish a work that is outstanding both in quantity and in quality.
Understanding the aspirations of cultures today
2. The Pontifical Council for Culture is invested, in my view, with a significance that is symbolic and full of hope. Indeed, I perceive you as qualified witnesses of Catholic culture throughout the world, charged to reflect likewise on the evolutions and expectations of the different cultures in the regions, as in the sectors of activity which are your own. In virtue of the mission which I have entrusted to you, you are called to assist the Holy See, with competence, to understand better the profound and diverse aspirations of the cultures of today and to discern better how the universal Church can respond to these. For, throughout the world, orientations, mentalities, ways of thinking and of conceiving the meaning of life are changing, exerting mutual influence on each other, confronting one another no doubt in a manner more striking than ever before. This is noted by all those who devote themselves with commitment to the advancement of man. It is good that your work of study, of consultation and of animation - undertaken in conjunction with the other departments of the Roman Curia, with universities, religious institutes, International Catholic Organizations and several important international agencies devoted to the promotion of cultures - gives you a clear awareness of the stakes presented by cultural activity in the broad sense of the term.
The meeting of the Gospel with the cultures of our time
3. Beyond this respectful and disinterested openness to cultural realities in order to understand them better, the Christian cannot prescind from the question of evangelization. The Pontifical Council for Culture participates in the mission of the See of Peter for the evangelization of cultures and you share in the responsibility of the local Churches in the apostolic tasks required by the meeting
of the Gospel with the cultures of our time. To this end, an immense work is demanded of all Christians and the challenge should mobilize their energies within each people and each human community.
To you who have accepted the assignment of supporting the Holy See in its universal mission to the cultures of our time, I entrust the particular task of studying and examining in depth what the evangelization of cultures today means for the Church. Certainly, the concern for evangelizing cultures is not new for the Church, but it presents problems that have an aspect of novelty in a world characterized by pluralism, by the clashing of ideologies and by profound changes in mentality. You must help the Church to respond to these fundamental questions for the cultures of today: how is the message of the Church accessible to new cultures, to contemporary forms of understanding and of sensitivity? How can the Church of Christ make itself understood by the modern spirit, so proud of its achievements and at the same time so uneasy for the future of the human family? Who is Jesus Christ for the men and women of today?
Questions for the entire Church
Yes, the entire Church should ask itself these questions, in the spirit of what my predecessor Paul VI said after the Synod on evangelization: “What matters is to evangelize man's culture and cultures ... in the wide and rich sense which these terms have in Gaudium et Spes, always taking the person as one's starting-point and always coming back to the relationship of people among themselves and with God” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, n. 20). He then added: “The Kingdom which the Gospel proclaims is lived by men who are profoundly linked to a culture, and the building up of the Kingdom cannot avoid borrowing the elements of human culture or cultures” (ibid.).
It is, then, a complex but essential task: to help Christians to discern in the traits of their culture what can contribute to the appropriate expression of the Gospel message and to the building up of the Kingdom of God, and to disclose what is contrary to this. And in this way, the announcing of the Gospel to those of our contemporaries who do not as yet adhere to it will have a better chance of being realized through an authentic dialogue.
We cannot but evangelize: so many regions, so many cultural milieus remain still insensitive to the good news of Jesus Christ. I am thinking of the vast areas of the world still marginal to the Christian faith. But I am also thinking of the large cultural sectors in traditionally Christian countries which today seem indifferent - if not resistant - to the Gospel. I am speaking, of course, of appearances, for one must not prejudge the mystery of personal beliefs and the secret action of grace. The Church respects all cultures and imposes on no one her faith in Jesus Christ, but she invites all people of good will to promote a true civilization of love, founded on the evangelical values of brotherhoood, justice and dignity for all.
4. All this demands a new approach of cultures, attitudes, behaviours, aimed at in-depth dialogue with cultural centres and at rendering fruitful their meeting with the message of Christ. This work demands also on the part of responsible Christians a faith illumined by continual reflection confronted with the sources of the Church's message, and a continual spiritual discernment pursued in prayer.
The Pontifical Council for Culture, for its part, is therefore called to investigate the important questions raised by the challenges of our time for the Church's mission of evangelization. By study, by meetings, reflection groups, consultations, exchanges of information and experiences, by the collaboration of the correspondents who have agreed, in great numbers, to labour with you in various parts of the world, I earnestly urge you to illumine these new dimensions in the light of theological reflection, of experience and of the contribution of the human sciences.
Be sure that I will gladly support the work and the initiatives which will enable you to make the various agencies of the Church sensitive to these problems. And, as a pledge of the support which I desire to bring to your task, so useful to the Church, I impart to you, and also to all your collaborators and to your families, my special Apostolic Blessing.