2002 - Handing on the Faith

The Plenary Assembly of 2002 had as its theme Handing on the Faith at the Heart of Cultures, Novo Millennio Ineunte. The profound and rapid developments facing so many societies at the beginning of the Third Millennium invite the Church to explore new paths of evangelisation. Huge sectors of the human race are living with the consequences of the phenomenon of globalisation, with the mixed bag of benefits and problems it brings in its wake. One thing that has come to the surface as the world moves steadily towards a global culture is the question of cultural identity. The rich variety of cultures is a blessing we should treasure, challenging as it is – particularly after the tragic events of September 2001.

The Pontifical Council for Culture sees this situation in the light of the Holy Father’s Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, whose bold call to “put out into the deep” (Duc in altum!) is an answer to prayer for those seeking to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to their own culture. That letter drew together the strands of prayer and reflection of the Great Year of Jubilee, which celebrated 2000 years since “the Word became flesh and lived among us”. The Word has to become flesh and live in every culture, not as alien customs and ideas, but as the spiritual heart of the human community.

If this is going to happen, those who are commissioned to bring the Good News to people at the heart of their cultures must recognise the dignity of the human person and really commit themselves to sharing “the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the men and women of this age”. Globalisation can enrich people as much as it can impoverish and humiliate them, so one challenge at the centre of this Plenary Assembly is to discern what this complex process means for different sectors of society in the remarkable tapestry of cultures that make up the world the Church loves and tries so hard to serve.

The clearest single fact that has preoccupied not only pastors and catechists, but also parents and teachers the world over, is that it is becoming harder to guarantee that the Christian faith will be handed on effectively to future generations. Many of the traditional cultural supports for this task have disappeared from the scene – even in very traditional societies both poor and rich.

But this single problem affects different cultures in radically different ways, so the Pontifical Council for Culture has been trying for some time to discover what would be the most appropriate ways of responding to such an important challenge while respecting and – yes – rejoicing in the wonderful diversity of the human family.