Reflection And Orientations On Interreligious Dialogue
And The Proclamation Of The Gospel Of Jesus Christ (1)




























55. Messengers of the Gospel

The Lord Jesus gave to his disciples a mandate to proclaim the Gospel. This fact is reported by all four Gospels and by the Acts of the Apostles. There are however certain nuances in the different versions. In Matthew, Jesus says to his disciples: "All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and so, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Mt 28:128-20).

In Mark, the command is given more succinctly: "Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation. he who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned" (Mk 16:15-16).

In Luke, the expression is less direct: "Thus, it is written that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the death, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things" (Lk 24:46-48).

In Acts, the extent of this witness is emphasized: "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth" (Ac 1:8).

In John again, the mission is expressed differently: "As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world" (Jn 17:18); "As the Father sent me, so am I sending you" (Jn 20:21).

Announcing the Good News to all, witnessing, making disciples, baptizing, teaching, all these aspects enter into the Church's evangelizing mission, yet they need to be seen in the light of the mission accomplished by Jesus himself, the mission he received from the Father.

56. The presence of the Kingdom

Jesus proclaimed the Gospel from God saying: "The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel" (Mk 1:14-15). This passage sums up the ministry of Jesus. Jesus does not proclaim this Good News of the Kingdom by word alone, but also by his actions, attitudes and options, indeed by means of his whole life and finally through his death and resurrection. His parables, his miracles, the exorcisms he works, all are related to the Kingdom of God which he announces. This Kingdom moreover is not just something to be preached, quite unrelated to his own person. Jesus makes it clear that it is through him and in him that the Reign of God is breaking through into the world (cf. Lk 17:20-22), that in him the Kingdom has already come upon us, even though it still needs to grow to its fullness(18).

57. Witness through life

His teaching is confirmed by his life. "Even if you refuse to believe in me, at least believe in the work I do" (Jn 10:38). Similarly, his deeds are explained by his words which spring from his awareness of being one with the Father. "I tell you most solemnly, the Son can do nothing by himself, he can only do what he sees the Father doing" (Jn 5:19). In the trial before Pilate, Jesus says that he has come into the world "to bear witness to the truth" (Jn 18:37). The Father also bears witness to him, both in words spoken from heaven and in the mighty works, the signs, which Jesus is enabled to perform. It is the Spirit who "seals" Jesus' witness, authenticating it as true (cf. Jn 3:32-35).


58. The activity of the Church for the proclamation

It is against this background that the mandate given by the Risen Lord to the Apostolic Church needs to be understood. The Church's mission is to proclaim the Kingdom of God established on earth in Jesus Christ, through his life, death and resurrection, as God's decisive and universal offer of salvation to the world. For this reason "there is no true evangelization if the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the Kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God are not proclaimed" (EN 22). There is continuity between the Kingdom preached by Jesus and the mystery of Christ announced by the Church.

59. At the service of the Kingdom

Continuing the mission of Jesus, the Church is "the seed and beginning" of the Kingdom (cf. LG 5). She is at the service of this Kingdom and "witnesses" to it. This includes witness to faith in Christ, the Saviour, since this is the very heart of the Church's own faith and life. In the history of the Church, all the Apostles were "witnesses" to the life, death and resurrection of Christ (cf. Ac 2:32; 3:15; 10:39; 13:31; 23:11). Witness is given by words and deeds which are not to be set one against the other. The deed validates the word, but without the word the deed may be misinterpreted. The witness of the Apostles, both in words and signs, is subordinate to the Holy Spirit, sent by the Father to fulfill this task of witness (cf. Jn 15:26 ff; 1Jn 5:7-10; Ac 5:32).


60. Peter announces the Risen Christ

On the Day of Pentecost, in fulfillment of Christ's promise, the Holy Spirit came down on the Apostles. At that time "there were devout men living in Jerusalem from every nation under heaven" (Ac 2:5) - the list of people present, given in the book of Acts, serves to underline the universal import of this first ecclesial event. In the name of the Eleven, Peter addressed those assembled, announcing Jesus, commended by God with miracles and portents, crucified by men but raised to life again by God. He concluded: "For this reason the whole house of Israel can be certain that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ" (Ac 2:36). This was followed by the invitation to his hearers to repent, to become disciples of Jesus by being baptized in his name for the forgiveness of sins, and thus to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. A little later, before the Sanhedrin, Peter bore witness to his faith in the risen Christ, stating clearly: "Only in him is there salvation, for of all names in the world given to men this is the only one by which we can be saved" (Ac 4:11-12). The universal nature of the Christian message of salvation is brought out again in the account of the conversion of Cornelius. When Peter witnessed to the life and work of Jesus, from the beginning of his ministry in Galilee right up to his Resurrection, "the Holy Spirit came down on all the listeners" so that those who had accompanied Peter were astonished "that the gift of the Holy Spirit should be poured out on gentiles too" (Ac 10:44-45).

61. Paul announces the mystery kept hidden for centuries

The Apostles therefore, following the Pentecost event, present themselves as witnesses to Christ's resurrection (cf. Ac 1:22; 4:33; 5:32-33), or, in a more concise formula, simply as witnesses to Christ (cf. Ac 3:15; 13:31). Nowhere is this clearer than in Paul, "called to be an apostle, set apart for the service of the Gospel" (Rm 1:1), who received from Jesus Christ the "apostolic mission of winning the obedience of faith among all the nations for the honour of his name" (Rm 1:5). Paul preaches "the Gospel that God promised long ago through his prophets in the holy scriptures" (Rm 1:2), the "Gospel of his Son" (Rm 1:9). He preaches a crucified Christ: "a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles" (1 Co 1:23; cf. 2:2), "for no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid" (1 Co 3:11). The whole message of Paul is, as it were, summed up in his solemn declaration to the Ephesians: "I, who am less than the least of all God's holy people, have been entrusted with this special grace, of proclaiming to the gentiles this unfathomable treasure of Christ and of throwing light on the inner workings of the mystery kept hidden through all the ages in God, the Creator of everything" this many-sided wisdom of God which he has now revealed through the Church, "according to the plan which he had formed from all eternity in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Ep 3:8-11). The same message is found in the Pastoral Letters. God "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For these is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all" (1 Tm 2:4-6). This "mystery of our religion" which is "very deep" finds expression in a liturgical fragment: "He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory" (1 Tm 3:16).

62. John gave witness to the Word of Life

Turning to the apostle John, we find that he presents himself above all as a witness, one who has seen Jesus and discovered his mystery (cf. Jn 13:23-25; 21:24). "We are declaring to you what we have seen and heard" - of the Word of life - "so that you too many share our life" (1 Jn 4:14). Central to the message of John is the Incarnation: "The Word became flesh, he lived among us, and we saw his glory, the glory that he has from the Father as only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth" (Jn 1:14). Through Jesus, therefore, the Father can be seen (cf. Jn 14:9) he is the way to the Father (cf. Jn 14:6). Lifted up on the cross he draws all people to himself (cf. Jn 12:32). He is truly "the Saviour of the World" (Jn 4:42).

63. The power of the Word announced by the Church

"Proclaim the word", Paul writes to Timothy (2 Tm 4:2). The content of this word is expressed in different ways: it is the Kingdom (cf. Ac 20:25), the Gospel of the Kingdom (cf. Mt 24:14), the Gospel of God (cf. Mk 1:14; 1 Tm 2:9). But these different formulations really mean the same thing: to preach Jesus (cf. Ac 9:20; 19:13), to preach Christ (cf. Ac 8:5). Just as Jesus spoke God's own words (cf. Jn 3:34), so the apostles preach the word of God, for Jesus whom they preach is the Word.

The Christian message therefore is a powerful one, to be welcomed for what it really is, "not the word of any human being, but God's word" (1 Th 2:13). Accepted in faith the word will be "alive and active", cutting "more incisively than any two-edged sword" (Heb 4:12). It will be a word which purifies (cf. Jn 15:3), it will be the source of the truth which brings freedom (cf. Jn 8:31-32). The word will become an interior presence: "anyone who loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make a home in him" (Jn 14:23). This is the word of God which is to be proclaimed by Christians.


64. The presence of the Holy Spirit

In proclaiming this word, the Church knows that she can rely on the Holy Spirit, who both prompts her proclamation and leads the hearers to obedience of faith. "It is the Holy Spirit who today, just as at the beginning of the Church, acts in every evangelizer who allows himself to be possessed and led by him. The Holy Spirit places on his lips the words which he could not find by himself, and at the same time the Holy Spirit predisposes the soul of the hearer to be open and receptive to the Good News and to the Kingdom being proclaimed" (EN 75).

65. The power of the Holy Spirit

The force of the Spirit is attested by the fact that the most powerful witness is often given precisely at that point where the disciple is most helpless, incapable of word or deed, and yet remains faithful. As Paul says: "I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Co 12:9-10). The witness by which the Spirit brings men and women to know Jesus as Lord is no human achievement but God's own work.


66. The duty to announce

Pope Paul VI said in his Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi: "The presentation of the Gospel message is not optional for the Church. It is her duty, by command of the Lord Jesus, so that men may believe and be saved. This message is indeed a necessary one. It is unique and irreplaceable. It allows of neither indifference, syncretism, nor compromise, for it concerns the salvation of mankind" (EN 5). The urgency had been indicated by Paul: "How then are they to call upon him if they have not come to believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard of him? And how will they hear of him unless there is a preacher for them?... But it is in that way that faith comes, from hearing, and that means hearing the word of Christ" (Rm 10:4 ff).

"This law, set down one day by the Apostle Paul, maintains its full force today... it is through listening to the Word that one is led to believe" (EN 42). It is fitting to remember also that other word of Paul: "For if I preach the Gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel" (1 Co 9:16).

67. Announce salvation in Jesus Christ

Proclamation is a response to the human aspiration for salvation. "Wherever God opens a door for the word in order to declare the mystery of Christ, then the living God and he whom he has sent for the salvation of all, Jesus Christ, are confidently and perseveringly proclaimed to all men. And this is in order that non-Christians, whose hearts are being opened by the Holy Spirit, might, while believing, freely turn to the Lord who, since he is «the Way, the Truth, and the Life» (Jn 14,6), will satisfy all their inner hopes, or rather infinitely surpass them" (AG 13).


68. The guidance of the Holy Spirit

While proclaiming the message of God in Jesus Christ, the evangelizing Church must always remember that her task is not exercised in a complete void. For the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, is present and active among the hearers of the Good News even before the Church's missionary action comes into operation (cf. RH 12; DV 53). They may in many cases have already responded implicitly to God's offer of salvation in Jesus Christ, a sign of this being the sincere practice of their own religious traditions, insofar as these contain authentic religious values. They may have already been touched by the Spirit and in some way associated unknowingly to the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ (cf. GS 22).

69. Learn to announce

Mindful of what God has already accomplished in those addressed, the Church seeks to discover the right way to announce the Good News. She takes her lead from divine pedagogy. This means learning from Jesus himself, and observing the times and seasons as prompted by the Spirit. Jesus only progressively revealed to his hearers the meaning of the Kingdom, God's plan of salvation realized in his own mystery. Only gradually, and with infinite care, did he unveil for them the implications of his message, his identity as the Son of God, the scandal of the Cross. Even his closest disciples, as the Gospels testify, reached full faith in their Master only through their Easter experience and the gift of the Spirit. Those who wish to become disciples of Jesus today will pass through the same process of discovery and commitment. Accordingly the Church's proclamation must be both progressive and patient, keeping pace with those who bear the message, respecting their freedom and even their "slowness to believe" (EN 79).

70. The qualities specific to the Gospel

Other qualities must also characterize the Church's proclamation. It should be:

a) Confident, in the power of the Spirit, and in obedience to the mandate received from the Lord (cf. 1 Tm 2:2; 2 Co 3:12; 7:4; Ph 1:20; Ep 3:12; 6:19-20; Ac 4:13,29,31; 9:27,28 etc.).

b) Faithful in the transmission of the teaching received from Christ and preserved in the Church, which is the depositary of the Good News to be proclaimed (cf. EN 15). "Fidelity to the message whose servants we are... is a pivotal point of proclamation" (EN 4). "Evangelization is for no one an individual and isolated act; it is one that is deeply ecclesial" (EN 60).

c) Humble, in the awareness that the fullness of revelation in Jesus Christ has been received as a free gift (Ep 3:2), and that the messengers of the Gospel do not always fully live up to its demands.

d) Respectful, of the presence and action of the Spirit of God in the hearts of those who listen to the message, in the recognition that the Spirit is the "principal agent of evangelization" (EN 75).

e) Dialogical, for in proclamation the hearer of the Word is not expected to be a passive receiver. There is progress from the "seeds of the Word" already present in the hearer to the full mystery of salvation in Jesus Christ. The Church must recognize a process of purification and enlightenment in which the Spirit of God opens the mind and heart of the hearer to the obedience of faith.

f) Inculturated, incarnated in the culture and the spiritual tradition of those addressed, so that the message is not only intelligible to them, but is conceived as responding to their deepest aspirations, as truly the Good News they have been longing for (cf. En 20,62).

71. In close union with Christ

To maintain these qualities the Church must not only bear in mind the circumstances of life and the religious experience of those addressed. She must also live in constant dialogue with her Lord and Master through prayer and penance, meditation and liturgical life, and above all in the celebration of the Eucharist. Only then will both proclamation and celebration of the Gospel message become fully alive.


72. Difficulty of the proclamation

The Church's proclamation of the Good News makes serious demands both on the evangelizing Church and her members engaged in evangelization, and on those called by God to the obedience of Christian faith. It is no easy task. Some of the principal obstacles she can meet with are mentioned here.

73. Internal difficulties

a) It can happen that Christian witness does not correspond to belief; there is a gap between word and deed, between the Christian message and the way Christians live it.

b) Christians may fail to proclaim the Gospel through negligence, human respect, or shame, which Saint Paul called "blushing for the Gospel", or because of false ideas about God's plan of salvation (cf. EN 80).

c) Christians who lack appreciation and respect for other believers and their religious traditions are ill-prepared to proclaim the Gospel to them.

d) In some Christians, an attitude of superiority, which can show itself at the cultural level, might give rise to the supposition that a particular culture is linked with the Christian message and is to be imposed on converts.

74. External difficulties

a) The weight of history makes proclamation more difficult, as certain methods of evangelization in the past have sometimes aroused fear and suspicion on the part of the followers of other religions.

b) The members of other religions may fear that the Church's evangelizing mission will result in the destruction of their religion and culture.

c) A different conception of human rights or a lack of respect for them in practice can result in a lack of religious freedom.

d) Persecution can render the Church's proclamation especially difficult or well-nigh impossible. It must be remembered, however, that the Cross is a source of life; "the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians."

e) The identification of a particular religion with the national culture, or with a political system, creates a climate of intolerance.

f) In some places, conversion is forbidden by law or converts to Christianity meet with serious problems, such as ostracism by their religious community of origin, social milieu or cultural environment.

g) In pluralistic contexts, the danger of indifferentism, relativism, or of religious syncretism creates obstacles to the proclamation of the Gospel.


75. Proclamation that Jesus is the Son of God

The Church's evangelizing mission has sometimes been understood as consisting simply in inviting people to become disciples of Jesus in the Church. Gradually, a broader understanding of evangelization has developed, in which proclamation of the mystery of Christ nevertheless remains central. The Second Vatican Council's decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church, when dealing with missionary work, mentions solidarity with mankind, dialogue and collaboration, before speaking about witness and the preaching of the Gospel (cf. AG 11-13). The 1974 Synod of Bishops and the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi which followed it have both taken evangelization in a broad sense. In evangelization, the whole person of the evangelizer is involved, words, actions, witness of life (cf. EN 21-22). Likewise its aim extends to all that is human, as it seeks to transform human culture and cultures with the power of the Gospel (cf. EN 18-20). Yet Pope Paul VI made it quite clear that "evangelization will always entail as the simultaneous foundation, core and summit of its dynamism a clear proclamation that in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, who died and rose from the dead, salvation is offered to all as a gift of God's kindness and mercy" (EN 27). It is in this sense that the 1984 document of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue lists proclamation among the various elements which make up the Church's evangelizing mission(19).

76. The sacred duty to announce

Still it is useful to point out once again that to proclaim the name of Jesus and to invite people to become his disciples in the Church is a sacred and major duty which the Church cannot neglect. Evangelization would be incomplete without it (EN 22), for without this central element the others, though in themselves genuine forms of the Church's mission, would lose their cohesion and vitality. It is clear therefore that in situations where, for political or other reasons, proclamation as such is practically impossible, the Church is already carrying out her evangelizing mission not only through presence and witness but also through such activities as work for integral human development and dialogue. On the other hand, in other situations where people are disposed to hear the message of the Gospel and have the possibility of responding to it, the Church is in duty bound to meet their expectations.