Evangelii nuntiandi: Paul VI's Pastoral Testament to the Church

Author: Cardinal Lucas Moreira Neves


Cardinal Lucas Moreira Neves, O.P.

Cardinal Lucas Moreira Neves, Prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Bishops, reflects on the Apostolic Exhortation for the 25th anniversary of its publication

October 1974 was coming to an end when the Synod of Bishops' Assembly on the challenging theme of evangelization also concluded, or rather, was on its last day of work. Serving at the time as Vice-President of the Consilium de Laicis by the benevolence of Pope Paul VI, I was appointed a member, and thus a witness, of this important Synod.

At one of the final sessions, the Synod's General Rapporteur, who was Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, Archbishop of Kraków and a consultor to the Consilium for the Laity, asked to speak. In an intervention that turned out to be of great importance, we could say providential, the Cardinal suggested that the Synod's recommendations be entrusted to the Pope so that he could transform them into the Synod's final document.

Paul VI accepted what the Synod Fathers had requested. As the fruit of the whole Synod, from the Instrumentum laboris to the Commendationes, andabove all as the result of the Pope's own study, the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi was published on 8 December 1975. For the first time by an unprecedented procedure, unlike all the preceding Assemblies (but customary afterwards), the Synod President, at the unanimous suggestion of its members, signed the final post-synodal document.

From the beginning and in subsequent years, this was well received and had a profound echo in the Church and in society. It is right to recall it on the 25th anniversary of its publication.

I have given this reminiscence a title that I think expresses the essence of this important document. For I am firmly convinced that over and above the concrete circumstances which prompted Paul VI to write it, over and above the three great occasions that he himself mentioned, the conclusion of the 1975 Holy Year, the 10th anniversary of the close of the Second Vatican Council and the first anniversary of the Synod, Evangeliinuntiandi was a text highly expressive of his Pontificate. I gladly repeat what many authoritative commentators have said: in Evangelii nuntiandi the Pope left, serenely but energetically, a sort of pastoral testament, a summary and synthesis of his whole munus pontificale, an openness to the times to come. And he entrusted all this—he says so himself explicitis verbis, as if revealing a dimension of the document—to the Christian community and to society, to the Church, but likewise to the world and to humanity. It is like a testament and, therefore, it is with reverence for the father who wrote it and with determination to follow it that the Church rereads with one accord this Pastor's exhortation. It is no coincidence that the Pope stresses, already in the introduction to the document, that from the start of his Pontificate evangelization was an obligatory and familiar theme for him, the horizon of his Pontificate.

The simple compositional structure of Evangelii nuntiandi showsthe dimensions of a document that, not to use a fashionable term but one that seemsright to me, I would not hesitate to call prophetic—a harbinger of new times, of a new evangelization.

An enlightening introduction on the commitment to evangelization as the Church's primary service leads to seven fundamental sections.

The first section highlights the connection between Christ the evangelizer—or better, the first evangelizer—and a Church which,by Christ's mandate, is evangelizing bydefinition and inescapable imperative.

The third section vigorously presents the content of evangelization in all its breadth.

The fourth sets out the methods of evangelization.

The fifth speaks of the beneficiaries of evangelization, and the sixth of its workers.

Lastly, the seventh dwells on the spirit of evangelization, which is none other than the Spirit of the Father and of Jesus, the Holy Spirit.

The conclusion speaks about the Blessed Virgin Mary, introducing the expression which will subsequently enjoy great success because of what it means: it calls her the Star of evangelization.

On this auspicious 25th anniversaryof Evangelii nuntiandi I wish to focus on the second section of the document. In my opinion, it is the centre of the Apostolic Exhortation. There Paul VI deliberately proposes the true definition of evangelization in contrast to all of the possible false conceptions.

Often, even in authoritative books or manuals, in conferences or courses, evangelization is identified with Baptism, with catechesis, with the profession of faith, and, above all, with the preaching of the Gospel. One even arrives at a kind of opposition: the Church's mission is not to sacramentalize but to evangelize. Paul VI rejected this error and wished to eliminate any "fragmentary" definition. He taught—they are his words—that evangelization is not a single, isolated act but an extensive process: a process that he describes as rich, complex and dynamic (cf. Evangelii nuntiandi, n. 17). To evangelize is to preach the Gospel, but it is also to proclaim the kerygma (the primary, forceful and incisive witness to Jesus Christ); it is catechesis; it is the deepening of faith; it is theology; it is the sacramental life, etc. To stress this complexity, the Pope adds that evangelization means bringing Jesus to anyone who does not know him. But at the same time, it means giving a more complete and systematic knowledge. Even more, he says,— and it is one ofthe many characteristic lessons of Evangeliinuntiandi—evangelization actually has two sides: to reveal God, his absolute transcendence and his inbreaking into human lives through faith, but also to help people to combine faith and life and to ensure human advancement through the work of justice and peace.

At this point the Apostolic Exhortation outlines the objective of the evangelizing process with some key points. Evangelization aims at: 1) a profound renewal: new men and women for a new humanity through the perennial newness of the Gospel; 2) conversion, not exterior but interior, starting from within personal and collective consciences; 3) evangelical transformation, and here the list is highly significant: "criteria of judgement, determining values, points of interest, lines of thought, sources of inspiration and models of life". All these realities, not just. greater numbers of people or a wider geographic area, must be transformed by the Gospel; 4) summarizing and wanting to touch on the essential,Evangelii nuntiandi usesan original formula that has become characteristic: bringing the Gospel not merely to the surface (to external conduct) but in depth, right to the very roots of cultures and of culture. There is a tragic split between culture and the Gospel. They have to be regenerated by encountering each other. 5) We are grateful to Pope Paul VI for having wanted to remind us at this point in his "testament" of four fundamental truths about evangelization:

—The importance of the witness of life, before any word is spoken by mouth. Only witness makes one credible, touches the mind and heart, unsettles (to use a word dear to Paul VI). Here he inserts in an official document a well-chosen expression that he had used in a, so to speak, private form: "Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses". It is the Christian witness of solidarity, of goodness, of consistency that prompts in others the profound questions which only the Gospel can answer. Even when one is not involved in pastoral ministry or culture and does not know how to speak, every Christian evangelizes if he bears witness to what he believes.

—But witnessing must lead to an explicit proclamation of Jesus Christ."A clear and unequivocal proclamation",Paul VI says, without which the witness itself would not be clear. Without ambiguity, the Pope trenchantly said that "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". In contrast to a timid, hidden evangelization, Paul VI calls for an explicit evangelization that does not seek to impose but does not hesitate to propose Christ and his Gospel to all.

Adherence: withthis word the Pope indicates the ultimate criterion for authentic evangelization, This is achieved when individuals and communities, large or small, adhere to the Gospel and to the Lord Jesus. Not an "abstract and unincarnated" adherence, Paul VI says, but one that takes place by entering a community of believers—the Church, the dispenser of God's mysteries and the sacraments, she herself being the sacrament of salvation. The success of evangelization and its effectiveness are not measured by the quality or sophistication of the means used or by the skill of the workers, but by its ability to prompt the full adherence of individuals and the community to Christ.

—In this light, Paul VI invites us to a new apostolate: he who is evangelized must evangelize. An individual or a Church gives proof of having adhered to the Gospel when they in turn bear witness, proclaim the kerygma, preach, catechize, propagate the sacraments and establish new communities. In this way they bring the complexity of evangelization to its fullness.

The discussion of the concept of evangelization, with its new and original themes (this is what the better commentators think), finds a harmonious and coherent continuation in the third part of Evangelii nuntiandi.

The integrated process of evangelization, in fact, is the most beautiful framework for offering the Church and humanity the Good News about the infinite love of the Father, of Christ, Son of the Father and the centre of our life; about the reasons for our hope; about the integral liberation of man and his total advancement; about a complete humanism that culminates in establishing God's kingdom; about conversion of spirit; about peace, reconciliation, and freedom of conscience.

This is the Gospel of salvation and of human happiness.  

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
17 January 2001, page 10

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