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Papal Address on 40th Anniversary of 'Ad Gentes'

"Called to Serve Humanity by Trusting in Jesus Alone"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 24, 2006 (Zenit) - Here is a Holy See translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered March 11 to the participants in an international conference marking the 40th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council decree "Ad Gentes."

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Hall of Blessings

Your Eminences,
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I greet with affection all of you who have taken part in the international conference organized by the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and the pontifical Urban University on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the conciliar decree "Ad Gentes."

I greet first of all Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, and thank him for his words on your behalf. I greet the bishops and priests present and all those who have taken part in this initiative, which is as timely as ever since it responds to the need to continue to deepen knowledge of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council in order to bring out the impelling power that this Council session impressed upon the life and mission of the Church.

Indeed, the approval on December 7, 1965, of the decree "Ad Gentes" gave a new impetus to the Church's mission. The theological foundations of missionary commitment were more clearly spelled out, as well as its value and timeliness in the face of the changes in the world and the challenges of modern life to the preaching of the Gospel (cf. No. 1).

The Church has acquired an ever-clearer awareness of her innate missionary vocation, recognizing it as a constitutive element of her very nature.

Out of obedience to the command of Christ, who sent his disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all the nations (cf. Matthew 28:18-20), the Christian community in our time too feels sent to the men and women of the third millennium in order to acquaint them with the truth of the Gospel message and thereby give them access to the path of salvation.

And this, as I said, is not an option but the vocation proper to the People of God, a duty incumbent upon it by the command of the Lord Jesus Christ himself (cf. "Evangelii Nuntiandi," No. 5).

Actually, the proclamation of and witness to the Gospel are the first service that Christians can render to every person and to the entire human race, called as they are to communicate to all God's love, which was fully manifested in Jesus Christ, the one Redeemer of the world.

The publication of the conciliar decree "Ad Gentes," on which you have opportunely reflected, has made it possible to highlight better the original root of the Church's mission, that is, the Trinitarian life of God from which comes the movement of love that the Divine Persons pour out upon humanity. It all flows from the Heart of the heavenly Father, who so loved the world that he gave his Only-begotten Son so that those who believe in him should not perish but have eternal life (cf. John 3:16).

With the mystery of the Incarnation, the Only-begotten Son was made the authentic and supreme Mediator between the Father and men and women. In the One who died and rose, the Father's provident tenderness reaches every person in forms and ways he alone knows.

It is the Church's task to communicate this divine love ceaselessly through the vivifying action of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, it is the Spirit who transforms the life of believers, freeing them from the bondage of sin and death and making them capable of witnessing to the merciful love of God, who wishes to make humanity a single family in his Son (cf. "Deus Caritas Est," No. 19).

From the outset, the Christian People has been clearly aware of the importance of sharing the riches of this love with those who do not yet know Christ through constant missionary activity.

The need to reaffirm this commitment has been felt even more forcefully in recent years, because in the modern epoch, as my beloved Predecessor John Paul II observed, the "missio ad gentes" has sometimes seemed to be slowing down because of difficulties due to changes in humanity's anthropological, cultural, social and religious contexts.

Today, the Church is called to embrace new challenges and be ready to enter into dialogue with different cultures and religions, seeking with every person of good will to build peaceful coexistence between peoples.

Thus, the area of the "missio ad gentes" appears to have been considerably extended and cannot be defined solely on the basis of geographical or juridical considerations; indeed, the missionary activity of the People of God is not only intended for non-Christian peoples and distant lands, but above all for social and cultural contexts and hearts.

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