Catholic Culture News
Catholic Culture News

To Transmit The Faith We Need Cultures Open To Christ

by Pope Saint John Paul II


The Holy Father's Address of March 16, 2002, to the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for Culture on the 20th anniversary. The Pope urged the Council to pursue its work at a time when the culture is so alien to the faith and its basic values. He also called attention to questions that the culture has to deal with.

Larger Work

L'Osservatore Romano


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Publisher & Date

Vatican, March 20, 2002

Your Eminences, Brothers in the Episcopate,
Dear Friends,

I am pleased to welcome you at the end of your Plenary Assembly, during which you chose to set out afresh from the Letter Novo Millennio ineunte to make your contribution to the mission of the Church in the third millennium (cf. n. 40). Your meeting coincides with the 20th anniversary of the Pontifical Council for Culture. As I give thanks for the work achieved by the members and collaborators of the Pontifical Council over the past 20 years, I thank Cardinal Poupard, and thank him for his kind words expressing your sentiments of respect.

Be in dialogue with all persons of good will

I thank you for your generous collaboration in serving the universal mission of the Successor of Peter, and I encourage you to pursue with renewed zeal your relations with cultures, building bridges between people, witnessing to Christ and opening our brothers and sisters to the Gospel (cf. Apostolic Constitution, Pastor Bonus, nn. 166-168). In fact, an open dialogue is called for with all persons of good will, of differing backgrounds and traditions, religious or non-believing, united by our common humanity and called to share in the life of Christ, the Redeemer of man.

2. The creation of the Pontifical Council for Culture, that intends "giving the whole Church a common impulse in the continuously renewed encounter between the salvific message of the Gospel and the multiplicity of cultures, in the diversity of culture to which she must carry her fruits of grace" (Letter to Cardinal Casaroli, establishing the new Pontifical Council for Culture, ORE, 28 June 1982, p. 7), agrees with the aspirations of the Second Vatican Council. In fact, the Fathers strongly emphasized the central place of culture in human life and its importance for insinuating Gospel values and for the influence of the Gospel message on the mores, sciences and arts of our era. In this same spirit, the goal of merging the Council for Dialogue with Non-Believers and the Pontifical Council for Culture, on 25 March 1993, to create a single pontifical council was to promote "the study of the problem of unbelief and religious indifference found in various forms in different cultural milieus ... in order to offer adequate support to the Church's pastoral activity in evangelizing cultures and inculturating the Gospel" (Motu Proprio Inde a Pontificatus).

Today materialism is a major challenge

We face problems today in passing on the Gospel message in our world, mainly because our contemporaries are immersed in cultural contexts that are often alien to an interior or spiritual dimension, or live in situations in which a materialist outlook prevails. More than in any other historical period, one must point to a break in the process of the transmission of moral and religious values between generations, which leads to a kind of antagonism between the Church and the contemporary world. In this situation, the Council has a particularly urgent role as an observatory, on the one hand, to identify developments in the different cultures and the anthropological questions that arise and, on the other, to envisage possible relations between the cultures and Christian faith, in order to suggest new forms of evangelization,that respond to the expectations of our contemporaries. In fact, we have to reach out to people where they are, with their worries and questions, to help them find the moral and spiritual beacons they need to live lives worthy of their vocation, and to find in Christ's call the hope that does not disappoint (cf. Rom 5,5), as we follow the method used by the Apostle Paul (in the Areopagus of Athens; Acts 17,22-34). Attention to the culture enables us to enter into the hearts of those who speak with us. There is no better way to communicate and evangelize.

Generation gap in transmitting values of faith and Christian life

3. Among the great obstacles today are the difficulties that families and teachers have to face in struggling to pass on to the young generations the human, moral and spiritual values that will enable them to be men and women who will live a life worthy of their dignity as persons and of their involvement in society. In the same vein, the transmission of the Christian message and of the inherent values that define behaviour is a challenge that all ecclesial communities are called to take up, especially in the field of catechesis and in the formation of catechumens. In other ages, for example, at the time of St Augustine, or more recently, during the 20th century when one could use the contributions of Christian philosophers, we learned to base our teaching and our method of evangelizing on a sound anthropology and philosophy. In fact, it is when Christ wins over philosophy that the Gospel can really spread to all the nations. It is now necessary that the protagonists of Catholic education devote themselves to a serious study of the philosophy of the person in order to understand who man is and what he lives by. Families need to be supported by educators who respect their values and help them to reflect on the fundamental questions that young people are asking, even if this seems to go against what contemporary society proposes. In every age there were men and women who with apostolic courage knew how to make the truth shine forth. This same attitude is needed today.

Pro's and Con's of globalization

The phenomenon of globalization, that is today a cultural fact, is at once a difficulty and an opportunity. While it tends to do away with the specific identities of smaller communities and to reduce them to folklore memories of ancient traditions uprooting them from their original cultural and religious values, this phenomenon also makes it possible to break down barriers between cultures and offers people an opportunity to meet and to learn about one another. At the same time, it obliges national leaders and people of good will to do their utmost to ensure that what is proper to individuals and cultures is respected, to guarantee the good of persons and nations, and to practice brotherhood and solidarity. Society as a whole is facing formidable questions about man and his future, especially in areas such as bioethics, the use of the natural resources of the world, decisions on economic and political issues, so that the full dignity of human beings may be recognized and they may continue to be the creators of society and the final criterion for social decisions. In no way does the Church seek to replace those who are responsible for public affairs, but she hopes to take her place in these debates to enlighten consciences with the light of the full meaning of human nature.

Help bishops and institutions to build a more human society

4. The Pontifical Council for Culture has to continue its work and offer its help to bishops, to Catholic communities and to all the institutions that desire it, so that Christians have the means to witness consistently and responsibly to their faith and their hope, and that all people of good will be involved in building a society that fosters the integral being of every person. The future of man, of cultures, the proclamation of the Gospel and the life of the Church depend on it.

May you contribute to a renewed consciousness of the place of culture in the future of man, of society, and in evangelization, so that the human person may be freer and use freedom in a responsible way! As you end your meeting, I entrust your mission to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and I gladly impart a special Apostolic Blessing to you, to everyone who works with you and to your loved ones.

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