15th Plenary Assembly
Held at Tiruchirapalli from 15 to 19 January, 2003
“Sharing The Good News”
One hundred and sixteen Archbishops and Bishops, members of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India, gathered at St. Paul’s Seminary, Tiruchirapalli, from January 15-19, 2003, to study in depth the theme: Sharing the Good News.
- First of all, we sought to clarify the terms, evangelization and proclamation. Evangelization is to “bring the Good News of Jesus into all areas of humanity and through its impact to transform society from within, making it new” (EN 18). In its restricted meaning, evangelization is the “preaching of Christian faith with the intention to call people to accept Jesus Christ as their Saviour” (Guidelines, no. 36). This is commonly known as proclamation, the communication of the mystery of salvation realized for all by God in Jesus Christ by the power of the Spirit (EN 27; DP 10; RM 44).
- Proclamation is the essential activity of the Church (EA 2). We are not disciples of Christ if we do not proclaim Christ’s message. It is moreover a human right. Corresponding to the right to proclaim is the right of the other to know and decide for him/herself. This proclamation obviously leaves people free to respond. The Church does not believe nor indulge in conversions by force, fraud or allurement.
- The Church has the duty to evangelize, to make her own the good news of Jesus and to share it with others. Certain positive developments encourage her in her task of evangelization: the emergence, for example, of a new kind of `discipleship’ in the form of Khrist-bhaktas; a wave of fresh enthusiasm, specially among young people to carry out the Lord’s command of preaching the Gospel to all nations – evidenced by Movements like the Jesus-Youth and others. This enthusiasm has been fuelled by the Charismatic Renewal, by the steady growth of Basic Christian Communities and Basic Human Communities and by liturgical and biblical movements.
- At the same time, various factors have arisen which hamper the Church in he task of evangelization. Some of these factors lie within the Church: the vestiges of casteism and discrimination among Christians; a certain hesitation to proclaim Jesus as the unique saviour; an absorption by some Church personnel in a number of tasks to the detriment of their availability for the proclamation of the message of Jesus.
- There are factors outside the Church too that seek to impede her from carrying out her mission. One such is the ominous rise of militant fundamentalism of different brands, the resurgence of a mono-cultural militant nationalism which identifies Indian-ness with one culture and religion. All Asian cultures are experiencing a period of resurgence. A genuine renewal and reaffirmation of the indigenous cultures is something to be welcomed, but the negative attitudes of the monocultural nationalists who look at religious and ethnic minorities with a hostile eye, is a matter of concern.
- People of India are impressed not so much by doctrinal expositions as by spiritual experience. It is the land that values silence, contemplation and mysticism. The most important means of proclamation is the transparent and authentic discipleship of Christ by all those who profess to be Christian, the witness of life. This impels all – bishops, priests, religious and laity – to walk the path of holiness, living an authentic Christian life. Deepening one’s prayer life and becoming active contemplatives are essential for proclamation. Proclamation is “a mission needing holy men and women who will make the Saviour known and loved through their lives. A fire can only be lit by something that is on fire itself” (EA, no. 23).
- Well-prepared and meaningful liturgical celebrations proclaim the Gospel effectively. The proclamation and the breaking of the Word has the power to transform the hearts of the hearers. Every time a Christian community comes together, there is a public proclamation and manifestation of faith in Jesus Christ. Most of the Sacraments are community celebrations. A challenge lies before us to make all these true `celebrations’ which allow space for interiorization, silence and communion/ contemplation.
- To proclaim Christ in India, we must make the message and life of Christ truly incarnate. “In offering to others the Good News of the Redemption, the Church strives to understand their culture. She seeks to know the minds and hearts of her hearers, their values and customs, their problems and difficulties, their hopes and dreams. Once she knows and understands these various aspects of culture, then she can begin the dialogue of salvation, she can offer, respectfully but with clarity and conviction, the Good News of the Redemption to all who freely wish to listen and to respond” (EA, no. 21). Inculturation, which is the insertion of the Word in a given culture, is a must for the proclamation of the gospel. Church personnel must respectfully study diverse cultures as they are lived in different pastoral contexts, being sensitive to ethnic, tribal and dalit groups. Study of cultural anthropology and ethnic psychology, carried out at the diocesan or regional levels, will be of great assistance in the pastoral field.
- The Church reaches out, in service, to all men and women without distinction, striving to build with them a civilization of love. Our manifold services in the field of education, health care and social uplift, quite out of proportion to our numerical strength, are greatly appreciated for their efficiency and excellence. We often evaluate these services in terms of numbers and statistics; but there is another element beyond any human calculation: the witness to evangelical values and the presence of the Divine. All these services are meant to lead people to experience the compassionate love of God our Father who gives us his best gift in Jesus his Son. Church personnel involved in these institutions must be given ongoing formation to re-orient them so as to be effective means of evangelization.
- The Media can be a powerful tool for the proclamation of the good news. “Catholic media work is not simply one more programme alongside all the rest of the Church’s activities: social communications have a role to play in every aspect of the Church’s mission.” (AN, 17). Modern information technologies, such as the Internet, are new forums for proclaiming the Gospel, for making our voice heard on social issues, human rights and people’s problems. Hence, we need to integrate these media and technologies into the Church’s ministry, improving the Church’s present communication channels such as newsletters, periodicals, websites etc. to make them more effective channels of communication. We must identify and encourage young talents to pursue a profession in the mainstream media. In particular, bishops, priests, religious and seminarians “should acquire a thorough understanding of the working of social communication on different levels, from homiletics to the use of modern technologies for evangelization. This requires regular training courses in formation programmes.” (FABC Consultation on Evangelization and Communications, Chennai, 1999).
- Since proclamation of the Mystery of Christ is the primary mission of every Christian, care must be taken to impart sound Faith formation to the entire Christian Community and more specifically to different sections of the Community.
- 1. Formation of the whole Community: At all gatherings of the community for prayer and celebration of sacraments, members should be constantly reminded of the duty of proclaiming Jesus Christ the saviour, the Way, the Truth and the Life. Important seasons and festivals, celebrations at pilgrimage centres, prayer meetings, BCC meetings, retreats, etc., are occasions to empower members of the believing community to be effective instruments of proclamation. Eucharistic Adoration, which is a witnessing to the faith of the community and a source of tremendous strength for evangelization is to be encouraged in every parish.
11.2. Formation of the Laity: Formation for proclamation begins, within the family, at the level of children, imbuing them with evangelical zeal. The local church has to create opportunities and provide formation facilities for lay persons volunteering for the mission of proclamation. A process of identifying and choosing, suitable persons, especially among the youth, and allocating the necessary funds for their formation has to become an integral part of the local church’s plan for empowering the laity for proclamation.
11.3. Formation of Priests in seminaries and other formation houses: Preparing future priests and religious, who are intensely committed to proclamation, and inculcating in them a deep faith in Jesus and a love for the Church, should be a top priority. The entire formation programme – human, spiritual, pastoral and intellectual – should be geared to preparing them for a life of holiness and commitment to people. This commitment will find expression in Spirit-filled ministries like proclamation of the Word and sharing the Good News of Salvation in Jesus Christ. Bishops and major superiors have to exercise care in selecting formators. Besides academic excellence, formators have to be persons deeply touched by Jesus and committed to his saving mission: More than teachers, they must be authentic witnesses and role models to those in formation. The Charter for Priestly Formation in India, approved in this Plenary Assembly, should be carefully implemented for these results.
We conclude: Difficulties, oppositions, and even persecution, will not deter us. Our response to all these is our constant love and prayer and a greater commitment to our services to our countrymen, especially the poor and the voiceless. We recall the words of Pope John Paul II: “in the end, it is martyrdom which reveals to the world the very essence of the Christian message” (EA, no. 49). Opposition will spur us to re-evangelize Christians, beginning with ourselves as bishops, and to find new avenues for evangelization and proclamation. We have the assurance of the Risen Lord” “I am with you always to the close of the age” (Mt. 28:20). It is an assurance given precisely in the carrying out of the words of Jesus to announce the Gospel to all nations. Relying on his power, and intercession of our Blessed Mother, we should as the Holy Father bids us in Novo Millennio Ineunte, ‘launch out into the deep’ (Lk 5:4).
AN Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Aetatis Novae
EA: Pope John Paul II, Ecclesia in Asia
EN: Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi
DP Joint document issued by Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples &
Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, Dialogue & Proclamation
RM Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio
Guidelines CBCI Commission for Dialogue & Ecumenism, Guidelines for Inter-religious Dialogue