VATICAN CITY –– As Catholics pursue their missionary duty, they must understand the church is not in competition with other religious groups or ideologies trying to win over believers but is working to make the Gospel accessible to everyone, Pope Benedict XVI said.
Evangelization is not an attack on religious freedom because it fully respects the freedom to believe and does not impose anything on another person’s conscience, he said.
The pope made his remarks Oct. 4 as he met with bishops from the heart of Brazil’s Amazon region, an area that covers about 770,000 square miles.
The pope noted the difficulty of evangelizing such vast and at times inaccessible areas.
“Sometimes we find this objection: to impose a truth, even if it is the truth of the Gospel, to impose a way, even if it’s the way to salvation, can be nothing but an assault on religious liberty,” the pope said.
To answer that objection, the pope quoted Pope Paul VI’s 1974 apostolic exhortation on evangelization, “Evangelii Nuntianti,” which stated:
“It would certainly be an error to impose something on the consciences of our brethren. But to propose to their consciences the truth of the Gospel and salvation in Jesus Christ, with complete clarity and with a total respect for the free options which it presents – without coercion, or dishonorable or unworthy pressure – far from being an attack on religious liberty is fully to respect that liberty.”
As all baptized Catholics have the duty to pursue the church’s missionary and evangelical activities, they must not develop a superficial concept of mission, Pope Benedict said.
Mission “cannot be limited to a simple search for new techniques and ways to make the church more attractive and capable of winning the competition” against other religious groups or relativistic ideologies, he said.
The church does not operate or work for itself, he said. The church is at the complete service of Christ and “exists so the good news may be made accessible to all people,” he said.
Weakened missionary zeal is not the result of limitations or lack of resources; it is caused by neglecting the fact that mission must be nourished and strengthened with the Eucharist, he said.
If missionary activity is to be effective, it must begin and end with the Eucharist, he added.