17 January 1987

Dear brothers in the Episcopate, Dear friends,

1.      It is with a particular pleasure that I welcome the Pontifical Council for Culture, now for the fifth time. I give a most cordial welcome to each one of you personally; and in your persons I greet those entitled to represent the numerous and varied areas of culture in the world. I thank you for coming each year to the See of Peter for a fruitful discussion of the situations of culture and of cultures, in order to explore together the most appropriate paths for the meeting between the Church and the mentalities and aspirations of our epoch.

When I set up the Pontifical Council for Culture five years ago, my intention was to give a programme of common action to the will of the Second Vatican Council, which sought to promote the dialogue of salvation with persons and their milieux. In our meetings in past years, I encouraged you to find means to stimulate in all the Church a renewed drive to make the dialogue between the Gospel and cultures a visible reality. You were invited to pay particular attention to the most suitable organs to support this endeavour, which is both cultural and evangelical: the bishops and their collaborators, the religious Institutes and their initiatives, the Catholic international organizations and their cultural and apostolic projects. In harmony with the other bodies of the Holy See, your first goal is to study in depth, for the sake of the universal Church and the local Churches, what is meant by the evangelization of cultures in today's world. This is indeed an immense and complex task, but it is vitally important for the future mission of the Church.

Promote incisive dialogue

2.      Five years on, I wish to express to you my satisfaction at the work which you have been able to carry out. When one reads your bulletin Church and Cultures, which is published in several languages, it is clear that you have already accomplished an important task of consultation and information of the Episcopal Conferences, the religious Institutes, the Catholic international organizations, a great number of private and public centers and international bodies like UNESCO and the Council of Europe.

Many episcopal conferences have made a generous response, setting up new services to promote a more incisive dialogue with cultures. Religious have collaborated actively in an international consultation that shows their interest in the inculturation of their apostolic action and in the consolidation of the consecrated life within the evolving cultures. Catholic international organizations have also formed fruitful relationships with the Pontifical Council for Culture, in the service of the cultural and spiritual promotion of the men and women of today.

Thanks to the active cooperation of the members of the International Council, regional congresses have been organized on the various cultural problems that concern the Church: at Notre-Dame in the United States, at Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Munich, and Bangalore. Other international conferences are being prepared in Europe, in Nigeria and in Japan. I thank you for these concrete efforts and commitments. Your International Council thus takes on an effective meaning, which I am happy to emphasize.

As the constitution Regimini Ecclesiae requests, you are likewise concerned to promote a fruitful collaboration with the Departments of the Holy See. Inter alia, I think of your contribution to the document on sects and religious movements.

3.    Besides this, you are working with the Congregation for Catholic Education and the Pontifical Council for the Laity in a project dealing with “the Church and university culture”. Along with all the relevant bodies in the Church - bishops, religious, various organizations and lay persons - you seek to make the Church more present in the university milieux, through her direct apostolic activity and also through a more active promotion of the evangelical values within the cultures that are in process of formation in the universities. These problems merit all the efforts you can make, and I encourage you warmly to pursue this important task which you have undertaken in common with others. Many pastors await light and orientation, in an area that concerns countless Christian students and professors. The collaboration of all interested parties in this consultation on “the Church and university culture” will permit the whole Church to benefit from the experience gained by the initiatives of all parties and by the reflections in common on what has been learned.

I likewise express my good wishes for the collaboration which has already begun with the International Theological Commission, and I hope that it may produce fruitful results. Your joint research on faith and inculturation responds to an explicit request of the extraordinary Synod of Bishops, and it will be of great importance for the incarnation of the Gospel at the heart of the cultures of our times.

Dear friends, I wish to thank sincerely all those who dedicate themselves generously to the mission which I have entrusted to the Pontifical Council for Culture, for the good of the whole Church.

Effective Encounter between Gospel and Cultures

4.      While I congratulate you on the tasks which you have carried out, I ask you to look to the future with great insight and hope. Permit me to suggest two principal orientations that should inspire your efforts, your research your initiatives and the co-operation of all those with whom you are connected.

On the one hand, I urge you once again to convince people of the urgency of an effective encounter between the Gospel and the living cultures. The gap between the Good News of Jesus Christ and whole zones of humanity continues to be immense and dramatic. Many cultural milieux remain hermetically sealed or hostile to the Gospel. Whole countries are subjected to cultural policies that seek to exclude the work of the Church, or to limit it seriously. Every sincere Christian suffers deeply to see the proclamation of the Good News fettered in this way. In the name of the cultural promotion of every man and every woman which has been proclaimed as an objective by international bodies - we must make our contemporaries understand that the Gospel of Christ is a source of progress and enrichment for all human beings. We do not damage any culture by freely offering it this message of salvation and liberation.

Together with every man and every woman of good will, we share a disinterested and unconditional love for every human person. Even with those who do not share our faith, we can find much room for collaboration with a view to the cultural progress of persons and groups. Today's cultures aspire ardently to peace and brotherhood, to dignity and justice, to liberty and solidarity. This is a sign of the times, assuredly providential; and twenty years on from the encyclical Populorum Progressio of my predecessor Paul VI, this must encourage us to find paths for a new solidarity among persons, spiritual families, and centres of reflection and of action. Do we have the courage to ask ourselves whether we Christians have given adequate realization to the cultural creativity requested by Gaudium et Spes, in order to hasten the effective encounter of the Church with the world of our time? Ought we not to be better at discernment, more inventive, more resolute in our undertakings of evangelization, and more open to indispensable collaboration in this vast domain of cultural action undertaken in the name of our faith?

Reflection on inculturation

5.    This leads me to return, and to insist upon, what is equally a central objective in our work, and is the object of your reflection in common with the International Theological Commission: inculturation. I myself have touched on this in several of my recent apostolic journeys. For this newly-coined word disclosed a vital challenge for the Church, especially in countries with non-Christian traditions. When the Church enters into contact with cultures, she must welcome all that is compatible with the Gospel in these traditions of the peoples, in order to bring the riches of Christ to them and to be enriched herself by the manifold wisdom of the nations of the earth. You are aware that inculturation commits the Church to a path that is difficult, but necessary. Pastors, theologians and the specialists in the human sciences must also collaborate closely, so that this vital process may come about in a way that benefits both the evangelized and the evangelizers, in order to avoid any simplification or undue haste that would end in syncretism or a secular reduction of the proclamation of the Gospel. Carry out your research an these questions serenely and in depth, aware that your work will help many in the Church and not only in what are called “mission lands”.

You are not dedicating yourselves to some abstract intellectual exercise, but to a reflection which directly serves pastoral work, including that carried out in the nations that have a Christian tradition: for in those nations there has gradually come into being a “culture” marked by indifference or lack of interest in religion. Together with all my brothers in the episcopate, I reaffirm urgently the necessity of mobilizing all the Church in a creative effort for a renewed evangelization of persons and cultures. It is only through a concerted effort that the Church will make herself able to bring the hope of Christ into today's cultures and mentalities. Let us discover the language that will touch the minds and hearts of so many men and women who aspire, perhaps without knowing it, to the peace of Christ and to his liberating message. This is a cultural and evangelical project of the first importance.

6.    Do not let youselves be deterred by the difficulties inherent in such a mission: pursue it unceasingly, inspire the necessary collaboration, so that bishops, priests, religious, laity, cultural and educational organizations may become involved in this apostolic spirit of dialogue which the Second Vatican Council requested, and which was reaffirmed, so clearly, by the extraordinary Synod of 1985 and was put into action by initiatives such as that of the Day of Prayer for Peace at Assisi.

I encourage you particularly to continue your efforts to involve the laity in this task, for it is they who are at the heart of the cultures which characterize modern society. If the Gospel of Christ is to become the ferment capable of purifying and enriching the cultural orientations which will decide the future of the human family, this largely depends on the laity. Your contribution is of particular interest for the coming Synod of Bishops, which deals with the apostolate of the laity.

As a sign of my affection and my gratitude, and as a pledge of the grace of the Lord, I give my blessing to each one of you personally.