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Evangelisation: why and how?


What does it mean to Evangelise?

  • It means to announce the Lord Jesus by means of word and action or, in other terms, to make oneself an instrument of his presence and action in the world.
    For this reason the primary goal of evangelisation is to help all people to encounter Christ through faith. «The very reality of society and the Gospel are simply inseparable from each other. When we only offer men and women knowledge, skill, technical training and tools, we offer them too little» (Benedict XVI, Homily during Mass at the esplanade at the "Neue Messe" in Munich, 10 September 2006).
  • This encounter with Christ involves the whole person (intelligence, will, feelings, activity and aspirations) and every person: Evangelisation is for the whole of humanity.



Why should we Evangelise?

There are many and varied reasons for this:
  • To fulfil Christ's commandment which was to: «Go out to the whole world and proclaim the Good News to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned» (Mk 16, 15-16). «As the Father sent me, so I am sending you» ( Jn 20, 21; cfr. 17, 18). This commandment of Christ has its foundation and its justification in his infinite love for the salvation of all people.
  • To follow the example of the Apostles who, «prompted by the Spirit, invited all to change their lives, to be converted and to be baptised» (John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Redemptoris missio, 47).
  • To satisfy the right of every person who: «has the right to hear the "Good News" about God who reveals himself and gives himself in Christ, so that each one can live out in its fullness his or her proper calling» (John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Redemptoris missio, 46). This is a right conferred by the Lord on every human person. For this reason every man and woman can, along with Saint Paul, truly say: Jesus Christ » (Gal 2, 20). The heart of every person is yearning, longing to meet Christ. There is a corresponding duty to evangelise attaching to this right: «For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of; for necessity is laid upon me; for woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!» (1 Cor 9, 16; cfr. Rm 10, 14). «Caritas Christi urget nos - the love of Christ urges us on» (2 Cor 5, 14) to announce the Gospel to all;
  • To share with others, in a respectful way and by dialogue, one's own goods: “The acceptance of the Good News in faith is thus dynamically ordered to such a communication. The truth which saves one's life inflames the heart of the one who has received it with a love of neighbour that motivates him to pass on to others in freedom what he has freely been given (…) The Church wants everyone to share in these goods so that they may possess the fullness of truth and the fullness of the means of salvation, in order «to enter into the freedom of the glory of the children of God» (Rom 8, 21). (…) This experience of sharing, a characteristic of true friendship, is a valuable occasion for witnessing and for Christian proclamation” (Note, 7- 8).
  • It is essential to carry out this genuine and indispensable act of service to the human family: “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” (Benedict XVI, Address to the participants of the international conference on occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Conciliar decree s»Ad gentes, 11 march 2006).
  • In particular to help persons escape from the various forms of wilderness existence in which they find themselves: in particular to come to the assistance of those persons who are in the desert of God's darkness, the emptiness of souls no longer aware of their dignity or the goal of human life (…) The Church as a whole and all her Pastors, like Christ, must set out to lead people out of the desert, towards the place of life, towards friendship with the Son of God, towards the One who gives us life, and life in abundance» (Benedict XVI, Mass, imposition of the pallium and conferral of the fisherman's ring for the beginning of the Petrine ministry of the Bishop of Rome, 24 april 2005).
  • In this context it is also useful to consult the pamphlet entitled: Why is it necessary to announce Jesus Christ?



What objections can be made to evangelising?

  1. Is Evangelisation an attack on a person's freedom?
    • It must be borne in mind that a person's freedom:
      • è has a direct relationship with the truth:
        • freedom does not mean indifference but is associated with a type of tension in the face of the truth and good (bonum et verum convertuntur : Separating freedom from the truth is one of the expressions «of that relativism that does not recognise anything as being definitive and holds as the final measure of all things what the individual himself holds along with his own desires. While this reasoning may appear to resemble freedom, this form of thinking actually imprisons persons» (Benedict XVI, Address to participants at an Ecclesial Gathering from the Diocese of Rome on the topic "Family and the Christian Community: formation of the person and transmission of the Faith», 2005);
        • denying that the possibility exists to know the truth, and/or that truth does not have an “exclusive character, and assuming that truth reveals itself equally in different doctrines, even if they contradict one another” (John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Fides et ratio, 5) results in man "losing what in a unique way draws his intelligence and enthrals his heart"; (Note, 4);
      • In the search for truth, man needs the assistance of others:
        • Men and women «from birth, therefore, are immersed in traditions which give them not only a language and a cultural formation but also a range of truths in which they believe almost instinctively. [...] Nonetheless, there are in the life of a human being many more truths which are simply believed than truths which are acquired by way of personal verification» (John Paul Paolo II, Encyclical Letter Fides et ratio, 31);
        • we can arrive at the truth by trusting those who can guarantee the certainty and authenticity of the truth itself: «There is no doubt that the capacity to entrust oneself and one's life to another person and the decision to do so are among the most significant and expressive human acts» (op. cit., 33).
    • Having affirmed the duty and the right of every man and woman to search for the truth in religious expression, the Second Vatican Council added: «Truth, however, is to be sought after in a manner proper to the dignity of the human person and his social nature. The inquiry is to be free, carried on with the aid of teaching or instruction, communication and dialogue, in the course of which men explain to one another the truth they have discovered, or think they have discovered, in order thus to assist one another in the quest for truth. In every situation, the truth "cannot impose itself except by virtue of its own truth;» (Second Vatican Council, Declaration Dignitatis humanae, 3 e 1).
    • “PTherefore, to lead a person's intelligence and freedom in honesty to the encounter with Christ and his Gospel is not an inappropriate encroachment, but rather a legitimate endeavour and a service capable of making human relationships more fruitful (…) Therefore, fully belonging to Christ, who is the Truth, and entering the Church do not lessen human freedom, but rather exalt it and direct it towards its fulfilment, in a love that is freely given and which overflows with care for the good of all people” (Nota, 5. 7).
  2. Is Evangelisation to be viewed as purposeless since non-Christians can also be saved?
    “Even if non-Christians can be saved through the grace given by God in those «ways known to him» (Ad gentes, 7), the Church cannot but take account of the fact that individuals are lacking a great good while they are in the world: to know the true face of God and to have friendship with Jesus Christ, who is God-with-us. In fact, «There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel, by the encounter with Christ. There is nothing more beautiful than to know Him and to speak to others of our friendship with Him» (Benedict XVI, Mass, imposition of the pallium and conferral of the fisherman's ring for the beginning of the Petrine ministry of the Bishop of Rome, 24 aprile 2005).
    The revelation of the fundamental truths about God, about the human person and the world, is a great good for every human person, while living in darkness without the truths about ultimate questions is an evil and is often at the root of suffering and slavery which can at times be grievous. This is why Saint Paul does not hesitate to describe conversion to the Christian faith as liberation «from the dominion of darkness» and a being brought us «into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, he forgiveness of sins» (Col 1, 13-14)” (Note, 7).
  3. Does Evangelisation express a certain element of intolerance? Can it pose a danger to peace?
    “Those who make such claims are overlooking the fact that the fullness of the gift of truth, which God makes by revealing himself to man, respects the freedom which he himself created as an indelible mark of human nature: a freedom which is not indifference, but which is rather directed towards truth. This kind of respect is a requirement of the Catholic faith itself and of the love of Christ; it is a constitutive element of evangelization and, therefore, a good which is to be promoted inseparably with the commitment to making the fullness of salvation, which God offers to the human race in the Church, known and freely embraced” (Nota, 10).



How does Evangelisation take place?

Evangelisation occurs:
  • First of all by respecting the person's freedom: «The Church strictly forbids forcing anyone to embrace the Faith, or alluring or enticing people by worrisome wiles. By the same token, she also strongly insists on this right, that no one be frightened away from the Faith by unjust vexations on the part of others» (Ad gentes, 13). «From the very origins of the Church Christ's disciples strove to convert men to faith in Christ as Lord; not, however, by the use of coercion or of devices unworthy of the Gospel, but by the power, above all, of the word of God» (Dignitatis humanae, 11).
  • Through the private and public preaching of the Gospel, and by involvement in those activities that bring about a direct benefit to society;
  • By means of the word and the witness of one's life, both of which necessarily go hand in hand. “In order that the light of truth may be diffused to all men and women, it is of primary necessity that they be a witness of holiness. If the word is contradicted by actions, it will not easily be accepted. However, the act of witnessing alone will not suffice since "even the finest witness will prove ineffective in the long run if it is not explained, justified - what Peter called always "giving the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Pt 3, 15) and made explicit by a clear and unequivocal proclamation of the Lord Jesus» (Evangelii nuntiandi, 22).
  • With faith in the power of the Holy Spirit and of the truth that is proclaimed;
  • By the giving of oneself even to the point of martyrdom: “It is precisely martyrdom that gives credibility to witnesses, who seek neither power nor advantage, but instead lay down their lives for Christ. Before all the world, they display an unarmed strength brimming with love for all people, which is bestowed on those who follow Christ unto the total gift of their existence. So it is that Christians, from the very dawn of Christianity up until our own time have suffered persecution on account of the Gospel, as Jesus himself foretold: "If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you» (Jn 15, 20)” (Note, 8).



Who does Evangelisation affect?

It touches every Christian. “The words of Jesus, «Go therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you» (Mt 28, 19-20), are directed at everyone in the Church, each according to his own vocation. He who announces the Gospel participates in the charity of Christ who loved us and gave himself up for us (cfr. Ef 5, 2), he is his ambassador and he pleads in the name of Christ: "let yourselves to be reconciled with God! (cfr. 2 Cor 5, 20). It is a charity which is an expression of the gratitude that flows from the heart when it opens to the love given in Jesus Christ” (Note, 10-11).



In what way does Evangelisation enrich the Church?

  • By announcing Jesus Christ to every person within his or her own particular socio-cultural context the Church:
    • holds that the Gospel does not lead to the impoverishment or extinction of those things which every individual, people and nation and every culture throughout history holds dear but rather recognizes them and brings them into being as goodness, truth and beauty. On the contrary, it strives to assimilate and to develop all these values: to live them with magnanimity and joy, and to perfect them by the mysterious and ennobling light of Revelation (cfr. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Slavorum apostoli, 18);
    • “enriches with forms of expression and values in the various sectors of Christian life;
    • comes to know and to express better the mystery of Christ, all the while being motivated to continual renewal” (John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Redemptoris missio, 52);
    • discovers and makes explicit in a clearer way the potential of the Gospel, which was not well known or made explicit in the past; and in this way this «tradition which comes from the Apostles develops in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit» (Second Vatican Council II, Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum, 8).
  • “Continues in history, in the unity of one and the same faith, enriched by the diversity of languages and cultures” (Note, 6).
  • “The incorporation of new members into the Church is not the expansion of a power-group, but rather entrance into the network of friendship with Christ which connects heaven and earth, different continents and ages” (Note, 9).



Should there also be an Evangelisation of Christians who are not Catholic?

  • This type of Evangelisation (which is called Ecumenism), by every Catholic-Christian involves:
    • having sincere respect towards those who are not Catholic, especially regarding the question of freedom, tradition and those spiritual elements that are already present;
    • prayer, penance and study;
    • witnessing and the uninhibited full annunciation of one's own faith;
    • a genuine spirit of cooperation in all areas of work and society, as well as in the area of religion and culture;
    • “a respectful dialogue of charity and truth, a dialogue which is not only an exchange of ideas, but also of gifts, in order that the fullness of the means of salvation can be offered to one's partners” (Note, 12). In other words what we are speaking of is an ecumenism of truth and charity: both are intimately united with each other. (Please see the pamphlet on Ecumenism for more details). .
  • “In this connection, it needs also to be recalled that if a non-catholic Christian, for reasons of conscience and having been convinced of Catholic truth, asks to enter into the full communion of the Catholic Church, this is to be respected as the work of the Holy Spirit and as an expression of freedom of conscience and of religion. In such a case, it would not be a question of proselytism in the negative sense that has been attributed to this term” (Note, 12).

The Primicerio
Primicerio of the Basilica of Saints Ambrose and Charles,Rome
Monsignor Raffaello Martinelli

NB: For further information about the topics discussed, please see the following Pontifical documents:
  • Second Vatican Council,, Dogm.Cost. Dei Verbum; Dich. Dignitatis humanae; Decr. Ad gentes; Cost. past. Gaudium et spes; Decr. Unitatis redintegratio;
  • Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi (8 december 1975);
  • John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Slavorum apostoli (2 june 1985); Encyclical Letter Redemptoris missio (7 december 1990); Encyclical Letter Ut unum sint (25 may 1995);
  • Benedict XVI, Mass, imposition of the pallium and conferral of the fisherman's ring for the beginning of the Petrine ministry of the Bishop of Rome, (24 april 2005); Encyclical Letter Deus caritas est (25 december 2005);
  • Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF): Dominus Iesus (6 august 2000); Doctrinal Note on some Aspects of Evangelization (3 december 2007) (abbr. Note).