Friday morning in the Holy See Press Office, the presentation took place of a "Doctrinal Note on some aspects of evangelization" prepared by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Participating in the press conference were Cardinals William Joseph Levada, Francis Arinze and Ivan Dias, respectively prefects of the Congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith, for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, and for the Evangelization of Peoples; and Archbishop Angelo Amato S.D.B., secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Cardinal Levada explained that the document is intended to respond "to a certain confusion about whether Catholics should give testimony about their faith in Christ. The congregation," he said, "decided to address some specific points which seem to undermine the fulfillment of Christ's missionary mandate. It does so under three general headings:" the anthropological, ecclesiological and ecumenical implications of evangelization.
In his remarks, Archbishop Amato recalled that "evangelization means not just teaching doctrine but announcing the Lord Jesus though word and deed, in other words, becoming instruments of His presence and activity in the world."
The "primary task of the Church," the archbishop went on, "is to lead mankind to friendship with Jesus Christ, in freedom and respect for the conscience of others. … The necessary respect for different sensibilities and particular traditions cannot preclude the need for freedom or for truth, which are the indispensable prerequisites for any form of dialogue."
"Unity in truth and the exercise of freedom in charity are the arduous but rewarding paths that the Note aims to highlight, in the difficult and fascinating task of bearing witness to Christian faith at the beginning of the third millennium."
In his talk, Cardinal Arinze made a number of observations concerning the regions of sub-Saharan Africa where "African traditional religion has been the dominant religious and cultural context for centuries. It is also from that context that most converts to Christianity in these countries in the past two hundred years have come."
"The sharing of our Catholic faith with others who do not yet know Christ should be regarded as a work of love," he continued, "provided that it is done with full respect for their human dignity and freedom. Indeed if a Christian did not try to spread the Gospel by sharing the excelling knowledge of Jesus Christ with others, we could suspect that Christian either of lack of total conviction on the faith, or of selfishness and laziness in not wanting to share the full and abundant means of salvation with his fellow human beings."
For his part, Cardinal Dias commented on the Note from an "Asian theological perspective." Evangelization "in a context of religious pluralism is nothing new for the Church," he said. However, it does present "a particular challenge in modern times because we are living in an age in which people from different religions meet and interact more than in any other period in human history."
With a range of religious traditions as vast as that of the continent of Asia, said the cardinal, "Christians must seek to discover therein the action of the Holy Spirit – in other words the 'seeds of truth' as Vatican Council II chose to call them – and lead them, with no pretensions to superiority, to full knowledge of the truth in Jesus Christ."
Finally, on the subject of evangelization through inter-religious dialogue, Cardinal Dias expressed the view that "other religions represent a positive challenge for the Church; they stimulate her both to discover and recognize the signs of Christ's presence in the action of the Spirit, and to develop her own identity and bear witness to the integrity of revelation, of which she is the depositary for the good of everyone."