JP II Encyclical Letter on Mission

AFP-Une des plus célèbres photos de JP II, prise à Malibor, Slovénie, le 19 /09/ 99.


John Paul II passed away while I was in the plane taking me from Khartoum to Rome. On arrival, I was able to participate in the Requiem Mass taking place in St Peter's Square. At the end of the Mass, Cardinal Sepe, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, read us a message in which he asserted, "The principal legacy of John Paul II remains the encyclical Redemptoris Missio, rightly described as the Magna Carta for Mission in the Third Millennium."

It so happens that in a certain way I was associated at the inception and elaboration of this encyclical. At the end of 1989 the Pope invited five or six Generals of Missionary Institutes to a lunch preceded by a work session. He wanted to consult us on the timeliness of a new encyclical on the missions and on the orientation to give it. In all honesty I must admit I was not particularly keen. Encyclicals were succeeding one another at a steady rate and on the missions there was already the very fine Decree Ad Gentes from the Second Vatican Council and ten years later Paul VI's letter Evangelii Nuntiandi, which came in the wake of the Synod on Evangelisation. I was not sure if there was anything new to say. However, the Pope had his ideas.

Following the words of St Paul 'I should be punished if I did not preach the Gospel' (cf. I Cor. 9:16) he wanted to have a new call for mission heard, taking account of the development of the world since the Council.

Work on the encyclical was therefore undertaken and our group was called upon again several times. Our spokesman to the Pope was Fr Marcello Zago (then Superior General of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, later ordained bishop and appointed Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples). Thus on the 7th December 1990, 25 years to the day of publication of the Conciliar Decree Ad Gentes, Redemptoris Missio also came to the light of day. In the Church and in particular among the Congregations it received a very favourable response and it became a truly useful document for work and inspiration.
From the outset, (RM1) John Paul II reiterated a leading idea of the Council developed by the Constitution Lumen Gentium and repeated by the Decree Ad Gentes, that the Church draws its missionary character from the Trinitarian mission itself. "The pilgrim Church is missionary by her very nature. For it is from the mission of the Son and the mission of the Holy Spirit that she takes her origin in accordance with the decree of God the Father." (AG 2)

Beforehand, theological reflection on mission began at the mandate from Christ at the Ascension but did not reach its source, which is the heart of God himself.

This being so, the encyclical is above all centred on Christ, as its title indicates (cf. Chapter I, Christ the only Saviour), in direct line with John Paul II's theological outlook, already expressed in his very first encyclical Redemptor Hominis by which he inaugurated his pontificate.
However, the Holy Spirit was not left wanting and perhaps the chapter that I prefer is Chapter III, The Holy Spirit, The Principal Agent of Mission. There is a compendium of the action of the Holy Spirit there, punctuated by numerous quotations from the Acts of the Apostles.

Earlier, Chapter II is devoted to The Kingdom of God and its establishment, considered the prime objective of Christ's mission. "I was sent for this purpose", (Luke 4:43; RM 13). This chapter is also the occasion for setting the record straight concerning "conceptions which deliberately emphasise the Kingdom and which describe themselves as 'Kingdom-centred" (RM 17) and end up "leaving very little room for the Church or undervaluing the Church in reaction to a presumed 'ecclesiocentrism' of the past."

The originality of chapter IV entitled The Vast Horizons of the Mission 'Ad Gentes' consists in what the Pope calls 'the modern equivalents of the Areopagus' (Ac. 17:22-31; RM 37). The first and most important of these 'areopagus' is without doubt the world of communications and the media, 'which is unifying humanity and turning it into what is known as the global village'. How clear this was to us on Friday the 8th April for the funeral of the Pope who knew so well how to put media at the service of his mission!

In Chapter V on The Paths of Mission, in virtue of my personal itinerary, I paid particular attention to the part dealing with 'Dialogue with our Brothers and Sisters of other Religions'. There is a clear tension felt of course between the concern to announce Christ and the desire for openness. I appreciated the final encouragement of the Holy Father "to persevere with faith and love, even in places where their efforts are not well received.' (RM 57)

The next two Chapters review the Leaders and Workers in the Missionary Apostolate, developing in practice what had been mentioned in Evangelii Nuntiandi. (EN 59-73)
On the other hand the last Chapter VIII demonstrates a refined originality. It briefly raises the issue again of what missionary spirituality should be: letting oneself be led by the Spirit, live the mystery of Christ as the 'One who was Sent', loving the Church and men and women as he loved them.

We can thus conclude that the encyclical Redemptoris Missio is the doctrinal testament of John Paul II on mission. He wishes to share his conviction that 'the whole Church is by nature missionary', moreover 'is mission'. He himself showed this by example.

Étienne Renaud
Khartoum, Soudan
Superior General 1986-1992




Redemptoris Missio

A legitimate variety of expressions of Faith
Developing ecclesial communities, inspired by the Gospel, will gradually be able to express their Christian experience in original ways and forms that are consonant with their own cultural traditions, provided that those traditions are in harmony with the objective requirements of the faith itself. … Groups which have been evangelised will thus provide the elements for a 'translation' of the Gospel message, keeping in mind the positive elements acquired down the centuries from Christianity's contact with different cultures and not forgetting the dangers of alterations which have sometimes occurred. (RM 52 - 54)

Dialogue, not for tactical concerns
Inter-religious dialogue is a part of the Church's evangelising mission. … God calls all peoples to himself and he wishes to share with them the fulness of his revelation and love. He does not fail to make himself present in many ways, not only to individuals but also to entire peoples. … Dialogue does not originate from tactical concerns or self-interest, but is an activity with its own guiding principles, requirements and dignity. It is demanded by deep respect for everything that has been brought about in human beings by the Spirit who blows where he wills. (RM 55 - 57)

Missionaries for development and justice
Quoting Puebla : 'The best service we can offer to our brother is evangelisation, which helps him to live and act as a son of God, sets him free from injustices and assists his overall development.' … The mission of the Church consists essentially in offering people an opportunity not to 'have more' but to 'be more', by awakening their consciences through the Gospel. … A people's development derive from the formation of consciences and the gradual maturing of ways of thinking and patterns of behaviour. Man is the principal agent of development, not money or technology. (RM 58 - 59)