Pope Francis has issued his first apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), following the synod of bishops on the new evangelisation in October 2012.
In the document, which Francis handed out to a number of people in St Peter’s Square on Sunday, the Pontiff called on all baptised Catholics to be evangelisers.
“The Joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus,” the Pope wrote, inviting Christians to “a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ.”
Evangelisation must start with an emphasis on God’s saving love before proclaiming doctrines and follow the “way of beauty,” the Pope said. Patience and “respectful and compassionate listening” are also a key part of evangelisation, he added.
“The Gospel tells us to correct others and to help them to grow on the basis of a recognition of the objective evil of their actions, but without making judgments about their responsibility and culpability… our personal experience of being accompanied and assisted, and of openness to those who accompany us, will teach us to be patient and compassionate with others, and to find the right way to gain their trust, their openness and their readiness to grow,” he wrote.
Pope Francis also explained a “profound connection between evangelisation and human advancement,” saying that the “Gospel is not merely about our personal relationship with God” and that religion cannot be “restricted to the private sphere,” but is concerned with society, since “all Christians … are called to show concern for the building of a better world.”
The 48,000-word document covers a wide range of issues including abortion, the role of the papacy in the 21st century and the question of women priests. On abortion he said that “it is not ‘progressive’ to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life,” while he said that the issue of women priests was “not open to discussion”.
Other topics Pope Francis has written about in the document includes the global economy, the plight of the poor and the relationship between science and religion. He also discussed ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, making specific reference to Islam.
“In order to sustain dialogue with Islam, suitable training is essential for all involved, not only so that they can be solidly and joyfully grounded in their own identity, but so that they can also acknowledge the values of others, appreciate the concerns underlying their demands and shed light on shared beliefs,” the Pope said.
“We Christians should embrace with affection and respect Muslim immigrants to our countries in the same way that we hope and ask to be received and respected in countries of Islamic tradition. I ask and I humbly entreat those countries to grant Christians freedom to worship and to practice their faith, in light of the freedom which followers of Islam enjoy in Western countries! Faced with disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism, our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalisations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence.”
In response to the document the leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, archbishop Vincent Nichols said that the apostolic exhortation “is a challenge to everyone, without exception.”
“Pope Francis’ words are full of the joy of the Gospel, the exhortation’s very title. They are marked throughout by the immediacy of the Holy Father’s character and by the profound compassion which shines through all his actions,” he said.
“It presents a vision for the pattern of life of the Church present throughout the world, for parish life, for the work of the preacher, for the catechist, for the bishop, for the business person and the politician and for the ministry of the Pope himself. It contains a radical look at the crisis of poverty in our world and at the role of economics. It offers a new light on the Church’s social teaching and calls for dialogue between faith, reason and science, with our fellow Christians, with the Jewish community, with other religions and with society, especially in the context of religious freedom.
“Indeed a spirit of freedom permeates this text as does the constant call for everyone to enter into the mercy of God and to offer that same mercy and compassion to others without reserve.”
Pope Francis has already published an encyclical, traditionally considered the most authoritative form of papal writing. But in the opening paragraphs of Lumen Fidei, released in July, he explained that the text was essentially the work of his predecessor, Benedict XVI, to whose words Pope Francis had merely “added a few contributions” of his own. By contrast, Pope Francis has made clear that Evangelii Gaudium is very much his own work.
Apostolic exhortations are often based on deliberations of synods of bishops, and although this one takes into account the October 2012 synod on the new evangelisation, last June, Pope Francis informed the ordinary council of the Synod of Bishops, which is normally responsible for helping draft post-synodal apostolic exhortations, he would not be working from their draft.
Instead, the Pope said, he planned to write an “exhortation on evangelisation in general and refer to the synod”, in order to “take everything from the synod but put it in a wider framework”.
For the full text of Evangelii Gaudium go here.
For key quotes from the Pope’s document, go here.