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Evangelii Nuntiandi
Chapter II: Evangelization of Cultures, no. 20

This number explains that human culture or cultures must be evangelized, if man is to be evangelized through and through.  Otherwise evangelization will remain exterior to people like “a coat of paint.”  By “culture” in this number the Council Fathers wanted to include all that this term signifies in no. 53 of Gaudium et Spes, the Pastoral Constitution of Vatican II on the Church in the Modern World.  There it refers “to all those things which go to the refining and developing of man’s diverse mental and physical endowments” (Gaudium et Spes, no. 53), and what he does “to subdue the earth by his knowledge and his labor,” and to “humanize social life both in the family and in the whole civic community through the improvement of customs and institutions” (ibid.).  It also includes “the great spiritual experiences and aspirations of men throughout the ages” (ibid.) that are expressed in music and works of art, for example, and which man “communicates and preserves to be an inspiration for the progress of many, even of all mankind” (ibid.).  The Gospel must guide man in his cultivation of all these goods and values of his nature as both an individual and also as a social being. 

The Gospel is independent of every culture but adaptable to every culture.  So evangelization, which is the proclamation of the Gospel, can be adapted to every culture.  The Gospel is true for everyone because human nature is the same everywhere, even though men cultivate the goods and values of nature in a variety of ways, and because Jesus, who knows mankind better than anyone else, wanted it for all mankind (cf. Mk 16:15). 

Every culture must be evangelized in order for it to be according to the truth in all its aspects, i.e. in order for it to be genuinely tailored to man.  The Gospel message makes it that way because it contains the full truth about man, as it is not found anywhere else.  It is necessary, therefore, to preach the Gospel everywhere.  All men have a right to hear the Gospel. 

Number 20 ends with a few words about the split between the Gospel and culture.  It says it is a sad fact that there is in our day a separation between the two, but this is not the first time in the history of the Church that this has happened.  The document does not elaborate on this by telling us of other times when that was the case, but we can guess at least one.  It was the Roman Empire.  The Roman culture was totally pagan.  Yet the Christians in time evangelized it.  We must try to do the same with our culture(s).   

Therefore, the document encourages us: “We must therefore be zealous and make every effort to evangelize man’s culture or, more accurately, his cultures.  These must achieve rebirth through encounter with the Good News.”

Mary and St. Joseph, you formed Jesus in the Jewish culture.  Give our missionaries the wisdom and love to form their people interiorly and externally in the image of your Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit now and forever. Amen.