Pope Saint John Paul II (1920–2005) | Saints At Heart by Bert Ghezzi
Go out to the whole world; proclaim the gospel to all creation.—Mark 16:15
No believer in Christ . . . can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples. —Pope John Paul II, The Mission of the Redeemer, 3
Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be activel engaged in evangelization; indeed, anyone who has trul experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or engthy training to go out and proclaim that love.—Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, 120
Just before he ascended to his Father, Jesus gave his disciples his final instructions. “Go,” he said, “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). He carefully chose his last words to his friends in order to affirm the mission of the church that he was establishing among them. He wanted this declaration of purpose to stick in their minds and propel them to action. They took his command to heart. Immediately after they had received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, they added some three thousand to their number (see Acts 2:41). Over the next several decades, the apostles proclaimed the good news throughout the world. Paul and his team carried the gospel throughout Greece and Asia Minor. Peter went west to Rome, Thomas south to India, and Andrew reputedly in many directions to Constantinople, Russia, and Scotland.
Over the centuries, other missionaries set their hearts on the work of evangelization. St. Patrick (387–461) and St. Brigid 113 (c. 450–525) established monasteries that converted the people of Ireland, and St. Boniface (c. 680–754) and St. Leoba (d. 779) did the same for Germany and France. St. Francis of Assisi (1181–1226) and St. Dominic (1170–1221) founded religious orders that turned their worlds “upside right” with the gospel. The Jesuit St. Francis Xavier (1506–1552) made disciples from southern India to Japan. Other Jesuits like St. Roque González (1576–1628) and St. John de Brebeuf (1593–1649) took the good news to the natives of the Americas. In the mid-nineteenth century, two young French missionaries—Sts. Jean-Gabriel Perboyre (1802–1840) in China and Théophane Venard (1829–1861) in Indochina—gave their lives to win followers of Christ. I could continue to list disciple makers, but you get the idea.
All of these evangelizers belonged to either monastic communities or religious orders. But since the Second Vatican Council, the church has emphasized the responsibility of all Christians, especially laypeople, to lead others to Christ. “On all Christians,” said the council fathers, “is laid the splendid burden of working to make the divine message of salvation known and accepted by all people throughout the world.”1 So the council reminded all Catholic laity of their privileged duty to undertake the work of evangelization. Popes Paul VI and John Paul II have repeatedly urged us to view spreading the gospel as the most important thing that we do.2 And Pope Francis summed up our evangelistic responsibility in an expression that has become a watchword: “Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: we no longer say that we are ‘disciples’ and ‘missionaries’, but rather that we are always ‘missionary disciples’. . . . So what are we waiting for?” 3
However, most Catholic laypeople in the Western world do not seem to be doing much evangelizing. In my diocese of four hundred thousand Catholics, for example, only a thousand adults were baptized last year. Most of these joined the church primarily for Evangelization family reasons, not because one of us introduced them to Christ. Why don’t we get more involved in evangelization? I think the main reason is ignorance of our duty to spread the gospel in spite of the significant efforts of Vatican II and the popes to educate us.
Pope St. John Paul II not only told us that we must become evangelizers, but he also showed us how to do it. Don’t be put off by comparing his global evangelization to our much smaller, local endeavors. Even though his mission field was the whole world, John Paul II’s teaching and witness demonstrated how we can share the gospel with our neighbors and influence for Christ the culture of our worlds.