Excerpted from "Doctrinal Note on Some Aspect of Evangelization" released by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on December 3, 2007.
12. From its beginnings, the ecumenical movement has been closely connected with evangelization. Unity, in fact, is the seal of the credibility of missionary activity and so the Second Vatican Council noted with regret that the scandal of division “damages the most sacred cause of preaching”. Jesus himself, on the night before his death, prayed “that they all may be one.. so that the world may believe” (Jn 17:21).
The mission of the Church is universal and is not restricted to specific regions of the earth. Evangelization, however, is undertaken differently according to the different situations in which it occurs. In its precise sense, evangelization is the missio ad gentes directed to those who do not know Christ. In a wider sense, it is used to describe ordinary pastoral work, while the phrase “new evangelization” designates pastoral outreach to those who no longer practice the Christian faith. In addition, there is evangelization in countries where non-Catholic Christians live, including those with an ancient Christian tradition and culture. In this context, what is required is both true respect for the tradition and spiritual riches of such countries as well as a sincere spirit of cooperation. Catholics, “avoiding every form of indifferentism or confusion, as well as senseless rivalry, through a common profession of faith in God and in Jesus Christ before all peoples – insofar as this is possible – may collaborate with their separated brethren in social, cultural, technical and religious matters in accordance with the Decree on Ecumenism”.
Different dimensions of the work of ecumenism can be distinguished: above all, there is listening, as a fundamental condition for any dialogue, then, theological discussion, in which, by seeking to understand the beliefs, traditions and convictions of others, agreement can be found, at times hidden under disagreement. Inseparably united with this is another essential dimension of the ecumenical commitment: witness and proclamation of elements which are not particular traditions or theological subtleties, but which belong rather to the Tradition of the faith itself.
Ecumenism does not have only an institutional dimension aimed at “making the partial communion existing between Christians grow towards full communion in truth and charity”. It is also the task of every member of the faithful, above all by means of prayer, penance, study and cooperation. Everywhere and always, each Catholic has the right and the duty to give the witness and the full proclamation of his faith. With non-Catholic Christians, Catholics must enter into a respectful dialogue of charity and truth, a dialogue which is not only an exchange of ideas, but also of gifts, in order that the fullness of the means of salvation can be offered to one’s partners in dialogue. In this way, they are led to an ever deeper conversion to Christ.
In this connection, it needs also to be recalled that if a non-Catholic Christian, for reasons of conscience and having been convinced of Catholic truth, asks to enter into the full communion of the Catholic Church, this is to be respected as the work of the Holy Spirit and as an expression of freedom of conscience and of religion. In such a case, it would not be a question of proselytism in the negative sense that has been attributed to this term. As explicitly recognized in the Decree on Ecumenism of the Second Vatican Council, “it is evident that the work of preparing and reconciling those individuals who desire full Catholic communion is of its nature distinct from ecumenical action, but there is no opposition between the two, since both proceed from the marvelous ways of God”. Therefore, the work of ecumenism does not remove the right or take away the responsibility of proclaiming in fullness the Catholic faith to other Christians, who freely wish to receive it.
"Let unity, the greatest good of all goods, be your preoccupation." - St. Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to St. Polycarp)