"Go and Make Disciples of All Nations"
" Who do people say I am ? "
These words of Jesus mark two important moments in the Gospel - a question and a command that Jesus gives to his disciples. The first, a command to evangelise, to share the good news, everywhere, and with everyone is at the heart of the mission of the Church, and at the heart of the mission of the Jesuits. But as Jesus reminds us when he asks that second question to his disciples, effective evangelisation depends on whether or not the recipient of the message can understand what the message is about. Therefore there is a tension between the transmission of the message and the receipt of the message than can be creative or destructive. If the evangelisation is not sensitive to the culture of the recipients, the good news falls on stony ground. However if the message of the Gospels is watered down too much to 'fit' the culture then the Gospel itself loses much of its transformative and prophetic power.
The modern church has a much deeper understanding of this creative tension. As Fides and Ratio declared, Christ's Gospel for all men and the whole human person is interestingly , «both child and parent of the culture in which they are immersed» (Fides et Ratio, 71). Curiously culture absorbs the manner of living the faith and is in turn gradually shaped by it. This points towards the need to plant the seed in as fertile as soil as possible and then watch it grow, presupposing that evangelisation firstly depends on an appropriate inculturation. In retrospect the Jesuit mission in China seems to have got the balance right - leading to remarkable results, including the Edict of Toleration and the widespread growth in Catholic Christianity.
This 'right balance' seems to have been affirmed by Pius XII who reversed the condemnation of the Chinese Rites by Clement XI. This reversal of Pius XII was within a year of his election in 1939. A new instruction declared that Chinese customs were considered superstitious no longer, but instead an honourable way of esteeming ones relatives and therefore permitted to Catholic Christians. With this new accommodation the Church began to flourish, Pius established a local ecclesiastical hierarchy and after WWII, about four million Chinese were members of the Catholic faith. This was less than one percent of the population but numbers increased dramatically. In 1949, there existed 20 archdioceses, 39 apostolic prefectures, 3080 foreign missionaries, and 2557 Chinese priests.