· Vatican City ·

Cardinal Jozef Tomko, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples (1985-2001)

The Missionary Nature of the Church

 The Missionary Nature of the Church  ING-038
23 September 2022

Cardinal Jozef Tomko, born on 11 March 1924 in Košice, in the then Czechoslovakia, was ordained a priest on 12 March 1949. He was consecrated titular Archbishop of Doclea on 15 September 1979 and was created Cardinal in the Consistory of 25 May 1985. He passed away in Rome on 8 August 2022. His funeral rites were presided over by Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, Dean of the College of Cardinals, at the Altar of the Chair, St. Peter’s Basilica, on 11 August last. His Holiness Pope Francis was present at the occasion and conducted the Final Commendation and Valediction. His mortal remains were later buried at the Cathedral of the Archdiocese of Košice in Slovakia.

Cardinal Re, in his homily at the said occasion, commended the solid faith, lively ‘sensus Ecclesiae’, genuine spirituality and missionary zeal of Cardinal Tomko, who served the universal Church in various capacities in his long and intense ministry. In particular, from 1985 to 2001, he served as Prefect of the missionary Dicastery, then called the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples. His clear understanding of the missionary nature of the Church contributed so immensely to carrying out his responsibility as Prefect for 16 years.

The Second Vatican Council marked a decisive turning point in the history of the Church. The missionary Decree ‘Ad gentes’ of 7 December 1965 brought into focus the Church’s teaching on missions. The missionary dimension is seen as an important characteristic of the ecclesiological teaching of the Council.

Later, the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi of 8 December 1975 became the basic document of the Church’s teaching on missions in modern times, presenting Jesus Christ, Redeemer of humanity, as the first and greatest evangeliser. Moreover, evangelisation was presented as the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. The Encyclical Letter Redemptoris Missio of 7 December 1990 became a further continuation of this teaching. The Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium of 24 November 2013, calls all the baptised to be ‘missionary disciples’.

In his role as Prefect, Cardinal Tomko was particularly aware of the missionary nature of the Church. Taking into due consideration the responsibility of the Congregation for the promotion and coordination of missionary activities throughout the whole world, he was keen on identifying the missionary characteristics of each continent.

In his book “La Missione verso il Terzo Millennio”, published in 1998, he brings out the missionary characteristics of each continent in a detailed manner. He saw the need for a new evangelisation in the European continent where centuries ago monasteries became the centres of prayer and spirituality thereby contributing to the spread of the Christian faith.

Due to the rapid expansion of the Christian faith in the American continent and, in particular, in Latin America, Cardinal Tomko noticed a clear hope for the mission ‘ad gentes’.

It was the experience of salvation in Christ that impelled missionaries, both men and women, to go to Africa with apostolic zeal. As for mission in the African continent, the recognition and appreciation of values that are prevalent in the African society is a conditio sine qua non for the missionary action of the Church and for its gradual growth in the continent.

As Asia is the earth’s largest and most diverse continent and is home to nearly two-thirds of the world’s population, the mission is only beginning. The most striking feature of the continent is the variety of its people, who are heirs to ancient cultures, religions and traditions. Asia is a sector of humanity rich in cultures and organised religions but with more than 85% of its population un-baptised. Asia is the missionary continent par excellence. It is to this continent that the whole Church should devote more attention in coordinating missionary activities with patience. Cardinal Tomko views the encounter of Christianity with ancient local cultures and religions, as part of the mission of the Church. Inter-religious dialogue becomes a necessity and a duty in a multi-religious society. Religious systems such as Buddhism and Hinduism have a clearly soteriological character.

As for the peoples in Oceania the characteristics of the Catholic missions are rather complex, taking into account the numerous islands lying far apart with their own language and culture. Transport and communication with these islands are also a great challenge. The catechists contribute generously to the missionary activities in these distant islands. The study of the traditional religions of the indigenous populations is essential for the proclamation of the Gospel in a multicultural context such as Oceania.

The Second Section of the Dicastery for Evangelisation which is responsible for the First Evangelisation and the New Particular Churches, together with the Pontifical Mission Societies and other Institutions which come under its direction, while thanking the Lord for the dedicated services of Cardinal Tomko, offers its prayers for the eternal repose of his soul.

* Office Head
Dicastery for Evangelisation

By Mons Camillus Johnpillai*