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Online Edition - Vol. V, No. 5: July / August 1999

Pontifical Council for Culture issues letter on Inculturation

"The time is ripe for a new evangelization in which the new features of culture are to be seen as both opportunities and challenges", says a document on inculturation issued by the Pontifical Council for Culture on June 1.

The letter, "Toward a Pastoral Approach to Culture," has been five years in the making and is the first document issued by the PCC since it was established in 1993.

The letter addresses issues involved in "inculturation" of the Gospel into society, prompted by the call for a "new evangelization". It was signed by Cardinal Paul Poupard, President of the Council. Cardinal Carlo Martini of Milan participated in the press conference introducing the letter.

"Culture is so natural to man that human nature can only be revealed through culture", the letter says, and therefore, while "man always exists in a particular culture", he "is not exhaustively defined by that same culture." In fact, "the very progress of cultures demonstrates that there is something in man that transcends those cultures" human nature.

The letter cites a number of recent documents of Pope John Paul II, including Fides et Ratio and Ecclesia in America, issued in 1998 following the Synod for America, in addressing a very wide range of cultural concerns, including science and technology, new communications technologies, art and leisure, national identity, minorities, the family and education.

The section which addresses the liturgy," `Ordinary' Ways to Experience Faith: Popular Piety, the Parish" acknowledges that cultural traditions, in the form of "local feasts, various celebrations, pilgrimages, and so on are threatened by secularism". It cautions that "efforts to revive such traditions must not be left to specialists in folk heritage or politics, whose aims are often alien, if not hostile to faith" (#27).

The letter proclaims popular piety as "evidence of the osmosis that takes place between the innovative power of the Gospel and the deepest levels of a culture", and says that "purifying and catechizing expressions of popular piety can in certain regions be a decisive element" in developing community religious celebrations.

In the section on "Art and Artists", the document calls for "deeper reflection on the church as a holy place, and on the character of the liturgy" (#36).

A section entitled "Cultural Heritage and Religious Tourism" offers perhaps the greatest number of specific proposals, from training Catholic youth as guides to churches and holy sites, to making "catechesis through art" a focus of diocesan activity, to starting Catholic bookstores.

The full text of "Toward a Pastoral Approach to Culture" appeared in the June 17 issue of Origins, the official publication of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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