The Pope delivered that message Saturday in an address to participants in the congress organized by the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and the Urbanian University, on the 40th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council's decree on the missionary activity of the Church, "Ad Gentes."
In response to the greeting of Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, prefect of the Vatican congregation, the Holy Father recalled that "in obedience to the command of Christ, who sent his disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all nations, the Christian community in our time also feels sent to the men and women of the third millennium to have them know the truth of the Gospel message and in this way open to them the way to salvation."
And this "is not something optional, but the very vocation of the People of God, a duty that corresponds to it by the command of the Lord Jesus Christ himself," Benedict XVI said.
"What is more," he added, "the proclamation and witness of the Gospel are the first service that Christians can offer every person and the whole human race, as they are called to communicate to all the love of God, who manifested himself fully in the only Redeemer of the world, Jesus Christ."
The Bishop of Rome acknowledged that the traditional concept used by the Church of "mission 'ad gentes,'" the mission to the nations, is changing and adapting to the new world and anthropological context.
"The Church is called today to address the new challenges and is willing to dialogue with the different cultures and religions, trying to build with every person of good will the peaceful coexistence of nations," the Pope affirmed.
In this way, the Pontiff emphasized, the field of the "mission 'ad gentes' … seems to have been notably enlarged and is no longer defined in virtue of geographical or juridical considerations; the authentic recipients of the missionary activity of the People of God are not only non-Christian peoples and far-off lands, but the different sociological realms and above all, hearts."
According to the Holy Father, the implementation of the missionary command "calls for patience, a long term view, courage and humility, listening to God and vigilant discernment of the 'signs of the times.'"
In short, it means "to follow the same path of Christ, a path that leads to death on the cross," he said.
"Yes!" exclaimed the Holy Father. "The Church is called to serve humanity of our time, trusting only in Jesus, allowing oneself to be illuminated by his Word and imitating him in generous self-giving to one's brothers."
The Pope mentioned missionaries, especially those who in recent years, gave their lives for the Gospel: "May their sacrifice bring a new spring, full of apostolic fruits for evangelization."