Pope Francis' first Apostolic Exhortation: All believers are called to share the Gospel

Pope Francis is greeted by faithful as he is driven through the crowd in St Peter's Square during his weekly general audience at the Vatican, Wednesday, November 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

Pope Francis has officially presented his first Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (the Joy of the Gospel), at a press conference in Rome.

The Exhortation marks the end of the Year of Faith celebrated by Catholics around the world, and was presented to a bishop, a priest and a deacon in St Peter's Square by the Pope on Sunday.

It aims to encourage believers to "embark upon a new chapter of evangelisation marked by joy", and presents a vision for the life of the Church in the future.

In the document, Pope Francis declares that all Catholics are called to proclaim the Gospel and to see the responsibility to evangelise as their own.

He reminds the faithful that "the word of God constantly shows us how God challenges those who believe in him 'to go forth'".

Indeed, he names encounters with God as "the source and inspiration of all our efforts at evangelisation", and says that in order to lead "a dignifying and fulfilling life", we must reach out to others.

With frequent references to Scripture, the Pope is relentless in his call for the Catholic Church to look outwards, which falls in line with his desire for the Church to transform the way it does mission, as revealed throughout his papacy.

He calls for "a new phase of evangelisation, one marked by enthusiasm and vitality" and for the "renewal" of the Church in this Exhortation.

The Pope has made clear his belief that the Church has a duty to care for the poor. During his inauguration Mass in March of this year, he spoke of the calling to be close to "poorest, the weakest, the least important...the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, those in prison," and he continues to state that belief in the document released on Sunday.

"The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open," he writes, before asserting that "there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor".

"May we never abandon them," he prays.

The document states the importance of the Church retaining integrity and authenticity in an increasingly secular society, and of preserving faith in places of "spiritual desertification".

He quotes John Henry Newman, saying: "In the desert people of faith are needed who, by the example of their own lives, point out the way to the Promised Land and keep hope alive."

"Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of hope!" he declares.

Other areas focussed on the "indispensable contribution" made by women to society and the need to "create broader opportunities for a more incisive female presence in the Church", the importance of youth ministry and pastoral care, and the need for the Church to build relationships with "professional, scientific and academic circles".

The head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, Archbishop Vincent Nichols, has praised the Exhortation, calling it "a challenge to everyone, without exception".

"This is a papal document with a difference...it presents a searching examination of conscience for everyone who seeks to be a follower of Christ and for everyone who claims to have the good of society at heart. No one escapes its penetrating questions," he said.

The Archbishop notes that the questions asked by the Pope "arise not from a burden of guilt, but from a joyful heart, a generous heart which, expanded by God's merciful grace, seeks to liberate and renew".

"The document is an exhortation to all humanity to let our hearts be taken up into the very heart of God," he said.

Archbishop Nichols highlighted the "spirit of freedom" that permeates the document, and the "call for everyone to enter into the mercy of God and to offer that same mercy and compassion to others without reserve".

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