As we noted in the opening chapter of this book, Catholicism has always understood its universality as a call to reach all people. As a consequence, the Catholic Church has always manifested a strong missionary character as one of its defining characteristics. That missionary impulse means that it is a mandate to reach the Gospel everywhere and at all times. The universal character of Catholicism is both a fact and an urgent necessity.
That Christianity spread from its Jerusalem center rapidly after the earthly life of Jesus is a fact. Indeed, it is clear from the New Testament itself that the first Christians had a conviction that they were inspired by God to spread their faith universally. Catholics have always invoked the “great mandate” found in the Gospel of Matthew as their missionary watchword: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). According to the Acts of the Apostles, the disciples, shortly before the ascension of Jesus into the heavens, heard him stipulate something quite similar: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).