Online Edition: May 2011
Vol. XVII, No. 3
The New Evangelization — Key Issue for Church
Pope Creates New Pontifical Council;
Study for 2012 Synod of Bishops Released
“It is the duty of the Church to proclaim always and everywhere the Gospel of Jesus Christ”. With these words Pope Benedict began his apostolic letter establishing the Pontifical Council for Promotion of the New Evangelization on September 21, 2010.
The creation of the new Pontifical Council was first announced on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul 2010; and Pope Benedict named Italian Archbishop Salvatore (Rino) Fisichella the first president of the new Pontifical Council. Archbishop Fisichella formerly headed the Pontifical Academy for Life.
In his apostolic letter establishing the new Council, Ubicumque et semper (“always and everywhere”), Pope Benedict noted the particular difficulties presented by contemporary culture in receiving or proclaiming the Gospel — and the vital importance of the Church’s continued (and intensified) efforts to re-evangelize the West.
“At the root of all evangelization lies not a human plan of expansion, but rather the desire to share the inestimable gift that God has wished to give us, making us sharers in His own life”, the pope’s apostolic letter said. The new Council, the letter says in Article 2, “is at the service of the particular Churches, especially in those territories of Christian tradition where the phenomenon of secularization is more obviously apparent”.
Only a few months after creation of the new dicastery, the Holy See announced that the next World Synod of Bishops will be dedicated to the “New Evangelization”. The thirteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will take place from October 7-28, 2012.
The synod will be entitled Nova evangelizatio ad christianam fidem tradendam — The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith.
An outline for the synod’s study, the Lineamenta, was released February 2, 2011, by Archbishop Nicola Eterovi?, secretary of the Synod of Bishops, who said in presenting the Lineamenta, “I entrust every aspect of the XIII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops to the maternal protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Star of the New Evangelization. Through her intercession may the Church obtain the grace to renew herself in the Holy Spirit so she can, with renewed zeal, put into practice in our times the commandment of the Risen Lord: ‘Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation’ (Mk 16:15)”.
At its outset, the Lineamenta summarizes the background and purpose of the synod’s focus:
The Holy Father noted that his decision to assign the topic of the new evangelization to the next synodal assembly is part of a unified plan which includes the recent establishment of an ad hoc dicastery in the Roman Curia and the publication of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini. This plan arose from the Church’s commitment to renew her evangelizing activity, which was a major characteristic of the Magisterium and apostolic ministry of both Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II. Ever since the Second Vatican Council, the new evangelization has increasingly presented itself as an appropriate, timely tool in addressing the challenges of a rapidly changing world, and the way to respond to God’s generosity in our being gathered together by the Holy Spirit to experience God as the Father of us all and to bear witness and proclaim to all the Good News — the Gospel — of Jesus Christ.
Following is an excerpt from the concluding section of the Lineamenta, which summarizes the synod’s objectives. (The complete document is accessible on the Vatican web site: vatican.va/roman_curia/synod/documents/rc_synod_doc_20110202_lineamenta-xiii-assembly_en.html).
Lineamenta for Synod on the New Evangelization – 2012
“You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:8).
Pentecost: The Basis of the “New Evangelization”
23. In His coming among us, Jesus Christ made us sharers in His divine life which renews the face of the earth and makes all things new (cf. Rev 21:5). His revelation made us not only recipients of the gift of salvation but also its proclaimers and witnesses. In order to fulfill this task, the Spirit of the Risen Christ brings effectiveness to our proclamation of the Gospel in every part of the world. This was the experience of the first Christian community which saw the Word of God spread through preaching and witness (cf. Acts 6:7).
Chronologically speaking, the first evangelization began on the day of Pentecost, when the Apostles, gathered together in prayer with the Mother of Christ, received the Holy Spirit. In this way, Mary, who according to the words of the Archangel is “full of grace”, was present during apostolic evangelization and continues to be present in those places where the successors of the Apostles strive to proclaim the Gospel.
The new evangelization does not mean a “new Gospel”, because “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever” (Heb 13:8); but rather, a new response to the needs of humanity and people today in a manner adapted to the signs of the times and to the new situations in cultures, which are the basis of our personal identity and the places where we seek the meaning of our existence. Consequently, a “new evangelization” means to promote a culture more deeply grounded in the Gospel and to discover the new man who is in us through the Spirit given us by Jesus Christ and the Father. The preparatory program for the XIII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops sets the stage for the new evangelization. For the Church, its celebration could be likened to a new Cenacle, in which the successors of the Apostles will gather together in prayer with the Mother of Christ, who has been called the Star of the New Evangelization.84
The “New Evangelization”: A Vision for the Church of Today and Tomorrow
24. In these pages, we have spoken many times of a new evangelization. In closing, we can better understand the profound meaning of the expression and its inherent appeal by turning to Pope John Paul II, who greatly supported and propagated this idea. He insisted that a “new evangelization” means “to rekindle in ourselves the impetus of the Church’s beginnings and allow ourselves to be filled with the ardor of the apostolic preaching which followed Pentecost. We must revive in ourselves the burning conviction of Paul, who cried out: “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel” (I Cor 9:16). This passion will not fail to stir in the Church a new sense of mission, which cannot be left to a group of “specialists” but must involve the responsibility of all the members of the People of God. Those who have come into genuine contact with Christ cannot keep Him for themselves, they must proclaim Him. A new apostolic outreach is needed, which will be lived as the everyday commitment of Christian communities and groups”.85
The present text also made reference to changes and developments. We are facing situations which are signs of massive changes, often causing apprehension and fear. These situations require a new vision, which allows us to look to the future with eyes full of hope and not with tears of despair. As [the] Church, we already have this vision, namely, the Kingdom to come, which was announced to us by Christ and described in His parables. This Kingdom is already communicated to us through His preaching and, above all, through His death and resurrection. Nevertheless, we oftentimes feel unable to enflesh this vision, in other words, to “make it our own” and to “bring it to life” for ourselves and the people we meet everyday, and to make it the basis for the Church’s life and all her pastoral activities.
In this regard, the Second Vatican Council and the popes since its celebration have clearly set down a priority in the Church’s pastoral project for the present and the future — a “new evangelization”, namely, a new proclamation of Jesus’ message, which brings joy and sets people free. This priority can be the basis of this much needed vision; the vision of an evangelizing Church which was the point of departure of the present text and is now the task assigned to us at its conclusion. The entire process of the discernment required of us is aimed at instilling that vision deep in our hearts, in the heart of each of us and in the hearts of our Churches, for the sake of serving the world.
The Joy of Evangelizing
25. A new evangelization means to share the world’s deep desire for salvation and render our faith intelligible by communicating the logos of hope (cf. I Pt 3:15). Humanity needs hope to live in these present times. The content of this hope is “God, who has a human face and who ‘has loved us to the end’”.86 For this reason, the Church is, by her very nature, missionary. We cannot selfishly keep for ourselves the words of eternal life, which we received in our personally encountering Jesus Christ. They are destined for each and every person. Each person today, whether he knows it or not, needs this proclamation.
To be unaware of this need creates a desert and an emptiness. In fact, the obstacles to the new evangelization are precisely a lack of joy and hope among people, caused and spread by various situations in our world today. Oftentimes, this lack of joy and hope is so strong that it affects the very tenor of our Christian communities. This is the reason for renewing the appeal for a new evangelization, not simply as an added responsibility but as a way to restore joy and life to situations imprisoned in fear.
We therefore approach the new evangelization with a sense of enthusiasm. We will learn the sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing, even at times when proclamation might seem like a seed sown among tears (cf. Ps 126:6). “May it mean for us — as it did for John the Baptist, for Peter and Paul, for the other apostles and for a multitude of splendid evangelizers all through the Church’s history — an interior enthusiasm that nobody and nothing can quench. May it be the great joy of our consecrated lives. And may the world of our time, which is searching, sometimes with anguish, sometimes with hope, be enabled to receive the Good News not from evangelizers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient or anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervor, who have first received the joy of Christ, and who are willing to risk their lives so that the Kingdom may be proclaimed and the Church established in the midst of the world.”87
84 Cf. JOHN PAUL II, Discourse during the Wednesday General Audience (October 21, 1992); L’Osservatore Romano: Weekly Edition in English, October 28, 1992, p. 11.
85 JOHN PAUL II, Apostolic Letter Novo millennio ineunte (January 6, 2001), 40; AAS 93 (2001) 294.
86 BENEDICT XVI, Encyclical Letter Spe salvi (November 30, 2007), 31; AAS 99 (2007) 1010.
87 PAUL VI, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi (December 8, 1975), 80; AAS 68 (1976) 75.
© The General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops and Libreria Editrice Vaticana.