Catholic News Service photo
An advertisement on a Washington-area Metro train invites commuters to "Come Home for Christmas." It's one of many efforts fueled by the New Evangelization.
Catholic News Service photo
An advertisement on a Washington-area Metro train invites commuters to "Come Home for Christmas." It's one of many efforts fueled by the New Evangelization.
Archbishop Alexander Sample has said ministry in the Archdiocese of Portland will be guided by the New Evangelization. As 2014 begins, here is a primer on the movement.

In explaining the New Evangelization, the website of the U.S. Catholic Bishops begins with a quote from the Gospel of Mark: "It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade."

The New Evangelization calls on Catholics to deepen their faith, believe in the Gospel message and then go forth to proclaim the Good News of Jesus — both what he taught and who he is. In a special way, the New Evangelization is focused on re-proposing the Gospel to those who have experienced a crisis of faith. The bishops say it is a matter of giving hope to that growing group. According to a 2008 study from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, only 23 percent of U.S. Catholics regularly attend Mass once a week, while 77 percent self-identify as proud to be Catholic. Ten percent of the U.S. population of 314 million describe themselves as former Catholics.

The idea of the New Evangelization developed in the years after the Second Vatican Council. In the mid-1970s, centuries after the missionary thrusts of the Age of Exploration, Pope Paul VI revived the notion that the Church exists to evangelize. In 1983, speaking to Latin American bishops, Pope John Paul II first coined the term, calling for a "new evangelization; new in its ardor, methods and expression." The British Jesuit Father Dominic Robinson says the new approach drew heavily on the experience of the Church in Latin America, where there was a particular zeal for the Vatican II's call to dialogue with culture.  

In the 1990 encyclical Redemptoris Missio, Pope John Paul drew a distinction between the mission to those who have never heard the Gospel and those who have heard it but have not fully responded. The New Evangelization was born.

In Porta Fidei, a 2011 apostolic letter, Pope Benedict more clearly defined the method of the New Evangelization. For him, faith is just what the world wants to fill its emptiness. Pope Benedict spoke of the need for Catholics to rediscover the journey of faith "so as to shed ever clearer light on the joy and renewed enthusiasm of the encounter with Christ."

The Year of Faith, which just ended, was called by Pope Benedict to adjust the Church’s mission from maintenance to growth, through the work of the New Evangelization.  

In the homily at his Portland installation last April, Archbishop Sample said we will never convince the world of Jesus Christ and the truth of our faith if we ourselves are not convinced and enthusiastic in its proclamation.

"At the heart of all of this is Jesus Christ," the archbishop wrote later. "We must never lose sight of who we are in relation to Him and why we are so passionate about spreading the Good News and bringing as many as we can into the Church."

Archbishop Sample has cited the three "fronts" of the New Evangelization, the avenues on which the work will be done: liturgy, catechesis and charity.

Pope Francis has given his own focus to the New Evangelization. In his first major teaching, and in his many small actions, he has called for a more missionary and merciful Church that gets its hands dirty as it ministers to the poor and oppressed.

“I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security,” he wrote in his apostolic exhortation The Joy of the Gospel.