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12/1/2013 11:38:00 AM
New Evangelization no easy task
Catholic News Service
Pope Francis arrives in St. Peter Square.
Catholic News Service
Pope Francis arrives in St. Peter Square.
Robert Fedducia

To reverse the alarming trend of declining Mass attendance, Pope Francis is calling for new evangelistic efforts combine energy, expressions, and methods.

Twenty-five percent of American young adults no longer are affiliated with any religion, a new study shows. Ten percent of the U.S. population of 56 million describe themselves as former Catholics. Other studies on religion are equally startling for those concerned with the faith life of Catholics. Among the young adults who profess an affiliation with religion, young Catholics are the least to hold a certain belief in God and they are the least likely to pray daily. The situation is worse in Europe. In Spain, it is said more Spaniards believe in UFOs that Catholicism.

These statistics illustrate the need for the Church to evaluate its efforts at evangelization and set a new course. The New Evangelization is the term that has been given to this initiative. The newness of this course lies in renewed energy, new expressions of the faith, and new methods to communicate the ancient faith.

In the recent past, the Church has celebrated many different themed years. The Jubilee Year, the years of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, God the Father, and the Year of Paul are examples. Each of these was beautiful and needed; however, with these in our memory, it is easy to consider the recently closed Year of Faith (Oct. 11, 2012 through Nov. 24, 2013) in the same light. To observe the Year of Faith in a similar manner would be a mistake and would cause us to miss the reason we were called to celebrate this year.

The Year of Faith was not intended to be 13-month celebration of the theological virtue of faith. Instead, it was called in order to recalibrate the trajectory of the Church's mission, from maintenance to growth, through the work of the New Evangelization. It is intended to usher in a new era in the life of the Church, the era of the New Evangelization.
If there is a new evangelization, there must be an old evangelization. In the past and in some parts of the world still today, the Church has brought the light of the Gospel to cultures and to peoples who are not Christian. Through her missionary work, the Church is bringing the Gospel to these villages in her traditional efforts. Parts of Africa and Asia have not heard the message of Jesus or have not yet embraced the message of new life in Jesus Christ. The Church's work among these peoples and cultures exemplify her classical or traditional efforts at evangelization.

When Blessed John Paul first spoke of a New Evangelization, he held it in juxtaposition to the first evangelization of the Americas, when the light of the gospel was first heard by this hemisphere's native peoples. Western Europe, South, Central, and North America have a deeply religious heritage; however, this Christian identity has been weakened through secularization. The first component of the New Evangelization is the audience.

Cultures and individuals have grown up surrounded by Christian imagery and language without fully embracing the saving power of Christ Jesus. This is the audience. It is those who were baptized and who are not involved in a community of faith. It is those who attend Mass, but who have not had the gospel to more deeply penetrate their lives. It is those who have heard of Christianity, yet they believe the Christian life is irrelevant to their existence. People and cultures such as these are the audience of the New Evangelization.

The work of re-evangelization is no easy task. The same words delivered in the same way will not illuminate the power contained in the gospel. The new audience requires three more things. Blessed John Paul said that in the New Evangelization, we will proclaim the gospel with 1) new ardor using 2) new expressions and through 3) new methods.

In 1974, the Holy See  made public a document on Evangelization in the Modern World. Consider this from that landmark document: “Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize: Regarding her mission, we believe the Church's mission is found wherever there is the Eucharist. We are no closer to the mission of the Church at St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City than we are at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Brookhaven, Mississippi. Even though this is true, it is easy to reduce the Church's identity to the Holy See. We can easily separate the Church's evangelistic mandate from our daily life.

This is precisely the call to new ardor and it is the first step in the recalibration of our efforts that the Year of Faith asked us to embrace. When Evangelii nuntiandi says that the Church exists in order to evangelize, it must prompt us to ask: Does my parish exist to evangelize? Is evangelization my parish's deepest identity? Moreover, we are to understand our evangelical mandate is not fulfilled until all people who reside within our parish bounds gather with us at the Eucharistic altar. The new ardor challenges us to not allow good enough to actually to be good enough. A deep desire to draw all people into the full life of our parish is to be the burning passion that keeps us awake at night and the mission of fire that wakes us up in the morning.

In the countries of the Americas and Western Europe, in particular, we possess between 500 years and 2,000 years of Christian heritage. Yet, these countries are having a precipitous drop in Mass attendance. It is as though people in these parts of the world have said that they know all about Christianity and that it is irrelevant to their lives. In light of these modern circumstances new expressions of the ancient, immutable faith are needed, expressions that pierce the heart and show that the human heart was created to be in relationship to the living God and that the human heart is forever restless until it finds its rest in God. Blessed Pope John Paul was an actor, an artist and he saw well that the Church was in need of new expressions of art: poetry, sculpture, painting, photography, and music among others. This call for new expressions cannot be limited to art alone, however. New language, new analogies, and a new dialogue between faith and science are efforts that all committed Catholics must undertake.

There was striking comparison between Pope Benedict and Pope Francis that circulated the Web in the wake of the Pope Francis's election. It did not contrast the styles of the two. Instead, it was a shot of the crowd that was gathered. More precisely, it was a contrast of devices.

In 2005, very few devices captured any video or pictures of the moment. The picture from 2013 depicted a sea of small, glowing bluish screens from mobile devices as the users took pictures and video of the historic event. The ability to reach a mass audience with a message has never been easier. While the use of facebook, twitter, and instagram all provide new methods at the Church's disposal, we shouldn't let a facebook page be a simple check mark on our list of evangelistic efforts. When Pope John Paul called for new methods in 1983, social networking was not an option. He must have had other methods in mind and it seems fair to say that he wanted the Church to constantly look at new ways of bearing witness to the gospel. Entering into a new era in Church, the Year of Faith was meant to set us on a new trajectory to unleash a new springtime in the Church and world.

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