The New Evangelization

What is this "New Evangelization"?
Pope Benedict XVI inaugurated a "Year of Faith" starting on October 11, 2012 (the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council) which will end with November 24, 2013 (the Solemnity of Christ the King).  The agenda for this year long commemoration is to launch a program of "New Evangelization".  In his remarks to the members of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, Pope Benedict XVI explained that this new initiative acknowledges the need for a new way of evangelizing that is especially responsive to the signs of our times.

The phrase New Evangelization was first coined by Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Redemptoris Missio and refers to the growing spiritual needs of people not far away but nearby and at home.  This new evangelization calls us to reach out to those who:

  • baptized but know little about Christ or the Gospel
  • live by the values of secularized culture
  • lost a sense of faith beyond external trappings or who are alienated from the church

The promotion of a New Evangelization invites parishes to conduct a self-examination regarding its practices, ministries, groups and organizations.  As the Pope announced to a group of new bishops (above), this provides us with an opportunity to consider new methods and new approaches to support faith in the community, at home, and through new technologies that make the richness of the Gospel and Catholic spirituality available to all who hunger for life in abundance.

A worldwide synod of bishops will gather to consider a program of New Evangelization.  The questions that our leaders will ponder in preparation for the upcoming world synod of bishops include:

  • What are the specific changes taking place in the religious experience of people today - culture, society, mass media, technology, economy, science and civic life?  What challenges do these pose to the parish?
  • How can the local church respond to the emerging spiritual needs of people?  Are there new religious traditions emerging?
  • How do we recruit, form and support people to give clear witness through their lives?
  • How can parishes be more bold in sharing faith throughout the week?  
  • How do we insure that the preaching and the assembly are sensitive and welcoming to those who are infrequent in their church attendance?
  • Do we support faith formation at home 24/7/365?  What tools and activities are needed to allow parents, grandparents and godparents to pass on the faith with confidence?
  • To what extent do our faith programs lead not just to intellectual adherence but to a personal and living encounter with Christ?
  • In what ways has the church been listening to its younger members?
  • Does the parish have an evangelization team that advocates and trains parishioners in their role as witnesses and welcomers?
  • What regular opportunities exist to hear and consider God's Word in the parish?
  • What is the state of the catechumenate in the parish?
  • Does the parish encourage and equip its parishioners to evangelize in the workplace, marketplace, and centers of community?

In their recent statement, Disciples Called to Witness: The New Evangelization (2012), the U.S. Bishops suggest that this new evangelization holds "a call to each person to deepen his or her own faith, have confidence in the Gospel, and possess a willingness to share the Gospel.  It is a personal encounter with the person of Jesus..."  They reconfirm the essential identity and purpose of Catholics as a missionary people.  The U.S. Bishops recall, "In Go and Make Disciples: A National Plan and Strategy for Catholic Evangelization in the United States, "We want to let our inactive brothers and sisters know that they always have a place in the Church and that we are hurt by their absence... we want to help them see that, however they feel about the Church, we want to talk with them, share with them, and accept them as brothers and sisters."

New Evangelization can be distinguished from the ongoing work of a parish in that it focuses us on the spiritual needs of those who, though once baptized, are no longer active in their faith.  This will be a significant challenge for parishes that focus their resources and activities almost exclusively on serving Catholics who practice their faith with regularity, despite evidence that this is a declining number in Western New York.  Nominal Catholics and former Catholics are defined as those who are either insufficiently evangelized or those who have drifted away from the church for a variety of reasons.

According to the latest from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, Americans change religious affiliation early and often, with about half of Americans having changed at least once in their lives.  The Catholic Church is suffering the greatest net losses.  Of those who leave the Catholic Church and remain unaffiliated, 79% do so by the age of 24 and 97% do so by the age of 35.  Of those who leave the Catholic Church to join another Christian denomination 66% do so by age 24 and 91% do so by age 35.  While half of Americans are likely to leave the church of their childhood, according to current projections only 9% are likely to return.

Pope Paul VI may have said it best when he observed, "Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses."