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What is the ‘New Evangelization?’

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August 1, 2012

By Father Earl Fernandes

Today, many Catholics talk about the “New Evangelization” but when asked, “What exactly do you mean by that?” the question is followed by silence, an awkward pause, or scattered thoughts.

Cardinal Wuerl of Washington, suggests that Catholics should prepare an “elevator speech,” a speech that would describe the essence of the New Evangelization in the time it takes to ride the elevator. He boils the New Evangelization down to the proposing and re-proposing of Jesus Christ and His Gospel.


On Sept. 11, Archbishop J. Augustine DiNoia, O.P., will speak at the Athenaeum to answer the same question. He understands the New Evangelization as “nothing more and nothing less than the renewal of the mission that the church received from Christ himself to ‘go and make disciples of all nations’ in the new circumstances of social change that have had an impact not only on the surrounding culture but even on many local communities within the church.”


From these two answers we glean characteristics of the New Evangelization for our own “elevator speech.” First, it is Christ-centered, involving a personal and profound encounter with Christ the Savior, just as Saul encountered Him on the road to Damascus, or the Samaritan woman met Him at the well. It involves proposing and re-proposing the person of Christ whom we have come to know through the encounter.


A second characteristic of the New Evangelization is that it is ecclesial. In encountering the person of Jesus Christ, we also encounter the church, His Bride, born from His side. She receives her mandate and mission from Him. The New Evangelization involves the “renewal of this mission of the church,” not merely personal encounter and renewal. “Of the church” refers to the hierarchy and the lay faithful. This ecclesial renewal occurs in parishes but especially in the family, the domestic church, which will be discussed at length at the Summit 2012 “Revitalizing the Domestic Church,” being held in Dayton Oct. 1-2.


The “renewal” implies the third characteristic of the new evangelization — conversion and reconciliation. In encountering Christ as Savior and Redeemer, there is the recognition that we have a need for mercy. As Pope Benedict XVI says, “…the New Evangelization draws its lifeblood from the sanctity of the sons and daughters of the church, from the daily journey of personal and communal conversion to an ever more profound conformity to Christ. And there is a close connection between sanctity and the sacrament of reconciliation, testified to by all of the saints of history. The true conversion of hearts, which is an opening up to the transformative and renewing action of God, it is the engine of every reform and it translates itself into a true evangelizing force.”


Renewed in their faith, Catholics will be more confident and credible in proposing and re-proposing the faith, globally and locally, which is a fourth characteristic. The New Evangelization seeks to propose Christ to those who have never heard of Him, to those in our midst who are un-churched, to the formerly-Christian societies suffering from secularism and a “spiritual amnesia,” and to those Catholics who are un-catechized or poorly catechized. Further, the new evangelization cannot be directed merely to individuals but also to structures — structures of violence, oppression and injustice. Pope Paul VI taught that “For the church, evangelizing means bringing the good news into all the strata of humanity, and through its influence transforming humanity from within and making it new.”


The idea of purifying “structures” with the Gospel indicates another characteristic of the new evangelization: it takes place in a specific and rapidly changing culture, characterized by mobility of peoples and advances in technology and communications and which does not highly value faith. The church must account for these changes, while utilizing what is best in the culture (like the new media) for the sake of the Gospel. People need to hear good news, and the new evangelization seeks to propose this good news in a language that people can understand.


The new evangelization does not consist principally in new programming. “Being Christian,” Pope Benedict says, “is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” The New Evangelization is the encounter with the person of Jesus Christ and His church, through which one experiences the gift conversion and renewal, which one then wishes to share with other people and cultures, so that they too may experience joy and life.

Father Fernandes is an assistant professor of moral theology and dean of the Athenaeum of Ohio/Mount St. Mary’s Seminary. 

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