October 18, 2012
Vatican City (CNS)—To evangelize means to help people understand that God himself has responded to their questions, and that his response—the gift of salvation in Jesus Christ—is available to them as well, said Pope Benedict XVI.
“Our role in the new evangelization is to cooperate with God,” the pope told the more than 260 cardinals, bishops and priests who are members of the world Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization. “We can only let people know what God has done.”
In a 21-minute, off-the-cuff reflection during morning prayer at the synod’s opening session Oct. 8, Pope Benedict spoke of the importance of prayer in the church’s push for a new evangelization, the meaning of evangelization, and sharing the Gospel through both proclamation and charity.
The pope examined the use of the word “evangelion,” the Greek term that is the root of the English word “evangelization,” and which is itself translated as “Gospel.”
In the Book of Isaiah, he noted, the Hebrew equivalent of the word describes “the voice that announces a victory, that announces goodness, joy and happiness,” transmitting the message that “God has not forgotten his people,” and that he intervenes with power in history to save them.
In the New Testament, the pope said, “evangelion” is the good news of the incarnation of Christ, the coming of God’s son into the world to save humanity.
For the people of Israel suffering under Roman rule, it was truly good news that God spoke to his people and came to live among them, the pope said. News of Jesus’ birth was the answer to those who questioned whether there really was a God; whether he knew his people and the circumstances of their lives; and whether he had any power to change their situation.
People today have the same questions, the pope said: “Is God a reality or not? Why is he silent?”
When Christians evangelize, they must remember that their “faith has content,” and that what they believe and seek to share with others is outlined in the creed, he said. They must use their intelligence to reflect on the tenets of their faith and use their mouths to proclaim it.
Because faith isn’t an abstract notion, Christians also must live their faith and share it with the world through acts of charity and love, the pope said.
“Being tepid is the greatest danger for Christians,” he said. “We pray that faith becomes like a fire in us and that it will set alight others.”
The pope said the synod is dedicated to helping people strengthen their faith and to helping those who have drifted away “encounter the Lord, who alone who fills existence with deep meaning and peace; and to favor the rediscovery of the faith, that source of grace which brings joy and hope to personal, family and social life.”
Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, appointed by the pope as relator of the world Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization, introduced the synod’s work Oct. 8 with a global overview of the challenge of evangelization today, and laid out the values that he said must be the foundation of the church’s outreach.
Speaking in Latin, the cardinal addressed the pope, synod members, experts and observers for more than 45 minutes.
The cardinal said a “tsunami of secularism” has washed across the world, leaving in its wake a tendency to deny God’s existence, or to deny that God’s existence is relevant to human thinking and action.
Yet, without God “the very understanding of what it means to be human is altered,” he said.
A key task of the new evangelization is to help people see that human dignity and human rights flow from the fact that human beings are created in God’s image, he said.
The new evangelization, initiated by Blessed John Paul II and enthusiastically embraced by his successor, is a project aimed at reviving Christian faith in increasingly secular societies.
“Whatever we hope to achieve in this synod and whatever pastoral goals we set for re-proposing Christ to this age, we must do so firmly rooted in the biblical vision of man created in the image and likeness of God, as part of a creation that reflects God’s wisdom and presents a natural, moral order for man’s activities,” Cardinal Wuerl said.
The cardinal told the synod that too many Catholics do not know the church’s basic prayers or teachings, don’t understand why it’s important to go to Mass, and rarely go to confession.
The church must reach out to them, he said, sharing the faith and educating them with the contents of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Five U.S. bishops addressed the spiritual conditions and the practical means of reaching out to baptized Catholics who have drifted away from the faith.
“Globalization presents us with a providential moment for advancing the church’s mission of transforming humanity into one family of God,” Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles told Pope Benedict XVI and the assembly of bishops, religious superiors, official observers and experts in the Vatican’s synod hall.
However, the archbishop said, the fusion of cultures resulting from the integration of the world economy requires “new methods and new ways to help the men and women of our times to practice their faith.”
“We need to find the ‘language’ that best presents the traditional means of sanctification—the sacraments, prayer, works of charity—in a way that is attractive and accessible to people living in the reality of a globalized, secular, urban society,” Archbishop Gomez said.
Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson called on the synod to “strongly and equivocally affirm that justice and charity are at the heart of evangelization.”
“Witness touches hearts, witnesses change hearts,” he said, offering the examples of Catholics renowned for their charity, including Blessed Teresa of Kolkata, St. Damien and Mother Marianne Cope of Molokai.
Seeing Catholics who imitate such models, Bishop Kicanas said, “people who have never known the church or who have walked away might be moved to say, ‘I want to be part of that family that does so much good in the name of the Lord.’”
Bishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville used his allotted time of five minutes to speak about the value of parish activities and observances, particularly the Rite for the Blessing of a Child in the Womb, which he originally proposed in 2008, and which the Vatican approved last December for use in the United States.
The ceremony is a “pastoral moment of first evangelization of the child and new evangelization of the family,” Bishop Kurtz told the synod, suggesting that it reaffirms a widely contested ethical teaching on abortion while inviting the family to prepare the spiritual life of its newest member.
“This sacred gesture is both a positive and hope-filled way to announce to society the great gift of human life as well as a gracious invitation for the parents to begin steps for the baptism of their child, once born,” the bishop said.
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York focused on “conversion of heart and repentance” as prerequisites for evangelization.
“The answer to the question ‘What’s wrong with the world?’ is not politics, the economy, secularism, pollution, global warming—no,” he said.
Quoting the English Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton, Cardinal Dolan said: “The answer to the question ‘What’s wrong with the world?’ is two words: ‘I am.’”
Hence the importance of going to confession, a practice that the cardinal said has largely disappeared in recent decades.
“The sacraments of initiation—baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist—charge, challenge, and equip the agents of evangelization,” Cardinal Dolan said. “But the sacrament of reconciliation evangelizes the evangelizers.”
Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio called for a spiritual transformation of the whole church, which he described as a “church with struggles.”
In order that “Christians go forward with the new evangelization, we need a new Pentecost,” the archbishop said, and proposed to the assembly “that this synod humbly ask the Holy Father to consecrate the world to the Holy Spirit.”
Cardinal Vinko Puljic of Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, said any evangelization he’s done has always and only been a matter of building on the evangelization already begun within the family.
“My pastoral work is simply an addition to what the family has already built,” he said during a speech to the Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization.
Credit for the flowering of new vocations also lies with the family because it is “the first school of faith and truly encourages a personal encounter with Christ.”
Cardinal Puljic said that in his own life, as well as in his ministry as a bishop, he also recognizes the family as “the first seminary.”
“The family transmits the faith with its heart, life and practice,” the cardinal told the synod. The new evangelization will succeed if it manages to restore the sanctity of marriage,” on which the family is founded and graced to become a “domestic church.” Strong Catholic families become “the strong drivers” of parishes that are alive and active in evangelization, he said.