The need for humility, joy and confidence in spreading the Gospel have been some of the major subjects for discussion during the first session of the first full day of the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization.
The Church, said various bishops, must be humble and not preoccupied with herself; she cannot pretend to give easy solutions; she must rediscover the newness and richness of Christ’s teaching, and cannot be guided by "our own thoughts," but must constantly reach back into Tradition.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville advocated blessing a child in the womb – approved by the Vatican in 2011 – saying it is the first act of evangelization of a child and his family, and also fosters respect for human life, according to Father Thomas Rosica, director of Salt And Light Television who is briefing reporters on the discussions taking place in the Synod Hall.
Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, stepping in for Cardinal Francis George who is undergoing treatment for cancer, said that charity and justice must be at the heart of evangelisation, and that to work for justice, peace and development is especially attractive to young people who are touched by such witness that changes hearts.
A Latin American bishop said that the new evangelization is in need of new saints and we are called to be those new saints. The new poverty of the world is a poverty of saints, he added, and youth desperately need role models to inspire them, to excite them to love Jesus and the church.
Again, the importance of humility was raised, with Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan in the Philippines saying to loud applause that the Gospel can be preached to empty stomachs, but only if the stomach of the preacher is as empty as those of his flock.
Polish Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, made the point that the greatest obstacle a priest or theologian faces in becoming an effective evangelizer is pride and selfishness, and that the obsession with becoming great, original and important results in pastors feeding themselves and not the flocks they lead. Original sin, he said, means that all of us are inflicted with arrogance and this has to be constantly put at the foot of the cross in order to learn authentic love and to be evangelizers and teachers.
Among other obstacles to evangelization is the lack of missionary impulse, and the absence of joy and hope among priests, according to Bishop José Elías Rauda Gutiérrez, O.F.M. of San Vincente, El Salvador. The new evangelisation, he said, is the medicine to give back joy and hope to the world, and priests are important agents of this effort to help the Church come alive again.
Bishop John Corriveau of Nelson, British Columbia, stressed the importance of Trinitarian love at the heart of all new evangelisation efforts, and the building of community and the promotion of a sense of communion.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York underlined that the primary sacrament of the new evangelisation is the Sacrament of Penance, while Archbishop Gustavo García-Sillerto of San Antonio said he humbly called on the Holy Father to consecrate the whole world to the Holy Spirit. He proposed that the conclusion of the Year of Faith would be an ideal time to do so, “begging God to give out the gift of his Spirit across the face of the earth.”
Yesterday afternoon, the Synod Hall was opened up to one hour of free discussion. Each speaker was limited to 3-4 minutes and could address anything they wished.
According to Fr. Rosica, many referred to the opening speech of the General Relator of the Synod, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, and praised his emphasis on the need for joy and confidence in the proclamation of the Gospel.
The Cardinal Archbishop of Washington D.C. made headlines by speaking of a "tsunami of secularism" that 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. He added that without God, "the very understanding of what it means to be human is altered” and that a key task of the new evangelization is to help people see that human dignity and human rights flow from the fact that all people are created in the image and likeness of God.
Also often raised in the free discussion was the subject of Islam. Many discussed evangelizing in the Middle East and elsewhere amid the threat of persecution, with some participants stressing the need to take “great care” in proclaiming the Gospel. “This can be a red flag and an invitation to tragedies,” Fr. Rosica said in reporting on the discussion. “This was a real eye-opener for some people.” An emerging theme, he added, was that evangelization in such countries is a one-way street – many convert to Islam, but are not free to convert to the Church.
Other speakers called for the spirit, energy and hope of the Council to be recaptured; one bishop stressed the importance of taking bold initiatives and recalled how he made sure a Corpus Christi procession went ahead despite a fierce storm. He was astounded how many people nevertheless took part.
“It was a very friendly spirit, the Pope was keenly listening, there was laughter and applause,” said Father Rosica. He added that the Holy Father appeared “on good form,” with many people talking with him and giving him gifts. “He seems very peaceful,” he said.
Full texts and summaries of the Synod interventions can be read here.
The Holy Father's opening meditation, delivered yesterday.