VATICAN CITY (EWTN News/CNA)—Pope Benedict XVI has declared a “Year of Faith,” which will begin in October 2012, the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council.
“It will be a moment of grace and commitment to a more complete conversion to God, to strengthen our faith in him and proclaim him with joy to the people of our time,” said the Pope, making his announcement during Sunday Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica.
The Year of Faith will run from Oct. 11, 2012, until Nov. 24, 2013, which is the Solemnity of Christ the King.
The Pope said in his Oct. 16 remarks that it will give “new impetus to the mission of the whole Church to lead men out of the desert in which they often find themselves, to the place of life, of friendship with Christ.”
He also said that “reasons, purposes and guidelines” for the year will be set out in an apostolic letter to be published “in the coming days.”
The vast congregation at the morning Mass largely consisted of those involved in the New Evangelization, who were in Rome for a summit organized by the recently formed Pontifical Council for Promotion of the New Evangelization. The New Evangelization aims to revivify Catholicism in traditionally Christian countries which have been particularly affected by secularization in recent decades.
Unusually, the 84-year-old Holy Father was wheeled both in and out of the Mass on a mobile platform. Normally, Pope Benedict would walk the approximately 110 yards down the central aisle of St. Peter’s. “This is just not to tire him,” papal spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told reporters, adding, “Nothing else should be read into the general state of his health, which is good.”
Drawing upon the Scripture readings for today, the Pope outlined a roadmap for the new evangelizers. In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah recounts how King Cyrus, the Persian Emperor in the sixth century B.C., played his part in fulfilling a divine plan despite that fact that he “did not know” God and was not even Jewish.
“Even the mighty Cyrus, the Persian emperor, is part of a greater plan that only God knows and carries forward,” observed the Pope.
This demonstrates, he said, the need for a new “theology of history” as an “essential part” of the New Evangelization “because “the men of our time, after the disastrous season of totalitarian empires of the 20th century, need to find a comprehensive vision of the world and time” more compatible with the vision of the Church.
In the second reading, taken from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians, the Pope said new evangelizers are reminded that “it is the Lord who touches hearts by his Word and his Spirit by calling people to faith and communion in the Church.”
The fact that it is God and not the evangelist who touches hearts shows the importance of recognizing God as the prime mover in any apostolic activities, which “must always be preceded, accompanied and followed by prayer,” he said.
Pope Benedict also highlighted the importance of having collaborators like St. Paul, who had Silvanus and Timothy as his companions in his work, and said today’s new evangelizers should also seek co-workers in spreading the Gospel.
He then turned today’s Gospel and said that it provides the key message the new evangelizers must bring to the world. In it, Christ tells the Pharisees to “render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” This is a reminder that the Church’s message is not primarily a political one, the Pope said.
“The mission of the Church, like Christ,” he said, “is essentially to speak of God, to commemorate his sovereignty, reminding everyone, especially Christians who have lost their identity, of God’s right over what belongs to him, which is our lives.”
Later in the morning, the Pope used his Sunday Angelus address to further explain his plans for the Year of Faith to more than 40,000 pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square. He summed up the initiative as “proclaiming Christ to those who do not know him or have, in fact, reduced him to a mere historical character.”
He finished his address by placing all those involved in New Evangelization under the protection of the Virgin Mary, who “helps every Christian to be a valid witness to the Gospel.”
The day before, Oct. 15, the Pope addressed the New Evangelization conference.
“Seeing all of you and knowing the hard work that everyone of you places at the service of the mission, I am convinced that the new evangelists will multiply more and more to create the true transformation which the world of today needs,” the Pope said in the Vatican’s Paul VI Audience Hall.
The “New Evangelizers for the New Evangelization: The Word of God Grows and Spreads” conference was organized by the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization.
Noting that the title of the conference was drawn from a phrase often used in the Acts of the Apostles, the biblical account of the early Catholic Church, the Pope suggested that modern society still yearns for God, just as it did 2,000 years ago.
“Modern man is often confused and cannot find answers to the many questions which trouble his mind in reference to the meaning of life,” said the Pope.
And yet, he observed, man “cannot avoid these questions which touch on the very meaning of self and of reality.” Consequently, modern man often despairs and simply withdraws from “the search for the essential meaning of life,” settling instead for “things which give him fleeting happiness, a moment’s satisfaction, but which soon leave him unhappy and unsatisfied.”
It was with such people in mind, that Pope Benedict said he created the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization last year. The council is charged with spearheading the re-evangelization of traditionally Christian countries that have been particularly affected by secularization in recent decades.
As he spoke to the thousands of evangelists from around the world, the Pope gave them three reasons for hope in their mission.
He first reminded them that “the power of the Word does not depend primarily on our action” but on God. Secondly, he said that even in the modern world “there continues to be the good soil” into which the word of God will fall and produce “good fruit.” And lastly, he counseled the missionaries that despite “indifference, misunderstanding” and “persecution,” there are still many people willing to “courageously open their hearts and minds to accept the invitation of Christ” and become missionaries themselves.
Those gathered in the audience hall heard testimony from those involved in various new movements, schools of catechesis and evangelizing projects.
“I felt it very important to be here today as a witness for our young people working in the New Evangelization,” said 29-year-old Patrick Muldoon from Dublin, Ireland. He was at the Vatican gathering with 19 others from the Emmanuel School of Mission, a Rome-based project that prepares young people to be Catholic missionaries.
“We’ve all left jobs and studies to come to Rome for one year to spend that year for God, and we really feel that in our own lives we can be great witnesses to other young people,” said Muldoon.
Standing next to him was 22-year-old Haydi Koussa from Cairo, Egypt. She felt the meeting was “a great opportunity to learn new ways of carrying out evangelization, particularly in my home country.”
“The New Evangelization is there,” Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham, England, remarked to CNA. He is also a member of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization.
“It’s there in groups of young people who are already gathering together to witness to the faith with a new strength and a new courage,” the archbishop said, adding that this is particularly important “in those places where our young people can be influential, such as their places of work and study.”
Before imparting his blessing on the crowd, Pope Benedict asked them to continue to “be signs of hope, able to look to the future with the certainty that comes from the Lord Jesus, who has conquered death and gave us eternal life.” He entrusted them to the protection of the Virgin Mary, “star of the New Evangelization.”