VATICAN CITY — The establishment of a special Church commission to defend religious liberty, a pastoral document on how to encounter Jesus Christ and a new apologetics of Christian thought are just some of the fruits that came out of the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization that ended Oct. 28.
The suggestions, listed among 58 propositions submitted to Pope Benedict XVI, were presented Oct. 27 at a Vatican press conference. Although the propositions were confidential, the Pope allowed them to be unofficially translated and made public. They were agreed upon by “90%-95%” of the synod’s participants, according to Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, the synod’s relator general.
They also followed the synod’s “message to the people of God,” released the day before, which looked optimistically on the challenges of the New Evangelization. It affirmed that no one should have cause to fear a world wounded by evil, because “God loves it still” and “Christ promises salvation, now and forever.”
Cardinal Wuerl said the document of propositions had “a logic to it” and reflected a “sense of purpose and unity” that characterized the whole meeting. He stressed the aim of the synod was “not to define the New Evangelization, but to describe it, to show how it interacts with our world and culture.”
He summed up the propositions, which are divided into four parts, as explaining the “nature” of the New Evangelization: “Where is it taking place? How is it working out, and who is going to do it?”
The document summarizes the New Evangelization as “a time of awakening, of new encouragement and new witness that Jesus Christ is the center of our faith and daily life,” adding that it “calls on every member of the Church to a renewal of faith and an actual effort to share it.”
But it doesn’t hold back from hard teachings, emphasizing the urgency of proclaiming the Gospel and underscoring that evangelization is “necessary for the salvation of all.” It reminds the faithful of the reality that some are “living and dying in this world without God” and are “exposed to final despair.”
The New Evangelization, Proposition 7 states, is a “permanent missionary dimension of the Church,” while Proposition 8 reiterates the call on Christians to be “salt and light of a new world” amid a “process of secularization” to which no Christian can remain indifferent. The document also highlights the “continuity between first proclamation and catechesis,” advocating the need for a compendium, which it calls a “Pastoral Plan of Initial Proclamation,” that teaches a “living encounter with Jesus Christ.”
Religious Liberty Commission
Elsewhere, the document proposes a “renewed commitment to and wider diffusion of Dignitatis Humanae (On the Dignity of the Human Person)," the Vatican II decree on religious freedom, and proposes a “commission of Church leaders” — perhaps under the auspices of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace — “to address attacks on religious liberty.” The commission could “obtain accurate information for public witness to the fundamental right to religious freedom and freedom of conscience,” it said.
The synod document calls for a renewed effort to teach “a correct anthropology” enlightened “by natural reason” and stressing the importance of natural law. It proposes that theologians “develop a new apologetics of Christian thought” and draws attention to “the way of beauty” as a means of attracting people to the faith. And it says the sacrament of penance “must again be put at the center of the Church’s pastoral activity” and that every diocese should have a place where priests are always available for confessions.
As would be expected, the propositions include calls for personal conversion and emphasize the universal call to holiness, education and good catechesis. Proposition 25 underscores the urgency of proclaiming the Gospel in cities where often there is the absence of God and “many attacks on human dignity.” The document also calls for “greater attention” for the Church’s social doctrine, a preferential option for the poor such as the hungry, marginalized, the sick, migrants and drug addicts.
Proposition 36 proposes that prayer be “encouraged and taught from infancy,” while No. 38 stresses that “Christian initiation is a crucial element” of the New Evangelization. Also advocated in the document is a prayerful reading of sacred Scripture and a proper reading and interpretation of the documents of the Second Vatican Council.
It reinforces the importance of inculturation, interchurch collaboration, interreligious dialogue and joint ecumenical initiatives. Elsewhere it calls for the formation for evangelizers (clergy and laity) and credible witnesses for young people. It also stresses that dialogue between science and faith is vital and argues that stewardship of creation also serves evangelization “in many ways.”
The synod propositions conclude by recalling the indispensable role of Mary, Star of the New Evangelization, in illuminating what the final message called the “path across the desert.”
Cardinal Wuerl said one of the things he hopes will come across in the propositions is that the Church of today is “very much facing our world like the early Church, like those early disciples, aware that we have a wonderful story to tell, the story of Jesus Christ.”
“We have the risen Lord to introduce to this world, and what lies ahead of us is the task of doing that,” he said. “That’s why so many of these propositions have to be read in the light of this excitement to tell the story all over again, maybe for the first time for some people to hear it, that Jesus Christ is Lord, risen, and offers us a way of life.”
In his homily to close the synod Oct. 28, the Holy Father drew on the Gospel reading from Mark in which Christ cures the blind man Bartimaeus. The Pope said Bartimaeus was a man who represents those “evangelized long ago” but who no longer consider the Gospel relevant for their lives and are without “sound direction,” often unconsciously becoming “beggars for the meaning of existence.”
It’s a message, the Pope said, that is relevant to today’s “urgent need to proclaim Christ anew in places.” The New Evangelization, he added, applies to the whole of the Church’s life: firstly to ordinary pastoral ministry and sacraments of Christian initiation, then to proclamation of the message of salvation to those who hadn’t heard it, and thirdly to the baptized who have lapsed.
In final, off-the-cuff remarks in the concluding session of the synod Oct. 27, the Pope said it “was really uplifting, comforting and encouraging to see here a reflection of the universal Church, with its suffering, threats, dangers and joys, experiences of the Lord's presence, even in difficult situations.”
He said that even where we least expect it, the Lord is “present and powerful” and works also through our work and our reflections. “Although the Church feels opposing winds, she feels especially the wind of the Holy Spirit that helps us, shows us the right way,” Pope Benedict said.
“And so, with renewed enthusiasm, it seems to me we are on our way, and we thank the Lord that he has given this truly catholic meeting.”
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.