VATICAN CITY — Mixing old with new, a progress report on the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization was delivered in Latin, the ancient language of the Church.
“Many synod fathers called for a new Pentecost … of seeing the action of the Church today, enlivened by the Holy Spirit, as a reflection of the energy in the early Church, when the apostles set out to bring the first disciples to the Lord,” Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington said late in the afternoon on Oct. 17.
“Many of the fathers spoke of the similarity between those early days of the Church and our moment in time today.”
The 71-year-old American cardinal is charged by Pope Benedict XVI with steering the work of the synod. Under the title of general relator, Cardinal Wuerl guides the discussions of the 262 participants as they attempt to map out a plan for bringing the Gospel to the modern world.
Part of his job is presenting the synod, which continues through Oct. 28, with a summary of more than 230 formal speeches and innumerable off-the-record discussions during the synod’s first half.
First, he thanked Pope Benedict XVI for his inspiration and guidance. At the synod’s opening session, the Holy Father reminded participants to keep in mind that “the two great pillars of evangelization” are a commitment to “know and proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ” and to do it with love.
“It is only when we have the word inseparably lived in love that we achieve the evangelization so hoped for in this synod,” Cardinal Wuerl said.
One understanding in the synodal discussions that has emerged “very clearly,” he reported, is “the understanding that the foundation of the New Evangelization for the transmission of the faith is above all the work of the most Holy Trinity in history.” It is because Christ gave the Church “the commission to share and make known his victory (over sin and death)” that “the Church’s primary mission is evangelization.”
The synod has also discussed ways of helping priests and bishops to be more effective evangelizers in the modern world, from doing parish work to media apostolates.
But Cardinal Wuerl emphasized that the synod wants all Catholics to fulfill their roles as witnesses for Christ.
“The synod highlighted the important role of every disciple of Christ in the mission of spreading the faith,” he said. Laypeople must use their God-given gifts to evangelize with “eager dedication.”
To do so effectively requires a spiritual renewal involving both heart and mind, he said: “Spiritual renewal is the most important element of the New Evangelization insofar as it involves the renewal of a personal encounter with Jesus Christ and a catechesis that fosters our spiritual growth.”
The role of proper catechesis, or instruction in the faith, has been a hot topic at the synod.
“A number of bishops spoke of the need to reinforce the role of the magisterium (teaching authority) of the Church when dealing with all of those who are engaged in teaching the faith,” Cardinal Wuerl said. This applies “at the level of theological speculation or teaching at the elementary, secondary or university levels and in all the expressions of catechesis.”
Sound catechesis has been one of the synod’s recurring themes because the New Evangelization requires teaching the faith well to those who do not know it — children, for example — as well as presenting it anew to fallen-away Catholics who suffered inadequate or theologically unsound catechesis.
To this end, Cardinal Wuerl said the synod has been considering how the Church can devise “a program of catechesis that is both basic, complete and inspiring in the search for truth, goodness and beauty.”
Today, the synod fathers will begin working in smaller groups focused on specific aspects of the New Evangelization — from using new media to priestly formation — with the aim of giving Pope Benedict specific proposals at the synod’s end.