VATICAN CITY — “People are yearning for a principle in life that inspires hope, a hope which will permit them to look to the future with eyes filled with faith and not the tears of despair,” says the working document for the upcoming Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization.
“As a Church, we have this principle and source of hope — Jesus Christ, who was crucified and is risen, living among us through his Spirit, who allows us to experience God.”
The document, known as the Instrumentum Laboris, was published June 19 at the Vatican and aims to serve as the basis for discussion and reflection for the 13th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the theme: “The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith.”
The assembly, to be attended by synod fathers, experts and other invited guests, will take place Oct. 7-28 at the Vatican.
The 30,000-word document, a summary of the responses to the questions in the Lineamenta (preparatory text) sent to all the world’s bishops, heads of religious orders and departments of the Roman Curia, is divided into four chapters, plus a preface, introduction and conclusion.
It begins by explaining the expectations of the synod which, it says, will be an event “to energize Christian communities” while at the same time providing “concrete answers to the many questions facing the Church today and the resources available in her evangelizing activity.”
It adds that the synod is expected to be “not only a source of encouragement, but also the place to compare experiences and share observations on situations and approaches for action.”
Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, secretary general of the synod, explaining the Instrumentum Laboris to reporters June 19, said the New Evangelization “is an expression of the internal dynamism of Christianity,” which wishes to make men and women of good will “know the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of the mystery of God revealed in Jesus Christ.” The archbishop added it is “not a weary response to the crisis of faith and the challenges facing the Church in the modern world.”
The first of the four chapters, “Jesus Christ, the Good News of God to Humanity,” reiterates the basic principles of the Christian faith and presents the Gospel for modern man. It also stresses how the Gospel transforms the faithful and that this new life is the cause of our joy, which compels us, as witnesses and joyful heralds of the gift received, to travel the streets of the world awaiting the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God.
It cites “erroneous beliefs” which limit the duty to proclaim the Good News, noting that although non-Christians can be “saved through the grace which God bestows in ways known only to himself,” the Church “cannot overlook the fact that each person seeks to know the true face of God and to enjoy today the friendship of Jesus Christ, God-with-us.”
Chapter 2, “Time for a New Evangelization,” is principally dedicated to “identifying the challenges evangelization currently faces.” The Church is called to discern the various scenarios where those challenges occur, so they might be “turned into places for proclaiming the Gospel and experiencing the Church.” It then evaluates the reasons for spreading the idea of the New Evangelization, as well as specifying the different ways many particular churches can feel involved.
It highlights the “phenomenon of secularization,” urging the synod to assess both its positive and negative influences on Christianity. It argues for a new sensibility toward people who have left the Church, a task that requires a measure of evangelical creativity and boldness. But it notes that not all indications are negative and praises the work of Christian churches and communities in creating the “real possibility of living the Christian faith.”
Under the subheading “Changes in the Religious Sector,” the document notes that even though secularization is leading to “a weakened sense of the spiritual,” many regions of the world are showing signs of a “significant religious revival,” offering opportunities for evangelization for the Church. But it adds that “many responses” in the Lineamenta voiced concerns about the “naive and emotional character” of this revival.
“Instead of being a gradual and complex development in a person’s search for truth, the return to religion, in many cases, has not been a very liberating experience,” it says. “Consequently, the positive aspects of rediscovering God and the sacred are viewed as impoverished and obscured by a fundamentalism which frequently manipulates religion to justify acts of violence and, in extreme but fortunately limited cases, even terrorism.”
Archbishop Eterovic pointed out that almost all the responses received when preparing the document “highlighted the lack of vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life.” This requires, among other things, “strong pastoral care of vocations,” he said. It is also hoped the synod will encourage the fostering of a “mentality in which life itself is looked upon as a vocation.”
Chapter 3, called “Transmitting the Faith,” underpins the purpose of the New Evangelization. It looks at the places, means, persons and activities in the transmission of the Christian faith — the liturgy, catechesis and works of charity and how, in the process of transmission, the faith needs to be professed, celebrated, lived and prayed.
It notes that the secularization of culture has allowed some methods of catechesis to show signs of vitality, but prevented others from reaching full development in transmitting the faith. It proposes the synod could devise a program of catechesis that would “transmit fully the core elements of the faith and, at the same time, knows how to speak to people today, in their cultures, while listening to their questions and inspiring their search for truth, goodness and beauty.”
It records that some responses in the Lineamenta emphasized the complex character between the celebration of the Christian faith and various forms of popular piety. “While recognizing some mutual benefits, they also noted the danger of syncretism and a degradation of the faith,” the document says.
In the fourth and final chapter, “Revivifying Pastoral Activity,” the document covers areas of activity dedicated to the proclamation of the Gospel and the transmission of faith. Those activities, developed through Tradition, are then discussed, such as Christian initiation and education, as well as ways to adapt them to current cultural and social circumstances. “From a theological point of view, we must better understand the sequence of the sacraments of Christian initiation, which culminates in the Eucharist, and reflect on models to be translated into deeply meaningful pastoral practices,” the document says.
The Joy of Evangelizing
The document says all bishops’ conferences concurred “on the need for new tools and new forms of expression to make the word of God more understandable in the life of modern man.”
Instrumentum Laboris highlights several anniversaries which will providentially coincide with the synod, each of which provides a “good opportunity to focus on the subject of conversion and the necessity of holiness.” These comprise the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the inauguration of the Year of Faith.
The document concludes by, among other things, emphasizing the joy of evangelizing. “The words of eternal life, which have been given to us in our encountering Jesus Christ, are destined for everyone and each individual,” the document says. “Every person in our time, whether he is aware of it or not, needs to hear this proclamation.”
Edward Pentin is the Register's Rome correspondent. He blogs at NCRegister.com.