The New Evangelization is turning out to be a top priority of the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI. His first major structural change to the Roman Curia was his recent creation of a Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization. Most of the 17 trips he has made outside of Italy have been to countries of the First World, suggesting that he feels the need to boost the faith in nations that once were Christian but have drifted from the faith. The 18th trip, taking place Nov. 6-7, is his second to Spain, where abortion and same-sex “marriage” have been legalized in recent years.
And now, the Pope has announced the theme of the next assembly of the Synod of Bishops, in 2012: the New Evangelization.
The focus will be on all countries that once were solidly Christian, vibrantly living the faith, imbued with faith that guided the actions and decisions of their citizens and leaders.
Pope Benedict announced the intention for the next synod gathering during the homily of the closing Mass for the Middle East synod in October, noting that during the two-week meeting, “what was often underlined was the need to offer the Gospel anew to people who do not know it very well or who have even moved away from the Church.”
We at the Register were particularly excited to hear the announcement. After all, we’ve been striving for decades to support the New Evangelization. Many of our readers are involved in it, and we work hard to bring them the tools they need to engage in the New Evangelization. We can relate to Pope Benedict’s words to a gathering of Catholic journalists at the Vatican Oct. 7: “Your task … is to help contemporary men and women turn to Christ, the one Savior, and to keep the torch of hope alight in the world, in order to live a dignified life today and to build the future adequately.”
But why does the Pope feel the need for a synod on the New Evangelization? In the apostolic letter establishing the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization, he deplored “an abandonment of the faith” in our time — “a phenomenon progressively more manifest in societies and cultures which for centuries seemed to be permeated by the Gospel.
“The social changes we have witnessed in recent decades have a long and complex history, and they have profoundly altered our way of looking at the world,” the Pope wrote. “There has been a troubling loss of the sense of the sacred, which has even called into question foundations once deemed unshakable, such as faith in a provident creator God, the revelation of Jesus Christ as the one Savior, and a common understanding of basic human experiences: birth, death, life in a family, and reference to a natural moral law.”
All we need to do is look at recent headlines in our newspapers indicating such disturbing trends as an increase in suicide among the young; an increasing acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle; a blasé reaction to — and even acceptance of — couples living together before marriage, and on and on. Contraception is widespread among Catholic couples, and when they do have children, baptism is all too often not a high priority. And belief in the Real Presence continues to be low among Catholics.
The Associated Press reported that the new pontifical council “would promote Church doctrine, use the media to get the Church’s message out and mobilize missionary-type activities.” In other words, a higher-tech version of baptizing the natives? It’s more than that, as anyone who has been following the extraordinary pontificates of this Pope and his venerable predecessor know.
Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the new council, said that it will use “all the inventions that progress in communications technology has created, making them positive instruments at the service of New Evangelization.”
We agree. Our own Web and social media efforts continue to ramp up. But of course that’s just part of the picture. We are painfully aware of how the communication skills of many people seem to have become stunted in almost direct proportion to the incredible surge in the new tech “tools” of communication. Christians, we dare suggest, don’t need to learn how to evangelize using technology as much as they need to learn how to communicate. There is no substitute for good, old-fashioned one-on-one, face-to-face, heart-to-heart communication. Let’s bear in mind the common roots of communication and Communion. We don’t receive the Eucharist by e-blast; we are (or should be) in a deep, personal communion with the Word-Made-Flesh. The New Evangelization will succeed not just thanks to clever ways of using Facebook and Twitter, but by peoples’ willingness to befriend those who need to find the way back to that kind of relationship with the Lord, by whatever means of communication possible.
It’s also interesting that the Pope made the announcement about the next synod during the homily of the Mass that brought the Middle East synod to a close, a synod meeting marked by constant pleading for forgiveness and peace in the lands of the Middle East. When we think of the need for peace, our thoughts so often turn first to that part of the world.
“Christians as full-fledged citizens can and must do their part with the spirit of the beatitudes, becoming builders of peace and apostles of reconciliation to the benefit of all society,” the Pope said.
That’s how Christians built Western civilization, and that’s how we are called to continue to renew, repair and rebuild this world, as faithful apostles of God’s grace and peace.