At the close of the second millennium, Pope John Paul II called Catholics to evangelize the world again.
On Sept. 11, that call got a lot more urgent.
Catholics have an important role to play in the wake of the terrorist strikes on America. We have to give our countrymen hope. This will be increasingly necessary in the violence sure to come abroad, and perhaps even at home, in the future.
Here are some suggestions of how Catholics can evangelize in this situation.
Don't agree with the terrorists. Some pro-lifers have already made the mistake of drawing dark comparisons between America's culture of death and the killers who have attacked Americans.
Not only will such arguments make people dislike the pro-life message, they aren't true. America is no “Great Satan.”
Think of the distinction this way: The terrorists are evil because they are true to the charter principles of their endeavor, which are death and destruction. America has embraced a culture of death because she has failed to live up to her charter principles, which are that man has a God-given dignity and the right to life.
The truest (and most effective) message for Catholics right now is to agree wholeheartedly with America's newfound patriotism. Wave the flag and sing “God Bless America.” Agree that Americans uniquely dedicate themselves to the good of others.
But go further, as Pope John Paul II does. Point out that Americans are most American when they defend the defenseless, that America is good to the degree it retains its connection to its founding principles, and that these continually need to be renewed and applied.
But remember: Now is not the time to admonish America's sins, but to encourage her virtues.
Tell them what to say to their children. The media now is filled with advice on what to say to children about the attacks. Much of this advice is very unsatisfying. In the end, without faith, there is no way to give children hope. Without belief in a God who is very good, there is no way to face a world that can be very evil.
In the Holy Father's apostolic letter Novo Millennio Ineunte (At the Beginning of the New Millennium), he lays out a program for just what Catholics should promote.
It's the basics: Sunday Eucharist, confession and charity. If you ever thought it was difficult to raise these subjects with your family, friends and neighbors, you needn't think so now. They are looking for something that will give them hope. Christ alone can. Introduce him to them.
Teach them how to pray. Lastly, the Holy Father calls one practice “the secret of a truly vital Christianity, which has no reason to fear the future, because it returns continually to the sources and finds in them new life” (No. 32).
This is prayer. He points to a “widespread demand for spirituality,” and suggests that Catholics fill it.
We should take him up on the suggestion, particularly by promoting the rosary.
By showing us Christ coming into the world, Christ suffering and Christ triumphant in heaven, it offers a way to comprehend suffering — and a way to reject fear.
And that, right now, is exactly what the world needs.