In his 1992 apostolic exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis (The Formation of Priests in the Circumstances of the Present Day), Pope John Paul II challenged his flock.
“Today in particular,” he wrote, “the pressing pastoral task of the New Evangelization calls for the involvement of the entire People of God, and requires a new fervor, new methods and a new expression for the announcing and witnessing of the Gospel.”
Some have been taking his words to heart ever since. In the process, they’re showing the rest of us that everyone can do something to help spread the saving and sanctifying Gospel of Jesus Christ in the fullness of the Catholic faith.
Take Dave Nodar. He founded ChristLife, a lay Catholic apostolate of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. ChristLife not only evangelizes but also trains and equips Catholics to help others encounter Jesus and proclaim him everywhere.
Also in step with the 1992 U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishop’s national plan, “Go and Make Disciples,” ChristLife (online at ChristLife.org) uses seminars and DVDs to teach Catholics how to witness Christ to the world.
What tips can the experienced evangelizers behind ChristLife share with Catholics who are willing to share but are unsure where to start? “A very simple thing is befriending people,” says Nodar. “Starting to make friendships with people broader is a crucial part of evangelization. It’s a person God is interested in.”
He also advises asking the Holy Spirit for guidance in identifying particular people to pray for and speak to — and then following through by praying for them frequently and fervently.
“Evangelization is front line spiritual warfare,” he says. “The goal is to bring Jesus Christ to people who aren’t fully living him.”
Some will resist the offer to welcome Jesus into their lives, or to welcome him on a deeper level by returning to the sacraments. But, says Nodar, many will open their hearts and minds to any spiritual message presented clearly and kindly.
Young adults, in particular, he says, are hungry for “the challenge and truth of the Gospel.”
ChristLife staffer and young adult Pete Ascosi hands out cards printed with the words “God Is Love” in eight languages on one side and thought-provoking New Testament verses on the other. One of his favorite spots to evangelize is Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, a popular place to shop, dine and stroll.
“Scripture is a very good evangelization dynamic,” he reports. “Sometimes it provokes conversation.”
What, Me Preach?
In his 2000 address “The New Evangelization: Building the Civilization of Love,” then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger took up the question of what’s so new about the New Evangelization.
His answer: It’s largely directed toward “baptized non-believers” — those who are “culturally Christian” but “haven’t experienced a conversion of heart to Christ and his teachings.”
Core Ministries in Minnesota follows this directive. Founded in 2004 by Mary Hagar and Deacon Mike Thoennes, Core — the name is an acronym for Catholic Outreach, Resources and Evangelization — supports Catholic evangelization efforts locally and wherever it’s welcomed (online at core-ministries.org). It also partners on projects with the well-established Renewal Ministries, an Ann Arbor, Mich.-based evangelization organization.
Core helped revive and transform St. Timothy Church in rural Maple Lake, Minn., “to what the bishop referred to as ‘the lighthouse on the western horizon of the archdiocese,’” says Hagar. Today, she’s director of religious education at St. Timothy and two neighboring parishes.
So far, Core has brought evangelization training to more than 14 parishes — all backed by prayers emanating from 15 retreat centers, monasteries and convents across the United States.
“We’ve got to make disciples of Jesus first,” says Hagar. “Conversion happens in front of catechesis, then … people can’t wait to find out about being Catholic.”
Over the past several years, St. Timothy’s has nearly doubled in families; Mass attendance, including daily, has increased; marriages have reconciled; the school that was supposed to close five years ago is now full with a waiting list; and people away from the Church for years have gotten back to confession and the sacraments.
Clarity and Charity
What’s stalling the New Evangelization from bursting forth on a broader scale?
“One of the main obstacles is confusion about what’s the truth about God, salvation, heaven and hell — whether it really matters about what you believe and how you act,” explains Ralph Martin, co-editor of The New Evangelization: Overcoming the Obstacles (Paulist Press, 2008). Martin points out that the new evangelizers need to be clear about, and confident in, the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: He is the only way to eternal life in heaven, as spelled out in Scripture and emphasized in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and in the Vatican’s 2000 document Dominus Iesus (The Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church).
“For the New Evangelization to be effective, it is essential to have a deep understanding of the culture of our time in which the social communications media are most influential,” stressed John Paul II in his 1999 apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in America (The Encounter with the Living Jesus Christ: The Way to Conversion, Communion and Solidarity in America). He added, “Using the media correctly and competently can lead to a genuine inculturation of the Gospel.”
Those words helped spur Tom Mayor to use his degree in film production to found and direct The Message Shop in West Milton, Ohio. Planted firmly in the New Evangelization since 2002, this apostolate (online at TheMessageShop.org ) produces educational videos, podcasts and DVDs.
Stressing that individual Catholics are called to take on some evangelistic activities — especially in this Year of St. Paul — Mayor encourages people to do simple and even fun things to spread the Gospel. Pick up a camcorder, he says. Interview a priest. Share your footage with friends, family members and fellow parishioners.
Mayor also mentors youngsters and young adults, passing the torch to the next generation of new evangelizers.
“We have the responsibility to make the information age serve God in all things,” says Mayor. “This is farm country. We’re based in a small town. Yet, we’re evangelizing on a global scale.”
Who among us shouldn’t be aiming for the same?
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen
is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.