WASHINGTON — Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on love in the family presents a special challenge to laypeople to evangelize, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington said Wednesday at The Catholic University of America.

One finding of the recent synods on the family was that “we have a lot of catechesis to do, a lot of sharing the faith,” Cardinal Wuerl said April 27 in his address to university students and professors on Amoris Laetitia and the synods that led up to its publication. The exhortation presents both a “beautiful gift” and an “extraordinary challenge” to the Church, the cardinal maintained.

Catechesis is needed because many people “only have a vague idea” of Church teaching on “marriage, morality, family, even something as basic as the obligations of the commandments,” he noted.

Cardinal Wuerl spoke as a special presentation in the class of the university president, John Garvey, on “The Virtues.”

A rupture from tradition in catechesis has resulted in many Catholics needing to be evangelized themselves, the cardinal said, and he challenged the students to evangelize: “I would like to see all of us accepting the personal obligation to be an evangelizing disciple.”

“There’s a whole catechetical deficiency that’s the result … of that ‘hermeneutic of discontinuity’ of the ’70s that led to several generations of people who simply don’t know the faith; and if they don’t know it, then they can’t grow to appreciate and embrace it.”

“For many, many, many people, lifting up marriage and lifting up the importance of the family is for them something new,” Cardinal Wuerl added.

Laypersons can evangelize through “the witness of their own lives,” he said. “How do you manifest that belief that you are a true disciple of Jesus, that he’s risen and walks with you?” he asked.

Then when the opportunity is right, someone can take the initiative and evangelize through words, he said, telling the students, “You can’t overestimate the impact you have” by saying something “countercultural” and with “conviction.”

Renewal was at the heart of the Second Vatican Council, and this theme continues in Amoris Laetitia: in a call for a renewal of understanding what marriage is, Cardinal Wuerl stated.

“There’s a sense in which one can see in this exhortation a renewal, a renewal to recognize our Catholic identity, our connectedness to the Church and how our ministry is validated precisely in our participation in and our adherence to the articulated magisterium of the Church,” he explained.

He said “the story of ‘The Joy of Love’ includes recognizing its consensus … and its continuity” in Church teaching and adds a “masterful” “reflection” from 1 Corinthians 13 on love. Overall, Cardinal Wuerl said, the Pope is clear that he is in no way changing the Church’s doctrine nor making changes to its sacramental practice.

The exhortation “draws deeply and richly” from the magisterial teaching of recent popes, reflected in the “astounding number of citations” from the pontificates of Benedict XVI, St. John Paul II and Blessed Paul VI, and as well as Vatican II and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, he noted.

“The Council called for a renewal of our pastoral ministry, a renewal of our moral theology. And this document is taking the priority of charity and mercy, articulated in the papal encyclicals beginning with Paul VI, and placing them at the service now of pastoral ministry,” he said.

He exhorted the students to take part in this renewal of the Church. “The role of each one of you on this campus, the role of every young person in the Church is the renewal that’s going to be the Church’s renewal of the future,” he stated.

“We can’t go back and undo what was done in the ’70s and ’80s. It’s done. But we can build for the future, and we can build if we have that confidence” that “what the Church teaches us is truly relevant.”

He concluded: An evangelizing disciple knows Church teaching and what Christ said and has the “quiet confidence that it’s true.”