Father Barron’s ‘New Evangelization’

The media-minded priest talks about his latest documentary

When Father Robert Barron headed to Australia to answer an invitation to roll out his Catholicism series there, he had no idea the trip would necessarily inspire another DVD on the faith.

"It came about in a certain way by accident," said Father Barron, who is rector of St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, Ill., and founder of Word on Fire, a Catholic ministry.

Since he would spend two weeks in Australia and then another two weeks in England, he decided to bring the film crew over to these Western cultures and see what they might record about the faith in those locales.

After talking with many people, from Catholic youth to bishops, what they recorded was plenty. Despite all the filming, he recalls, "We weren’t sure what to do with all the material."

At the same time, he was giving talks in both countries on the New Evangelization. Soon, that inspired the answer.

Seeing the New Evangelization as the logical overarching framework, Father Barron and the crew continued filming people and adding interviews when they returned to the United States, featuring prominent Catholic thinkers such as George Weigel and Ross Douthat.

Father Barron and his crew then wove all this material together into a new four-DVD documentary called Catholicism: The New Evangelization.

What was the goal?

"It was to clarify what New Evangelization means," explained Father Barron. "It’s a term used all the time and bandied about in the Church, but a lot of people don’t know what it is."

For a clear explanation for today’s world, he looked to Blessed John Paul II, who coined the term "New Evangelization" in 1979 and who, in the 1980s, proclaimed that this New Evangelization calls for "new ardor, new methods and new expressions," said Father Barron.

"We explored that. The purpose of this vision is for Catholics, to help them know what New Evangelization is and how to do it."

The documentary brings out and addresses the cultural problems the modern faithful and the New Evangelization are faced with.

Father Barron lists them as "the rising secularism, indifferentism and the dictatorship of moral relativism, as Benedict XVI called it — there is no objective truth or objective morality, (just) rampant individualism and secularism that flattens out everything."

It worked out that the filming was done in countries that are fertile testing grounds for the New Evangelization.

Father Barron pointed out the documentary talks about why the faith’s ardor fell away after the Second Vatican Council. He argues, "Vatican II was a missionary council to bring the Good News out to the wider world. But the Church turned inward and debated sexuality morality and authority. We started looking in, and we lost that ardor, that missionary fervor.

"That has to be recovered. Now, [Pope] Francis said the Church should be looking out to the world. That is Vatican II."

That issue prompted the documentary to look at how to find new expressions, new methods and new ways to share the faith, as called for by John Paul II. The DVD would necessarily answer the deep misunderstandings of people and of such relationships as between religion and science.

This evangelization is meant to reach those who are baptized but who have drifted from the Church and need to awaken to their faith again, Father Barron hopes.

The DVD explores how the new revolution in communication technology fits into this picture of spreading the Good News, too.

Along the way, Father Barron did find some surprising examples of these qualities for the New Evangelization in action, which the documentary highlights.

In Australia, he was moved and edified as he came across a number of new groups and different movements, many inspired by World Youth Day 2008, which was held in Sydney.

In England, he found Catholic Voices, "a wonderful media outreach," he said. He discovered a lot of intellectual energy at the University of Durham and similar energy in the Church in Liverpool. One seminary he visited was built on the grounds of St. Thomas More’s home in Chelsea, with the seminary itself built on the spot where More’s home stood. He also discovered a vibrant parish in London’s infamous Soho district is attracting young people.

In America, he cites Word on Fire, as well as Spirit Juice Studios in Chicago.

Chapter titles in the six-part documentary unmistakably show that much content is devoted to the "New Ardor," "New Methods" and "New Expressions." They all ultimately lead to faith in action.

Of the four DVDs, which average 90 minutes in length, three are filled with bonus materials for study, such as two of Father Barron’s speeches abroad, plus long interviews with Catholic media authority and new Word on Fire hire Brandon Vogt, as well as Douthat, a columnist for The New York Times, and Weigel. There are also insights from J.R.R. Tolkien and Archbishop Fulton Sheen.

"Weigel articulates in our video a number of the points he made in his book [Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st‐Century Church]," Father Barron said. The bonus material includes the whole Weigel interview.

Both individuals and groups can explore the New Evangelization, because Catholicism: The New Evangelization is not just a documentary, but a multimedia formation program. The additional material available includes leader and participant study guides.

Father Barron noted that his first series, simply titled Catholicism, is "for anybody, especially secularists."

But this new documentary is an in-house venture, he said.

"This one is really for Catholics," he explained. "This is more a how-to for Catholics: to reinvigorate them and help them know how to do this work more effectively."

He affirmed that the New Evangelization historically goes back to Vatican II and has been the agenda of the last four popes.

As he envisions it, "The New Evangelization is the realization of Vatican II." His new and inspiring documentary aims to help fulfill that vision.

Joseph Pronechen is a

Register staff writer.


CatholicismNewEvangelization.com; Father Barron appeared on EWTN Live on Dec. 18. Search the EWTN YouTube channel to watch the interview.

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito says of discerning one’s college choice, ‘There has to be something that tugs at you and makes you want to investigate it further. And then the personal encounter comes in the form of a visit or a chat with a student or alumnus who communicates with the same enthusiasm or energy about the place. And then that love of a place can be a seed which germinates in your own heart through prayer.’

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Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito, assistant professor of theology at the University of Dallas (UD) and subprior (and former vocations director) of the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas, drew from his experience as both a student and now monastic religious to help those discerning understand the parallels between religious and college discernment.