The Archbishop of Chieti-Vasto on the new evangelization
The following is a translation of excerpts from a meditation given in Italian by the Archbishop of Chieti-Vasto on "The 'New Evangelization': a Challenge and a Promise".
In the face of the changing cultural context of the West and of the impact that all this has on the life of men and women, the question arises as to how to proclaim the Good News of Jesus credibly today. Benedict XVI said in his discourse on 30 May 2011 at the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization.
The term "new evangelization" refers to the need for a renewed manner of proclamation, especially for those who live in a context, like today's, in which the development of secularization has had a heavy impact, even in traditionally Christian countries. The Gospel is the ever new proclamation of the salvation worked by Christ which makes humanity participate in the mystery of God and in his life of love and opens it to a future of strong, sure hope. Highlighting that at this time in history the Church is called to carry out a new evangelization, means intensifying her missionary action so that it fully corresponds to the Lord's mandate" (L'Osservatore Romano English edition, [ORE]
June 2011, p. 12).
Indeed, what is changing is not the Gospel but the person to whom it is proclaimed: it is necessary to be open to the new challenges, to learn new languages, to attempt new approaches. "The new evangelization", the Pope declares further, "must try to find ways of making the proclamation of salvation more effective; a proclamation without which personal existence remains contradictory and deprived of what is essential. Even for those who remain tied to their Christian roots, but who live the difficult relationship with modernity, it is important to realize that being Christian is not a type of clothing to wear in private or on special occasions, but is something living and all-encompassing, able to contain all that is good in modern life".
At the root of the newness of these languages and approaches, however, is still the newness of the encounter with Christ lived by those who believe: "Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a Person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction" (Deus Caritas Est, n. 1). In this regard the adjective "new" placed before the word "evangelization" should be properly understood: it is not a matter of a mere chronological innovation as if everything done so far were wrong or partial and that the year zero of the proclamation of the Gospel to the world were beginning now. Such an understanding would be misleading.
We have inherited from the past extraordinary examples of renewed evangelizing dynamism in epochs of great pastoral and missionary creativity. Only think, just as an example, of the work of the missions in the modern age, which has won over to the Gospel entire peoples and very different cultures. What must be new in the evangelizing effort required today is rather at the level of quality: to borrow the Greek New Testament terminology, at stake is the newness of the kainos, not that of the neos, the qualitative and eschatological, not the merely chronological newness of what is happening now and did not happen previously. It is not by chance that Jesus calls his new commandment kaine: entole kaine (1 Jn 2:7 f.), to indicate that only new people, rendered such by the Son, can live out the newness of love requested by him and bear a credible witness to it.
In this light, evangelization will be "new" if it is born from a commitment to profound renewal and a reform of the whole Church and of each one of the protagonists who experience it. The Pope says that "we must not think that the grace of evangelization was extended only to the Apostles and with them that fount of grace was exhausted". Citing St Augustine, he notes that "this fount is revealed when it flows, not when it ceases to pour out. And it was in this way that the grace, through the Apostles, reached others too, who were invited to proclaim the Gospel... indeed, it has continued to be a call right up to these days for the entire body of his Only-Begotten Son, that is, his Church spread throughout the earth" (cf. Sermo, 239, 1). Benedict XVI therefore concludes by saying that "The grace of the mission continually needs new evangelizers capable of receiving it so that the salvific news of the Word of God never fails to be proclaimed in the changing conditions of history" (Discourse to the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, 30 May 2011, ORE, 1 June 2011, p. 12).
Thus it is right to refer to models of the past and to imagine, for example, that the "new evangelization" may be to the Second Vatican Council what the great process of "Catholic reform" was to the Council of Trent: what the Spirit said to the Church through these great conciliar events should be translated into the new life of the baptized, into the new enthusiasm of the encounter with the risen Lord, which the Church makes ever possible anew, and into the impetus of transmitting credibly what has marked and transformed our life as disciples of Jesus. In this convinced call to the "new evangelization" is therefore manifest what is increasingly proving to be a fundamental characteristic of this Pontificate: the commitment to the reform of the Church starting from the conversion of hearts.
In the past Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger did not hide his suffering before what he described as the "filth" of the Church. His interventions as Pope have dealt firmly and truthfully with the challenge of the purification of the ecclesial community. No one has spoken as courageously as Benedict XVI of paedophilia, an atrocious scourge that affects the whole of society and unfortunately also some men of the Church. The attacks that followed are easy to explain: this Pope who loves the truth, says so without mincing his words. It is with this conviction that Benedict XVI calls the entire Church to walk confidently, "amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God" as Augustine repeated (The City of God, 18, 51, 2).
Authentic reform passes through love and this means taking on wrongs, doing penance and walking swiftly on the path of conversion, wanting justice, also human, and the just reparation, staying beside the victims without any hypocrisy; inspired by the primacy of charity and of real needs, those who intend to work for the renewal of ecclesial life, must return to love with the patience also to respect also slower journeys, in docility and in determined obedience to the Spirit.
This is the path on which Benedict XVI is calling the entire Church, at all levels. In this very way this Pope is turning out to be a "reformer"; and the ensuing reform is the deep reform of evangelical "metanoia", the only one that can restore to the Church her original beauty and make her shine out as a sign raised among the peoples.