Address, First National Conference on the New Evangelization in Australia
Archbishop Rino Fisichella
The timeliness of the proclamation
The following are excerpts from the intervention by the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization at the first national conference "Proclaim 2012" on the new evangelization in Chatswood, Australia on 11 August .
In the very first line of his Motu Proprio, Ubicumque et Semper, which officially established the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, Pope Benedict draws the attention of all to the person of Jesus Christ. "It is the duty of the Church to proclaim always and everywhere the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He, the first and supreme evangelizer, commanded the Apostles on the day of his Ascension to the Father: 'Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you'" (Mt 28:19). Such a beginning emphasizes both the necessity of placing Jesus Christ at the center of the new evangelization and the importance of recognizing that the faith received from the Apostles and that which is to be preached is namely the person of Jesus Christ. The sacred author of the Letter to the Hebrews uses a concise and definitive expression for the intended purpose of leaving no room for doubt in the minds of his readers, that Jesus Christ is the entire, unchanging, and definitive Revelation of God: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and always" (Heb 13:8).
In order to avoid falling prey to the allure of the many 'human doctrines' purported to be better than the doctrines of faith, it is imperative that we be cognizant of the reality that we find ourselves in at the end of an age that, for good or ill, has marked our history for almost six centuries and that we must take seriously the new one which lies on the horizon. We do not know yet with certainty what this new period involves. What can be established with certainty at present are only a few pointers which orientate us towards a new epoch. As yet, it is difficult to be able to say who will be the protagonists of this period. What I consider important, in a period of transition like this one, is that the Church recognize her responsibility to take upon herself the task of transmitting a living patrimony of culture and of values which cannot be allowed to fall into oblivion. If that were to happen, the consequences would be damaging for the very civilization which people wish to build up. It would be born blind and lame. It would be incapable of looking to the future and would be equally incapable of constructing it. Only a living tradition, able to sustain and to consolidate the patrimony constructed across the centuries, is able to guarantee a future which is genuine. This would not be the first time that the Church has undertaken this task.
Yet, it is necessary to examine, from a unique perspective, the present crisis in which society finds itself; that with respect to its connection to the question of God. The new evangelization cannot think that this question lies beyond its field. In contrast to the past, today we do not encounter great systems of atheism, if they were ever great; hence, the question of God needs to be addressed in a different way. Today God is not denied, but is unknown. In some respects, it could be said that, paradoxically, interest in God and in religion has grown. People are looking for different modalities of religion, selected by everyone taking up that which they find pleasing in the sense of ensuring for them that religious experience which they find more satisfying on the basis of their interests or needs at the moment. To this must be added that, especially for the younger generations, their horizon of understanding is characterized by a mentality strongly influenced by scientific research and by technology. Thus, the new evangelization requires the capacity to know how to give an explanation of our own faith, showing Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the sole savior of humanity. To the extent that we are capable of this, we will be able to offer our contemporaries the response they are awaiting. Faith calls for commitment today while we live. Hiding away in our churches might bring us some consolation, but it would render Pentecost vain. It is time to throw open wide the doors and to return to announcing the resurrection of Christ, whose witnesses we are. As the holy bishop Ignatius wrote, "It is not enough to be called Christians; we must be Christians in fact".
It is precisely this commitment in the faith, about which St Ignatius of Antioch spoke so eloquently at the end of the first century, that the Year of Faith seeks to inspire in the hearts of those who do not know God and seeks to increase in the hearts of those who already believe. The Year of Faith, which commemorates both the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and the twentieth anniversary of the promulgation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is a path, an opportunity, that the Christian community offers to the many people who possess a longing for God and a profound desire to meet him again in their lives. These opportunities, provided by the Year of Faith to form authentic friendships in faith, bring to the fore the very question of community. The new evangelization tends to make our sense of personal identity grow in relation to our sense of belonging to the community. A sociological tendency of our time presses us to distinguish between 'identity' and; 'belonging', as if it were a question of two contradictory realities. There is nothing more dangerous, in my opinion, than this contra-position. A belonging which was without identity could not be defined as belonging. From the reciprocal relationship which exists between identity and belonging there arises the possibility of verifying how the new evangelization can be effective and fruitful. A knowledge of the contents of the faith which remains linked to the adolescent stage could never allow someone to grow in their identity as a believer, no matter what roles they might occupy in civil society. In the same way, the lack of these contents often impedes people's own social, political and cultural action in harmony with their belonging to the Church. A fissure between identity and belonging is likely one of the causes which have contributed to the current crisis.
The Year of Faith will attempt to fuse this very rupture between identity and belonging, thus, increasing the faith of believers. The events of a universal character, which will be celebrated in Rome in the presence of the Holy Father, are numerous. To note only a few; there will be the canonization of certain martyrs and confessors of faith, a celebration for youth, a celebration for those having been confirmed during the Year of Faith, a celebration of Evangelium Vitae promoting and defending the dignity of the human person from the moment of conception until natural death, a celebration for vocations, a celebration for catechists, a celebration of both old and new movements within the Church and, of course, a celebration of Mary, the "Star of the new evangelization". In order to communicate most effectively the events taking place in the local churches, whether through the particular Episcopal Conference, the local diocese, the parish, organization, or movement, we have set up a website for the Year of Faith which offers people the opportunity to post what it is that they have organized for the Year of Faith. On this website, you will also see and be able to acquire the beautiful logo that has been designed to represent the Year of Faith.
Central to the Year of Faith will be a focus upon the Profession of Faith. This will serve to return the Profession of Faith to its prominent place as the daily prayer of every Christian. To facilitate this, we have produced an edition of the Nicene Creed, which is the most familiar symbol to Christians due to its frequent usage within the context of Sunday Mass. The prayer is printed on the back of the well-known image of Christ the Pantocrator from the Cathedral-Basilica of Cefalù in Sicily. This image is intended to be the icon of the Year of Faith. It is my profound desire that the Creed, once again, becomes the daily prayer for Christians, as a synthesis of faith known and lived.
As in the past, when such difficulties gave rise to an intense activity of evangelization, so also today the Church needs to become aware of the great commitment which the new evangelization demands. These and other questions bring to the forefront the responsibility and the need to formulate a new apology of faith. Apologetics is not extraneous to faith; on the contrary, it belongs with full right to the act by which we enter into the logic of faith. In the first place, what is required is that the act of faith be a truly free act, the fruit of that abandoning of ourselves completely to God by which each one entrusts themselves to him with their intellect and with their will. Giving an explanation of one's faith does not seem to have enthralled many believers, at least in recent decades. Perhaps also for this reason, the conviction of faith has declined because the choice was not orientated in that direction. Having recourse to the traditions of old or to all sorts of experiences, but deprived of the power of reason, these have not had the capacity to lead and to sustain, especially when faced with a dominant culture, relying more and more upon the certainties of science. In some respects the situation has become more bogged down, partly because some people have considered that a weary repetition of past forms could constitute a insurmountable bastion of defense, without recognizing that those forms were becoming, instead, shifting sands. To think that the new evangelization can be brought about through a mere renewal of past forms is an illusion not to be cultivated. Hence, the new evangelization starts from here: from the credibility of our living as believers and from the conviction that grace acts and transforms to the point of converting the heart. It is a journey which still finds Christians committed to it after two thousand years of history.
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22 August 2012, page 15
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