New evangelisation will fuel church's dialogue with everyone searching for God

Tue, May 8, 2012, 01:00

RITE & REASON:The church has a message of hope to offer but must learn how to communicate it, writes EUGENE DUFFY

Later this year, the Synod of Bishops in Rome will address the topic of The New Evangelisation.

Although the term “new evangelisation” is not well-defined, it has been around quite some time now. It has not been adopted enthusiastically at the pastoral level. However, the preparatory documentation for the synod helps to clarify the thinking behind the project and gives a more positive outline of its intent.

The term was first used by Pope John Paul II on one of his visits to Poland and later when addressing the church in Latin America. In the latter context, he envisaged it as a courageous engagement by the church with the challenges that were facing that continent, such as the spread of communist ideologies and the emergence of various influential sects.

Later in his pontificate, he saw this as a task for the universal church. Above all, he saw it as a spiritual activity whereby the church of today could recapture the courage and energy of the first Christian missionaries in proclaiming the Gospel.

The “new evangelisation” involves a serious engagement with the various cultural and social factors that shape and condition human life today. One of its first concerns is to engage with the secularising trends that so condition contemporary culture. These have contributed to a growing individualism and relativism that have impacted on Christians just as much as on those who do not share their faith.

According to the synodal preparatory document, “the new evangelisation is seen as the needed impetus for weary and worn-out communities to help them to rediscover the joy of the Christian experience, to find again ‘the love you had at first’ which was lost (Rev 2:4) and to emphasise the true meaning of freedom in the search of truth”.

Equally, this project has to engage with a certain religious reawakening that leads to intolerance and violence.

So, it embraces the challenge of engaging the extremes of secularism and fundamentalism.

Rather than setting out with an agenda to proselytise, the intention is to open up dialogue with all those searching for God, including those of other faiths, and with those to whom religion has become something foreign.

Pope Benedict speaks of the Court of the Gentiles, as a kind of space where people who are not fully immersed in the Christian tradition can carry on this conversation about God and the things of God without yet being fully committed to the God of Jesus Christ.

It also includes those who are genuinely searching for truth and goodness, but for whom God is not an explicit consideration.

Life is enormously complex. There are many competing philosophies, the social upheaval caused by all kinds of migration and massive urbanisation, the nature and extent of the communications media, the lack of a moral compass in economic affairs and the ensuing disparities between rich and poor.

There is a volatile political context at a global level and the deep conviction that the Gospel and the Christian tradition has a message of hope to offer in the midst of this challenging situation.

While the church has a message of hope to offer, it has to learn how to communicate it.

Critical to the task of the new evangelisation is the church’s work in the field of education.

It is through this service that it makes a significant contribution to the enhancement of human dignity, to forming people in ways of critical thinking, enabling them to discover the truth about themselves, about others, their world and God. Indeed, it is commitment to serious critical thinking that has made Catholic education such a sought-after formation worldwide. But even the educational enterprise needs reappraisal.

The pope notes that “education increasingly tends to be reduced to simply communicating to persons determined skills and teaching succeeding generations to gratify their desire for happiness through the products of consumerism or through a short-lived self-gratification”.

On May 17th, Archbishop Fisichella, president of the Council for the New Evangelisation, will address a major international conference on Catholic Education and the New Evangelisation, at Mary Immaculate College at the University of Limerick.

Rev Dr Eugene Duffy is a priest of the diocese of Achonry and a lecturer in theology and religious studies at Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick. For details of the conference, contact eileen.dal y@mic.ul.ie