Evangelization, New

views updated


The term "new evangelization" was first used, it seems, by the Latin American bishops at their general conference at Medellin, Colombia, in 1968. john paul ii made it a major theme of his pontificate. In an address to the Latin American bishops at Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on March 9, 1983, he called for an evangelization that was "new in its ardor, its methods, and its expression." Evangelization, he insisted, cannot be new in its content, since its theme is always the one gospel given in Jesus Christ. If it arose from ourselves and our situation, he said, it would be a mere human invention, but the ancient and perduring gospel can and must be heralded with new energy and in a language and manner adapted to the people of our day. In his encyclical on missionary activity, redemptoris missio (1990) he declared: "I sense that the moment has come to commit all of the Church's energies to a new evangelization and to the mission ad gentes. No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church, can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all people" (RM3). In the same encyclical and in many other pronouncements, John Paul II linked the new effort of evangelization with the preparation for the Great Jubilee of the year 2000.

The essentials of the program were already identified by paul vi, who took the name Paul to signify his intention to model his conduct of the papacy on the ministry of the Apostle of the Gentiles. Wishing to engage the whole Church more decisively in the dissemination of the gospel, he chose as the theme for the Synod of Bishops in 1974 "the evangelization of the modern world." On the basis of materials provided by that synod he issued in 1975 his great apostolic exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi. Looking back at the accomplishments of Vatican II, which had ended just ten years earlier, Paul VI de clared that the council had sought above all else "to make the Church of the twentieth century ever better fitted for proclaiming the gospel to the people of the twentieth century" (EN 2).

The new evangelization has certain features in common with evangelization at any time. By its very nature, evangelization must be Christocentric. Because the traits of Jesus Christ have sometimes been overlaid by secondary and accidental considerations, the new evangelization seeks to start afresh by contemplating the features of Jesus and his central message as set forth in Sacred Scripture. Evangelization clearly proclaims Jesus Christ as its source and goal, and fosters a deep personal relationship to him.

Like all evangelization, again, the new evangelization is governed by the Holy Spirit. Paul VI and John Paul II agree in teaching that the Holy Spirit is the principal agent of evangelization (EN 75; RM 21, 30). "It was not by chance," wrote Paul VI, "that the great inauguration of evangelization took place on the morning of Pentecost, under the inspiration of the Spirit" (EN 75). The new evangelization is predicated on the realization that evangelization cannot succeed if it is conducted by purely human efforts. Missionary dynamism, according to John Paul II, is born of the Holy Spirit, who moves the Church to spread its faith.

Besides recalling these constants, the new evangelization has a number of distinctive features, which may be enumerated as follows:

1. Evangelization is broadly conceived so as to include not only the initial announcement of the gospel but the entire process whereby human persons and the world are transformed under its vivifying impact. John Paul II distinguishes three phases. "First" or "primary" evangelization occurs when the gospel is initially proclaimed to those who do not as yet know Christ. Then, through continuing evangelization, which includes pastoral care, believers are enabled to place their lives ever more fully under the influence of the gospel. In a third phase, the Church undertakes the re-evangelization of those who have fallen away or allowed their faith to grow cold (RM 33). The Church, insofar as it is an institution of men and women here on earth, continually needs to be evangelized (EN 15).

2. Evangelization extends not only to persons but to cultures. It is frequently hindered by an unwholesome split between faith and culture. Paul VI called attention to the need for what he called the "evangelization of cultures" (EN 20). John Paul II agreed with Paul VI that cultures themselves need to be regenerated by an encounter with the gospel. At Santo Domingo in 1992 he insisted that the new evangelization must strive to render human cultures harmonious with Christian values and open to the gospel message.

3. Evangelization includes social teaching. In affecting cultures it has an inevitable impact on social structures. Thus no sharp line of demarcation can be made between the spiritual and temporal realms, as though the latter ought to be purely secular and immune to religious or supernatural influence. In evangelizing, the Church cannot remain indifferent to the suffering, inequities, and oppression that afflict so much of the world's population. Paul VI insisted that while the mission of the Church must not be reduced to the dimensions of a purely temporal project, evangelization must concern itself with justice, liberation, development, and peace (EN 31-32). According to John Paul II the Church's mission is primarily to awaken consciences and thereby motivate them to work for a more authentic human development. The Church has no mission to work directly on the economic, technical, or political levels (RM 58).

4. To be effective in our day, evangelization must make use of the mass media of social communication, including the radio, television, and the Internet. These media are not substitutes for the written word or for person-to-person contact, but they serve as needed supplements, gaining audiences who would otherwise not be reached. Paul VI therefore declared that Church would be guilty in God's sight if it failed to use powerful means of communication that are being perfected in our day (EN 45). John Paul II, with a reference to the Apostle Paul's proclamation of the gospel in Athens, pointed out that the culture of the new media is itself a modern "Areopagus" or forum in which the Church's missionary activity must be conducted in order to reach the heart of modern civilization (RM 37).

5. In the new evangelization, special care will be taken to respect the dignity and freedom of the persons being addressed. In earlier times Christian rulers sometimes applied psychological and physical force to induce people to accept the true faith. The new evangelization, by contrast, presupposes acceptance of Vatican II's Declaration on Religious Freedom, which taught that in matters of religion people should be encouraged to make free and responsible judgments without external pressure. Recognizing that the assent of faith must by its very nature be free, the Church avoids offensive proselytization. Both Paul VI and John Paul II have insisted that in evangelizing the Church proposes the truth of the gospel but imposes nothing (EN 80; RM 39). In the last analysis, freedom and truth converge, for, according to the saying of Jesus, "The truth shall make you free" (Jn 8:32)a saying frequently quoted by John PaulII.

6. In the new evangelization, missionary proclamation is combined with dialogue, which respects the point of view of the persons addressed and seeks to meet their real concerns. Dialogue is an aid to proclamation because it enables the evangelizer to discern the dispositions and convictions of the hearers and thus to engage them more effectively. In dialogue both parties are allowed to express themselves with the hope of learning from one another. Dialogue, however, contains an element of proclamation, because it requires each party to express itself frankly and honestly.

Dialogue takes different form according to the audiences being addressed. Paul VI in his encyclical Ecclesiam suam (1964) distinguished three circles: humanity as a whole, the monotheistic religions, and non-Catholic Christianity. Since Vatican II official dialogues have been set up with nonbelievers, with non-Christian religions, with the Jews, and with Christian churches and communities. These dialogues are not directly aimed at conversion but at mutual understanding, mutual respect, and convergence. Such dialogues, beneficial though they undoubtedly are, do not take the place of missionary proclamation. In the words of John Paul II, "Dialogue is not in opposition to the mission ad gentes ; indeed it has special links with that mission and is one of its expressions" (RM 55).

Ecumenical dialogue is likewise pertinent to evangelization. It aims to discover, emphasize, and augment the shared beliefs of Christians, with a view to more effective common witness. Paul VI and John Paul II tirelessly reiterated the importance of mutual reconciliation among Christians for the effective proclamation of the gospel to the world (EN 77; RM 50).

7. In the past evangelization has often been seen as the special province of priests and religious professionally dedicated to missionary work. Following in the footsteps of Vatican II, both Paul VI and John Paul II have insisted that it is the whole Church that received the commission to evangelize (EN 15; RM 62, 71). Lay Christians, through incorporation into Christ by baptism, confirmation, and the Eucharist, are called to bear witness to the faith by word and deed. Christian parents are the first evangelizers of their children. The clergy have a special responsibility to organize and oversee the task of evangelization and to stimulate the faithful to rise to their responsibilities. Members of religious orders and congregations dedicated to evangelization are specially called to testify to the radical challenge of the gospel.

The program of the new evangelization introduced by Vatican II and the subsequent popes is one of the most dramatic developments in modern Catholicism. In recent centuries the Catholic Church, polemically arrayed against Protestantism, has insisted more on fine points of doctrine than on the basic Christian message. The faithful, imbued with these defensive attitudes, have found it difficult to rise to the challenge of the new evangelization, which calls for positive proclamation of the basic Christian message. In countries such as the United States terms such as "evangelization" appear to have a Protestant ring; they often evoke the image of radio and television preachers whose doctrine and methods are antithetical to Catholic tradition. A further difficulty comes from the preoccupation of some Catholics since Vatican II with projects of inner-church reform. Since their energies are taken up in debates with other Catholics, they tend to lose interest in looking outward beyond the present membership of the Church. Under the influence of modern secularism and agnosticism, some have lost confidence in the saving power of Christ and the gospel.

Notwithstanding these difficulties, the evangelical turn in Catholic official teaching has been welcomed by many Catholics, perhaps especially in eastern Asia, Latin America, and Africa. The bishops of the United States have responded affirmatively in several excellent documents. In 1992 they approved the document "Go and Make Disciples," setting forth a national plan and strategy for evangelization in the United States. Increasing numbers of adults are received into full communion each year, thanks to programs such as "Renew," "Life in the Spirit" seminars, and the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.

Bibliography: Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation "On Evangelization and the Modern World" (Evangelii nuntiandi ) (Washington, D.C. 1975). John Paul II, Encyclical Mission of the Redeemer (Redemptoris missio ) (Washington, D.C. 1991). r. martin and p. williamson, eds., Pope John Paul II and the New Evangelization (San Francisco 1995). h. carrier, "Gospel Message and Human Cultures" (Pittsburgh 1989). a. dulles, "John Paul II and the New Evangelization," Studia Missionalia 48 (1999): 16580.

[a. dulles]

About this article

Evangelization, New

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article