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October 16, 2012

October world Synod of Bishops in Rome
deliberates the new evangelization

In this edition:
1. Synod voices: evangelization today.
2. Evangelization and personal presence.
3. Humility and new evangelization.
4. Synod quotes to ponder:
a) Evangelization's enemy.
b) The evangelizing parish.
c) Marketplace evangelization.
d) Inculturation and evangelization.
5. Charity, justice and new evangelization.
6. Evangelized by the poor.
7. Blessed Mother Teresa's witness.
8. Evangelizing roles of marriage, family.

1. Synod Voices: Evangelization in 2012

For a long time I've thought that the most interesting part of a world Synod of Bishops general assembly might well be its first half, when brief speeches - interventions -- are given by the delegates.

So I'd like to listen in this edition to some who spoke during this October's synod in Rome on the new evangelization. The synod remains under way as I write this, so I cannot be comprehensive. Watch for further notes on the synod in our upcoming editions.

Some synod interventions seem noteworthy for their frank, perceptive insights about what it will take to carry the goals of the new evangelization forward and what stands in the way of this.

The way some delegates to the 2012 synod compared the challenges of the new evangelization with the challenges encountered in the church's earliest days stood out for me. Archbishop Filippo Santoro of Taranto, Italy, commented in a synod intervention that the new evangelization wants to "enter into dialogue" with the world of today, though "very often the world has no wish to enter into dialogue with us."

But in his eyes this situation is not all that different from the situation in apostolic times. "At the beginnings of evangelization nobody was interested in having dialogue with Christians" - a small and strange group "who believed that a crucified man had risen from the dead," said the archbishop.

However, he added, the early Christians turned precisely to such a world, "showing those who ignored or persecuted them the experience of a changed life and the proposal for salvation. They did not answer this world with a speech, but with the miracle of a transformed humanity."

A similar point was made by another delegate, Archbishop Luis Castro Quiroga of Tunja, Colombia. The first Christians, he said, "took Jesus everywhere, but without being able to count on the support of culture, the state, religions or public opinion."

Today, the church finds itself in the same type of situation "in many places throughout the world," Archbishop Castro observed. He said, "We are called to invent, to build roads and new forms that help to sow the seed of the first announcement of Jesus in the lives of those who no longer believe in him."

The challenges of apostolic times and the challenges of the 21st century are at once similar and different, Bishop Benedito Beni dos Santos of Lorena, Brazil, told the synod. For the church, the message of evangelization is permanent, yet "the method varies according to the challenges posed by cultural contexts and changing realities."

However, he said, "the evangelical mission of the church always meets obstacles and faces challenges."

He commented that "in the time of the apostles -- the first missionaries -- the obstacles and challenges were idolatry, witchcraft, long distances and, above all, persecution." On the other hand, contemporary culture "presents other challenges: the difficulty in accepting God as the foundation for human conduct, as the basis for justice, peace, fraternity; the difficulty of reconciling democratic experience and respect for moral values."

Claretian Father Joseph Abella, his order's superior general, described the new evangelization as a "spiritual adventure." It "always sets out from reality, observed with the compassionate heart of Jesus," he said.

Evangelization requires that more attention "be paid to quality rather than to quantity; to what is essential, rather than what is accidental; and it promotes a tireless dialogue," Father Abella stressed. He said:

"[Evangelization] pushes for the renewal of the missionary dimension in the announcement of the Gospel, teaching dialogue with the cultures and religious traditions of the nations."

In different contexts, different choices will be needed to guide the actions of the new evangelization, Father Abella noted. But he cautioned that without what he called "a profound evangelical sensitivity," it will become "very difficult to read the signs of the times" and to develop evangelization initiatives that are both "suitable and credible."

2. Evangelization: Presence, Companionship

To be effective, evangelization must encounter people in a personal way, as Jesus did, according to several participants in the October general assembly of the world Synod of Bishops. Nicaragua Bishop Rene Sandigo Jiron said to the delegates:

"We must not disregard the fact that growth in the church's numbers may in fact have led to a lack of the personal attention that Jesus [would have given to people]. That is at the root of a situation in which many baptized persons do not feel they are treated as individuals, and 'many baptized are not evangelized.'"

Bishop Sandigo called the delegates' attention to the "many concrete examples in the Gospels" of "personalized ways of transmitting the faith." He noted, for example, the parable of the lost sheep and the account of Jesus with the Samaritan woman.

Latin America's bishops, Bishop Sandigo added, have emphasized "the importance of transmitting the faith in a personal way" that shows people they are valued in God's sight.

A church that is a present as a companion to people whose lives are difficult was described in the synod hall by Archbishop Filippo Santoro of Taranto, Italy. He told of the threats of job losses and toxic pollution in his region.

"Because of the effects of pollution from the biggest steel plant in Europe, 12,000 people (20,000 in related industries) risk losing their jobs, while many others have already fallen victim to tumors and other serious illnesses caused by the environmental pollution," Archbishop Santoro explained.

However, he said that "the church has not stood on the sidelines, but immediately set out to defend life attacked by dioxin and other toxic substances." At the same time, the church "defended employment, which allows life to develop." The archbishop continued:

"Not being in possession of a recipe for the solution to this grave problem, we offered a sympathetic presence and concrete support to all those affected by the disastrous effects of this sad alternative during this period of worldwide economic recession.

"We offer no solutions, but companionship -- aware of our mission to be pilgrims alongside those who suffer, encouraging dialogue and working together for the common good."

Jesus "embraced need, he took the side of the poor, the young, the sinners, the excluded. He loved them and in doing so revealed his Father's face," Archbishop Santoro said.

3. Humility and New Evangelization

Bishop Antonio Jose Da Rocha Couto of Lamego, Portugal, said in a synod intervention that "the church of yesterday, today and always must have the characteristics of the face of Jesus Christ. It must therefore be filial, fraternal, loving, near and welcoming."

Bishop Couto urged that new evangelizers be characterized by simplicity. "We need proclaimers of the Gospel who are without gold, silver, copper, bags, two tunics," said Bishop Couto. The question he asks himself, he said, is:

"Why did the saints fight so hard and with so much joy to be poor and meek, while we work so hard to be rich and important?"

Bishop Couto described a "herald church" as one that is "poor, humble, bare, happy, passionate, audacious, near and dedicated."

Humility also was on the mind of Archbishop Socrates Villegas from the Philippines. In a synod intervention, he said:

"The new evangelization calls for new humility. The Gospel cannot thrive in pride. When pride seeps into the heart of the church, the Gospel proclamation is harmed."

For Archbishop Villegas, the task of the new evangelization begins "with a deep sense of awe and reverence for humanity and her culture." He believes "evangelization has been hurt and continues to be impeded by the arrogance of its messengers."

The church's bishops "must shun arrogance, hypocrisy and bigotry," Archbishop Villegas said, adding:

"We must punish the errant among us instead of covering up our own mistakes. We are humans among our human flock. All our beauty and holiness we owe to God. This humility will make us more credible new evangelizers. Our mission is to propose humbly, not to impose proudly."

In a second point, Archbishop Villegas accented the world's need for saints and heroes. "The new evangelization must be done by new saints, and we must be those saints," he said. The world's "great poverty" in our times is a "poverty of saints."

Whether one speaks of the First World or Third World, "everybody is looking for models to inspire and emulate," Archbishop Villegas told the synod. He said: "Our youth need models to inspire them. They need living heroes to ignite their hearts and excite them to know Jesus and love him more."

Finally, he told the synod that his Third World experience reveals to him "that the Gospel can be preached to empty stomachs, but only if the stomach of the preacher is as empty as his parishioners'."

The new evangelization, he explained, is "a call for new charity. We will be credible bringers of Gospel joy if the proclamation is accompanied by its twin messenger of charity."

Summing things up, Archbishop Villegas said that to be credible and effective, the new evangelization requires "a new humility, a renewal in holiness and a new face of charity."

4. Synod Quotes to Ponder

Evangelization's Enemy: "The enemy of all proclamation of the Gospel is self-consciousness, and by definition, we cannot overcome this by being more self-conscious. We have to return to St. Paul and ask, 'Where are we looking?' Do we look anxiously to the problems of our day, the varieties of unfaithfulness or of threat to faith and morals, the weakness of the institution? Or are we seeking to look to Jesus, to the unveiled face of God's image in the light of which we see the image further reflected in ourselves and our neighbors? That simply reminds us that evangelization is always an overflow of something else -- the disciple's journey to maturity in Christ, a journey not organized by the ambitious ego but the result of the prompting and drawing of the Spirit in us. In our considerations of how we are once again to make the Gospel of Christ compellingly attractive to men and women of our age, I hope we never lose sight of what makes it compelling to ourselves, to each one of us in our diverse ministries." (From an Oct. 10 address in Rome to the world Synod of Bishops by Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury)

The Evangelizing Parish: "[The parish] is the place where the new evangelization can be carried forward. . . . The pastoral renewal of our parishes involves 'the permanent state of mission'; in this way they avoid becoming seats of bureaucracy. We believe in the 'pastoral coresponsibility of the baptized,' who place their faith, time, talent and riches at the service of the community. Thus, the pastoral parish and Christian initiation programs are enriched with the collaboration of all for a more communitarian church. . . . The effort for new evangelization has as its original finality the mission and parishes that are less inclined to their internal life and more involved in announcing the faith." (From a synod intervention by Auxiliary Bishop Juan Jose Peneda Fasquelle of Tegucigalpa, Honduras)

Marketplace Evangelization: "Many in the world of today may not go to church, but they need the church to come to them, right there where people are found, especially in those places where churches are emptying. Or is it the Holy Spirit calling us out of the 'catacombs of fear and self-consciousness' to share Jesus more with others? The 'original spaces of social media, namely the playgrounds, the streets, town squares, marketplaces, nightclubs, shopping malls, even pubs and the slums, thirst to be 'church' in some form. Priests and bishops may not get the high-table treatment in these places, but just a word or gesture from us could unveil the face of Jesus as a first encounter for someone, and that is where faith begins." (From a synod intervention by Bishop Emmanuel Adetoyese Badejo of Oyo, Nigeria)

Inculturation and Evangelization: "[The] meeting between Jesus and the Samaritan woman undoubtedly occurred because Jesus had penetrated deeply into her life. To do this, Jesus spoke her language and used her way of speaking. He did not speak as he spoke to the Jews, to the scribes and to the Pharisees. Therefore, it is indispensable and urgent for inculturation to no longer be an unanswered letter. A missionary, or any other evangelizer, with all his good will, does not invent 'new methods' or 'languages' or 'new expressions' in Africa or for the Africans without immersing himself in this culture. If new evangelization is a question of 'methods' and of 'expressions,' it will not become 'new' if it doesn't go through inculturation." (From a synod intervention by Bishop Adriano Langa of Inhambane, Mozambique)

5. Charity, Justice and New Evangelization

A number of delegates to the general assembly of the world Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization presented interventions stressing how the Gospel is communicated through works of justice and love. Such actions, the synod heard, can speak louder than words.

Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., told the synod that "acts of love and justice are a prophetic evangelical call" that is "inextricably linked to our preaching" of the Gospel. People, he added, "will wonder at the Spirit of Christ that moves us when we stand up for the lives, dignity and rights of the 'least of these.'"

A Canadian bishop from Quebec Province cautioned the synod against undervaluing the important link between the church's social teaching and the new evangelization. Bishop Francois Lapierre of Saint-Hyacinthe commented that in the synod's advance working paper, the "intimate bond that exists between the annunciation of the Gospel and the service of justice and peace" did not seem to him "to be sufficiently developed."

There is a risk, he continued, that the new evangelization might "appear to be more of an answer to internal problems of the church and not enough as a unique contribution to the development of justice and peace in the world."

Down through the centuries, great missionaries knew "how to join the audacious proclamation of the Gospel of Christ and involvement among the poorest. Their actions have often spoken louder than their words," Bishop Lapierre said.

Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez spoke in the synod about globalization and the "patterns of mass migration" witnessed now "in every part of the world."

The close encounter of cultures that characterizes an age of globalization poses a challenge for the new evangelization, Archbishop Gomez said. "First, it requires the church to protect immigrant populations from being marginalized and exploited."

Archbishop Gomez insisted that "the church must always be a sign in our world that God is with us and that in his loving eyes no one is a stranger to him, and we are all brothers and sisters."

He added that, "in a positive sense, globalization presents us with a providential moment for advancing the church's mission of transforming humanity into one family of God." Thus, evangelization in these times "calls for a new proclamation of the mystery of the church as the universal family of God."

Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, was among others who spoke in the synod hall about the relationship of the church's social teaching and the new evangelization.

Today, many people are sensitive "to questions of human rights, ecology, the fight against poverty, the themes that touch upon the concrete life of the individual and the common life of nations," Cardinal Turkson said. This, in his view, presents "an authentic opportunity for the new evangelization."

He recommended that parishes, seminaries and other formation centers give special attention to the study of the church's social doctrine. The cardinal even wondered if a future synod assembly might be devoted to the relationship of the new evangelization and church social teaching.

6. Evangelized by the Poor

A bishop from Bangladesh offered a fresh perspective during the synod on evangelization and the poor. Bishop Gervas Rozario of Rajshahi spoke of poverty both in negative and positive senses.

"The negative sense of poverty as experienced by our Asian peoples is mainly the result of the insatiable greed of the few rich and powerful," Bishop Rozario said. But he also pointed out "a positive sense of poverty" as reflected in the Beatitude, "How blessed are the poor in spirit, the kingdom of heaven is theirs."

This "evangelical poverty," he said, "is something that the church is called to live and preach, especially in Asia." Those who are "true believers in Jesus Christ" ought to "learn not only to renounce worldly goods," but also to "appreciate the simplicity and humility of the poor, their happiness with whatever little they have and their concern for others."

Church leaders must open themselves "to be evangelized by the evangelical values of the poor," said Bishop Rozario. His view was that "such a culture of solidarity with the poor will surely show us a way to address environmental justice and world hunger."

A bishop from Argentina told the synod that "closeness with the poor is necessary not only to render our preaching credible but also to render it Christian and not 'a gong booming or a cymbal clashing' (1 Cor 13:1)." Bishop Jorge Eduardo Lozano said:

"Any neglect or scorning of the little and the humble ones makes the message turn from being the good news to empty and melancholic words that lack vitality and hope. It is necessary to look toward the poor and become like them to serve the Lord."

7. Mother Teresa's Evangelizing Witness

Cultural differences indicate that evangelization endeavors must be adapted to the cultural needs of the world's different regions. A church leader in India, Syro-Malankara Archbishop Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal, called attention to this need in a synod intervention.

In Asia, he said, terms such as "proclamation" and even "evangelization" do not seem to be understood and appreciated in the same way as in other regions. These terms evoke a different reaction, he said.

In light of that, he said he wanted, instead, to "underline the very words of Jesus himself, 'You shall be my witnesses.'" Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta "brought to the world, especially to India, a very practical means of evangelization, a witnessing model," he noted.

"I must say that she became the most effective missionary in a land where Christians are only less than 3 percent of the population. Mother Teresa witnessed Jesus everywhere," said the archbishop. He said, "In the history of India, she remains a model and symbol of Christianity."

A "witnessing model" of evangelization "starts with you and me," the archbishop said.

8. Marriage, Family and Evangelization

"Matrimony is a Gospel in itself, a good news for the world of today," Pope Benedict XVI said in his Oct. 7 homily during a Mass in St. Peter's Square for the opening of the October world Synod of Bishops on evangelization.

On the one hand, this reality is well known, yet it is "not fully appreciated," he said. Thus, it deserves "special attention."

The pope's homily reiterated a point he makes often, namely that sacramental marriage and the family as the domestic church are not only the recipients of evangelization by others but are agents of evangelization themselves. Theirs is a witness, moreover, that the world today needs. The pope said:

"The union of a man and a woman, their becoming 'one flesh' in charity, in fruitful and indissoluble love, is a sign that speaks of God with a force and an eloquence which in our days has become greater because unfortunately, for various reasons, marriage, in precisely the oldest regions evangelized, is going through a profound crisis."

He said that the church "for a long time now" has "said and witnessed" that "marriage is called to be not only an object but a subject of the new evangelization."

It was expected that the synod would devote some measure of attention to the role of married couples and families in the new evangelization. The synod working paper had observed that "the Christian message on marriage and family is considered a great gift which makes the family the model place for witnessing to faith because of its prophetic capacity in living the core values of the Christian experience."

The new president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, said in remarks to the synod that many Christian families live the commitment of their vocation in a way that makes them an "extraordinary light of love" - a light that "should be placed in a candelabra." That way it could "illuminate and warm this world of ours, so saddened and blurred," he added.

The church also should become more a "family of families," Archbishop Paglia said. "Experience tells us that the church attracts if it is truly lived in a familial way," he observed.

Moreover, he suggested that if "pastoral infertility" is found in "many corners of the world," the explanation may be that "we have become more of an institution than a family." He commented, "Living the church in a familial way and the family as a small church is the challenge of a church of communion."

Cardinal Vinko Puljic of Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, said his experience tells him that his own pastoral work has been simply "an addition to what the family has already built." The family, he said, "transmits the faith with its heart, life and practice."