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November 1, 2012

Looking inside the 2012 Synod of Bishops' concluding statements --
The many demands and dimensions of the new evangelization

In this edition:
1. New evangelization in a changed world.
2. What makes evangelization new?
3. Theme of Samaritan woman at the well.
4. Quoting the 2012 synod:
a) Migrants.
b) Parishes.
c) Women.
5. Gospel approaches to evangelization.
6. Catechesis and evangelization.
7. Evangelization and social doctrine.
8. Pastoral ministry: marriage; the divorced.

1. Evangelization in a Changed World

The new evangelization encounters important challenges in a changed world where indifference to God is not uncommon, the October world Synod of Bishops said in its concluding message. However, it stated:

"We are not intimidated by the circumstances of the times in which we live. Our world is full of contradictions and challenges, but it remains God's creation. The world is wounded by evil, but God loves it still."

The three-week synod assembly focused upon the demands of the new evangelization and their implications for everyone in the faith community. The new evangelization is heavily accented in the church at this moment of history. As a theme in Christian life, it relates to all church members, not just some.

In the words of this synod, "Witnessing to the Gospel is not the privilege of one or of a few." Even in parishes and other contexts where the church acts as a community, "no one person or group . . . has exclusive right to the work of evangelization. It is the work of ecclesial communities as such."

In one of the 58 concluding propositions forwarded to the pope by its delegates, the synod offered a sort of definition or description of the new evangelization that I suspect will prove helpful to educators and others discussing the scope of this effort. The synod proposed that the new evangelization's "three aspects" include:

1. "The announcement of the Gospel to those who do not know Jesus Christ."

2. "The continuing growth in faith that is the ordinary life of the church."

3. Efforts "directed especially to those who have become distant from the church."

In its concluding message, the synod was at pains to make clear that the new evangelization must find ways to unfold in the complex and not always welcoming atmosphere of a world greatly different from that of earlier times.

"We do not ignore the problems that such challenges bring, but they do not frighten us. This is true above all for the phenomena of globalization which must be for us opportunities to expand the presence of the Gospel," the synod said.

2. What Makes Evangelization New?

One point the synod drove home was that today's "changed social, cultural, economic, civil and religious scenarios call us to something new: to live our communitarian experience of faith in a renewed way and to proclaim it through an evangelization" that, in the words of Pope John Paul II, is "'new in its ardor, in its methods, in its expressions.'"

The new evangelization's work, according to the synod, "consists in presenting once more the beauty and perennial newness of the encounter with Christ to the often distracted and confused heart and mind of the men and women of our time, above all to ourselves."

To accomplish such goals, the synod insisted it is necessary to "form welcoming communities in which all outcasts find a home, concrete experiences of communion which attract the disenchanted glance of contemporary humanity with the ardent force of love."

This means, as well, that "the beauty of faith must particularly shine in the actions of the sacred liturgy, above all in the Sunday Eucharist," the synod said. For, it explained, in liturgical celebrations "the church reveals herself as God's work and makes the meaning of the Gospel visible in word and gesture."

In its concluding message, the synod said that "it is up to us today" --

-- "To render experiences of the church concretely accessible.

-- "To multiply the wells where thirsting men and women are invited to encounter Jesus."

-- "To offer oases in the deserts of life."

It said that "Christian communities and in them every disciple of the Lord are responsible for this."

3. Theme of Samaritan Woman at the Well

The Samaritan woman at the well in the town of Sychar who encountered Jesus in John's Gospel (4) appears several times in the Synod of Bishops' message to the people of God. Her presence underscores the need to reach those today whose thirst for God is unquenched.

A synod summary of the message explained that the Samaritan woman serves here as the image of the contemporary person "with an empty vessel, who is thirsting and is nostalgic for God, and to whom the church must turn to make the Lord present."

This contemporary person, it added - "just like the Samaritan woman, who encounters Jesus" - cannot help but become, in turn, "a witness" of the Gospel's "proclamation of salvation and hope."

The synod said, "It is up to us today . . . to multiply the wells where thirsting men and women are invited to encounter Jesus, to offer oases in the deserts of life."

In its presentation of the Samaritan woman, the synod suggested that everyone resembles her in certain ways. People at some point find themselves, like her, holding "an empty bucket," but hoping to find "the fulfillment of the heart's most profound desire, that which alone could give full meaning to life," the synod observed.

"Like Jesus at the well of Sychar," it said, "the church also feels obliged to sit beside today's men and women. She wants to render the Lord present in their lives so that they can encounter him."

4. Quoting the Synod

Migrants: "The church's pastoral plan for migrants should not only welcome migrants and promote their human dignity, but should above all help them be integrated into the life of the church, respecting their own ritual tradition; this plan should also help them avoid becoming lost to the Catholic Church. Immigrants are not only recipients, but also protagonists of the proclamation of the Gospel in the modern world." (From the 2012 synod's Proposition 21)

Parishes: "The parish continues to be the primary presence of the church in neighborhoods. . . . The synod fathers would like to encourage parishes to find ways to orient themselves to a greater emphasis on evangelization which could include parish missions, parish renewal programs and parish retreats. . . . In order to bring to all people the good news of Jesus, as required by a new evangelization, all parishes and their small communities should be living cells, places to promote the personal and communitarian encounter with Christ, experience the richness of liturgy, to give initial and permanent Christian formation, and to educate all the faithful in fraternity and charity especially toward the poor." (From the 2012 synod's Proposition 26)

Women: "The church appreciates the equal dignity of women and men in society, as made in the image of God, and in the church, based on their common vocation as baptized into Christ. . . . Women together with men witness to the Gospel of life through their dedication to transmission of life in the family. Together they help to keep the faith alive. The synod acknowledges that today, women (lay and religious) together with men contribute to theological reflection at all levels and share pastoral responsibilities in new ways, thus carrying forward the new evangelization for the transmission of the faith." (From the 2012 synod's Proposition 46)

5. Gospel Approaches to Evangelization

In paging through the Gospels and recalling "the apostles' missionary experiences in the early church," it is possible to "discover the various ways and circumstances in which people's lives were opened to Christ's presence," the October 2012 world Synod of Bishops said in its concluding message to the people of God.

The synod message said that, for example, it will be seen in the Gospels:

-- "How Jesus engaged Peter, Andrew, James and John in the context of their work."

-- "How Zaccheus was able to pass from simple curiosity to the warmth of sharing a meal with the Master."

-- "How the Roman centurion asked him to heal a person dear to him."

-- "How the man born blind invoked him as liberator from his own marginalization."

-- "How Martha and Mary saw the hospitality of their house and of their heart rewarded by his presence."

The Synod of Bishops noted that reading Scripture helps new evangelizers "to discover opportunities to encounter Jesus, truly evangelical approaches rooted in the fundamental dimensions of human life: the family, work, friendship, various forms of poverty and the trials of life, etc."

Among the synod's concluding propositions was one (No. 11) that forcefully accented the importance of keeping "the gate to sacred Scripture . . . open to all believers." This proposition said that "in the context of the new evangelization, every opportunity for the study of sacred Scripture should be made available."

Scripture, it added, "should permeate homilies, catechesis and every effort to pass on the faith." The synod encouraged "dioceses, parishes, small Christian communities to continue serious study of the Bible and 'lectio divina' -- the prayerful reading of the Scriptures."

6. Catechesis and Evangelization

The link of catechesis with evangelization is highlighted in the synod's closing message and the propositions sent by the synod to the pope for his possible use in preparing a post-synodal apostolic exhortation with new evangelization as its theme.

Catechesis for adults is essential if the new evangelization is to achieve its aims, the synod proposed. "One cannot speak of the new evangelization if the catechesis of adults is nonexistent, fragmented, weak or neglected," it said (Proposition 28).

Another proposition (No. 29) accents the essential nature of "good catechesis . . . for the new evangelization. "All catechists, who are at the same time evangelizers, need to be well prepared," it said. Thus:

"Every effort should be made within the possibilities of the local situation to provide catechists with strong ecclesial formation that is spiritual, biblical, doctrinal and pedagogical. Personal witness to the faith is itself a powerful form of catechesis."

The talents and needs of the church's young people, its youth, need to be considered, the synod said (Proposition 51). "In the new evangelization," it pointed out, the church's youth "are not only the recipients but also agents of evangelization, especially with their peers."

The church makes itself "visible and credible" to youth through "exemplary Christian adults, the saints, especially the young saints, and through committed youth ministers," the synod said.

The synod called upon "the whole church" to dedicate itself "to supporting families in the catechesis of children and youth." Often, it noted, "grandparents will have a very important role" in this as well (Proposition 48).

7. Evangelization and Social Doctrine

Another of the essentials, whose absence the synod judged unthinkable for the new evangelization, included the church's social doctrine. "Today it is not possible to think of the new evangelization without the proclamation of full freedom from everything that oppresses the human person," the synod said (Proposition 19).

An "embrace of the church's social doctrine," in the synod's view, ought to "permeate the content of catechesis, Christian education, formation of seminarians and religious, the continuing formation of bishops and priests, and most especially the formation of the laity" (Proposition 24).

"There can be no progress" without "a serious commitment" to life and justice, and to changing "the situations that generate poverty" and the "exclusion" of some, it said. "This is particularly true," it added, in the face of globalization's challenges.

The church's social doctrine "is integral to the pathways of the new evangelization," the synod message asserted.

8. Pastoral Ministry: Marriage; the Divorced

It seemed likely that the synod's concluding documents would highlight the role of married couples and families in the new evangelization, given the number of interventions by delegates that addressed this point. The synod did this, and it did more.

What the synod also highlighted in the end was the church's ministry to divorced Catholics who have remarried without first receiving an annulment, as well as its ministry to others who, for example, cohabit without marrying. What the synod said about this is something sure to interest pastoral ministers.

First, the synod called the family the natural place for evangelization. "A new evangelization is unthinkable without acknowledging a specific responsibility to proclaim the Gospel to families and to sustain them in their task of education," the synod's concluding message stated.

The synod said the church must "take care of the family and its mission in society and in the church, developing specific paths of accompaniment before and after matrimony."

In its discussion of divorced Catholics who have remarried outside the church, the synod's concluding message reflected comments Pope Benedict XVI made earlier this year in Milan, Italy, during the World Meeting of Families.

Speaking June 2, the pope said that "the problem of divorced and remarried persons is one of the great sufferings of today's church, and we do not have simple solutions."

He accented the church's love for divorced-remarried couples, saying "it is important that they see this love and feel this love." They need to "see that, in this state too, they are fully a part of the church," he added.

Even if these couples cannot "receive absolution in confession," they might "nevertheless have ongoing contact with a priest, with a spiritual guide," the pope said. He explained that in this way they would "see that they are accompanied and guided."

A point conveyed by the 2012 synod's concluding message is that these and other couples must never feel abandoned by God or by the church and should know that they are loved by the church.

The brief section devoted to these couples in the message is well worth noting in full. Here it is:

"Our thoughts also went to the many families and couples living together which do not reflect that image of unity and of lifelong love that the Lord entrusted to us. There are couples who live together without the sacramental bond of matrimony. More and more families in irregular situations are established after the failure of previous marriages.

"These are painful situations that affect the education of sons and daughters in the faith. To all of them we want to say that God's love does not abandon anyone, that the church loves them too, that the church is a house that welcomes all, that they remain members of the church even if they cannot receive sacramental absolution and the Eucharist.

"May our Catholic communities welcome all who live in such situations and support those who are in the path of conversion and reconciliation."

The synod also spoke about these couples in one of its final propositions forwarded to the pope (No. 48). There it said:

"The new evangelization should strive to address significant pastoral problems around marriage, the case of the divorced and remarried, the situation of their children, the fate of abandoned spouses, the couples who live together without marriage and the trend in society to redefine marriage.

"The church with maternal care and evangelical spirit should seek appropriate responses for these situations as an important aspect of the new evangelization."