New Evangelisation

The New Evangelisation Look to the future with commitment to a New Evangelisation, one that is new in its ardour, new in its methods, and new in its means of expression.
Pope John Paul II to Bishops of Latin America, Haiti, 1983

These words are taken from the first time that Blessed John Paul II spoke of something that was to become a constant in his teaching over the next twenty years: the New Evangelisation. He mentioned it at Haiti in relation to the 500th anniversary of the first evangelisation of Latin America. This new evangelisation implied that countries and societies that were once evangelised but had lost the vigour of faith need to receive the message in a fresh and vital way in order to draw them back to Christ.

In a section entitled The Hour Has Come for a Re-evangelisation (34) from his Apostolic Exhortation, Christifideles laici (1988), Blessed John Paul II stated:

Whole countries and nations where religion and the Christian life were formerly flourishing and capable of fostering a viable and working community of faith, are now put to a hard test, and in some cases, are even undergoing a radical transformation, as a result of a constant spreading of an indifference to religion, of secularism and atheism. This particularly concerns countries and nations of the so-called First World, in which economic well-being and consumerism, even if coexistent with a tragic situation of poverty and misery, inspires and sustains a life lived ‘as if God did not exist’.

The kind of evangelisation that Blessed John Paul II called for needs great creativity and the development of new and effective ways of communicating the gospel message to people. As Pope Paul VI explained in Evangelii nuntiandi (40):

The obvious importance of the content of evangelisation must not overshadow the importance of the ways and means. This question of “how to evangelise” is permanently relevant, because the methods of evangelising vary according to the different circumstances of time, place and culture, and because they thereby present a certain challenge to our capacity for discovery and adaptation. On us particularly, the pastors of the Church, rests the responsibility for reshaping with boldness and wisdom, but in complete fidelity to the content of evangelisation, the means that are most suitable and effective for communicating the Gospel message to the men and women of our times.

Christifideles laici (1988) brought together many of the Pope’s ideas expressed on various occasions and in various places. What is immediately noticeable in this document is that Blessed John Paul II recognised this task of the New Evangelisation as belonging, in a special way, to the lay members of the Church. He knew that the breath of the Spirit was moving among the laity and raising up groups, movements and communities whose hearts were directed to the task of proclaiming the gospel in the contemporary situation. These new ‘Ecclesial Movements’ had developed methods that communicated to contemporary culture.

As we entered the new millennium Blessed John Paul II said, ‘Over the years I have often repeated the summons to the new evangelisation. I do so again now, especially in order to insist that we must rekindle in ourselves the impetus of the beginnings and allow ourselves to be filled with the ardour of the apostolic preaching which followed Pentecost.’

Pope Benedict XVI has affirmed the primary priority of the New Evangelisation for the new millennium. In September of 2010 he established the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelisation and has dedicated the next Synod, a gathering of bishops from all over the world to be held in October 2012, to the theme of the “New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith.” The lineamenta, or working document for the synod, was presented in March 2011 for reflection and response.

The lineamenta does not offer one formula or definition for the New Evangelisation, instead it offers an approach and a spiritual understanding that would characterise the New Evangelisation. These include the importance of discerning the challenges to the Gospel presented by our times with the Christian virtue of hope and the necessity for a deep spirituality and encounter with Christ from which the joy and fervour of the New Evangelisation will spring.

This reflects Pope Benedict XVI’s own words upon the institution of the new Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelisation: speak of a “new evangelisation” does not in fact mean that a single formula should be developed that would hold the same for all circumstances. And yet it is not difficult to see that what all the Churches living in traditionally Christian territories need is a renewed missionary impulse, an expression of a new, generous openness to the gift of grace. Indeed we cannot forget that the first task will always be to make ourselves docile to the freely given action of the Spirit of the Risen One who accompanies all who are heralds of the Gospel and opens the hearts of those who listen. To proclaim fruitfully the Word of the Gospel one is first asked to have a profound experience of God.