The new evangelization and social justice

Author Image

Speech to Arise participants, Fort Wayne, August 20, 2013

I am grateful to the Arise Together in Christ participants at the Cathedral parish for the invitation to speak to you today on the theme of the New Evangelization and Social Justice, a theme that ties in with the topic of the third session of Arise, “walking in the footsteps of Jesus.” I hope and pray that many will participate in this third session of Arise and experience renewed commitment to living as faithful disciples of Jesus in the midst of today’s society and culture.

Since my ordination as a bishop in December 2004, I have been asked, both back in Harrisburg and here in Fort Wayne-South Bend, what are my vision, goals, priorities, as bishop? My response has always been the same: the new evangelization! I believe this is the great task of the Church in our times. Of course, the proclamation of the Gospel (evangelization) has always been the fundamental mission of the Church, since Jesus sent the apostles on mission. The Church has always had this missionary mandate: to make disciples of all nations. Recent Popes have reminded us that the Church exists to evangelize. Faithful to the command of Jesus, the disciples went out to the whole world to announce the good news, spreading Christian communities everywhere. Thus the Catholic Church has grown and spread throughout its 2,000 year history. Here on the American continent, the first evangelization took place some 530 years ago. At various times and places in history, God has raised up dynamic missionaries for the spread of the Gospel.

In our day, Blessed John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis have called us to a renewed evangelical dynamism. The Church continues the mission “ad gentes,” “the announcement of the Gospel to those who do not yet know Jesus Christ and his message of salvation.” But the Church is embarked today also on what is called “a new evangelization”, which is “directed principally at those who, though baptized, have drifted away from the Church and live without reference to the Christian life” (Pope Benedict XVI, Homily Opening World Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization 10/7/12).

Back in 1983, Pope John Paul II, speaking in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, spoke of the need for a commitment to an evangelization “new in ardor, methods, and expression.” John Paul, Benedict, and now Pope Francis, travelled throughout the world leading this new evangelization. Pope Benedict established a new Vatican office for the new evangelization, and he called for this Year of Faith to help us rediscover the truth, beauty, and power of the Catholic faith.

Last year, the World Synod of Bishops met to discuss the theme: “The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith.” Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. was the Relator of the Synod. He explained the need for the Church to re-propose the Gospel, the Catholic faith, today in these words:

“Across the Church we deal in many instances but particularly in most of the so-called First World countries with a dramatic reduction in the practice of the faith among those who are already baptized.”

Cardinal Wuerl quoted Pope Benedict’s specification of

“the work of the new evangelization as the re-proposal of Jesus Christ and his Gospel ‘in the countries where the first proclamation of the faith has already resonated and where churches with an ancient foundation exist but are experiencing the progressive secularization of society and a sort of eclipse of the sense of God.’”

The Cardinal spoke about the upheavals in the 1970’s and 80’s, about poor catechesis or mis-catechesis in the Church, and aberrations in liturgical practice contributing to today’s negative situation. He said the following:

“Entire generations have become disassociated from the support systems that facilitated the transmission of faith. It is as if a tsunami of secular influence has swept across the cultural landscape, taking with it such societal markers as marriage, family, the concept of the common good and objecti