PNG deacon in Rome recalls recently concluded Synod of Bishops on New Evangelization
By Deac. Christian Sieland
Exactly fifty years after the opening of the Second Vatican Council on 11th October 1962, Pope Benedict XVI officially inaugurated the Year of the Faith with a solemn Mass celebrated on St. Peter’s Square. An estimated crowd of over 20.000 people and over 400 bishops and hundreds of priests from all over the world attended, among them also the heads of the Anglican and Orthodox Churches.
The Holy Father stressed in his homily that fifty years after the Second Vatican Council (1962-’65) there was still an evident spiritual “emptiness and desert” in the present world and made a call to everyone to give witness that a new life in God was possible. He described the Second Vatican Council as the expression of a spiritual and pastoral dynamism that the Holy Spirit has brought about in our time. The renewed dynamism of evangelization after the Second Vatican Council has produced two branches, which the Pope described as (1) Missio ad gentes and (2) New Evangelization. The first one relates to the proclamation of the Good News to those who have not yet come to know Jesus Christ and his message of salvation, while the second is aimed especially at all those people who despite of having been baptized, have distanced themselves from the Church and no longer practice or live their faith. The Holy Father furthermore explained the missionary nature of the Church by underlining the fact “that the Church exists to evangelize”.
This statement has been a major guideline of the 13th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops held in Rome from the 7th-28th of October this year. 262 synod fathers and 103 participant and observers from all four corners of the world participated in the three week event, discussing issues and challenges concerning the transmission of the Christian faith in the modern and secularized world.
Abp. Nicola Eterovic, the General Secretary of the Synod, compared the task of the New Evangelization to the evangelization of the early Church after Pentecost and made a general call for a “new Pentecost”. He said that the recipients of the Gospel and the social, cultural, political and religious conditions may have changed since the times of the apostles, but the Gospel message was the same today as it was before. Following the Pope’s statement on the missionary nature of the Church, Abp. Eterovic confirmed that the Church exists for the evangelization, to proclaim always and everywhere the Good News to all people of good will. In order to be the light of the world, the Church herself must be illuminated by the light of Christ while the Gospel of Christ must give taste to the world (Mt 5:13-16). One of the Synod fathers, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington said in a press conference that one very clear understanding of the synodal discussions was “that the foundation of the New Evangelization for the transmission of faith is all alone the work of the Holy Trinity in history.”
Fifty-seven Propositions were presented for the Pope’s further consideration by the Synod at the end of its works. Among the many issues discussed were topics concerning family life, marriage, faith formation, religious freedom, the care for the poor and the role of the laity within the Church. Questions were also raised on “How to help priests and bishops to be more effective evangelizers in the modern world, from doing pastoral work to media apostolate.” Two key words that emerged from the discussions are: renewal and conversion. Many have stressed on the importance of conversion and reconciliation. Sacramental confession was described as “the cornerstone of New Evangelization”, because it involves a personal encounter with Christ. An effective New Evangelization involving all Christians testifying their faith in Christ requires a spiritual renewal of both heart and mind. One important issue on which all participants agreed upon is that the task of evangelization concerns every single member of the Church, not only the clergy, but also the lay people. The aim of the Synod is therefore to create possibilities which would favor in people a new encounter with Christ, to rediscover the Christian faith and the joy of believing, and to rediscover the enthusiasm in communicating that faith.
The Church of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands was represented by Bishop Otto Separi of Aitape Diocese. During his presentation Bishop Otto highlighted in a more general way the social challenges faced by the Church in PNG and SI. He described the task of New Evangelization as a big challenge for the two young countries, because the Gospel message had to first penetrate the cultural barriers in order to set root and bear fruit. Bishop Otto pointed at two important factors which could strengthen and deepen the Catholic faith in Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands. He said that the first factor involves the call for a “deeper and sincere evangelization of traditional Melanesian cultures”. Only if the Melanesian cultures have been penetrated by the Gospel truths and values, and traditional values “purified” by the Gospel message, a more Christianized society was possible and that will in turn help the countries to grow and move forward. His second point touched an issue which was one of the hot topics among the discussions of the Synod fathers. It deals with the role of proper and sound catechesis and instruction of faith in the Church. Bishop Separi stressed on the lack of Catholic knowledge among the faithful and the need for catechizing the believers, with a special attention to be given to the younger generation.
The final message of the Synod released on Friday, 26th October echoed the universal call to holiness and the assurance that the final message would address each continent “in the language of the people”, since “it is difficult to send a single message for the diverse cultural situations that exist.”
During the Angelus prayer after the closing Mass of the Synod on Sunday, 28th October Pope Benedict XVI said that “there has emerged from this Synod a strengthened commitment to the spiritual renewal of the Church herself so as to spiritually renew the secularized world; and this renewal will come from the discovery of Jesus Christ…”.
(CBC Communications 20121030 – firstname.lastname@example.org)