Synod issues clarion call to the New Evangelization
In a beautiful “message to the People of God,” the Synod of Bishops has challenged all Catholics to take up the task of the New Evangelization.
In a summary of the Final Message approved by the Synod participants on October 24, the participants explained that the New Evangelization “is not a question of finding new strategies as if the Gospel was to be spread like a market product, but rediscovering the ways in which individuals come close to Jesus.” As the 13th ordinary general assembly of the Synod moves toward its conclusion, the bishops voted their approval for the 6,750-word message, which provides a sober but optimistic appraisal of the challenges facing the Church in the early 21st century.
The Synod will now discuss and vote on a series of more specific propositions, fleshing out the themes of this overall message. The Synod formally concludes on Sunday, October 28.
The final message begins by evoking the image of Jesus speaking with the Samaritan woman at the well. This woman, looking to quench her thirst, is “the image of contemporary man with an empty vessel, who is thirsting and is nostalgic for God,” the official summary says. The Synod’s message adds: “Today, many wells offer themselves to quench humanity's thirst, but we must discern in order to avoid polluted waters.”
“Everywhere indeed we feel the need to revive a faith that risks eclipse in cultural contexts that hinders its taking root in persons and its presence in society, the clarity of its content and its coherent fruits,” the Final Message proclaims.
The purpose of the New Evangelization, as of any evangelization, is to bring people to Christ, the Synod teaches. And this entails bringing people to the Catholic Church. The official Vatican summary of the message explains:
The encounter with the Lord, which reveals God as love, can only come about in the Church, as the form of receptive community and experience of communion; from this, then, Christians become its witnesses also in other places.
At a press conference introducing the message—chaired by Cardinal Giuseppe Betori of Florence, who headed the committee that prepared the Final Message—the Synod’s appointed spokesmen acknowledged that the evangelical work of the Church has been damaged by the misdeeds of some Catholics, and “the weaknesses of Jesus' disciples weigh upon the credibility of the mission.” Cardinal-designate Luis Tagle of Manila told reporters that “no one pretended there was no problem. There was no such blindness in the Synod hall.” Nevetheless the Synod fathers said that in spite of their own failings Christians should rely on the unfailing support of the Holy Spirit:
The work of the new evangelization rests on this serene certainty. We are confident in the inspiration and strength of the Spirit, who will teach us what we are to say and what we are to do even in the most difficult moments…
There is no room for pessimism in the minds and hearts of those who know that their Lord has conquered death and that his Spirit works with might in history. We approach this world with humility, but also with determination. This comes from the certainty that the truth triumphs in the end.
The Synod’s message says that evangelization should begin within the family, and speaks with concern about the problems facing family life in modern society:
We do not ignore the fact that today the family, established in the marriage of a man and of a woman which makes them “one flesh” (Matthew 19:6) open to life, is assaulted by crises everywhere. It is surrounded by models of life that penalize it and neglected by the politics of society of which it is also the fundamental cell.
While endorsing work to support healthy marriage and family life, the Synod offers a message of sympathy and understanding to Catholics who are living in irregular marital situations. Yet the Synod is clear that the Church is not contemplating a change in the teaching that divorced and remarried couples should not approach the Eucharist:
More and more families in irregular situations are established after the failure of previous marriages. These are painful situations that negatively 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.
The parish is the natural focus for the work of evangelization, the Final Message says. The document encourages parishes to take up the challenge of the Year of Faith, and offers particular encouragement to Catholics of all states in life—priests, religious, laity, and young people—to answer that challenge. The Synod singles out “two expressions of the life of faith which seem particularly important to us for witnessing to it in the New Evangelization”—contemplative prayer and work on behalf of the poor.
The Synod endorses efforts to promote dialogue with the worlds of science and culture, citing the need for “a renewed alliance between faith and reason.” The Final Message says: “We are convinced that faith has the capacity to welcome every product of a sound mind open to transcendence and the strength to heal the limits and contradictions into which reason could fall.”
Similarly, the message supports ecumenical and inter-religious efforts, while insisting: “The dialogue among religions intends to be a contribution to peace. It rejects every fundamentalism and denounces every violence that is brought upon believers as serious violations of human rights.”
In its final section, the Synod’s message offers specific messages of encouragement to Catholics in different regions of the world. To those in the Middle East, yearning for religious freedom; those in Africa, troubled by violence; those in Latin America, dogged by poverty and injustice; and those in Asia, “often placed at the edges of society and persecuted.”
The Synod has stronger words for the faithful in North America and in Europe, recognizing that these regions, where the Christian faith once flourished, are in special need of the New Evangelization. To North America, the Synod fathers say:
The Bishops of the synodal Assembly invite you, Christians of North America, to respond with joy to the call to a new evangelization, while they look with gratitude at how your young Christian communities have borne generous fruits of faith, charity and mission. You need to recognize the many expressions of the present culture in the countries of your world which are today far from the Gospel. Conversion is necessary, from which is born a commitment that does not bring you out of your cultures, but in their midst to offer to all the light of faith and the power of life.
To Europe, the Synod’s message is gentler, but similar:
The Bishops address a word of gratitude and hope to the churches of the European continent, in part marked today by a strong--sometimes even aggressive--secularization, and in part still wounded by many decades of regimes with ideologies hostile to God and to man…. May the present difficulties not pull you down, dear Christians of Europe: may you consider them instead as a challenge to be overcome and an occasion for a more joyful and vivid proclamation of Christ and of his Gospel of life.
Finally, the Synod concludes by entrusting the work of reviving the faith to the care of the Virgin Mary, under the title of the “Star of the New Evangelization.” Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, who was a member of the committee that drafted the message, told Vatican Radio that the Synod fathers “thought it would be a good idea to bookend it with the two women, the woman at the well and our Blessed Mother.”