The New Evangelisation: What it is and how to do it

Filed in Catholic by on September 18, 2013 6 Comments

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I’ve just had a new booklet published by the Catholic Truth Society called The New Evangelisation: What it is and how to do it. They tapped into the World Youth Day Rio fervour by putting a photo of the Christ the Redeemer statue on the cover. You can order copies from the CTS website here.

Here is the back cover copy:

Why do we need a New Evangelisation? What is the history and theology of this idea? What does it look like in practice? How can we engage in the New Evangelisation in our parishes and communities? What are the key documents and resources we can turn to for inspiration?

These are some of the questions explored in this booklet, which also collects the most important writings about the New Evangelisation by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.

The Introduction here gives you a taste of what it’s all about:

In 1983 Blessed Pope John Paul II spoke to the Catholic Bishops of Latin America in Haiti and called for a New Evangelisation: one that would be ‘new in its ardour, methods and expression’. More recently, in 2010, Pope Benedict established a Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelisation, to help the Church share ‘the inestimable gift’ that God has given us, the gift of being ‘sharers in his own life’. And when Pope Francis stepped onto the balcony of St Peter’s Basilica for the first time on the day of his election it was significant that he spoke about his hopes for ‘the evangelisation of this beautiful city’ – a city that many assumed had already been evangelised.

Evangelisation is not something new. Christians have been sharing their faith for two thousand years: giving witness to the love of God in Jesus Christ, and inviting others to share in that redeeming love through faith and the sacramental life of the Church.

Why, then, do we need a New Evangelisation? If the city of Rome has been a centre of Christian faith for many centuries, what does it mean for Pope Francis to say that it still needs evangelising?

First of all, we can make some straightforward distinctions. The word ‘evangelisation’ comes from a Greek verb that simply means ‘to bring good news to others’. Anything that involves sharing the Christian faith and bringing others to know Christ and his Church is part of the work of evangelisation.

Primary evangelisation is understood to be the task of reaching out to those people and cultures that have never known Christ and his Gospel. It is ‘missionary work’ in its traditional sense, sometimes called the mission ad gentes, meaning ‘to the (non-Christian) nations’. This is the first and in some senses the most important kind of evangelisation.

The New Evangelisation, according to Blessed John Paul II, concerns another situation. It involves the mission of the Church ‘particularly in countries with ancient Christian roots, and occasionally in the younger Churches as well, where entire groups of the baptized have lost a living sense of the faith, or even no longer consider themselves members of the Church, and live a life far removed from Christ and his Gospel’ (Redemptoris Missio, Para 33). The New Evangelisation, on this first definition, involves the re-evangelisation of former Christian cultures and of Christians who have become disconnected from their faith. Pope Benedict explains very simply that it is the need for a renewed missionary impulse in territories that have traditionally been Christian.

On the other hand, the distinctions between different kinds of evangelisation are not always so clean. The New Evangelisation is a cluster of ideas about mission and culture that are not easy to define. Greg Willets has written that defining the New Evangelization ‘is like herding squirrels: it can take you in a multitude of different directions, sometimes all at once’ (CatholicDigest.com). And even Pope Benedict, when he established the new Pontifical Council, admitted that this involves a variety of situations that demands careful discernment: ‘to speak of a “new evangelization” does not in fact mean that a single formula should be developed that would hold the same for all circumstances’.

This booklet recognises this variety and in Part 1 sets out five distinct but connected reasons why the Church needs to engage in an evangelisation that is truly new. In Part 2 it then presents a number of New Evangelisation ‘projects’ that have developed in the UK over the last few years. In Part 3 it draws out from these projects some consistent features of the New Evangelisation as it has been practiced effectively in the UK. Finally, in Part 4, the booklet collects together some of the most significant writings about the New Evangelisation from recent papal teaching and Church documents, as a resource for further reflection.

This booklet is not intended to be an introduction to the very idea of evangelisation: it takes for granted a basic understanding of why Christians want to share their faith and what this involves – theologically and pastorally; and it does not enter into the practical aspects of what individuals or parishes can do to evangelise. The intention here is very limited: to write about the distinctive features of the New Evangelisation, and to stimulate people to consider what this could mean for them and their communities.

And here is the Table of Contents so you can see exactly what I deal with:

PART 1: FIVE REASONS WHY WE NEED A NEW EVANGELISATION

(a) Living in a post-Christian society

(b) Christians disconnected from their faith

(c) New culture, new media

(d) Confusion about the need for evangelisation

(e) Questions about the nature of Christian witness

PART 2: FIVE EXAMPLES OF THE NEW EVANGELISATION

(a) St Patrick’s Evangelisation School

(b) Spirit in the City

(c) Youth 2000

(d) Catholic Voices

(e) Ten Ten Theatre

PART 3: FIVE ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS OF THE NEW EVANGELISATION

(a) Personal conviction

(b) Community

(c) The Word of God and the teaching of the Church

(d) Liturgy and the sacraments

(e) Courage and creativity

PART 4: FIVE KEY DOCUMENTS ABOUT THE NEW EVANGELISATION

(a) Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi (1975).

(b) Blessed Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio (1990)

(c) Blessed Pope John Paul II, Ecclesia in Europa (2003)

(d) Lineamanta for the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelisation (2011)

(e) Pope Benedict XVI, Ubicumque et Semper (2010)

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About the Author ()

Fr Stephen Wang is a Catholic priest in the Archdiocese of Westminster. He is currently Senior University Chaplain for the Archdiocese. Some of his articles have previously been published on his personal blog, Bridges and Tangents. See: http://bridgesandtangents.wordpress.com/

Comments (6)

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  1. Mike Carroll says:

    Just so you know before I write the following, I am ‘pro’-new-evangelisation.

    I am always being told that Catholics do not understand what the New Evangelisation is or how to engage with it. It is interesting that Bishop Egan has recently pointed to Catholics needing to engage in ascetical theology (unfortunately most will not know what this is either). However, this is the missing ingredient of the New Evangelisation.

    The New Evangelisation is working, but it is only a few people who are willing to carry their own cross, someone elses cross, or carry any cross (for that matter), who are actually making the New Evangelisation happen.

    The phrase ‘carrying your cross’ is one of those phrases that has been passed down over the years with no understanding that it really relates to ascetical theology. The assumption is that you have to be ‘mired down in misery’ to carry your cross, whilst the reality is that whilst this is what some are called to, others can still do ‘difficult things’ to build up God’s kingdom.

    e.g. Months of hard work organising the Youth 2000 prayer festival relates to ascetical theology, and helps to make those engaged in it move along the path to sainthood in the process through self sacrifice.

    If there was more understanding within the Catholic Church regarding ascetical theology, and what it really means, then there would be more people engaging in the New Evangelisation. They would be facing difficulties, but doing it anyway to build up the Kingdom. This service, often in reality, leads to the sort of joy that Pope Benedict regularly spoke about (though the path in achieving it is often difficult).

    Bishop Egan really ‘hit the nail on the head’ when he highlighting ascetical theology in a recent homily.

    Also, it works, and it works in abundance.

    • Fr Stephen Wang says:

      Thanks Mike – really important point. Often we don’t give the whole picture; e.g. you can’t speak about sharing your faith unless you also speak about the costs this will sometimes involve, before and after!

  2. This book sounds good! I particularly like the way you have set it out in logical steps in the sets of key documents.

  3. Victoria says:

    As an French/American Catholic I can say that regardless of which cultural lens I look at the term “evangelization” it has strong connotations, not always positive ones.

    Trying to sweep aside those ideas and look at it afresh is a task I’ve set for myself (and one I plan on writing about).

    Thank you, Father Wang, for writing the booklet which I will order as soon as I finish this note. And any other longer works that might help would be most appreciated.

    Victoria
    Versailles, France

  4. Catherine says:

    Hi Fr Stephen,

    This looks like an important little booklet. Thank you for preparing it!

    I haven’t purchased one as yet but I am hoping that under the section ‘Personal Conviction’ you emphasise the proclamation of the kerygma and the importance of discipleship.

    You have chosen great examples of the New Evangelisation from the UK (I am from Sydney, Australia) but I was wondering why the Sion Community didn’t make your list… We have had some representatives visit here and their work in, and understanding of, evangelisation has made an invaluable contribution!

    • Fr Stephen Wang says:

      Thanks Catherine. Sion is a wonderful community, and the simple answer is that I know them less well than the others, and so it is harder for me to write from personal experience. I wish I could have included another twenty projects, but I had to limit myself somehow! At least I can give them some positive publicity here: http://www.sioncommunity.org.uk/

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