Pope Benedict XVI greets the crowd after celebrating the opening Mass of the Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Oct. 7. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Synod to set vision for the new evangelization

By 
  • October 14, 2012

The global Church is in Rome to talk about how it talks to the world. The topic is the new evangelization,meaning all the ways the Church presents Christ to the world and how we are all called to serve.

The Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith is more than a distant talking shop for high Church officials. It also provides the keys to the Year of Faith which launched Oct. 11, the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council.

It’s the 25th such synod since the close of Vatican II and runs Oct. 7 to 28.

There will be two English and two French bishops from Canada among the approximately 170 bishops chosen by bishops’ conferences around the the world. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops elected to send Quebec City’s Archbishop Gerald Cyprien Lacroix, Antigonish Bishop Brian Dunn, St.-Hyacinthe Bishop Francois Lapierre and Nelson Bishop John Corriveau. 

The voting members of the synod will also include 20 bishops from Eastern Catholic Churches, 25 bishops who work in the Vatican heading up various offices, 35 bishops named directly by the Pope and 10 representatives from religious orders chosen by the Union of Superiors General. 

Regis College professor of theology Sr. Gill Goulding will be the Canadian among 49 theological experts assigned to assist the synod fathers and contribute to discussions. The theologians and thinkers don’t get to vote, but their contributions to discussions may substantially contribute to what the bishops vote on.

How the synod will be understood outside Vatican City may have a lot to do with another Canadian.  Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, CEO of Salt + Light Catholic Media Foundation, will be the English-speaking press secretary for the duration of the synod.

Though there will be lots of talk about new media and the digital age, Fr. Steve Bossi doesn’t want the bishops to come back from Rome with a social media strategy or a new comfort level with smartphones.The new evangelization is about a lot more than technology or better media management, said the director of programs at Toronto’s Paulist Centre.

“They need to come back with a vision,” said Bossi. “They need to come back with a sense of what is the modern world and how does it function. Then, how do we speak our faith into that modern world?”

In the lineamenta or discussion paper for the synod prepared by Croatian Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, the Vatican identifies six ways the world has changed and made it more difficult to proclaim the Gospel in our times:

o “Profound secularism” has made it difficult for religion to be heard and understood. An overly secularized culture keeps people cocooned in self-interest. “Temptations to superficiality and self-centredness, arising from a predominating hedonistic and consumer-oriented mentality, arenot easily overcome,” said the lineamenta.

o Migration is pulling people out of their own cultural context and creating new cultures thathave few marks of permanence, “leaving little space for the great traditions of life, including thoseof religion.”

o Social communications have developed so rapidly the Church has been left wondering how toengage in the new global conversation. “The formation of a culture centred on passing novelties, thepresent moment and outward appearances, indeed a society which is incapable of remembering the past and with no sense of the future,” is an unwelcoming place for 2,000 years of tradition dedicated to a single transcendent reality.

o Economics has become as globalized as every other aspect of our lives. As the butterflies of globalization have emerged from the cocoons of national and local economies, markets have shed ethical constraints and forgotten their moral purposes.

o Science proposes a worldview that often seems as broad and hopeful as religion. “Science and technology are in danger of becoming today’s new idols.”

o Political life has changed massively since the fall of communism. Although the Church does not mourn the passing of an atheistic, materialist ideology, the triumph of markets, the emergence of violent and politicized appeals to religion in Asia and the Islamic world and the environmental crisis makes for a situation “frought with risks and new temptations of dominion and power.”

Eterovic’s six points seem like an overwhelmingly negative assessment of the world. It would be easy to incorrectly conclude that the new evangelization is about the Church standing in opposition to the modern age, retreating into an intellectual and emotional bunker constructed from comforting bits of its own history.

But the new evangelization is not about fear and loathing of the world, said Bossi.

“It’s part of our faith that we believe that the Holy Spirit moves through time and through human experience,” he said. “God has not abandoned us in this world and the Church doesn’t have to be out there somehow speaking against the modern world.”

Isaac Hecker, founder of Bossi’s Paulist order, would have recognized many of Eterovic’s challenges as his own in the United States of 150 years ago. Hecker was faced with a population of immigrant Catholics who had been knocked off the moorings of their traditional Catholic culture by the experience of migration. The 19th century was an age of wonders that made communication (telegraph) nearly instantaneous and travel(trains) rapid and cheap. Hecker responded by preaching and writing in the language of his times.

The Paulists today carry on their founder’s new evangelization with their own involvement in media and in adult education.

It’s not so much about which media carries the words as it is about the authenticity and honesty of the words, said Bossi. Attempts to carefully manage the media by sticking to an approved, prepared text are rarely persuasive in a culture that values honest, spontaneous responses.

“You don’t get that sense of speaking from the heart. And yet, what are people looking for?” asked Bossi. “They aren’t looking for data they can get into their head. They’re looking for someone who can speak to them at the level of human experience.”

The decree granting indulgences for the Year of Faith makes it clear Pope Benedict XVI has no intention of sending Catholics fleeing from the world.

“All the faithful, individually and in community, will be called to give open witness of their faith before others in the particular circumstances of daily life,” reads the Sept. 14 decree.

The Pope has also signaled that he views the new evangelization from an ecumenical perspective. On the personal invitation of Pope Benedict XVI, one of the first speakers at the synod on new evangelization will be the Anglican Communion’s scholarly leader Archbishop Rowan Williams. Williams was to address synod fathers Oct. 10.

“A new evangelization means that the Church must convincingly sustain her efforts at uniting all Christians in a common witness to the world of the prophetic and transforming power of the Gospel message,” reads Eterovic’s lineamenta.

In fact, the new evangelization does not begin with what the Church says to the world, or even how it says it. The starting point is what the Church is to the world and in the world.

“In the end, the expression new evangelization requires finding new approaches to evangelization so as ‘to be Church’ in today’s everchanging social and cultural situations,” reads the lineamenta.

As a theologian consulting with the bishops at the synod, it’s the existential hope of the Gospel as it is lived that Goulding wants to emphasize.

“In many ways it seems to me that the heart of the new evangelization lies in living radically the faith that we have,” she said.

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