Tuesday, May 31, 2011

"In Short, the Witness of Sanctity": For New Evangelization, the Pope's "Charter"

Nearly a year after B16 announced its inception, this week brings the first full meeting of the Roman Curia's first new addition in nearly a quarter-century: the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization.

Its designated mission largely geared toward media -- both in terms of studying its potential and supporting its use as a tool for transmitting the Gospel -- the council's A-list membership reflects the Pope's keenness not only on the dicastery's long-frame success, but that the venture's initial efforts might get off the ground with the maximum possible exposure.

Named by Benedict in January, among other charter members of the council taking part in this week's session are five key cardinals -- the CDF prefect William Levada and chief of Bishops Marc Ouellet, Sydney's George Pell, Vienna's Christoph Schönborn and Angelo Scola of Venice -- plus a host of the globe's top-tier archbishops including the UK's Oxford-bred Bernard Longley of Birmingham, the prominent Italian theologian Bruno Forte, the German episcopate's president Robert Zollitsch, Belgium's controversial André-Joseph Leonard (who's made strange headlines after taking at least five pies to the face over recent months) and, of course, the blogging USCCB president, New York's Timothy Dolan.

Fresh off his high-profile exchange of letters with the House Budget chair, Congressman Paul Ryan, for the Gotham prelate -- likewise a key player on the wintertime Apostolic Visitation to Ireland, whose conclusions are currently being examined by the Holy See -- the PCPNE seat marks the first of what promises to be many Curial assignments over the years to come. Accordingly, in vintage Dolan style, the moment will be commemorated with cameras: just as the newly-installed Evangelization Czar, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, co-hosted the morning show on Italy's state broadcaster RAI to open the Beatification festivities for Pope John Paul II, early Thursday the Stateside chief will take Meredith Viera's chair alongside Matt Lauer and Al Roker as NBC's Today Show does a remote edition from Rome.

Coinciding with both Ascension Day and this Sunday's observance of the church's annual World Communications Day, the archbishop's appearance on the ratings juggernaut -- with over 5 million daily viewers, the country's most-watched newscast -- marks Dolan's second megawatt TV turn over recent months, following his very successful March interview on CBS' 60 Minutes, whose often hard-hitting questioning of leaders and titans has long burnished the Sunday institution's rep as the toughest test in American media.

Back inside the walls, however, with the new evangelization tapped as the focus of next year's Synod of Bishops and, in general, looming large over the agenda of the current pontificate, B16's speech to the PCPNE gathering both took a stab at setting a definition for the Wojtyla concept, and indicated the "crisis" behind his desire for a reinvigorated push:
The term, “new evangelization” recalls the need for a renewed manner of proclamation, especially for those who live in a context, like the one today, in which developments of secularization have left a lasting mark, even in traditionally Christian countries. The Gospel is the always new proclamation of the salvation operated by Christ which makes humanity participants in the mystery of God and in His life of love and opens it to a future of sure and faithful hope. To underscore that at this moment in history, the Church is called to carry out a new evangelization, means intensifying her missionary action so that it fully corresponds to the mandate of the Lord. The Second Vatican Council recalled that “Moreover, the groups among which the Church dwells are often radically changed, for one reason or other, so that an entirely new set of circumstances may arise.” (Ad Gentes, 6) The far-seeing Fathers of the Council saw the cultural changes that were on the horizon and which today are easily verifiable. It is precisely these changes which have created unexpected conditions for believers and require special attention in proclaiming the Gospel, to give an account for our faith in situations which are different from the past. The current crisis brings with it traces of the exclusion of God from people’s lives, from a generalized indifference towards Christian faith to an attempt to marginalize it from public life. In years past, it was still possible to find a general Christian sensibility which unified the common experience of entire generations raised in the shadow of the faith which had shaped culture. Today, unfortunately, we are witnessing a drama of fragmentation which no longer admits a unifying reference point; moreover, it often occurs that people desire to belong to the Church, but they are strongly shaped by a vision of life which is in contrast with the faith.

Proclaiming Jesus Christ the only Saviour of the World, today appears more complex than in the past; but our task remains identical to that at the dawn of our history. The mission has not changed, just as the enthusiasm and courage that moved the Apostles and first disciples must not change. The Holy Spirit which prompted them to open the doors and made evangelizers of them (cf. Acts 2, 1-4) is the same Spirit which today moves the Church to a renewed proclamation of hope for the men of our time. Saint Augustine affirms that we must not think that the grace of evangelization was extended only to the Apostles and with them that fount of grace was exhausted, but “this fount is revealed when it flows, not when it ceases to pour out. And it was in this way that the grace through the Apostles reached others too, who were invited to proclaim the Gospel… it has continued to be a call right up to these days for the entire body of His Only Son, that is, His Church spread throughout the earth.” (Sermon, 239,1) The grace of the mission continually needs new evangelizers capable of receiving it so that the salvific news of the Word of God never fails to be heard in the changing conditions of history.

There is a dynamic continuity between the proclamation of the first disciples and ours. Throughout the centuries, the Church has never ceased to proclaim the salvific mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but that same message today needs renewed vigor to convince contemporary man, who is often distracted and insensitive. For this reason, the new evangelization must find ways of making the proclamation of salvation more effective; a proclamation without which personal existence remains contradictory and deprived of what is essential. Even for those who remain tied to Christian roots, but live a difficult rapport with modernity, it is important to realize that being Christian is not a type of clothing to wear in private or on special occasions, but is something living and all-encompassing, able to contain all that is good in modern life. I hope that in your work during this assembly, you will be able to delineate a project capable of helping the whole Church and the different particular Churches in the commitment to a new evangelization; a project where the urgency of a renewed proclamation involves formation, especially for new generations, and is combined with a proposal of concrete signs able to make evident the answer which the Church intends to offer in this distinctive moment. If, on the one hand, the entire community is called to reinvigorate its missionary spirit to proclaim the Good News that the men of our times are waiting for, we cannot forget that the style of life of believers needs to be genuinely credible and all the more convincing for the dramatic conditions in which those who need to hear it live. For this reason, we want to make the words of the Servant of God, Pope Paul VI ours, when he said with regard to evangelization, “It is therefore primarily by her conduct and by her life that the Church will evangelize the world, in other words, by her living witness of fidelity to the Lord Jesus- the witness of poverty and detachment, of freedom in the face of the powers of this world, in short, the witness of sanctity” (Evangelii nuntiandi, 41).
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On a side-note, set to travel to Croatia this weekend for the 19th overseas jaunt of his pontificate, earlier tonight the pontiff closed Rome's observance of the Marian month with the traditional visit to the Lourdes grotto in the Vatican gardens.

Along those lines, to end May where we began, here again is the prayer to the Madonna which Benedict used at the Circus Maximus vigil for the beatification of John Paul II -- a text the now-Blessed Pope himself prayed at Lourdes in 2004 on the final journey of his 27-year reign:
Hail Mary, poor and humble Woman,
Blessed by the Most High!
Virgin of hope, dawn of a new era,
We join in your song of praise,
to celebrate the Lord’s mercy,
to proclaim the coming of the Kingdom
and the full liberation of humanity.

Hail Mary, lowly handmaid of the Lord,
Glorious Mother of Christ!
Faithful Virgin, holy dwelling-place of the Word,
Teach us to persevere in listening to the Word,
and to be docile to the voice of the Spirit,
attentive to his promptings in the depths of our conscience
and to his manifestations in the events of history.

Hail Mary, Woman of sorrows,
Mother of the living!
Virgin spouse beneath the Cross, the new Eve,
Be our guide along the paths of the world.
Teach us to experience and to spread the love of Christ,
to stand with you before the innumerable crosses
on which your Son is still crucified.

Hail Mary, woman of faith,
First of the disciples!
Virgin Mother of the Church, help us always
to account for the hope that is in us,
with trust in human goodness and the Father’s love.
Teach us to build up the world beginning from within:
in the depths of silence and prayer,
in the joy of fraternal love,
in the unique fruitfulness of the Cross.

Holy Mary,
Mother of believers,
pray for us.
PHOTOS: Getty(1); Reuters(2)