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Celebrating the Year of Faith
What Is the New Evangelization?
Since Vatican II, Popes Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI have use the term "new evangelization" to refer to the unique situation that the Catholic Church is in today. For the majority of the Church's history, its population resided mostly in European countries where the Church was thriving. In the last few centuries, however, the population of the Catholic Church has grown so much in the Americas and more recently in Africa that only 26% of Catholics are European.
But even in the United States, only 23% of Catholics attend mass once a week or more. Many Catholics just feel too busy to attend mass regularly and don't feel particularly connected to the Church. Many have begun to call themselves "spiritual" but not "religious."
These are new problems in the history of the Church. For centuries the Church's evangelical mission sought to preach the gospel to the nations of non-Christians that did not know Christ. Now the Church is called to a new evangelization, an evangelization within itself, a "re-evangelization."
What Is the New Evangelization?
Many people immediately assume that the new of new evangelization means we should use new media. New media such as blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. are certainly essential to evangelization today, but John Paul II called for a new evangelization over a decade before online social networking was even possible.
What John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI now call for is an evangelization to those who have already been baptized. The call to the new evangelization is a call for the baptized members of the Church to deepen their faith and reach out to other Christians in deep need of a new encounter with Christ. In modern times this means re-proposing the Gospel to people in countries and cultures heavily influenced by secularization.
The audience for the new evangelization are those who have already heard Christ proclaimed.
To quote John Paul II in his encyclical Redemptoris Missio, "Faith is strengthened when it is given to others!"
Why Do We Need the New Evangelization?
In 2000, Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, answered this question saying, "To evangelize means: to show this path—to teach the art of living. . . This is why we are in need of a new evangelization—if the art of living remains an unknown, nothing else works. But this art is not the object of a science—this art can only be communicated by [one] who has life—he who is the Gospel personified." (Address to Catechists and Religion Teachers, Jubilee of Catechists, 2000).
As we celebrate this Year of Faith in the Catholic Church, Benedict XVI has pointed to the new evangelization as an essential element of the Church's mission. The Year of Faith will begin with a General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops with the theme "The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith." We will do well to heed his words as we try to grow our own faith this year: "Faith grows when it is lived as an experience of love received and when it is communicated as an experience of grace and joy" (Porta Fidei, 7).
Dr. Scott Hahn on the New Evangelization
For more on the Church and the new evangelization, watch this short video interview with Dr. Scott Hahn: