Cardinal Wuerl summarizes Synod discussions
Brothers and Sisters in the Lord
“You will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8).
The Synod on the New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith began with the celebration of the Eucharistic Liturgy in Saint Peter’s Square. Our Holy Father offered us guidance with the reminder that one of the ideas that came forth from the Second Vatican Council and that has such an important emphasis in the New Evangelization is the understanding of the universal call to holiness and how every Christian is by definition a protagonist in the work of evangelization. “One of the important ideas of the renewed impulse that the Second Vatican Council gave to evangelization is that of the universal call to holiness, which in itself concerns all Christians (cf. Lumen Gentium, 39-42).”
The saints are evangelizers who bring the Word of God into the world through the witness of their lives. Two examples of this efficacious work of inculturation of the Gospel are St. John of Avila and Saint Hildegard of Bingen, who were declared Doctors of the Church by Pope Benedict XVI at the beginning of this synod.
As we began our deliberations in this aula, once again our Holy Father offered us words of inspiration. In his meditation during the opening prayer, Pope Benedict reminded us that confessio is the first of the two great pillars of evangelization. We must know and proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ. But the second of these pillars is caritas – love. It is only when we have the word inseparably lived in love that we achieve the evangelization so hoped for in this synod. “Faith has a content: God communicates himself, but this ‘I’ of God really reveals itself in the figure of Jesus and is interpreted in the ‘confession’ that speaks to us of his virginal conception at the Nativity, the Passion, the Cross, the Resurrection” (Meditation, October 8, 2012).
Also in the October 11th celebration at which the beginning of the Year of Faith was proclaimed and the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Council was recognized, the Holy Father indicated another important direction for our work. He said: “During the Council there was an emotional tension as we faced the common task of making the truth and beauty of the faith shine out in our time, without sacrificing it to the demands of the present or leaving it tied to the past: the eternal presence of God resounds in the faith, transcending time, yet it can only be welcomed by us in our own unrepeatable today” (Homily, October 11, 2012).
For the past several weeks, we have listened attentively to the reflections on what the New Evangelization means and how the Church might best address concerns that have led to this call by our Holy Father for a New Evangelization. Thoughtful interventions on the part of the synod fathers, as well as the auditores, fraternal delegates and special guests, have enriched our sessions. The ng1033 Ordo Synodi Episcoporum states that it is the task of the Relator General to produce a relatio post disceptationem that summarizes as best as possible the discussions so that the next step of the process can continue.
These following reflections are intended in some way to help the discussion in the language groups (circoli minori) as they prepare propositions to offer to the Holy Father at the conclusion of our work. With these observations I also include a number of points for development.
In this relatio, I will summarize some of the observations presented under the following headings:
1. The Nature of the New Evangelization;
2. The Context of the Church’s Ministry Today;
3. Pastoral Responses to the Circumstances of Our Day; and
4. Agents / Participants of the New Evangelization.
1. The Nature of the New Evangelization
In the synodal discussions there emerged very clearly the understanding that the foundation of the New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Faith is above all the work of the most Holy Trinity in history. God the Father sends his Son who brings with himself the authentic Good News of who we are in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Church is involved in this movement of Divine Self-revelation which begins with the Blessed Virgin Mary under the action of the Holy Spirit receiving in her womb the Word of God who became flesh in her to be able to be given to the whole world. It is the Word made flesh who offers his words of everlasting life to those who place their faith in him. After his death and Resurrection, Jesus sent the Church, his Spouse and new Body, into the world to continue his evangelizing mission. ;
“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20). ;
Jesus has freed us from the power of sin and saved us from death. The Church receives from her Lord not only the tremendous grace he has won for her, but also the commission to share and make known his victory. We are summoned to transmit faithfully the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world. The Church’s primary mission is evangelization. ;
In his opening reflection, our Holy Father reminded us that the Church has taken the word “evangelium” and interpreted it in a new and life-giving manner so that our proclamation of it is a share in the prophetic ministry of the apostles – of the Church.
In the same reflection, our Holy Father underlined the primacy of God in evangelization. It is God who speaks and acts in history. We, by means of the fire of the Holy Spirit, are called to work humbly with God through our profession of faith and love through which the Word of God passes through us to touch others.
The Church never tires of announcing the gift she has received from the Lord. The Second Vatican Council has reminded us that evangelization is at the very heart of the Church. In Lumen Gentium, the fundamental text and nucleus of the Council’s reflection on the life of the Church, the Council fathers emphasized “the Church has received this solemn mandate of Christ to proclaim the saving truth from the apostles and to carry it out to the very ends of the earth” (17).
The duty to announce the saving truth is not just the responsibility of clergy and religious. On the contrary, this synod highlighted the important role of every disciple of Christ in the mission of spreading the faith. The discussion accentuated the crucial and vital participation of every Catholic, especially through the eager dedication and gifts of the lay faithful to the mission of evangelization. ;
Question 1. Through baptism, all Christians are given a personal calling which gives them the dignity of being evangelizers. How can the Church foster greater consciousness among all the baptized of their missionary and evangelizing responsibility?
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Heb 13:8) and as such, he makes “all things new” (Rev 21:5). This Good News involves the many moments of evangelization. One is the mission ad gentes, that is, the announcement of the Gospel to those who have never heard of Jesus Christ. Another moment in evangelization is the ongoing catechesis and growth in the faith that is a normal part of Christian development. Then there is also the New Evangelization which involves the pastoral outreach to those who have heard of Christ and began once to practice the faith but for one reason or another discontinued. ;
Question 2. One urgent activity, usually part of parish life, involves the initial proclamation of the faith and its gradual development. How can the Christian community become more aware of the importance of this catechetical and educational activity?
2. The context of the Church’s ministry today
In the beginning of our efforts we were greatly aided by the reflections from bishops representing five continents who spoke to us of challenges and at the same time of the communion of the Church. All of the interventions expressed aspects of the actual situation making reference to continental synodal documents and apostolic exhortations offered by both Blessed John Paul II and our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI.
Even as they were diverse in particulars, all of the continents manifested a need for the New Evangelization insofar as their own cultures are affected by the process of secularization, even though it is displayed differently in diverse geographic areas.
Signs of the New Evangelization in Africa, America, Asia, Oceania and Europe include the small Christian communities in a variety of forms that have become living centers of evangelization. Revitalized parishes continued to be the focal point of Church renewal. The action of the laity is an essential and fruitful development. Some also highlighted the mega-trend of globalization and its effects, especially on the young. At the same time, all emphasized that at the heart of the New Evangelization is Jesus. ;
One particularly delicate situation emerged in the interventions regarding the Middle East. We were reminded of the importance of the presence of Christians in that area and that those Catholics have great gratitude for the recent exhortation, Ecclesia in Medio Oriente, and particularly for the visit for our Holy Father to Lebanon that was a greatly appreciated testimony to the Church in that part of the world dominated now by Muslim influence. There was a clear effort to promote interreligious dialogue as an instrument of peace. There was also recognition of the difficulties that Christian communities face.
The presence of the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams and the fraternal delegates, demonstrated the strong ecumenical commitment of the Catholic Church. This was also noted by a number of synod fathers.
Question 3. Many interventions made clear that there is a consensus that this is a moment of reappraisal of the ministry of the Church in a way that recognizes the new situation in which the Church exercises her perennial ministry of bringing the Gospel of Christ to the world. What have been some fruitful experiences of this activity?
Many fathers spoke of the secularism and indifference to religion that are a part of the culture in many parts of the world. Therefore the Church needs to face the challenges of a world that looks elsewhere for its inspiration. ;
Many interventions noted the great ignorance of the faith – even of the most basic elements of the faith – that is prevalent throughout even those countries that have a long Christian history. ;
Question 4. In view of the diminished knowledge of the content of the faith and the lack of appreciation for the Gospel message, what new steps have been taken to promote clear, engaging and complete teaching, particularly to the young?
Globalization also presents unique challenges. The emigration and immigration of large numbers of people have caused dislocation of them from the cultural, social and religious context of their faith. Many religious and human values have been overshadowed by secularism.
Much of culture today presents a vision that weakens the social fabric of society. Some fathers offered examples of local violence and others of a diminished religious freedom. All of this is a challenge the Church faces in many parts of the world. Many fathers spoke of the importance of the means of social communications, particularly new electronic media, as the Church attempts to carry out her ministry of proclaiming the Good News. Some pointed out that it is not enough simply to present Christianity and Christian values on the internet or in religious films. It is necessary to enter into the language of the new media. The Church needs to learn the art of communication from the actual practice of modern social communication. ;
Question 5. The synod highlighted the seriousness of the challenges facing the Church today that hinder the transmission of the faith, among them an absence of the transcendent in a secularized culture. What are some of the challenges of secularization and what are some potential and existing remedies?
3. Pastoral Responses to the Circumstances of Our Day
There is a need to reinforce the idea of ecclesial communion, a bonding with God and therefore among ourselves as Church. We heard of the need to address the sacraments, particularly the Sacraments of Initiation, the Sacrament of Penance, and above all the focus on the Eucharist.
The overriding need of this age is a spiritual renewal that is the task of the Church to proclaim and effect. Spiritual renewal is the most important element of the New Evangelization insofar as it involves the renewal of a personal encounter with Jesus Christ and a catechesis that fosters our spiritual growth.
Question 6. The proclamation of the Gospel is primarily a spiritual matter rooted in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ through the Church. How can the Church better create spaces and moments for an encounter with Christ, and better foster a spiritual renewal, conversion and faith formation among all the baptized?
Our personal commitment does not rest on our own individual resolve alone. The First Letter of Saint Peter reminds us, “You have been born anew, not from perishable but from imperishable seed, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Pt 1:23). ;
The Holy Spirit enlivens our commitment as we seek to rediscover the truths expressed in the creed. The Spirit strengthens us as we entrust ourselves to the life of grace and virtue promised in the sacraments. The Spirit bolsters our confidence as we open the deepest places of our hearts so that his gifts might strengthen us to live our faith. The New Evangelization should overflow into the very society in which we live. Culture is the field of the New Evangelization. Culture refers to the daily ethos, the various networks of understanding and meaning that give rise to the many, everyday connections between the person, community and society. Culture forms the vital link that relates the person to the community and the community to society. ;
Along these lines the opportunity to promote the “Courtyard of the Gentiles” was highlighted as a great contribution to the evangelization of culture.
Still others reminded the synod that care of the sick and those who suffer participates in the very essence of evangelization. The sick, those who have disabilities and those with special needs are also able to be agents of evangelization.
One of the repeated themes is the need to highlight the role of the Church as the very presence of Christ in the world today. The Church is not extraneous to the plan of Christ for salvation. A number of bishops spoke of the need to reinforce the role of the Magisterium of the Church when dealing with all of those who are engaged in teaching the faith, whether at the level of theological speculation or teaching at the elementary, secondary or university levels, and in all the expressions of catechesis.
Question 7. The Christian life is characterized by the transformation of the whole person in response to the call to holiness. How can the Church assist all the baptized to live the Christian faith and serve as a witness to the transforming power of God in our history?
Among the pastoral responses that received considerable mention were the works of social justice and the works of charity as an identifying part of the life and ministry of the Church. The ability of the Church to carry out her many works of love, whether in the area of social justice, service, health care or education were seen as part of her identity and a sign for others to recognize the presence of God working in our world.
Question 8. Testimony to Christ’s charity, through works of justice, peace and development, is part of the New Evangelization. How can the Church’s rich social doctrine better proclaim and bear witness to the faith?
Many synod fathers called for a new Pentecost. They spoke of seeing the action of the Church today, enlivened by the Holy Spirit, as a reflection of the energy in the early Church when the apostles set out to bring the first disciples to the Lord. Many of the fathers spoke of the similarity between those early days of the Church and our moment in time today. In this context, it was suggested that there be a formal consecration of the world to the Holy Spirit.
Parishes throughout the Church are the recognized place where for the most part the life of the Church unfolds. Many times the significance of parishes in the unfolding of the New Evangelization was highlighted since this is the “locus” of so much of the experience of people with the Church.
At the same time, the need was affirmed to emphasize the importance of small faith communities as foundational to the work of the Church today in effecting a new Pentecost. ;
Several synod fathers drew attention to small communities and made the point that they should not become detached from the larger parish ;
family. Each pastor has to be able to work with all of the people entrusted to his care and not be limited to one small part of it.
Question 9. Parishes and small Christian communities occupy a key place in the New Evangelization. How can the parish and these small faith communities better foster and coordinate pastoral initiatives for the New Evangelization? How can the customary pastoral practices in the day-to-day life of these Christian communities be moments in the New Evangelization?
We heard of education into the faith as the starting point for renewal or reinforcement of the New Evangelization, the reintroducing of the world to Jesus Christ. Some fathers highlighted the educational element, especially of the young, as constitutive of the New Evangelization and how we will be able to move into the future bringing people back to the experience of Christ. Synod fathers pointed to the need to find practical and concrete ways to provide young people the proper education in the faith. It is particularly apparent that these moments include instruction of children and adolescents.
Question 10. Since the release of The Catechism of the Catholic Church, great progress has been made in catechetical renewal. How can the Church devise a program of catechesis which is both basic, complete and inspiring in the search for truth, goodness and beauty? The youth are the future of the Church. How can the Church better educate and catechize the youth to the greatness of a relationship with Jesus Christ through the Church, challenging them to commit their lives more fully to Him? ;
In this perspective, there were those who spoke of putting a renewed emphasis on the minister of catechesis. Catechists can be of great help in the New Evangelization and particularly in the context of families as they communicate the faith to their children.
Question 11. Catechists play a crucial role in the transmission of the faith. Is now the time to give the catechist an instituted, stable ministry within the Church? How can the Church better assist catechists in their important ministry?
Synod fathers spoke of the need to reclaim the Catholic kerygmatic tradition in order to speak the Word of God boldly, in season and out of season, to reclaim the prophetic voice of the Church, to discern the signs of the times that call for the New Evangelization and to engage in proclaiming and living a Catholic response to these signs of the times.
In the same light, a number of synod fathers highlighted the importance of popular piety as an expression by the people of God of their faith.
There was considerable consensus around the value of pilgrimages, especially to Marian shrines. This phenomenon offers a great possibility for evangelization.
Finally, the New Evangelization was recognized as not just a program for the moment but a way of looking at the future of the Church and seeing all of us engaged in inviting, first ourselves to a renewal of the faith and then all those around us into the joyful acceptance of life in the Risen Christ.
4. The Agents / Participants in the New Evangelization ;
Attention was given to the role of the family. It represents the instrument by which the faith is passed on, even in the most difficult situations. Encouragement has to be given to family life and particularly today when it is suffering so much under the pressures of the new secular vision of reality.
Question 12. As the domestic Church, the family is indispensable not only to the transmission of the faith, but also to the formation of the human person. How can the Church better support and guide the family in its crucial ministry to proclaim the Gospel and take a more active role in the transmission of the faith and human values?
The synod also spoke about the fundamental role of women in the life of the Church and the place of the mother of the family in the transmission of faith.
Systemic and coherent pastoral outreach requires the ongoing permanent formation of priests in the understanding of the joyful proclamation of the Gospel to an age that has little formation into the mystery of Christ.
Those who are preparing for priesthood have to be formed in an understanding of the uniqueness of their ministry and its relationship to evangelization. They also need to be formed in a recognition that they will be dedicating their lives to the service of the Church as celibate priests.
Question 13. The priest occupies a unique place in evangelization and the transmission of the faith. How can the Church foster a renewed missionary imperative to the ministry of priests?
The Church has been blessed by the ministry and witness of women and men in the consecrated life who continue to bring Christ’s love to the world through a great variety of activities. Consecrated life is itself a sign that points out to others the truth of the Gospel.
Many highlighted the role of the laity in the work of the New Evangelization. At every level, whether in the professional areas of education, law, politics, business or in all of the areas of engagement of lay people, it is the task of the individual Catholic to invite people back to the practice of the faith. This is done in word but also and primarily in deed, action and our way of living.
Question 14. The laity are indispensable to the New Evangelization. How can the Church more fully integrate the laity in the organization of the local Church, so that both laymen and laywomen are involved with priests in the evangelization of the community?
A certain number of interventions also highlighted the phenomenon of migration, which is so widespread in our time. It often happens that Catholics arrive in a new environment and are no longer active in their faith. Welcoming and embracing them in the community can be a form of New Evangelization.
The emphasis of Mary, Mother of the Church and of the New Evangelization as a model and patron for our efforts was highlighted a number of times. Above all, her faith prompts us to respond in the same way. It was because of her faith that the Word of God entered into our world. In imitation of Mary, we can bring about through our faith and witness to the life of the Spirit, a change in the world in which we live.
As we begin our work now in determining the propositions that will guide the efforts of this synod in presenting to the Holy Father a frame of reference for his reflection, it seems appropriate therefore to list a number of points among many possible themes:
1. The gratuitous intervention into our existence of God’s love expressed in various ways, but finally and fully in his Word made flesh – Jesus Christ;
2. The gift of the Holy Spirit that enlightens our minds and strengthens our hearts to accept God’s Word and live it;
3. Christ is the subject of our faith and the personal encounter with him invites us to become disciples;
4. We encounter Christ in and through his Church which is his new Body;
5. Christ and his Gospel are at the heart of the Church’s proclamation;
6. All the faithful, laity, religious, and clergy are called to be open to a new Pentecost in their lives;
7. Passing on the content of the faith, the creed, is the task of everyone, but especially in families, in parishes and small communities. ;
8. The parish is the place where most experience the life of the Church;
9. Some themes of the New Evangelization include the family, marriage, faith formation, religious freedom, care for the poor and the role of the laity; and
10. Mention should be made of practical expressions of the evangelizing work of the Church that seem to be successful ;
The growth of the seed takes time. The intentional and deliberate action of diligent and consistent outreach to inactive Catholics on a personal level will plant new seeds as we renew our efforts to proclaim God’s Word and repropose it to those who are now distant from the Church.
The Sower entrusts the seeds to us. We already know our difficulties, the tensions, our restlessness, our faults and our human weakness. Nonetheless, he calls us and places the seeds in our hands and entrusts them to our stewardship. The seed is the beginning of fruitfulness. Planting the seed calls us to live the Word of God and share it with joy.
May Mary, Star of the New Evangelization and example for every disciples, missionary and evangelizer, intercede for us that the work of this synod may result in abundant fruit for the glory of God and the salvation of all men and women.