This current year has been eventful in many ways in the life of the universal Church. Pope Francis has made several international apostolic journeys to such places as the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Hungary, Portugal, Mongolia, and France. Additionally, the Synod on Synodality has featured prominently in recent headlines. Yet this year marks other significant milestones that are perhaps not as readily noticed as some of the bigger events in the life of the global Church.
Forty years ago, in March of 1983, St. John Paul II visited the country of Haiti and while there, he spoke to the bishops of Latin America who had gathered for his visitation. In the Holy Father’s address, he made reference for the first time to the ‘New Evangelization,’ speaking about the need for a fresh unleashing of the Gospel that is “new in ardor, methods, and expressions.” Following this, he continued to make reference to the New Evangelization over many years as the Church prepared for the coming Jubilee celebration of the year 2000.
This year also marks the thirty-fifth anniversary of the release of St. John Paul’s apostolic exhortation on the laity, Christifideles Laici, in 1988. In this text, the Pope summoned the laity to use their gifts and talents and position of influence within culture to aid many nations who were falling into indifference. He also called for a fresh presentation of Christian truth through the use of new media, knowing that it is only through Christ that one finds answers to the deepest desires of the human condition.
As several decades have now passed since these important calls for fresh approaches to evangelization, one can wonder what progress has been made. Certainly an enormous amount of catechetical content has been released through new forms of media. Countless websites, blogs, podcasts, and video streaming services present Catholicism with a quantity that even St. John Paul II could not have predicted decades ago. Through these new uses of technology, a deeper closeness among Christians from around the world has also developed, giving us a more global perspective of the Universal Church.
At the same time, one can wonder if the full ardor of Christian witness has been achieved, which St. John Paul so eagerly desired to see flourish in the Church. The amount of practicing Christians continues to diminish in the West and those who do not claim any religious affiliation continues to rise. Yet despite the statistical and demographic concerns, it has also become clear that new methods of evangelization must focus on the essentials of giving believers true encounters with the living Lord and drawing them into tight bonds of community support and accompaniment.
Marking forty years since the coining of the phrase ‘New Evangelization’ might not make international headlines as a newsworthy event. Yet the urgency by which the Gospel is given to the minds and hearts of man is just as pressing as it was in the early 1980s. How might our parishes and campus ministry centers take bold steps into new ways of introducing others to Christ? How might we gain greater courage and creativity to speak about our faith publicly in a way that does feel embarrassing? Sharing the message of eternal life with those who do not know the Lord should be the most natural thing we do as faithful Christians. For what greater act of charity could there be, than to give to others a message of hope upon which their eternal salvation and happiness will hinge?