“The Church is alive—this is the wonderful experience of these days. And the Church is young.” At the end of a fruitful year in the Church, these words proclaimed by Benedict XVI at the beginning of his Pontificate are as timely as ever. The second half of 2011 saw the streets and plazas of Madrid filled during World Youth Day with young people from all over the world. This half-year has also witnessed the warm reception that Germany gave to the Successor of Peter; as well as his return to the African continent, where he presented the post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Africae Munus in Benin. Benedict XVI also visited Ancona and Assisi, in Italy, during these months, and on October 15-16 in Rome was present at the congress “New Evangelizers for the New Evangelization,” focused on the upcoming synod on the new evangelization that will take place in October 2012.
The congress was organized by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, instituted by Benedict XVI at the end of 2010. The goal of this Pontifical Council is that “the entire Church, allowing herself to be regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit, may present herself to the contemporary world with a missionary impulse in order to promote the new evangelization . . . to speak of a ‘new evangelization’ does not in fact mean that a single formula should be developed that would hold the same for all circumstances. And yet it is not difficult to see that what all the Churches living in traditionally Christian territories need is a renewed missionary impulse, an expression of a new, generous openness to the gift of grace. Indeed we cannot forget that the first task will always be to make ourselves docile to the freely given action of the Spirit of the Risen One who accompanies all who are heralds of the Gospel and opens the hearts of those who listen.”
Those who seek to carry out Christ’s missionary mandate—Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation (Mk 16:15)— will always face obstacles. But these can never slow down the apostolic activity of Christians. The Holy Father announced for the year 2012 a “Year of Faith,” saying that now is the moment “to give a fresh impetus to the mission of the whole Church to lead human beings out of the wilderness in which they often find themselves to the place of life, to friendship with Christ, who gives us fullness of life.”
This is meant to be a new stimulus, begun already by the Second Vatican Council, in the task of evangelizing which the Church has been carrying out for almost two millennia and which will not conclude as long as there are men and women on earth. Indeed, the Council, by the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium (whose fifth chapter was dedicated to the universal call to holiness), the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes and the Decree Ad Gentes, as well as the succeeding Pontifical Magisterium (in particular with Paul VI’s Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (1974), and John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation Chrfistifideles Laici (1988) and the Encyclical Redemptoris Missio (1990)) have emphasized that the deep transformations needed by today’s society require a renewed proclamation of the Gospel.
Blessed John Paul II coined the expression “new evangelization” in 1979. Eleven years later he once again took up that term to present a challenge to the universal Church: “Today the Church must face other challenges and push forward to new frontiers, both in the initial mission ad gentes and in the new evangelization of those peoples who have already heard Christ proclaimed. Today all Christians, the particular churches and the universal Church, are called to have the same courage that inspired the missionaries of the past, and the same readiness to listen to the voice of the Spirit.” Similarly, in the Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte (January 6, 2001), he pointed to the new evangelization as a mission of high priority for the Church in the third millennium of its history (see no. 40).
This Pope never tired of stressing, right to the end of his life, the responsibility that Christians have to carry out the Church’s mission. In his last trip away from Rome, in 2004 to Loreto, he addressed lay people in a special way: “May you have at heart what the Church has at heart: that numerous men and women of our time be won over by fascination for Christ; may his Gospel shine once more as a light of hope for the poor, the sick, those who hunger for justice; may Christian communities be ever more lively, open and attractive; may our cities be hospitable and livable for all; may humanity follow the paths of peace and brotherhood. It is up to you lay people to witness to the faith through your own specific virtues: fidelity and gentleness in the family, competence at work, tenacity in serving the common good, solidarity in social relations, creativity in doing useful deeds for evangelization and human promotion. It is also up to you, in close communion with the Pastors, to show that the Gospel is timely and that faith does not tear the believer from history but roots him in it more deeply.
In this issue of Romana, besides a selection of Benedict XVI’s writings from the second half of 2011, among which we find the Motu Proprio Porta Fidei convoking the Year of Faith, we include also the long letter from the Prelate dated October 2. Bishop Javier Echevarría stresses there that, in order to carry out the new evangelization Benedict XVI is calling for now, great care should be given to people’s doctrinal and apostolic formation, instilling in them an eagerness to win souls for our Lord. He does not hide the fact that “in recent years, this zeal for souls has required greater vigor, to counter the secularism that has made great strides, to the extent of acquiring citizenship status in traditionally Christian countries.” And he makes clear that “infusing the spirit of Christ once again into the roots of these nations is the goal of the new evangelization.”
We should ask our Lord insistently to grant his Church a “new springtime,” a period of conversion and interior growth in every follower of Jesus Christ. This will come about if we rely on the power of prayer: “Help me to cry: Jesus, souls! Apostolic souls! They are for you, for your glory. You’ll see how in the end he will hear us.”