As summer was just beginning, Pope Benedict XVI announced his intention to form a new Dicastery within the Roman Curia. This Council is called "The Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization" and its purpose is to confront those cultures that were rooted deeply in the Gospel, but which are now being overwhelmed by secularism and religious indifferentism.
Here's the earlier statement of the Pope from Zenit.org
There are regions in the world that ...the Gospel put down roots a long time ago, giving place to a true Christian tradition, but where in the last centuries -- with complex dynamics -- the process of secularization has produced a grave crisis of the sense of the Christian faith and of belonging to the Church.
In this perspective, I have decided to create a new organism, in the form of a pontifical council, with the specific task of promoting a renewed evangelization in countries where the first proclamation of the faith already resounded, and where Churches are present of ancient foundation, but which are going through a progressive secularization of society and a sort of 'eclipse of the sense of God,' which constitutes a challenge to find the appropriate means to propose again the perennial truth of the Gospel of Christ.
Now that summer has come and gone, the Pontifical Council is finally starting to come together. The work will be headed up by Italian Archbishop Rino Fisicella who, in remarking to CNS report about the long delays and the fact that the Council had no address or phone number, simply replied, "Pazienza" ("Patience"). However, now on October 12, four months after the initial announcement, the recent papal Motu Proprio Ubicumque et Semper ("Everywhere and Always") promulgates and establishes the Pontifical Council.
Here is an excerpt from the Pope's letter from VIC:
The Church has the duty to announce the Gospel of Jesus Christ always and everywhere. ... Over history this mission has assumed new forms and methods, depending on place, situation and historical moment. In our own time, one of its most singular characteristics has been that of having to measure itself against the phenomenon of abandonment of the faith, which has become progressively more evident in societies and cultures that were, for centuries, impregnated with the Gospel.
The Purposes and Tasks of the New Council
In Article 2 the papal letter laid out two general purposes of the Council: it encourages "reflection on topics of the new evangelization, and by identifying and promoting suitable ways and means to accomplish it."
In Article 3, Pope Benedict listed the specific tasks of the Council. First, it is "to examine in depth the theological and pastoral meaning of the new evangelization." Second, it is to work with the various Bishops' Conferences on "topics connected with the new evangelization." Third, it is to "make known and to support initiatives linked to the new evangelization that is already being put into practice" in dioceses, religious orders, apostolates, "groups of the faithful and in new communities." The fourth task is "to study and to encourage the use of modern forms of communication as instruments of the new evangelization." And the fifth and final specific task listed in the letter, "to promote the use of the Catechism of the Catholic Church as an essential and complete formulation of the content of the faith for the people of our time."
The New Head of the Council Responds
Archbishop Rino Fisichella made a few comments on the importance of the work of the new evangelization:
The 'Motu Proprio' directly identifies those Churches of ancient tradition which ...require a renewed missionary spirit, one capable of helping them make a forward leap to meet the new requirements which the current historical situation imposes... [The new evangelization] obliges us to develop well-founded ideas capable of acting as support to a corresponding pastoral activity.
In response the emphasis that Pope Benedict placed on the use of the Catechism of the Catholic Church for the new evangelization in the fifth task of the Council, the Archbishop went on to say:
The Catechism is indeed one of the most mature fruits to emerge from the directives of Vatican Council II. It is an organic compilation of the entire heritage of the development of dogma and is the most complete instrument to transmit the unchanging faith in the face of the constant changes and questions the world poses to believers.
He hopes to accomplish his task by use "all the inventions that progress in communications technology has created". I hope this means a Pope Benedict channel on YouTube where he's "Auto-tuning the Encyclical"!
My Own Two Cents
As societies in the West continue to reject the Gospel-based morality that lies at the foundation of Western civilization, discord among the people of the various nations will only increase. Without a shared understanding, even fragmentary, of what the Good is comprised, there can be little common ground. Instead, what replaces shared principles of practical rationality and civil discourse is, as we see in many hot-button issues like abortion, euthanasia, war and the death penalty, nothing other than rhetoric and shrill assertion. We cannot reason with one another because we do not share the basic contours of what morality ought to look like. That is why Alasdair MacIntyre was right to observe that in our modern times, "the lawyers are the new clergy", for it is through the courts that issues of public morality are now settled, not priests and theologians.
I believe that this new organism of the Holy See will bear much fruit because I see the revitalization of the Faith occurring in fits and starts all around me. In my ministry I have traveled all over America and worked with all different types of teens and youth groups. So many of them are inundated with that religious indifference the Pope spoke of earlier. They simply do not have the time to bother with what the Church says about life and faith. However, once they are taken out of their normal lives and the day-to-day anxieties and allow themselves to open up, if but for a second, I have found that the deep desire is already there and is pretty alive.
Culturally, I am discovering the youth to be generally apathetic, and not just so about religion. This is some pretty bleak news. Outside of strict loyalty to their friends (or more accurately, their "peer cluster"), they pay little attention to needs, problems or drama in the people and events around them. But this is not all bad news, for once they start breaking down indifference in one area, the faith quickly finds fertile ground. It is not uncommon for teens to discover new friends and build deep relationships on retreats while they also, for the first time, really care about their Catholic identity. I have seen this happen every time I have done a high school Confirmation retreat, which is pretty much the most apathetic place on earth.
Thus, to say that I am excited about this new Papal Council is an understatement. In fact, it was precisely this promulgation that finally pushed me over the edge to start this website and ramp up my lay ministry. I only hope that this can offer some adequate reflections on the new evangelization and the mission that it entails.
Everywhere and Always,