Part II: Historical Context of the New EvangelizationDisciples Called to Witness: The New Evangelization
A statement by the Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis
"Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." Matthew 28:19
The Church’s ad gentes (“to the world”) mission given to her
by Christ is the proclamation of the Good News to those who do not know him.
The historical and social circumstances of the twentieth century prompted the
Church to renew her mission to evangelize. This renewed vision of
evangelization includes, as Pope Benedict XVI has stated, the challenge to
“propose anew”15 the Good News to all of the Christian faithful, most
especially to those of the faithful who are absent from the Lord’s Table.
Pope Paul VI's Call for Evangelization
Ten years after the close of the Second Vatican Council and
a year after the 1974 Synod of Bishops, Pope Paul VI issued Evangelii Nuntiandi.
Pope Paul VI stated that the Church “exists in order to evangelize, that is to
say in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace, to
reconcile sinners with God, and to perpetuate Christ’s sacrifice in the Mass,
which is the memorial of his death and glorious Resurrection.”16 Evangelii
Nuntiandi describes the essential aspects of evangelization as well as its
effects on the one evangelizing and the one being evangelized. The proclamation
of the Kingdom of God and salvation for all people through Jesus Christ is at
the very core of the Church’s mission and the essential aspects of
evangelization.17 To evangelize, one bears witness to God’s Revelation in Jesus
through the Holy Spirit by living a life imbued with Christian virtues, by
proclaiming unceasingly that salvation is offered to all people through the
Paschal Mystery of Christ, and by preaching hope in God’s love for us.18 Pope
Paul VI recognized that the first proclamation of the Good News is directed ad
gentes. However, he also recognized the need for the evangelization of the
baptized who no longer practice their faith.19 He called upon the Church to
evangelize these two groups, to invite them to a life of conversion, and to add
new meaning to their life through the Paschal Mystery of Christ.
Blessed John Paul II and the New EvangelizationA New Evangelization, new in its ardor, methods and expression
Blessed John Paul II renewed the call to all of the
Christian faithful to evangelize in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council
and Pope Paul VI. “No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can
avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples.”20 Blessed John
Paul II made evangelization a focus of his pontificate and emphasized man’s need
to be evangelized by the Church. Evangelization occurs most effectively when
the Church engages the culture of those she evangelizes. In 1983, he addressed
the Catholic bishops of Latin America in Haiti and called for a New
Evangelization: “The commemoration of the half millennium of evangelization
will gain its full energy if it is a commitment, not to re-evangelize but to a New
Evangelization, new in its ardor, methods and expression.”21 This marked the
first time Blessed John Paul II used the term “New Evangelization” as the
theological concept of proclaiming the Gospel anew to those already
evangelized. He called for new “ardor, methods and expression” of
evangelization, ones that engage the present-day culture and modern man.
Blessed John Paul II, in the encyclical Redemptoris Missio, provided three
circumstances in evangelization: (1) preaching to those who have never heard
the Gospel (ad gentes), (2) preaching to those Christian communities where the
Church is present and who have fervor in their faith, and (3) preaching to those
Christian communities who have ancient roots but who “have lost a living sense
of the faith, or even no longer consider themselves members of the Church, and
live a life far removed from Christ and his Gospel. In this case what is needed
is a ‘new evangelization’or a ‘re-evangelization.’”22
Blessed John Paul II alluded to the New Evangelization again
in his opening address to the Catholic bishops of Latin America in Santo
Domingo, Dominican Republic, as well as in Crossing the Threshold of Hope.
Although Blessed John Paul II did not develop a full theological scheme of the
New Evangelization, his writings reveal central themes of the New
Evangelization, including the implementation of the call of the Second Vatican
Council to proclaim the Good News of Christ by the engagement of the present
and to accompany individuals on their journey from this life
to eternal life. For Blessed John Paul II, evangelization must proclaim the
Good News, which when appropriated into one’s life, leads to conversion. This
conversion provides a life of witness to the Good News and compels one to
fulfill his or her vocation to the universal call of holiness. One’s vocation
to holiness is strengthened through the gifts of the Church, namely the grace
of the sacraments, prayer, Scripture, and the Church’s teachings and
Pope Benedict XVI and the Future of the New Evangelization
New Evangelization is first and foremost a personal profound experience of God
During his homily on the Solemnity of SS. Peter and Paul at
the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls on June 28, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI
renewed the Church’s call to the New Evangelization. Pope Benedict XVI called
for the riproporre (“re-proposing”) of the Gospel to those regions “still
awaiting a first evangelization” and to those regions where the roots of
Christianity are deep but that have experienced “a serious crisis” of faith due
to secularization.23 He clarified that the New Evangelization is new, not in
its content but rather in its inner thrust; new in its methods that must
correspond to the times; and new because it is necessary to proclaim the Gospel
to those who have already heard it.24 Pope Benedict XVI calls the Church to
evangelize by entering into dialogue with modern culture and confronting the
brought on by secularization. To aid the Church in
re-proposing the faith to modern society, Pope Benedict XVI established the
Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization on September 21,
2010, and proposed that the New Evangelization be the focus of the next Synod
When describing why he created a council for the promotion
of the New Evangelization, Pope Benedict XVI stated that the mission of the
Church has always remained the same, but the cultural contexts confronting man
and the Church have changed. The council will help the Church understand the
cultural contexts of the twenty-first century. Pope Benedict XVI noted that the
Church is being challenged by “an abandonment of the faith—a phenomenon
progressively more manifest in societies and cultures which for centuries seemed to be permeated by the Gospel.”25 He also
outlined the modern cultural factors, such as secularism, that are contributing
to the decline of the Christian identity in the world. Pope Benedict XVI has
also indicated that the New Evangelization is not a single formula meant for
all circumstances; first and foremost, it is a personal “profound experience of
- Benedict XVI, Homily of First Vespers on the Solemnity of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, The Vatican.
- Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi (EN) (Washington, DC: USCCB, 1975), no. 14.
- Cf. EN, nos. 8-9.
- Cf EN, nos. 26-28.
- See EN, nos. 52-53; 56-57.
- RM, no. 3.
- John Paul II, Address to CELAM (Opening Address of the Nineteenth General Assembly of CELAM, 9 March 1983, Port-au-Prince, Haiti), L'Osservatore Romano English Edition 16/780 (18 April 1983), no. 9.
- RM, no. 33.
- Homily on the Solemnity of SS. Peter and Paul.
- Benedict XVI, Ubicumque et semper, The Vatican.