Frame Issues of Diversity Theologically in
Terms of the Church’s Identity and Mission to Evangelize
- To better
understand the meaning and purpose of both evangelization and the New
- To examine
the U.S. prevailing culture in light of the New Evangelization
- To explore
key ethnic and cultural groups in the Church as well as the opportunities and
challenges these present for the New Evangelization
understand the meaning of inculturation, or evangelization of cultures
to articulate an understanding of the Church’s mission and identity in terms of
evangelization and its relation to the New Evangelization
with the basic elements of evangelization in terms of “four pillars” and
examples of how evangelization engages individuals and cultures in today’s
- A grasp of
the theological foundations for the Church’s mission to evangelize in
Scripture, tradition and contemporary Church teaching.
This module places the entire course within the
framework of the Church’s identity and mission to evangelize and the New
Evangelization. Pope John Paul II first used the term “New Evangelization” in
his encyclical Redemptoris Missio. It is to be
understood as presenting anew or, as Pope Benedict XVI has put it,
“re-proposing” the faith of Jesus Christ, especially in places where adherence
to the Gospel has already taken root but is now in decline, so that believers
may grow more deeply in discipleship. Pope John Paul II added his own insight
about the process of evangelization and spoke of the New Evangelization as
proclaiming the Gospel with new methods, expressions, and ardor.
task begins by examining the New Evangelization as it might apply to the United
States—especially to its prevailing culture—and then focuses on the essential
need to develop greater capacity for intercultural communication. In so doing,
we may see new challenges and opportunities for presenting the message of Jesus
Christ. The module refers to the Catholic bishops of the United States’
and Make Disciples as expressing their vision of
evangelization in providing the framework for the Church’s identity and mission
in the United States.
What Is Evangelization?
The purpose of the Church is to evangelize: “The
Church has received from the apostles Christ’s solemn command to proclaim the
truth which saves, and it must carry it to the very ends of the earth” (Lumen Gentium, no. 17). To evangelize
means literally to “spread the Good News.” At the heart of that message is the
encounter with Jesus Christ and the salvation he brings to the world. From that
encounter comes incorporation into the Body of Christ, which is the Church. The
Church’s very nature is missionary—that is, to share this message with the
entire world. Thus, missionary activity is not something left solely to the
professional foreign missionary; it is a responsibility incumbent on all
his 1975 apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, Pope Paul VI
elaborated profoundly on the meaning of evangelization. It is not directed only
to the salvation of individual souls, but to entire societies and cultures. In
his understanding of the “evangelization of cultures,” those values and
patterns of living that shape individual lives and societies are brought into
encounter with Christ so that all may have life in abundance (see Jn 10:10).
Evangelization can be understood as having four pillars:
a personal encounter with Jesus Christ
Missio, Pope John Paul II focused on re-igniting the fire
of faith in the baptized so that they might be evangelizers of those around
them. He urged the faithful to seek out the new areopagoi—that
is, the new social forums in which the faith is to be presented. Indeed, the
call to a New Evangelization became a cornerstone of John Paul II’s papacy.
Benedict XVI has continued the call for a New Evangelization. His homily to the
Catholic bishops of the United States in April 2008 in Washington, D.C.,
underscored the importance of the New Evangelization for America. In July 2010,
he established a Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization. He has reminded
the faithful of the function of the Court of the Gentiles, which brought
non-Jews into dialogue with people from all cultures in the precincts of the
Temple in Jerusalem.
Make Disciples, the Catholic bishops of the United States
stress outreach in dialogue based on a clear sense of Catholic identity. They
outline three goals in this document: (1) to deepen the faith of Catholics so
that they might share their faith with others, (2) to invite all in the United
States to hear the message of salvation, and (3) to foster gospel values in
What Are the Challenges of the New Evangelization
in the United States?
The ongoing Pew Forum on Religion and Public
and reports from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at
Georgetown University (cara.georgetown.edu) provide rich
background material for understanding the religious and demographic context as
well as the challenges facing the Catholic Church in the United States. Much of
what follows here is culled from these sources.
United States is the fifth most multicultural country in the world (after
Australia, Switzerland, Canada, and Sweden, though these countries have much
smaller populations) (see Organization for Economic Cooperation and
Development, International Migration
Outlook Annual Report, 2006 Edition [OECD Publishing, 2006]). It has also been a
land of immigration. The presence of so many cultures has given the nation a
Catholics make up the single largest religious body in the United States (some
24 percent of the population), the prevailing culture has a Protestant flavor. Indeed,
anti-Catholicism has marked much of U.S. history.
United States is a secularized society, as are most financially
well-off countries around the world today. However, it is not as secularized as
many countries in Europe or as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Fifty-eight percent
of Americans say they pray at least once a day (see religions.pewforum.org/comparisons). Nevertheless, the number of
Americans who claim to have no religious belief at all continues to rise(see Barry A. Kosmin and Ariela
Keysar, American Religious Identification
Survey [ARIS 2008] Summary Report [Hartford, CT: Institute for the Study of
Secularism in Society and Culture, 2009], and Keyser, Egon Mayer, and Kosmin, “No
Religion: A Profile of America’s Unchurched,” Public Perspective 14: 28-32).
the Catholic Church has continued to grow in numbers (something not experienced
by the so-called “mainline” Protestant churches), this growth has been largely
because of immigration and immigrants’ larger families (see Robert D. Putnam
and David E. Campbell, American Grace
[New York: Simon and Schuster, 2010] 138). Many Catholics drift away from the
Church, especially as young adults. It has been said that if all the former
Catholics in the United States were to constitute a church denomination, it
would perhaps be the second largest church in the country, after the Catholic
Church itself (for reflections on the findings of the 2007 Pew Forum on
Religion and Public Life regarding the large number of lapsed Catholics, see
Joseph A. Sirba, “U.S. Catholics Leaving the Church in Droves: What Can Be
Done?” at www.ad2000.com.au/articles/2009/may2009p8_3032.html
and Tom Roberts, “The ‘Had It’ Catholics” in National Catholic Reporter, October 11, 2010, ncronline.org/news/faith-parish/had-it-catholics).
Individualism has long been a characteristic of the prevailing culture in the United
States. Connected with that individualism is a strong sense of freedom to
choose one’s lifestyle and profession. Individualism can make space for
creativity and achievement, but it can also be a source of selfishness.
of its wealth, U.S. society can be a materialistic one, meaning
that having more and more possessions becomes the criterion for
self-fulfillment and success. Recent studies have indicated that while the United
States is one of the richest countries in the world, it ranks only about fourteenth
in terms of happiness (see www.nationmaster.com/graph/lif_hap_lev_qui_hap-lifestyle-happiness-level-quite-happy).
do Catholics find themselves regarding secularism, individualism, and
materialism? Secularism traditionally carries with it important values such as
respect for human rights and freedom of religion. When the secular crowds out
the religious, however, it needs to be challenged. Religion provides important
pathways to the transcendent that every society needs.
for the dignity of every human person is a central tenet of Christian faith. In
Catholic social teaching, the basic social unit is not the individual, but the
family. Catholic faith sees every human being as interdependent with a
community, not as solitary individuals.
goods are necessary for human survival and well-being, but when material goods
become idols—taking away our relation to God and putting something else in its
place—the quest for material goods needs to be critiqued.
The New Evangelization in a Society and Church of
So what does the New Evangelization look like
in light of a culturally pluralistic society and Church? Here are some thoughts
- The faith
of Native Americans, African Americans, and immigrants from elsewhere may serve
as a stimulus to the faith and devotion of those in the Church who are more
aligned with the prevailing culture. Devotion to family among immigrant
populations may bring about a rethinking of how the family structure has eroded
in a secularized and globalized society.
- A fresh
or a first encounter with Jesus Christ, seen through the eyes of those
marginalized by the prevailing culture, can rekindle commitment to social
justice and solidarity.
response to evangelization is conversion, a re-commitment to Jesus
Christ and his message of salvation. As people from different cultures
encounter one another, they may be able to see their faith in a new light.
Catholic Church is the most ethnically diverse of all the U.S. denominations (see
Putnam and Campbell, op. cit., 292). If we, as Catholics,
can find ways of creating genuine communion among the various groups
within the Church, we can serve as a model for the rest of society.
first-generation immigrants often experience an increase in religiosity upon
coming to the United States (partly because their faith is a form of continuity
with their lives in their homelands), there is significant falloff in the
second generation (see Paul Perl, Jennifer Z. Greely, and Mark M. Gray, “How
Many Hispanics Are Catholic? A Review of Survey Data” [Washington, DC: CARA,
2004]). What forms should the New Evangelization take in young adult ministry?
A Theology for Intercultural Ministry
A theology for intercultural ministry finds
its sources in the Christian understanding of the human person and in a theology
of the Church as communion, as truly “catholic” (or universal), and as
missionary in nature.
Christian Anthropology: The Understanding of the
Christianity bases its understanding of the
human person on the first Creation story in Genesis. There we read that human
beings are made in the “image” and “likeness” of God (Gn 1:26-27). The dignity
of human beings is rooted in their creation in this image and likeness of God, and
“it shines forth in the communion of persons, in the likeness of the unity of
the divine persons among themselves” (CCC, no. 1702). It is in this light that
Christians understand that every person, regardless of race or ethnicity, is to
be treated with dignity and respect.
The Church as Communion
The Church is a communion modeled on the love among
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It seeks to mirror that communion of Divine
Persons in the way it welcomes and gathers in all peoples—“every tribe and
tongue, people and nation” (Rev 5:9). As Pope John Paul II put it in Novo Millennio
the Church is to be the “home and school of communion” (no. 43). The Church is
not sectarian and meant only for a chosen few.
The Church as Catholic
Moreover, our Church is a catholic
Church; in its universality, it intends to gather in all peoples without
exception. It is a communion in diversity, not in uniformity. It is Catholic,
too, in its believing all that the Lord has revealed. It is within this frame
of mind that the Church undertakes ministry among all cultures for the sake of
bringing all people together into communion with one Lord and one common
The Church as Mission
From Vatican II to Evangelii Nuntiandi and Redemptoris
Church teaching has stressed the missionary identity of the Church. Both Pope
John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have referred to the Church as being
missionary in its entirety. By virtue of Baptism, all are called to be
missionary disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Fifth Conference of the
Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean extensively developed the theme of
missionary discipleship in the 2007 Concluding Document
of Aparecida. One of the implications of the Church’s missionary character is
precisely the central role of intercultural knowledge, skills, and attitudes
that enable ministers of the Gospel to proclaim Christ’s message effectively
among all nations.