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by Adam Janke

Background to the New Evangelization and Evangelii Gaudium

1.    1963 – Giovanni Montini is elected Pope Paul VI in June 1963. He becomes the first pope in history to make apostolic journeys to 6 other continents and is the most traveled pope in history up until Blessed John Paul II. He choose the name “Paul” to reflect his desire to model his ministry after the ministry of St. Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles, and in order to renew the worldwide mission to spread the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. Two years after VII concluded he reorganized the Vatican Curia and changed the name of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith to the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

2.    1974 – In 1974 Paul VI wrote the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi or “Evangelization in the Modern World”. The mission? “Evangelization is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity, she exists in order to evangelize.” There is a primacy of witness to the faith. “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” (41)

3.    1979 – Blessed John Paul II went on more than 100 apostolic journeys and traveled more than one million miles. John Paul II used the term New Evangelization for the first time in June 1979 when he traveled his homeland in Poland. He used the phrase in reference to the people rediscovering their faith after communist rule. He recognized that this is what Poland needed for its own spiritual survival.

4.    1983 – The next time Blessed John Paul II uses the term the New Evangelization is in 1983 when he came to America. He announced that his intention was to foster the New Evangelization throughout the Americas and for the whole world. He stated that the New Evangelization would officially be launched in 1992 because it would mark the 500th anniversary of the founding of America and the evangelization of their peoples. The US, Brazil, and Mexico are now the most populace Catholic countries in the world.

5.    1990 – In 1990, two years before the launch he publishes another key document in the New Evangelization called Redemtoris Missio and states that “I sense that the moment has come to commit all of the churches energies to the New Evangelization. No believer in Christ no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty to proclaim Christ to all peoples.”

6.    2010 – Cardinal Ratzinger picked up on the words of John Paul II and that the intention would be for the New Evangelization to be a long term project for the Church. In 2010 he wrote the Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini or the Word of God. He talks about the New Evangelization in terms of the number of people who still have not heard the Word of God and have had the power of the Gospel transform their lives. He states that “Many of our brothers and sisters are ‘baptized, but insufficiently evangelized.’ In a number of cases, nations once rich in faith and in vocations are losing their identity under the influence of a secularized culture. The need for a new evangelization, so deeply felt by my venerable Predecessor, must be valiantly reaffirmed, in the certainty that God’s word is effective.” (96)

7.    2011-2012 – Pope Benedict XVI in February 2011 announces that the synod of bishops would meet in October 2012 and focus on the theme of the New Evangelization. Establishment of a new dicastery announced in June 2011 – The Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization.  Of course Benedict would very shortly thereafter abdicate his throne and now Pope Francis had the honor of writing the exhortation on the New Evangelization following the synod.

8.    October 2013 – In October 2013 Francis addressed the plenary assembly of the council and stated that “New Evangelization means to reawaken the life of faith in the heart and mind of our contemporaries.” He then set down three aspects of the New Evangelization for today. 1) Every baptized person is a bearer of the light of Christ. 2) Every Catholic Christian is to go out and encounter others and preach the Gospel. 3) And the ministry of the New Evangelization is to be focused on Jesus Christ.

Context in which we are receiving Evangelii Gaudium

So we can draw the conclusion that the New Evangelization is:

  1. For everyone, not just the clergy, and;
  2. Has as its primary goal re-evangelizing the de-christianized people where secularization has made deep inroads, and;
  3. Is about the evangelization of culture and promoting a culture of life where the culture has turned its back on God.

Following a rich tradition of the Evangelization of the Americas, Paul VI’s missionary style and apostolic journeys, Evangelii Nuntiandi & Redemptoris Missio, and the focus of Pope Francis on the joy of the New Evangelization that we now receive Evangelii Gaudium.

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