The 2012 Synod of Bishops on the “new evangelization” met for three weeks in October and presented a list of propositions to the Pope…
Despite the growth of secularism, increased hostility toward Christianity and sinful behavior by some Church ministers, members of the Synod of Bishops said they are optimistic about the future because of Christ’s promise of salvation.
Addressing a message to Catholics around the world October 26, Synod members said they were certain God “will not fail to look on our poverty in order to show the strength of his arm in our days and to sustain us in the path of the new evangelization.”
Even if the world often resembles a “desert” for Christians, “we must journey, taking with us what is essential: the company of Jesus, the truth of his word, the eucharistic bread which nourishes us,” the fellowship of community and the work of charity, the message said.
Pope Benedict XVI and the Synod members — more than 260 cardinals, bishops and priests — along with priests, religious and laymen and women serving as synod observers and experts, began meeting at the Vatican October 7 to discuss ways to strengthen Catholics’ faith and to encourage lapsed Catholics to come back to the Church.
The Synod members approved their “message to the people of God” October 26. They then voted on proposals to make to Pope Benedict, who will write an apostolic exhortation on the new evangelization. The Synod closed with a Mass on October 28.
While the final message describes forces hostile to the Christian faith today, the Synod members also said, “With humility we must recognize that the poverty and weakness of Jesus’ disciples, especially of his ministers, weigh on the credibility of the mission.”
At the same time, they said, they also were “convinced that the Lord’s spirit is capable of renewing his Church and rendering her garment resplendent if we let him mold us.”
“It is our duty, therefore, to conquer fear through faith, humiliation through hope, indifference through love,” the message said.
At a news conference about the message, Philippine Cardinal-designate Luis Tagle of Manila was asked how the bishops could take the line of optimism when Catholics in some parts of the world were leaving the Church because of the clerical abuse scandal.
The cardinal-designate said that “no one pretended there was no problem. There was no such blindness in the Synod hall,” but the bishops “are believers” and the Catholic faith teaches that with real conversion, God will help the Church and its ministers respond to “those really painful and scandalizing moments in the Church.”
The message included special words of thanks and encouragement for Catholics in different regions of the world. It said Synod members were grateful for the generous charity and missionary work of North American Catholics, but it also said Catholics in the United States and Canada “need to recognize the many expressions” of their culture “which are today far from the Gospel.”
Addressing Catholics’ involvement in political life, the Synod message insisted “politics requires a commitment of selfless and sincere care for the common good by fully respecting the dignity of the human person from conception to its natural end, honoring the family founded on the marriage of a man and a woman,” and working to end “injustice, inequality, discrimination, violence, racism, hunger and war.”
Looking at specific areas of Church and social life, the bishops first highlighted the role of the family “where women play a very special role” in teaching the faith.
The bishops promised greater efforts to strengthen and accompany Catholic families, particularly through marriage preparation and post-wedding programs.
While they condemned efforts to move away from a traditional definition of marriage, they expressed particular concern for divorced, separated or unmarried couples.
“To all of them we want to say that God’s love does not abandon anyone; that the Church loves them, too; that the Church is a house that welcomes all; that they remain members of the Church even if they cannot receive sacramental absolution and the Eucharist,” it said.
In the message, the bishops offered thanks for the work of priests, religious and deacons whose ministry is crucial for the Church. And they recognized the many men and women who witness to Christ in the world, including other Christians “with whom unity, unfortunately, is not yet full,” but who share baptism in Christ.
Synod members said they were “concerned, yes, but not pessimistic” about the situation of young Catholics around the world because while they often are under “the most aggressive attacks” of secular culture, they have “deep aspirations for authenticity, truth, freedom, generosity, to which we are convinced that the adequate response is Christ.”
While many Synod members spoke during the meeting about the importance of using social media and other new forms of communication to spread the Christian message, it earned only a brief mention in the 11-page message.
The new media, they said, are places where “consciences are often formed, where people spend their time and live their lives. It is a new opportunity for touching the human heart.”
The bishops focused on two “expressions of the life of faith” that they believed would be particularly helpful in strengthening the Church’s outreach: (1) a greater emphasis on helping people learn the art of contemplation — the “prayerful silence” that “can prevent the word of salvation from being lost” amid the world’s noise — and (2) a greater commitment to acts of charity and works of justice because “it is Christ’s face that shines in the face of the poor.”
Synod members propose ways to promote evangelization
Members of the Synod recommended the Vatican establish a commission to monitor religious freedom, develop guidelines for training evangelizers and ensure there is a church in every diocese where confession is always available.
At the end of the three-week world Synod of Bishops on new evangelization, members of the gathering approved 58 propositions to give to the Pope; although synod rules say the proposals are secret, Pope Benedict authorized their publication October 27.
The propositions were designed as recommendations for the Pope to use in a Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation. Many of the propositions described current challenges and opportunities that the Church faces in sharing the Gospel, strengthening the faith and reaching out to lapsed Catholics.
Other propositions asked Pope Benedict or individual bishops to consider undertaking concrete projects, including:
— Establishing a Vatican commission to monitor religious freedom around the world, denounce attacks on religious freedom and promote a broader understanding of its importance as a basic human right.
The propositions said, “The proclamation of the good news in different contexts of the world — marked by the process of globalization and secularism — places different challenges before the Church: at times in outright religious persecution, at other times in a widespread indifference, interference, restriction or harassment.”
During the Synod discussions, bishops in different parts of the world described different relationships with Muslim neighbors, ranging from situations in which Christian minorities experience serious discrimination to cases of Catholics and Muslims working together to address social problems.
The Synod propositions encouraged Catholics “to persevere and to intensify their relations with Muslims” in accordance with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council.
— Developing a “pastoral plan of initial proclamation” that would outline steps to help ensure that once people hear the Gospel, they are led to conversion and faith and are educated in Church teaching. It also should describe the “qualities and guidelines for the formation of Catholic evangelizers today.”
— Asking that every diocese establish a parish or shrine dedicated “in a permanent way” to the administration of the sacrament of penance, ensuring “priests are always present, allowing God’s mercy to be experienced by all the faithful.”
“The sacrament of penance and reconciliation is the privileged place to receive God’s mercy and forgiveness,” it is a place of healing and strength, and it is the sacrament that can bring people back into full communion with the Church, the Synod members said.
As they did in the Synod hall, Synod members used several propositions to emphasize the importance of the family as the place where life and love are first given, where people are introduced to the faith and where they learn to live according to Gospel values.
The Church’s new evangelization efforts must help strengthen families and must try “to address significant pastoral problems around marriage: the case of divorced and remarried (Catholics), the situation of their children, the fate of abandoned spouses, the couples who live together without marriage and the trend in society to redefine marriage,” Synod members said.
Recognizing an increase in secularism around the world, Synod members said that in many ways Christians are living “in a situation similar to that of the first Christians,” who were small minorities in cultures indifferent or even hostile to Christianity.
Still, Synod members said, “the world is God’s creation and manifests his love.” Even if Christians are just a little flock, they are called to “bear witness to the Gospel message of salvation” and “to be salt and light of a new world.”
The propositions emphasized that while the primary task of the Church is to bring people to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, a relationship lived and nourished in the Church, part of reaching out to others and witnessing to the Gospel involves serving the poor and sick, working for justice and protecting the environment.
Synod members praised the members of religious orders, who have been on the frontlines of evangelization for centuries, as well as the activities of new movements and communities. But they stressed the importance of all members of a diocese coordinating their work with the local bishop, and they insisted on the key role of parishes as the places where most Catholics learn about and practice their faith.
The propositions included a suggestion that parish priests or other designated parish staff visit families in the parish as part of their outreach.
The propositions described the liturgy as “the primary and most powerful expression of the new evangelization” and a manifestation of God’s love for humanity.
“Evangelization in the Church calls for a liturgy that lifts the hearts of men and women to God,” Synod members said.
During Synod discussions, several bishops spoke about the importance of the Church learning the particular language and culture of social media and new technology to share the Gospel with people who increasingly spend their time online. In the propositions, they said Catholics should be trained “to transmit faithfully the content of the faith and of Christian morality” through the media, but they insisted that no technical talent or online presence could take the place of “the testimony of life” lived in accordance with the Gospel.
Synod members described young Catholics not primarily as objects of evangelization, but as evangelizers, especially of their peers. “As the media greatly influence the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well-being of the youth,” they said, “the Church through catechesis and youth ministry strives to enable and equip them to discern between good and evil, to choose Gospel values over worldly values, and to form firm faith convictions.”