by Rev. Fr. (Dr) Anthony Mario Ozele, PhD

Characteristics of the New Evangelization

When Pope John Paul 11 uses the term “a new evangelization” he does not mean a new message.  Evangelization cannot be new in its content since its very theme is always the one Gospel given in Jesus Christ.  In its writings about Evangelization the Church means most fundamentally the proclamation of the basic Christian message: salvation through Jesus Christ.  On this foundation of the basic message of eternal life in God, John Paul 11 extends the notion of evangelization.  He notes that there is a diversity of activities in the Church’s one mission.  He states that Evangelization should not be limited to individual unbelievers but also addressed to non – practicing Christians and to entire cultures (those that need re-evangelizing and those who do not yet believe in Christ).  From these writings, we can articulate the following characteristics of the New Evangelization.

  1. It is not new in its content; its theme is always Christocentric, that is, the one Gospel given in Jesus Christ, the Lord and saviour of all mankind, Pope Benedict XVI has often reminded us that “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the event of an encounter with a person – Jesus Christ, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction”.
  2. It is inspired by the Holy Spirit who guided Jesus’ steps and, from the day of {Pentecost, guides the Church. The gift of the Spirit is the prime mover, the first source, the first breath of a true Evangelization.
  3. It is the responsibility of all the people of God, not just the work of a few people with a special vocation.  All the laity is co-responsible.  As Christians, we cannot avoid the supreme duty to evangelize.
  4. It is not just for foreign missions or only those who have not heard or believe the Christian message.  The New Evangelization is also for healthy Christian communities and for those Christians who have lost a living sense of faith.
  5. It is directed to individuals as well as to entire cultures of people and a wide variety of socio-cultural and demographic sectors.
  6. It is not only about proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom of God, but involves the comprehensive process of being Christian, ongoing conversion and catechesis, and creating a civilization of love.
  7. It calls for faithful missionary spirit that springs from prayer and holiness, hope and charity toward others.

A Framework for Moving the New Evangelization Forward

Like the apostles, the Church is sent on mission.  Evangelization is the mission of the Church.  Evangelization is the manifestation of Christ to the world by everything that we, as living icons of God, are through the ecclesial community and the gift of individual lives.  Thus, the living Christ, through the Holy Spirit, is the chief agent of Evangelization.

Rooted in her tradition and sacred Scripture, several basic actions or models emerged in the Church:  martyria, kerygma, leitourgia, koinonia and diakonia.  Since the Second Vatican Council, a sixth – inculturation-has also been recognized.  Every authentic Evangelization, therefore, is multi-dimensional, dynamic, and implies an integrated and collaborative vision.

Carefully considered, these basic actions, guided by the Holy Spirit, provide us with a useful framework to organize and concretely develop a plan of New Evangelization on both the community and individual levels.  It will also help us to promote and implement the new Evangelization fruitfully.

Framework Categories:

Martyria – our personal witness, the testimony of living Christian lives

Kerygma – our proclamation and communication, dialogue, preaching, catechesis

Leitourgia – our celebration of the Sacred Liturgy and the Sacraments

Koinonia – our fellowship of communion in Jesus with the Trinity and each other

Diakonia – our service, care of and charity toward others, particularly the vulnerable

Inculturation – our culture and various socio-cultural spheres

An evangelized person is someone deeply touched by the “good news” (euangel- in Greek) known in Christ Jesus.  The goal of all Evangelization is to help those living without the good news know the fullness of life Christ said he came to bring.

The good news is the joy, fulfillment, challenge to grow, the peace beyond understanding, the comfort, the counsel, the call to help needing people and billions of blessings we experience because Christ is the center of our lives.

Catholics have a special commission to evangelize non-practicing Catholics, the baptized but unchurched, and those alienated from the Church for whatever reason.  We also, along with our Protestant brethren, reach out to those living without the light of the world, Jesus.  The laity are particularly charged with this work because they have so many opportunities in daily life.

Evangelization is simply sharing our story (witness) within trusting relationships, with those to whom our experiences and stories matter, as theirs matter to us. When our lives revolve around our relationship with Christ, that relationship influences everything we do and are.  We share our experience of Christ within trusting relationships as naturally as we would talk about any important person in our lives.

Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, offers a seven-point reflection on evangelization.

  1. Remembering that even those who boast of their secularism have an inmate longing for the divine; the first step of evangelization must be to keep the quest for God alive.
    1. “Be not afraid”- confident, without being triumphalist, since it is the power of God who sends his people to evangelize.
    1. Knowing that the new evangelization is not about presenting a doctrine or belief-system, but a person, whose name is Jesus.
    1. Nevertheless, this Jesus is the Truth.  Hence, evangelization is linked to catechesis
    1. An evangelist must be a person of joy – someone who smiles
    1.  The new evangelization is about love – the love of God made concrete in service
    1. Finally, martyrdom.  A reminder that the Church is now peopled by those who are suffering persecution for their faith, and that these martyrs give impetus to the new evangelization

Conclusion:  The seed of the Church is present, but the message of Jesus Christ needs to be re-sown and watered for those who have already heard Christ’s message has taken root and yielded much fruit in past seasons.

Missionary activity renews the Church, revitalizing faith and Christian identity, and offers fresh enthusiasm and new incentive, renewing and revitalizing faith among the faithful.  This calling correlates with the Year of Faith, which is the challenge of Christ to his disciples, follow him and become fishers of men.  The Year of Faith and the New Evangelization is an invitation to Catholic Christians to Join Christ on Mission.  For those who would participate in the New Evangelization they are called to personal communion with God in Christ through the Holy Spirit.  For those who would be missionaries in the New Evangelization they must first be Disciples of Christ, in living relationship with the Lord and His Church.  In the spirit of the New Evangelization, it is our hope that the Year of Faith will yield even greater harvests for Christ in the future.