The term “new evangelization” has nothing at all to do with the Catholic Church starting up a new program or taking part in a new phenomenon.
New evangelization instead, means taking the concept of evangelization, which dates back to when Christ commissioned the Church to make disciples at the first Pentecost, and finding more contemporary and creative ways for delivering the Gospel message to others.
Such was the message Thomas Burnford brought to catechetical leaders from around the diocese when they gathered for a Spring Ministry Day on the new evangelization March 22 in St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Yardville.
Sponsored by the diocesan Ministry of Catechesis and Evangelization, the ministry day gave participants an opportunity to learn about the new evangelization and how it applies in their respective catechetical ministries. Along with hearing Burnford’s keynote address, participants had an opportunity to further their knowledge on the new evangelization, share ideas and network during workshops on: “Parish Catechesis, Families and the New Evangelization;” “New Evangelization and Catholic School Revitalization and “Forming Adults to the New Evangelization.”
“Everyone who participates in the catechetical mission are called by our Lord, not just to provide faith formation, but also to evangelize,” Burnford said to the gathering of parish catechetical and evangelization team leaders as well as Catholic school principals and religion teachers.
“The proclamation of the Holy Father for a new evangelization touches us all, in whatever areas we minister, and challenges us to look at our work through new eyes,” Burnford said.
Burnford, who serves as secretary for education in the Archdiocese of Washington, reviewed that the concept of the new evangelization was instituted by Pope John Paul II and continues to receive the support and encouragement of Pope Benedict XVI, who has called for a Synod of Bishops on the topic to be held at the Vatican in October. The Holy Father has also announced a Year of Faith to begin in October to help renew Catholics’ knowledge of the faith to become witnesses to Christ.
Burnford said it used to be that evangelization was carried out by missionaries who traveled to foreign lands to preach the Gospel to people who had never heard of it before. However, the new evangelization of today is about reaching out to people living in contemporary society who have already been baptized Catholic and are familiar with the Gospel, but for various reasons, they have not had a personal encounter with Christ, and their faith has not had a chance to develop.
“I prefer to say the new evangelization pertains to people who are Catholic and not yet evangelized,” Burnford said, rather than “lapsed Catholics” or those “who have fallen away from the Church.”
The new evangelization seeks to deepen the faith and commitment of all Catholics by calling them to a more profound relationship with the Lord in words and deeds, Burnford said.
He invited the catechetical ministers to reflect on how they can convey the Gospel to the people they encounter in their respective ministries and share the ways in which they already implement the new evangelization concept in their parishes.
Father Douglas Freer, diocesan vicar for Catholic education, appreciated how Burnford and the catechists had an opportunity to address what he called “one of the greatest challenges in catechesis” – parents who do not reinforce what their children are taught in catechesis simply because of not attending Mass regularly.
“It is often the children who re-evangelize their parents,” Father Freer said.
“We know that there are families who only bring their children to religious education to complete their sacraments,” Father Freer said. “That is certainly a start. A point of the day was to consider ways of drawing families more deeply into the life of faith.”
Eileen Hoefling, director of religious education in Sacred Heart Parish, Mount Holly, told about the “Advent Lessons at Home” program she introduced to her religious education families. Realizing that December can be stressful as families prepare for Christmas, Hoefling said that the regular parish religious education classes are canceled for the month. Instead, she provides packets of Advent and Christmas-related materials for families to review at home. Hoefling said the families responded positively to the “Lessons at Home.” She noted that there were a number of families who enjoyed introducing traditional religious customs to their Advent and Christmas observances, such as blessing of Christmas trees and making baked goods for a lonely neighbor.
A representative from Visitation Parish, Brick, shared that the parish’s “Coffeehouse Café” has brought young adult parishioners ages 20 to 35 together to socialize and be renewed in their faith.
Among the workshop participants who remarked on how she appreciated the opportunity to gain further insight on the new evangelization was Celeste Grant, religious education coordinator in St. Andrew Parish, Jobstown.
“When people hear the word ‘evangelization,’ they might automatically think of tele-evangelists,” Grant said. “But evangelization can be just about discussing our faith or our personal faith practices in a very informal setting or even in the setting of being a coordinator of religious education like I am.”
“Today was good in that we all had an opportunity to walk away with ideas from people who are directly involved in doing the work of evangelization,” she said.
Cathleen Sheridan, director of religious education in St. Mary of the Lakes, Medford, said she came away with a “good message of hope that we can bring to our ministry.”
“We think of evangelization in the past as to ‘go out,’ said Sheridan. The new evangelization is to work where we are and to evangelize those who were baptized but have not been catechized.”[[In-content Ad]]