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The New Evangelization and CRS

By Most Reverend Richard J. Malone, Th.D., Bishop of Buffalo

12th September 2012 — I am very grateful to Dr. Carolyn Woo for the great honor of giving the 2012 Bishop Edward Swanston Lecture. I am thankful, too, for the topic I have been asked to address: the "New Evangelization" and its relationship with the work of Catholic Relief Services. Let me preface my remarks with a simple expression of profound gratitude for the privilege of serving on our CRS board of directors. It is one of the great blessings I have received in my life and ministry. I only wish that every bishop could have the opportunity to become so closely involved with this amazing organization.

I wonder how many people who know something of the worldwide humanitarian and development work of CRS—and who perhaps even respect and support it—would think to associate CRS with the Catholic Church's mission—its primary mission—of evangelization? Isn't evangelization, after all, the "proclamation that, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, who died and rose from the dead, salvation is offered to all men, as a gift of God's grace and mercy"? Does the Church not teach that "there can be no true evangelization if the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the Kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth the Son of God are not proclaimed"?

Both of those citations are indeed from a most authorative source: Pope Paul VI's 1975 Apostolic Exhortation On Evangelization in the Modern World (Evangelii Nuntiandi). But those two statements may not sound like the work that CRS does in more than 100 countries around the world—work in public policy, agriculture, education, emergency response, food and hunger, health, HIV and AIDS, human trafficking, microfinance, peacebuilding, ensuring a social safety net, and water and sanitation.

So what's the connection of CRS with, first, evangelization in its general meaning, and then, the New Evangelization?

One need only look to the CRS mission statement to see the link: "Catholic Relief Services carries out the commitment of the Bishops of the United States to assist the poor and vulnerable overseas. We are motivated by the Gospel of Jesus Christ to cherish, preserve, and uphold the sacredness and dignity of all human life, foster charity and justice, and embody Catholic social and moral teaching."

Evangelization is a proclamation of the Gospel both by word and by action, by preaching and teaching as well as by the living witness of those committed to the works of justice and charity, the work of healing the world. In all that CRS does, the fundamental motivating force of the organization is the Gospel of Jesus Christ as it relates to the alleviation of human suffering and the development of people.

The clue is in the Greek, then Latin, root of the word "evangelization," evangelium, which means, literally, "good news"—the good news of Jesus Christ who came into this world to proclaim the Kingdom of God, the coming "Kingdom of truth and life, of holiness and grace, of justice, love and peace" (Preface of the Mass, Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe). This is the good news of the one who, making his own the words of the prophet Isaiah, declared that he came to "bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, recovery of the sight to the blind, and release to prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord" (Luke 4:18-19). It is what Jewish tradition calls tikkun olam, repairing, or healing, the world.

Evangelization, most fundamentally, is the work of touching peoples' minds and hearts, peoples' lives, touching the world with the saving, healing, liberating good news of Jesus Christ who came, he said, not to be served but to serve. Evangelization hopes to change individuals and to transform the world.

To grasp the central importance, the urgency, of evangelization in the Church's contemporary self-understanding, we need to recall Paul VI's three "burning questions" posed at the beginning of Evangelii Nuntiandi back in 1975:

  • In our day, what has happened to that hidden energy of the Good News, which is able to have a profound effect on man's conscience?
  • To what extent and in what ways is that evangelical force capable of really transforming the people of this century?
  • What methods should be followed in order that the power of the Gospel may have its effect?" (Paul VI, EN, #4).

Pope Paul's question about the effects of the power of the Gospel on peoples' lives brings back the memory of a young mother, a widow, whom I met in a desperately poor barrio near Cuernavaca, Mexico. I was there with a group of college students for what was then called a "third world retreat." She shared her story. Her husband had been a Catholic catechist, an evangelizer, a teacher of Bible in a very oppressed Central American country. Because of what he was doing, his teaching of the biblical basis of social justice, he was brutally murdered by men representing the powers that be. Why? The politically powerful were terrified of the empowerment they knew these oppressed people were receiving as they learned from the Scriptures about God and his liberating, life-giving love, and so, about their own inestimable dignity as human beings created in God's image. Because that biblical message—the Good News—was strengthening the resolve of the suffering people to stand up to their oppressors, to claim their God-given rights, the messenger was shot, a modern day martyr for the cause of justice and love.

Having raised these three questions, Paul VI goes on to declare unequivocally: "Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize" (EN #14), in order to bring that life-giving, liberating encounter with Christ and the power of his message to all humankind and with a preferential option for the poor.

No doubt some who listen to these reflections are struggling with the suspicion that evangelization must mean proselytizing, a kind of contrived way of recruiting new Church members or, at its worst, a way to play on peoples' needs to lure them to accept Christ. That is not evangelization. No, declares Pope Benedict XVI: "…the New Evangelization is in no way to be confused with proselytism, without prejudice to the duty of respect for truth, for freedom and for the dignity of every person."

Avery Cardinal Dulles, in an essay entitled "Vatican II and Evangelization," observes that evangelization has two senses.

In the narrow sense it means the announcement of the global Christian message to those who do not believe, that is to say, primary evangelization. But in a broad sense it means everything that brings human life and the world under the sway of God's word. In this second sense, evangelization practically coincides with the total mission of the Church. Normally, if not in every case, Vatican II used the term evangelization in the narrow sense, to mean the action of announcing Christ rather than of bringing his influence to bear upon diverse persons and situations through education, pastoral care and social action. Paul VI in Evangelii Nuntiandi opted for the broader meaning. (In The New Evangelization: Overcoming the Obstacles, Steven Boguslawski, OP and Ralph Martin, eds, p. 3).

Dulles, for our purposes here, cuts to the chase when he writes "Evangelization can also take the form of social action."

Yet, it would be disingenuous of me, a false presentation of the fullest meaning of evangelization, if I were to infer that the Church is not fully committed to what Cardinal Dulles referred to as the more narrow sense of the term—the direct proclamation of Jesus Christ and his Gospel with the hope that hearers would find in him new meaning, new strength and courage for their lives, new hope for salvation in the here and now, and in the hereafter. Catholics and other Christians believe that the deepest meaning and most enduring hope for this life and for life eternal a person can receive is found in Christ. We believe that we can come to the fullest appreciation of who we are as human persons precisely from looking to Jesus. As Vatican II put it, "The truth is that only in the mystery of the Incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light" ("The Church in the Modern World, [Gaudium et Spes], #22).

In an eye-opening first CRS trip to Congo a few years ago, the throng with whom we worshiped on a very early Sunday morning in the Cathedral at Bukavu knew and embraced this truth, as did the Haitians I met and with whom we celebrated Mass in Port-au-Prince on the first anniversary of the devastating earthquake. Their faith is the source of abiding hope, courage and resilience in the face of unspeakable suffering. Integral human development acknowledges the importance of appreciating and reverencing the spiritual dimension of persons along with attending to the cultural, economic, political and social dimensions of their lives.

Pope Benedict XVI just last week offered words of encouragement to participants in the Pan-African Congress for Catholic Laity. Calling Africa to be the "continent of hope," Pope Benedict wrote that hope "indicates the bright horizon which opens up before the eyes of faith" despite the many problems facing the African continent. He said, "Even the best traditional values of African culture are today threatened by secularization, which gives rise to disorientation, ends the fiber of personal and social life, exacerbates tribalism, violence and corruption in public life, leads to the humiliation and exploitation of women and children, and increases poverty and hunger. To this must be added the threat of fundamentalist terrorism which has recently targeted Christian communities in a number of African countries."

Benedict goes on to affirm that despite these many challenges, the African people possess "a great wealth of spiritual resources, which are very valuable in our time: love for life and the family, a sense of joy and of sharing, enthusiasm in living their faith in the Lord…Never let the dark mentality of relativism open a breach in your lives…Women and men, young and old, children, families and all of society: today all of Africa awards the 'ambassadors' of the Good News"—by which the Pope meant the African laity themselves, as yeast in the dough of African society.

The Pope, of course, was addressing African Christians, and so could naturally focus his words overtly on Christ. CRS would not approach integral human development in that way with non-Christians, or in places where Christianity is prohibited. We go to those good people and those nations simply to serve human need motivated by, but without overt reference to, Christ. We do not hand out Bibles along with water and medicine. Our humanitarian service does not depend on the faith or lack thereof either of those who are serving or those who are being served. And all of us, in every humanitarian encounter, we must never forget, are always both server and served, giver and receiver.

The Church's work of evangelization clearly includes the work of social development, aiding those in need and contributing to the enrichment of society and culture. Pope Benedict XVI, in the encyclical Caritas in Veritate (June 29, 2009), states, "Testimony to Christ's charity, through works of justice, peace and development, is part and parcel of evangelization, because Jesus Christ, who loves us, is concerned with the whole person. These important teachings form the basis for the missionary aspect of the Church's social doctrine, which is an essential element of evangelization" (15).

The reality in the world today is such that in many countries, Christianity is not permitted to be practiced or proclaimed. The lack of religious freedom is a vital concern in a growing number of countries. In spite of these challenges, Catholic Relief Services and the Catholic Church must continue to assist people and provide aid to impoverished countries, always with the hope that the political, economic and social situations preventing other evangelization efforts will change. Blessed John Paul II's encyclical Redemptoris Missio (December, 1990) clearly states that the Church's missionary "activity is not limited only to those who accept her message." (20) Blessed John Paul II enhances this point by stating that "the evangelical witness which the world finds most appealing is that of concern for people, and of charity toward the poor, the weak and those who suffer." (42) This witness is most effective when the Gospel is lived out in a daily life of charity. "The witness of a Christian life is the first and irreplaceable form of mission: Christ, whose mission we continue, is the 'witness' par excellence (Rev 1:5; 3-4) and the model of all Christian witness." (42)

The importance of a life of witness as the foundation and initial act of evangelization was clearly noted in Pope Paul VI's encyclical Evangelii Nuntiandi (December 8, 1975). "Through this wordless witness these Christians stir up irresistible questions in the hearts of those who see how they live…such a witness is already a silent proclamation of the Good News and a very powerful and effective one. Here we have an initial act of evangelization." (13).

CRS realizes that in no way does this silent witness of life constitute the fullness of evangelization. Such witness may prepare the way for and aid in the reception of the Gospel. Yet in countries or regions where explicit proclamation of the Gospel or overt evangelization efforts are prohibited, a life witness of sanctity, simplicity and charity is a real form of evangelization that ought not be neglected or lost.

Pope Paul VI in the encyclical Populorum Progressio (March 26, 1967) highlighted the need to recognize and respond to human needs. "No one is permitted to disregard the plight of his brothers living in dire poverty, enmeshed in ignorance and tormented by insecurity. The Christian, moved by this sad state of affairs, should echo the words of Christ: 'I have compassion on the crowd.'" (74)

Evangelization embraces every aspect of life and contributes to the enhancement of society. Blessed John Paul II's Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Africa (September, 1995) highlighted the unity between social development and evangelization. "Integral human development - the development of every person and of the whole person, especially of the poorest and most neglected in the community - is at the very heart of evangelization. 'Between evangelization and human advancement - development and liberation - there are in fact profound links.'" (68) Evangelization, through witness and word, enhances the individual and society at large.

Finally, what about the New Evangelization? We have been considering CRS and its relationship to evangelization without getting to the "New" Evangelization. It is easy, really, if we look to the way in which Blessed John Paul II introduced the notion of the New Evangelization in his 1983 address to the Latin American bishops. The Pope made it clear that he was not calling for a new message. We have the message—the evangelium, the Gospel, the good news. He was, rather, summoning the Church worldwide to a new effort, characterized by new "ardor, methods and expression." It is a summons to a new beginning, new zeal.

The New Evangelization is also pointed in a different direction, not only to those who have never heard the Gospel before—the traditional mission territories—but rather to the People of God as a whole, and as a general call to authentic spiritual renewal, with a special focus on those traditionally Christian cultures "where entire groups of the baptized have lost a living sense of the faith, or even no longer consider themselves members of the Church, and live a life far removed from Christ and his Gospel." (Redemptoris Missio, 33).

Renewal of the faith of Christians is at its heart a renewal of faith in and response to God's love, a renewal of hope in God's promise to bring about a "new heaven and a new earth." This renewal will bear fruit, if it is an authentic and deep, in a more zealous commitment to Gospel values, to principles of Catholic social teaching, to sharing more energetically and generously in the Church's mission - including the mission of CRS—in the work of charity, justice and peace.

In words spoken by Cardinal Dolan, "The New Evangelization is about love—the love of God made concrete in service." And if we need a wake-up call about the poignancy of Cardinal Dolan's point, we need only recall the admonition of 16th century mystic St. John of the Cross, who wrote "When the evening of this life comes, we will be judged on love."

And love requires us of CRS to continue to do with excellence, fidelity, courage, determination, perseverance, humility and hope all that we have been and are doing in more than 100 countries worldwide. It may well require us to tackle new, now unimagined challenges, to launch out into the deep in creative response to emerging needs. And always to do so in the spirit of Christ's self-giving love.

The New Evangelization, I believe, invites us to strengthen the attention we give to the spiritual dimension of all that we are and do, in all of our rich diversity—the spiritual dimension of our own lives and work, the spiritual dimension of integral human development in all of our services and activities. Otherwise, we are not truly reverencing and serving the whole person, who, whatever her or his religious tradition or lack thereof, from the perspective of Catholic theological anthropology, is created, oriented, wired for communion, for life-giving friendship, with the Divine. How we will do that will require thoughtful, sensitive, respectful and dialogical discernment. It is an easier thing to figure out when we are providing service for an overwhelmingly Christian people, say in Southern Sudan, the central part of Congo, or Haiti. It is an entirely different matter when we are present among peoples of Islamic or other traditions, perhaps in northern Sudan or Afghanistan. We are in those latter locations not to evangelize in the fullest, direct sense of overtly proclaiming Christ, but simply to serve human need in an integral way.

The other major implication of the New Evangelization for CRS ends up on the agenda of US Operations. Because the New Evangelization is aimed at the spiritual renewal of U.S. Catholics—and at the transformation of culture through them—it follows that for CRS, working as we do with dioceses and other Catholic institutions and organizations, our task is to shine a brilliant light on the necessary responsibility of every Catholic to learn about, care about, and participate generously in the Church's mission. In their own homes and parishes, yes, but also in a growing appreciation of and commitment to the meaning and demands of global solidarity and compassionate outreach, constitutive dimensions—sine qua nons, really—of Christian discipleship.

Evangelization is always a call to change of heart, conversion of life. Evangelization summons us out of our comfort zones, where too often the fuller living of our faith can get mired in a privatized spirituality and narrowed worldview that cannot bear the good fruit of an orientation to service beyond oneself to the world, the world of need. As Benedict XVI said in Porta Fidei, the document promulgating the coming Year of Faith, "Faith without charity bears no fruit" (14).

The practical and CRS-related significance of this is that the more effective we are at engaging Catholics, and others, more deeply in the work of the Church's mission, the more we can offer CRS to them as a reliable, proven, respected and, in many ways, easy way for them to pray, live and give out of a growing sense of global solidarity and compassion for sisters and brothers in need overseas. One important goal of the New Evangelization is to raise consciousness among U.S. Catholics that commitment to mission (for us, translate: CRS) is a constitutive dimension of discipleship.

And with CRS' strategy discussion underway, the Year of Faith and the New Evangelization provide a basis for CRS to enter into that "dialogue and analysis to identify and address some of the most critical strategic choices for the future, setting a direction, priorities and goals, and gaining alignment across all of the main constituents of the organization on the way ahead." This can be an exciting, creative and fruitful time for cross-fertilization and synergy between CRS and the Church as both work to renew and strengthen our mission and identity in the U.S. and the world.

Because we are looking in this last section of my paper to the renewal of the sense of faith and mission on the part of U.S. Catholics, a final word on the challenge of evangelizing our culture. A number of recent studies make it clear that in many, but not all, parts of the U.S., our society is no longer as fully integrated with religious faith and values as once it was. Cardinal Francis George, whose scholarly interest and writing concentrates on the relationship of faith and culture, observed that "Most Americans might believe in some sort of god, but faith is compartmentalized, meaning that it is unrelated to much of everyday experience and life. The practice of religion is something of a 'hobby,' something to do in your spare time on a weekend, but not something to bring into the rest of your life."

While the reasons for this creeping secularization and privatization are complex and much analyzed, it is clear that separation of religion from the rest of one's life is a very troubling concern. The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World of Vatican II put it this way: "This split between the faith which many profess and their daily lives deserves to be counted among the more serious of our age." (43)

This "split" clearly shows the urgent need for the new Evangelization and the Year of Faith. And for us of CRS, consider this: If religion continues to become privatized, how will CRS be known and valued as an important and necessary way of living one's faith that goes beyond one's private, personal sphere into the larger world of global solidarity and compassion?

In the 2006 book Secularity and the Gospel, edited by Ronald Rolheiser, Ronald Wayne Young concludes his essay "Evangelization in Secularity" with these words, which I offer to you as my own encouragement to all of us who are committed in myriad ways to the mission of Catholic Relief Services:

While the developing situating of secularization rushes along like a mighty torrent of cultural force, it might seem that we are merely treading water, swimming with halting strokes toward an adequate response. Risking the next steps into a committed direction could be a leap of faith toward new missionary effectiveness. It could also be a dive off the edge of a cliff into an abyss of confusion and self-doubt. The dangers, challenges, and opportunities of this situation are great. Therefore, they require an equal measure of careful and considered pastoral missionary reflection. Success may be measured in the short term and on the moderate scale, but ultimate success must be left in God's hands. Thus, while we struggle and thrash about, it is important to remember that there are strong arms and a steady grip to bear us up should we falter in our efforts. God never fails! (p 221).

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