I wish to propose a New Evangelization Initiative for the Diocese of Lake Charles. Such an effort is, I believe, important for two reasons. First, the New Evangelization continues to be an ongoing pastoral concern for the Church. It is not a new topic and remains a priority for Church leadership. Second, there has been a growing awareness in this particular Diocese of pressing needs in the area of preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ and promoting the mission of the Church. We should not ignore the “signs of the times” that repeatedly manifest themselves in our own experience and in the pastoral life of our faithful.
Pope Benedict XVI has announced that the topic of the 13th General Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops to be convoked next year (October 7 to 28, 2012) will be “The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith.” The “New Evangelization” has been the topic of much writing and consideration in the papacies of both the Servant of God Pope Paul VI and Blessed Pope John Paul II. In a recent statement, the General Secretary of the Synod of Bishops, H.E. Msgr. Nikola Eterovic, (March 4, 2011), presented the lineamenta or specific parameters for topics under consideration. In this document an important distinction is made between evangelization ad gentes, i.e. announcing the message to those who do not yet know Jesus Christ, and the new evangelization, i.e. announcing the message to people already baptized who have drifted away from the Church or lack adequate evangelization.
The General Secretary in his statement makes clear that the lineamenta are divided in three categories that reflect the theme of the upcoming Synod. The first is timing. The New Evangelization has been an emphasis consistently under the pontificates of Pope Benedict XVI and his two predecessors, beginning with Evangelii Nuntiandi (1974) and Catechesi Tradendae (1977). I have repeatedly made mention of this latter document in addressing my concerns about catechesis in our diocese. The New Evangelization continues to be of timely concern for a number of reasons, not the least of which are the growing secularization of our society, economic inequalities, rapid developments in scientific and technological research, changes in political structures, migration, and social communications.
The second is proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The General Secretary states, “Christians are called to establish a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus, in the community of the faithful and in the Church. … The transmission of the faith as an encounter with Jesus Christ is brought about through Sacred Scripture and through the living Tradition of the Church” (ibid V). The proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ always requires renewed effort and increased zeal.
The third category for consideration is initiation into the Christian experience. Recently the concerns of catechetical leaders in the Diocese were brought to my attention in regards to Confirmation. Such a concern falls under this general category but should not be restricted to discussion of Confirmation. All the sacraments of Christian initiation - Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Eucharist - require our attention to focus on how they are communicated and celebrated. By extension, as well, we should not ignore how we sustain the Christian life through the other sacraments - Matrimony, Priesthood, Penance, and Anointing of the Sick.
As Blessed Pope John Paul II wrote in Novo Millennio Ineunte (n. 40), “A new apostolic outreach is needed.” It is in this context that I am proposing a New Evangelization Initiative. Since no one person can undertake such a large endeavor and it must be a communal initiative, I ask that we will begin with discussions at the level of the Council of Priests and the Diocesan Pastoral Council.
To begin the discussion on New Evangelization in the diocese, I am proposing initial questions to be considered by each of the above Councils. These questions arise in my mind from both recent and past studies conducted in the Diocese of Lake Charles and from our recent efforts, on the part of diocesan leadership, to formulate the Quinquennial Report for the 2012 ad limina visit. My questions for purposes of discussion are these:
- While studies report an increase in the Catholic population of our Diocese, why is there a decreased number of Catholics in sacramental participation (cf. status animarum and October Headcount reports)?
- Why are there significantly fewer participants in religious education programs in the West and Central Deaneries and only a slight increase in the East Deanery (cf. Blue Ribbon Religious Education Report)?
- What do we judge to be effective evangelization initiatives in our parishes?
- What impacts negatively on evangelization in our parishes?
- In our own experience, what “works” in our parishes and what does not “work” in the areas of worship, education, and charitable outreach?
- In our own parish, what new programs have been introduced over the last ten years to promote the evangelization of the faithful?
- Catholic schools are generally perceived as an opportunity to evangelize our young people. In parishes that own a Catholic school or participate in its administration, does this school effectively evangelize or where could it better evangelize?
- Over the last few decades, there has been a deepening of understanding or a shift of emphasis in the work of ecumenical outreach. What is your understanding of the Catholic Church’s relationship with other ecclesial communities in our diocese? Where should be the emphasis?
- Generally “Catholic identity” is seen as diminishing (cf. research studies by Pew and CARA show fewer identify themselves as Catholics or, if they do call themselves “Catholic,” with Catholic positions or beliefs). From your perspective, where do you see loss of “Catholic identity” in your parish and in the Diocese?
- At present a major discussion is developing nationwide regarding “religious freedom,” in short, as has been stated, the Catholic Church has a right “to be church” in the public life of this country (cf. “But for Catholics, the common good can never mean muting themselves in public debate on foundational issues of human dignity. Christian faith is always personal but never private” Archbishop Charles Chaput, Render unto Caesar). Related to this issue are questions of what makes a Catholic institution “Catholic” and where is there possible infringement upon religious liberty? Fundamentally, where is “religious freedom” an issue in parish life?
How do we proceed with a New Evangelization Initiative? I propose three steps for this Initiative in moving to a conclusion. First, over the coming months both Councils could address these questions and others separately, draw summary conclusions, and consolidate these in a recommendation. In this way there is an organic approach which allows for adaptation and focus. I would ask the two Councils to keep in mind the following emphases: 1) that we seek to address a revitalization of the Church and its message in our Diocese; 2) that we surface concrete measures to further the evangelizing mission of the Church in our Diocese; and 3) that we keep focused on two groups of Catholics, those who already practice who desire a deeper relationship with and understanding of Jesus Christ and His Church and those who no longer practice their faith, do so irregularly or have fallen away.
Second, the two Councils having completed their work, a second step would be for the Diocesan leadership, including the offices of the various Secretaries, to review these conclusions and offer their observations and input.
Finally, a conclusion with practical proposals would be presented to me, at which point I would formulate a plan in consultation with the two Councils. There is only one imperative: that the conclusion offers concrete and practical measures for furthering the New Evangelization in the Diocese of Lake Charles.
I daresay that any good pastor is constantly involved in reassessing evangelization in his parish. We review annually our catechetical texts and regularly the content of our preaching. We attend continuing education programs and rededicate ourselves repeatedly to deepening the spiritual life. We update our parish census and get to know our active and inactive parishioners. This initiative and whatever fruit comes from it should not be seen as replacing any pastoral work. Rather this initiative acknowledges the good work already taking place and also recognizes that the Catholic Church in the Diocese can always improve its outreach for the sake of Jesus Christ and His Gospel. Also, no pastoral initiative, however effective, can ignore the problems that continue to surface in the lives of our Catholics: ignorance of the faith, falling away from religious practice, breakup of the family, numerous addictions, lack of spirituality, and growing secularization, to mention only a few of the most obvious. The results of the forthcoming Synod of Bishops in 2012 will doubtless inform our efforts for the New Evangelization in the future.
Christ is the answer, and the Church has the message. Of this, as Catholic Christians, we are convinced. As our Holy Father has pointed out before, quoting the Second Letter of St. Peter, “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” (II Peter 3:15). This is the call to the New Evangelization.
Committing this initiative to the prayers of Mary, Mother of the Church, and to St. Peter Claver, our diocesan patron who was so zealous in evangelization, I am confident that our efforts will yield rich fruit.
Devotedly yours in our Lord,
+Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles