Does the Catholic Church Evangelize?
February 12, 2013
by The Rev. Jim Fenstermaker, C.S.C. '77
I'll bet that many Catholics themselves, as well as many non-Catholics, would answer this question in the negative. Evangelization is something that, well, evangelicals and some other Protestant denominations do, but not Catholics.
From a historical perspective, it was the Catholic Church, before the 11th century schism with the Orthodox Church and the 16th century Protestant Reformation, which brought the gospel to new lands. For example, it was Saint Patrick who brought Christianity to Ireland in the 5th century, Saints Cyril and Methodius to the Slavic people in the 9th century, and the Jesuits to Japan in the early 16th century. In the Americas, we think of the Franciscan, Dominican and Jesuit missionaries who brought the gospel to North, Central and South America, including such places as Florida, California and Texas that would eventually become part of the United States of America.
I think of the sisters, brothers and priests of my own religious order, the Congregation of Holy Cross, who were among the first Christian missionaries to Bengal, now Bangladesh, and to the indigenous of northeast India, as well as the mission territory of the United States in Indiana, where a boarding school for native American children developed into the University of Notre Dame, and of Oregon, where we established the University of Portland.
Many people may see these missionary efforts as a thing of the past, which is not the case. During his long papacy, Pope John Paul II called the Catholic Church to engage in a "new evangelization" based upon the scriptures of the New Testament, the documents of the Second Vatican Council, and the encyclical letter "Evangelization in the Modern World" written in 1975 by Pope Paul VI, expanded upon by John Paul II's encyclical letter "Mission of the Redeemer" in 1991. Pope Benedict XVI has taken up this call for a new evangelization in many of his writings and talks. Benedict's recent Twitter account, with 2.5 million followers, is an example of the church's efforts to use modern technology in its evangelization efforts.
Pope John Paul understood this call to a "new" evangelization as consistent with the church's traditional mission to bring the gospel to all nations while recognizing the new realities and challenges of the modern world. In particular, he saw the rising secularization of traditionally Christian countries as a primary focus of the new evangelization. Likewise, the church in its new evangelization wishes to reach out to those baptized who have fallen away from the practice of their faith.
In the past few decades, many Catholic parishes have engaged in various forms of outreach to inactive and fallen-away Catholics through various evangelization programs.
This spring Holy Cross Parish will sponsor one such program, called "Landings," which offers a safe environment for inactive, fallen-away, and questioning Catholics to take another look at their faith and religion in small groups led by active lay Catholics, many of whom have gone through the same journey.
Jesus' final command to his disciples was: "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you."
The Catholic Church recognizes that salvation is open to those who live the commands of Christ without an explicit faith in him. In addition, the promises of God made to the Jewish people, his chosen people, remain intact. At the same time, it is of the very nature of the Christian faith to bring the good news of Jesus to all people, inviting them to experience the same life-giving and salvific grace that Christians experience in Jesus Christ.
The Catholic Church joins its sister Christian churches in fulfilling the command of Jesus to bring his good news to all people and nations of the world.
The Rev. Jim Fenstermaker, C.S.C., is pastor of Holy Cross Church in South Easton. He can be reached at email@example.com. For more information on Holy Cross Parish, visit www.holycrosseaston.org.
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