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The New Evangelization: Its impact on Catholic Theological Training

May 2, 2013:

The following article appeared in the spring issue of “The Passionists” magazine. It is reprinted here with permission from the Passionists of Holy Cross Province.

“New Evangelization” is a term becoming more and more familiar in Catholic circles. However, it is a term that many people often find confusing. “What is New Evangelization?” “Is it different from old evangelization?” “Didn’t the old evangelization work – is that why we have a new one?”

Father Donald Senior, C.P., president of Catholic Theological Union (CTU), helps explain the New Evangelization and shares his insights as to how the New Evangelization impacts Catholic theological seminary training:

“Evangelization has been around since the beginning of Christianity. It certainly is not new to the church. It is something that is fundamental to the whole meaning of the Christian faith. It is the proclamation of the Gospel. Evangelization is speaking about Jesus – his life, his mission, his healing, his teaching, who he was for us, his death and resurrection – the fundamental message of Good News. Christians from the very beginning have been asked to proclaim that, to spread the Good News to people so they can hear it and it can transform their lives. “The New Evangelization in many ways is the same, but what is being emphasized, particularly by Blessed John Paul II and more recently by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, is that there are many places where the church has been, for example Western Europe and North America, where there are many in-name Christians, but the Christian faith is fragile or their knowledge and practice of the faith are rather thin. The New Evangelization is the call for conversion on the part of the church. It is not the church withdrawing its proclamation of the Gospel to the world – known as mission ad gentes – it also is a mission to Christian people themselves. The New Evangelization is calling Christian people to a renewal of their faith, to deepen their practice and embrace of their faith.

"The task of the New Evangelization demands preparation of those who will be exercising leadership in the church. Catholic Theological Union (CTU) is one such school that prepares men and women, both lay and religious, for a life of service in the church. This task of the New Evangelization has impacted Catholic theological seminary training in four distinct ways. “First many incoming students, both lay and those in seminary training for religious communities, are young adults doing their graduate work. Many of these students are in the same circumstances that have prompted the New Evangelization. Their habits and practices of prayer and their faith are not as second nature as it was a few generations ago; as when there was a Catholic culture. These young men and women are terrific and idealistic, but not as grounded in their faith. CTU works at adapting courses to help this new generation that hungers for learning more about tradition, spirituality and practices so they can be formed in their faith. These men and women are serious about their faith, but don’t always have a grounding. They may not have had a Catholic school education or may not have come from families that were engaged in their faith at home. They also have been influenced by the culture that has given rise to the call for the New Evangelization.

"Second, the world that our graduates enter in their roles of leadership, regardless if they are lay or religious, is the same world that has prompted the need for the New Evangelization. There are a lot of people who are un-churched. The third largest ‘denomination’ is former Catholics. People in today’s culture will speak of themselves as spiritual, but not religious. They say they are spiritual, but not part of faith community. Many in our culture today are suspicious and don’t agree with the stance of the church. Our graduates are going to face that world and they need to understand that world and be ready to address it.

"Third, we have a much more pluralistic world. CTU is multicultural and we have a strong inter-religious dialogue with Muslims and Judaism. Our interreligious classes are taught by professors from those various faith communities. Our graduates will have both a knowledge and respect for multicultural and multi-religious communities. Our graduates will minister in communities. They will be in communities of diversity with cultural differences with which they will need to be in dialogue.

"The final impact is the polarity found in the church and in society. There are sharp differences in political life and economic life. In our church, there are sharp divisions and accusations about who is really Catholic. There are sharp debates about moral issues facing us. One of the things we emphasize to our students who will exercise leadership, a third of whom will be in parish ministry, is reconciliation. Given the divisions, the whole vision of reconciliation in dealing with conflict is trying to establish a communion of charity where there are differences. This is core to the Gospel – being together with communion, charity and justice. Part of the New Evangelization is the reconciliation that will heal divisions, the wounds of resentment and anger. We see this impact of the New Evangelization as the increasingly important overarching motif to prepare leaders; leaders who will not to be polarizing but will authentically bring people together."