[Rewind #AwaNgDiyosPH] The ‘new evangelization’ is everyone’s business

 

 

For Easter, The Filipino Connection releases articles from its special edition on the apostolic visit of Pope Francis last January 15-19, 2015.

 

MANILA—Inside a Catholic university’s sprawling 5,000-seat basketball arena is a circular stage that’s smack in the middle of the basketball court, with spotlights directed there whizzing a heavenly feeling. Those spotlights simply exhilarate people, but so do the statuesque reminders of holiness seen on that same stage: the crucified Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the Sto. Niño (the Holy Child Jesus).

But with no pun intended at those icons of the Catholic faith, it is the attendees to the recent Second Philippine Conference on the New Evangelization (PCNE) who are the aspired living symbols of not just holiness but of moving forward the central business of the global Catholic Church: evangelization.

Popes past and present, including Pope Francis, have their own exhortations and approaches on how the 1.2 billion Catholic faithful can evangelize. In this modern world, the Catholic Church’s modern-day slogan is the “new evangelization.”

So in the Philippines, a recent destination (at least for four days) by the current leader of the Catholic Church, this new evangelization clamour is put on the spotlight —amid the ruins, given the wrath of natural disasters; amid visible pockets of poverty; and even amid current-day challenges to families and family members.

 

New evangelization

But what exactly does this “new evangelization” mean? This concept is deep and profound among the religious. Evangelization can mean the usual activities of the Catholic Church and its dioceses, parishes, schools, communities, and households. Evangelization may also mean the proclaiming of the Gospel to Christians and non-Christians like, even to those who had become cool to the faith. And as priests would always preach, even the ordinary Catholic is an evangelizing agent (in the context of the Philippines, even Filipinos working overseas are “evangelizers”).

Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle leads the celebratiion of the opening mass of the 2015 Second Philippine Conference on the New Evangelization held at UST (photo by JHOANA PAULA TUAZON / The Filipino Connection)

Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle leads the celebratiion of the opening mass of the 2015 Second Philippine Conference on the New Evangelization held at UST (photo by JHOANA PAULA TUAZON / The Filipino Connection)

Simply put, evangelization is akin to someone bearing Christ’s love to other people, whether in word or in deed. The Catholic evangelizer is the church’s salesperson.

In the case of the Second PCNE, staged at the pontifical University of Santo Tomas last January 15 to 17 (at the heart of the days of Pope Francis’ recent Philippine apostolic visit), the anchoring theme was the eight beatitudes of Jesus, found in the fifth chapter of the Holy Gospel according to Matthew. Jesus Christ said those beatitudes in the Sermon of the Mount, calling the poor, those mourning, the meek, those who hunger for thirst and righteousness, the merciful, the pure of heart, the peacemakers, and those persecuted for righteousness’ sake as blessed.

This time, everyone’s blessed and can be an evangelizer. In the context of typhoon-prone Philippines, the profession of faith “amid the ruins” must not stop, said Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle in his homily opening the PCNE. He told delegates who are mostly from the middle class: “Be modern-day apostles. We are living cenacle. Go and evangelize… proclaim the good news.”

Since assuming the pontificate, Pope Francis had challenged clergymen and women to go out into the field and portray the Church as a “field hospital” that takes care of the wounded. While a valid point, Auxiliary Bishop Pablo David, D.D. of San Fernando, Pampanga reiterated theologians’ constant reminder: the Church is everyone.

And evangelization, David adds, “is the business of the whole church.”

How can the ordinary Catholic (the lay, in particular) evangelize? One can help the clergy, assist the ordained and help in liturgical and social ministries of the Church —all of which are examples of intra-evangelization. But if you evangelize through your own craft, as teacher, writer, banker, politician, civil servant or whatever, that is extra-evangelization, David explains.

“(W)e should be part of a servant church and our ‘servanthood’ can be expressed through our own involvements in the secular affairs in the city,” David told PCNE attendees. “If you are a teacher, be a good Christian teacher. If you are a lawyer, be a good Christian Catholic lawyer. If you are a politician, be a good evangelized politician.”

 

New evangelizers?

But the poor are evangelizers, too? While one of Jesus Christ’s eight beatitudes has called them blessed, poor people’s intra- and extra-evangelization efforts —amid their decrepit economic conditions— are blessings, says Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Cardinal Quevedo, O.M.I.

Like the middle-class, and citing his experiences in dioceses in Mindanao, Quevedo shared even poor people within their “organized group in the Church” can be “effective” evangelizers. If they talk with fellow poor and poor families in order to determine solutions to their economic miseries, that’s evangelization, Quevedo added.

“The whole community when they gather in prayer, with the bible as their guide and their trained lay leader, they exchange ideas about their social situation and how (to) provide answers to their own problems. When they gather together in prayer and they do so in faith, when they proposed certain solutions in their own problems, (these are) the ways they evangelize.”

It is the poor whom Pope Francis is said to be deeply concerned, to the point that he even called on his fellow religious to go out and minister to them. Quevedo agrees: “Go down among the poor, go to the villages. Make sure that people see in your schedule that (such is) filled with visits to the barrio or to the poor.”

“If you don’t have the time,” Quevedo said, “then what is your ministry for? You must have time for the poor. Your time as a priest is 24 hours a day for the people.” These are tough words to actualize Francis’ reformist vision of the Church, that’s contained in Francis’ apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (Sharing the Joy of the Gospel). “I dream of a missionary option, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything so that the church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channelled for the evangelization of today’s world, rather than for her self-preservation.”

 

New ‘messages’

But there are two important insights into this new evangelization message under the current regime of Pope Francis. One is Christian having an intimate encounter with Christ, with that intimacy contained in Evangelii Gaudium. So in relation to the Church as a “field hospital” image Francis envisions, how can the Church welcome everybody, including the “wounded” flock like prostituted women, homosexuals and separated couples so that they can be themselves and have that intimate encounter with Christ, asks theologian Fr. Victorino Cueto, C.Ss.R. (or a Redemptorist priest)

Evangelization, however, for the individual Christian isn’t just solipsistic (or in Filipino, paloob lang) or not just too focused on oneself. This leads to the other insight of evangelization, if Cueto (rector of the Our Mother of Perpetual Help National Shrine in Baclaran, Pasay City) were to be asked: mission. At least for the Baclaran national shrine, for example, its post-modern tag of integrating devotion and mission is debo(mi)syon. “Our devotion also goes out of ourselves. Our experience of a relationship with the Lord isn’t only for ourselves, but we become each other’s perpetual help,” Cueto tells The Filipino Connection.

“The marriage of devotion and mission rhymes,” says Cueto in reference to this new evangelization Pope Francis envisions the global Catholic Church.

The PCNE, now on its second edition, was a response to the outcomes of the Thirteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in 2012 which now-retired Pope Benedict XVI convened. A year after that synod, the first PCNE was staged in October 2013 or months after Pope Francis was elected Pope.

But as the recent second edition of the PCNE had seen media celebrities, governmental and political figures, people living in HIV and AIDS, overseas Filipino workers and priests and bishops, over-3,000 participants got zapped in the metaphoric and heartfelt messages of resource persons that, as Pope Francis had said, every Christian is and should be “an active agent” of evangelization.

That “Franciscan” mission comes in exciting times for the Roman Catholic Church under a papacy that espouses reforms for the Church, whose messages for the new evangelization are radical (says American Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke), and whose current concern is how families and wounded family members are welcomed once again to the fold.

Because some of those who shy away from the Church think the Church is “para lang sa mga buo na, sa mga banal na [only those who are already holy]” which isn’t so, Cueto says. “The work of sharing the joy of the Gospel, and its privilege of sharing it to others, is not exclusively ours.” –with reports from Jeremaiah M. Opiniano

 

 

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About JHOANA PAULA TUAZON and JASPER EMMANUEL ARCALAS