All Catholics are called to participate in the New Evangelization by renewing their own faith so that they can witness to those around them, said Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, D.C.
Members of the faith “have to get back to inviting people into that experience, that encounter with Christ,” he noted, because it is only once people have embraced the Risen Lord that they can embrace the Christian vision of countering social and moral problems.
On Nov. 5, Cardinal Wuerl spoke at the Catholic Information Center in Washington, D.C., about his experience at the recent Synod on the New Evangelization, held Oct. 7-28 at the Vatican.
The cardinal reflected on his three weeks at the synod, which he described as “a very positive experience.”
Despite the challenges facing the Church, the bishops from around the world seemed to sense “a new Pentecost,” aiding the Church at this particular moment in history and offering “a sense of new purpose.”
He noted that he was particularly encouraged to see the number of young adults who gathered outside the synod hall, eager to live their Catholic faith to the fullest.
Cardinal Wuerl also emphasized the strong sense of unity among synod participants as they identified problems and discussed pastoral challenges in addressing them.
It was evident that all of the bishops shared the same faith and vision of what needs to be done, he said, explaining that he saw this unity as a sign that “the Spirit continues to work in the Church.”
In addition, he said, the synod was practical and pastoral. He observed while the 2008 Synod on the Word of God strongly emphasized theory, this gathering had a very different feel. Rather than a philosophical conversation, this synod focused on the practical question of how to renew the Church's faith and energy to invite people into a personal encounter with Christ.
As General Relator of the synod, Cardinal Wuerl was responsible for presenting an opening report to his fellow bishops and guiding their discussions in the days that followed.
He explained that the New Evangelization is the Church's response to the secularism, materialism and individualism that have swept across Western culture, limited our sense of transcendence and washed away the things that had been part of the fabric of society, such as the moral order, the common good and marriage.
To respond to the current situation, he said, the Church is called to return to the simple, basic announcement of Jesus Christ that is at the heart of the Christian faith.
This task of passing on the Good News of Christ involves all Catholics and must begin with the family, Cardinal Wuerl said, explaining that the Church “begins all over every time a baby is baptized.”
Parishes also play a central role in the New Evangelization, since parish life is where we encounter Christ in the sacraments and hear his word explained, he said, observing that this concept was frequently repeated at the synod, with an understanding that “it's the renewal of parish life that's going to be the renewal of Church.”
Young people also have a special role in the task of evangelizing, he noted, explaining that young people today are open to the truth because they are left empty by the promises of the world and are longing for something more.
The process of the New Evangelization must begin with personal conversion, recognizing a need to renew our own faith, Cardinal Wuerl said.
“Personal renewal is at the heart of whatever is going to happen in the New Evangelization,” he said, emphasizing that we cannot pass on the faith if it is not alive in our own hearts.
Therefore, he explained, we need to strengthen our appreciation of our faith through study and scripture, making times in our lives for regular prayer and frequent encounters with Christ through the sacraments of the Church.
With this renewal of our faith comes “a confidence in the truth of the message,” the cardinal continued.
“We have all around us people who simply don’t know the faith,” even though they think they do, he observed.
He explained that “catechetical confusion” in the 1970s and 80s led to a problem of hesitancy about what precisely the faith teaches. The result was a generation that is distanced from the Church, not because they want to be, but simply because they lack confidence in the truth of the faith.
The New Evangelization is about “overcoming that hesitancy,” he said, adding that “we renew our own confidence that this is true, and there is nothing as reassuring as knowing that you stand in the truth.”
Standing firm in the renewal of our own faith, we will then be better witnesses of that faith, Cardinal Wuerl said. He observed that Catholics tend to be “reluctant evangelists,” but said that the faithful must be ready to witness in the many opportunities that come up in life.
“We have to be prepared to share our faith,” he stressed.