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What’s new about the New Evangelization?

Father Oscar Borda recently posted photos and videos from an event on the New Evangelization among the Hispanic community in the Ridgeland area. In a matter of days, a delegation from our diocese will gather in Orlando with delegations from across the U.S. Their theme will have to do with the kingdom — God’s, not the one Disney calls magic. It’s entitled “The Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America.”

Once upon a time it seemed that only our Protestant brothers and sisters talked about evangelism and held rallies. So what has changed? And why are we terming the call to evangelization and mission something new?

Back in 1990, Pope St. John Paul II issued an encyclical, “Redemptoris Missio,” with its rallying cry for new energy to impel this new evangelization. His successors, Benedict XVI and Francis, have called the spread of the Gospel a matter of urgency.

As we ponder the signs of the times, we can summon up a number of answers as to why there is such an emphatic push for evangelization. First, there are new generations of the unchurched — people in the world and even in our neighborhoods who have never heard of Jesus Christ, some young locals perhaps only having heard the name as an expletive. Second, there are ways we can now know about and reach the most far-flung people. Third, we live in a media saturated world which seems largely dominated by secular, materialistic values and a skewed idea of freedom and human destiny. Fourth, we can readily identify attributes of what our popes and bishops have called a culture of death, and we are determined that following the one who is the way, the truth, and the life is the only trustworthy way for us personally and collectively to counter that culture. Fifth, and this is maybe the most gut-wrenching, we have to admit that we have done some things successfully and others ineffectually. We have built parishes, schools, hospitals and social services. We have educated and served millions upon millions of people. Yet an appalling number of them seem not to have internalized the faith.

The July 1–4 convening in Orlando prompts us to recall that we are all, by virtue of baptism, called to be missionary disciples. Attendees will jump-start plans for more effective and more expansive outreach on their home turf. They will reflect on the call to “missionary conversion” and “missionary communion.” This means that our Catholic leaders will be examining their own consciences and consciousness in such a way as to help us be more truly Church and very much less cocoon. They will bring home ideas about how to engage real people creatively and witness to Christ convincingly.

No one expects us to get in people’s faces asking them if they are saved. Instead, we are challenged to consider whether Christ is noticeably alive in us. If he becomes more so, that promises to be a world-changer.

Sister Pamela Smith, SSCM, is the Secretary for Education and Faith Formation at the Diocese of Charleston. Email her at


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