Pope Benedict XVI unveiled a new agency within the Catholic Church, the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of New Evangelization, in a Vatican press release Oct. 12.
Archbishop Rino Fisichella, formerly the President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, will lead the agency. Assigned with spreading and supporting the beliefs of the Catholic Church, the agency will focus on traditionally Christian areas experiencing increased secularism. In the document Ubicumque et Semper (Everywhere and Always), the Pope outlined the major missions of the agency.
Among the mission included, the Council is called “to study and to encourage the use of modern forms of communication as instruments for the new evangelization, to promote the use of the Catechism of the Catholic Church as an essential and complete formulation of the content of the faith for the people of our time, and to make known and to support initiatives linked to the new evangelization that are already being put into practice in various particular Churches.”
Within the Catholic Church, the concept of “new evangelization,” has become increasingly important within the modern era. The concept rose to prominence under Venerable John Paul II who made new evangelization “a central point of his far-reaching Magisterial teaching.”
In the year 2000, John Paul released the Papal Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte (“At the beginning of the new millennium”) which called for “each local Church to assess its fervour and find fresh enthusiasm for its spiritual and pastoral responsibilities.”
Indeed, the theological underpinnings of new evangelization are a core part of the Catholic Church’s doctrine to spread the Gospel to all places and peoples. While the Catholic Church traditionally focused on spreading its message through missionary activities, the recent spread of secularism has forced the Church to re-examine its policies. Within European countries, Church attendance has declined at a rapid rate.
According to the Pew Research Center, only 11 percent of those living in France claim religion is very important to their lives, in comparison to 59 percent in the United States. With such a significant decline of religious observance occurring in modern era, the European-based Church faces an identity crisis.
According to Pope Benedict, the decline of religious fervor and practice represents a grave threat to the Church.
He stated “This indifference to religion and the practice of religion devoid of true meaning in the face of life’s very serious problems, are no less worrying and upsetting when compared with declared atheism.”
While the reasons for increased secularism and irreligion are varied, the Catholic Church is now feeling increased pressure to respond.
The creation of Pontifical Council represents one response of the Catholic Church, specifically the response of the Church hierarchy. Indeed, the Catholic Church continues to thrive within specific countries and regions through the determined efforts of local clergy and bishops.
The Pontifical Council then will be able to utilize ideas and methods of particular churches and dioceses in order to determine the best approaches to new evangelization. By creating an agency that can create policies and change for the entire Church, the Church will be able to create a more uniform policy towards new evangelization, instead of piecemeal efforts. The use of the Catechism as the standard for evangelization will ensure an accurate understanding of Catholic doctrine in key areas, including the Church’s stances on social policies.
However, the Pope acknowledged the variety of situations present within the Church and noted the need for diverse approaches. The Pontifical Council’s encouragement of modern communication throughout the Church will also help the mission of the Church within the more developed nations of the world, often the nations with the highest rates of secularism. While the agency will operate mainly in Europe, it will also work to inspire re-evangelization in North and South America, areas also experiencing increased secularism.
In an era of increasing irreligion and secularism, the Pontifical Council looks to re-affirm the values and teachings of the Catholic Church. Certainly the agency cannot function as a cure-all for the problems of the Catholic Church and the decline of religion in general.
Yet its creation symbolizes an attempt by the Catholic Church to re-vitalize itself instead of passively accepting its decline as an institution within formerly Christian nations. The crucial missions of the Pontifical Council will determine the future of the Catholic Church within Europe and shape worldwide evangelization policy.
by Matt Waldoch