“Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.”
In 1990 Saint John Paul II came out with his encyclical Mission of the Redeemer, where he described three different types of evangelism: mission ad gentes, Christian communities, and the “new evangelization.”
The mission ad gentes, which means “to the nations,” describes a situation where “Christ and his Gospel are not known.” (This is the missionary activity that I am focusing on in this blog.)
Christian communities refers to the ongoing catechesis and care for those who are “fervent in their faith.”
The New Evangelization: Here, Saint John Paul II was speaking to a specific group of people: baptized Christians who have walked away from the practice of their faith.
“…entire groups of the baptized have lost a living sense of the faith, or even no longer consider themselves members of the Church, and live a life far removed from Christ and his Gospel. In this case what is needed is a ‘new evangelization’ or a ‘re-evangelization.’”
In 2010, Pope Emeritus Benedict established a brand new Vatican office, The Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization, thereby bringing this “new evangelization” front and center to the church’s modern mission.
I personally know more than a few young and not-so-young men and women who have dedicated their lives to the cause of the new evangelization. Their work is difficult and noble. They are often focused on high school and college campuses, although certainly not exclusively, and their mission is to seek out those individuals who have drifted away from God and find themselves in a dangerous world without an anchor. The church has allocated enormous resources toward this initiative, both financially as well as with prayer and personnel. Within the church’s hierarchy, especially in the U.S. and Western Europe, the new evangelization is uppermost in everyone’s mind.
My wife and I served on several parish missions as part of a team that would travel up and down the east coast seeking to renew parish life. We would give our witness, lead the music, pray over people for healing, and try to answer people’s questions as best as we could. Skeptics might say that we were “preaching to the choir”. Not that that’s a bad thing; we all need to be fed. Evangelicals would call it “refreshing the saints”, and John Paul II called it “ongoing catechesis for those who are ‘fervent in their faith'”. But I must say I never encountered a single person who was being exposed to Christianity for the first time.
It is good to be reminded that, in the eyes of God, the soul of a freshman at Rutgers University is of infinite value and is loved in exactly the same measure as the soul of a tribal chieftain in the mountains of Pakistan.
Which brings me back to my original thesis: What about those 5 billion souls who have yet to hear the Gospel? Speaking solely as a layman, I am concerned that our resources are possibly being allocated disproportionately. What Saint John Paul II wrote in his encyclical was:
“I sense that the moment has come to commit all of the Church’s energies to a new evangelization and to the mission ad gentes. No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples” (Bl. John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, no. 3). (emphasis mine).
Our current Pope Francis has often weighed in on the topic of world evangelism. In March of 2016, speaking at Saint Peter’s Basilica on Holy Thursday, Pope Francis said that God “would rather have many seeds be carried off by the birds of the air than have one seed be missing, since each of those seeds has the capacity to bear abundant fruit – thirtyfold, sixtyfold, even a hundredfold.”
And as recently as September 2017, Pope Francis told the people of Columbia, South America, “Dare to find new ways to share the faith.”
I am currently in the process of exploring a new way (for me) of spreading the faith.