Why We Need A New Evangelization


Image credit: JD Warrick

There’s a lot of talk about the New Evangelization lately.

That’s because the theme for the next Bishop’s Synod in October is the New Evangelization. It’s titled ”The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith.”

So, what was wrong with the old evangelization? Basically, there isn’t one.

Just look around. One out of every 10 Americans is a former Catholic. The majority left because they stopped believing in Church teachings.

I’d say we’re not doing something right.

So what’s new about this New Evangelization?

The New Evangelization is for people like me

The New Evangelization is for people like me…or at least who I used to be.

I grew up in South Louisiana where there’s a lot of “cultural Catholicism.”

Growing up I went to CCD and did all the things I was supposed to do, but it never really did sink in. My family wasn’t really into Church either so it wasn’t re-enforced at home.

As soon as I had the chance to drop Catholicism–I did.

I guess I’m like the poster boy for why we need a *new* evangelization. I learned what the Church believed but not to believe. I learned to say prayers but not to pray. I learned about God’s love but not how to love.

Now only later in life do I realize what I missed all those years.

On a whole, we’re not doing the job of teaching our most fundamental truths in a way that people will believe them, take them to heart, and live them.

Would things have been different for me if my catechesis growing up had been evangelizing?

Catechesis must be lead to change

Most religious education in CCD and in schools is about information. We succeed in  teaching the doctrines of the Faith but that’s not the end–that’s the means to the end.

John Paul II said, “Catechesis aims therefore at developing understanding of the mystery of Christ in the light of God’s word, so that the whole of a person’s humanity is impregnated by that word. Changed by the working of grace into a new creature, the Christian thus sets himself to follow Christ and learns more and more within the Church to think like Him…” (On Catechesis In Our Time).

The knowledge of doctrine really must be oriented toward a change of life where a person more and more takes on the mind of Christ. It’s not about the knowledge, it’s about the change.

I’m afraid too much of our catechesis is about knowing the meaning of words instead of what it means to follow the Word.

Why this New Evangelization is new?

The New Evangelization is less about what we normally consider evangelization–in places where Catholicism has never taken root. It’s more about re-evangelizing places (like South Louisiana) where Catholicism is supposed to be firmly rooted but really isn’t.

It’s targeted to cradle Catholics like me…baptized, sacramentalized, but never evangelized.

In an address to the bishops of Latin America and Haiti in 1983, John Paul II said, “Look to the future with commitment to a New Evangelization, one that is new in its ardour [sic], new in its methods, and new in its means of expression.”

It’s the “new” part that interests me! We can’t keep doing things that don’t work and expect things to change.

Everything old is new again

However, we also don’t have to go looking for some “silver bullet” or radical breakthrough that’s never been seen before.

Pope John Paul also wrote, “It is not therefore a matter of inventing a ‘new program.’ The program already exists: it is the plan found in the Gospel and the living Tradition, it is the same as ever. Ultimately, is has its center in Christ himself, who is to be known, loved and imitated” (Novo Millennio Ineunte). 

Our traditions are ripe with effective methods for leading people to holiness.

The Church’s various school’s of spirituality are ancient but just as effective as ever. The problem is, these traditions aren’t widely known.

I think we need to discover them anew and put them into practice.

Now tell us how to do it

So, the New Evangelization will be focused on reinvigorating the Christian West. The synod is specifically about transmitting the Faith in a way that will do that.

That’s why I’m very interested in what the bishops have to say. Really everyone involved in Catholic ministry should be as well. Hopefully, this will give us marching orders and a  structure on how to proceed.

For a long time we’ve heard we need a New Evangelization. Now let’s figure out how.

What steps do you take? What do you say? What exactly is the gospel from a Catholic perspective?

Tune in with me next October and hopefully we’ll find out!



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  1. EXCELLENT post Marc. In terms of the “how” we “do” the new Evangelization, I’m reminded of Frank Mercadante (Cultivation Ministries) who says u201cWe have to trade in our tendencies towards blasting out disembodied truths to incarnating the presence and message of Jesus. Itu2019s not about being perfect, itu2019s about being real.u201d Frank uses the term Immanualization to describe his approach to incarnational evangelization. Read his whole blog post here http://bit.ly/aAmYKS. nnI suspect this comment will be a draft of a post to come on my blog too!nnThe first thing we must do is LISTEN. Listen to our young people. They’re telling us how to reach out to them effectively but we don’t take the time to listen. Today’s young people and young adults often experience our attempts to “evangelize” them as a way of manipulating them. They feel like a pawn in our game of ministry/catechetical chess. No one wants to feel like a pawn, like another tally mark in a recruiting quota. nnPeople want to be loved for the sake of being loved and for who they are. This is no more true than for our younger generations. I think if our young people raised their voices more loudly they’d shout “Don’t reach out to me, evangelize me so that you can get me inside of a church or to learn the Catechism. Reach out to me because you love me first. And if I sense you’re genuine, I’ll follow you wherever you go.” nnI think the best way to accomplish this is to LISTEN. Non-defensive listening to their hurts, concerns, worries, fears, ideas without responding in a patronizing, condescending manner that once again relegates them to the ecclesial periphery–where they can wait until their “future” time arrives when they can arise from “Kiddy Church” to take their place among the rest of us in “Real Church.” nnBy LISTENING to them we show them we care about them and want to know what’s going on inside their minds and hearts. When we fail to listen well enough and long enough to our youth and young adults, they resign themselves to jump through the catechetical and sacramental hoops until they are free to join 85% of their peers who leave the Church after graduation. nnIf the new evangelization is to be effective it must first communicate a willingness to listen first. In the words of the Franciscan Peace Prayer, let our goal be not so much to be understood, as to understand. nnOK…homily over. “Stand for the Creed.”

    • Thanks for these comments Roy! I love this concept of listening! This is something I want to get at in a later post, something I call connection. One of the first things we need to do to evangelize is to connect with our people on a human level. To understand them, who they are, what they’re about. I agree, we can’t just preach to them a bunch of disembodied truths. That kind of preaching has no legs! It has no hands to reach out to them. I think people sense that as another form of use or manipulation as you said above. They get the impression that they just become another number or another dollar in the collection plate. nnHowever, if they sense we are genuine and our motivation for sharing these things is because we really want the best for them, then that’s a different story. Our motivation has to be that we’ve found something of great value and we want others to have it because we truly care for them and want their lives to be enriched. They have to first trust us to know that we indeed want the best for them and are not out to further our own agenda. nnThe image I love is this: One beggar leading another beggar to where I’ve found bread. But in this case it’s life! I’m one broken person leading another broken person to where I’ve found healing and life.

  2. With regard to evangelization, I believe there are many ways to do this. One way begins in the home. Also, one of the best ways to evangelize is to be a good example to others. I agree with Roy that we need to actively listen, especially to our young people. Wonderful post, Marc! Thank you!

    • Ellen, I absolutely agree. Example is one of the foundational elements of evangelization and that best begins in the home. In an earlier post, I talked about how the family needs to be the first place the gospel is transmitted. That’s the way God has set it up. Because of the environment of connection, intimately knowing the people within the family and being able to listen (as Roy said above), the family is the ideal place where children can first learn the gospel. And, like it or not, parents are teaching and evangelizing a certain lifestyle and set of life choices by every action. Children are keenly watching their example. Our example is so very important. Here’s a link to my other post: http://bit.ly/dCfBlA. Thanks for the comments!

  3. Hey, Ellen and Roy. Umm…Ellen, are you from South Louisiana like Marc and Roy and me? That would keep this thread in da famly. Marc, where are you from? I learned yesterday that Roy is from Broussard and I’m from Houma.rnrnY’know, talking about a New Evangelization reminds me of the saying “The Church is always in Crisis” which is true. I mean, we pretty much need New Evangelization all the time. Not that we don’t need it extra right now.rnrn “Have you found any particular methods that work well?”rnrnRe catechesis, it’s more important that you teach what’s important to you and what you understand well, more than teaching what’s in the book. If you are actively interested in your faith you shouldn’t have trouble figuring out how to engage the kids.rnrnThe kids also need to see you at Mass, at Confession, at church breakfasts, Life Chain etc., participating in the life of the Church. And if you see them, speak to them, especially if they’re your old students. Let them know you are pleased to see them being involved.rnrnTreat them as adults as much as possible.rnrnRe evangelization, at least in South Carolina that’s easy: know your Catholicism through Scripture. Most Catholic Evangelization here is what I call counter-evangelization: Fundies want to convert us, and we have a ready Biblical response which gives them something to reflect on. rnrnrnrn rnrnrnrn

    • Christian, I’m originally from New Jersey…but I now reside in Eastern Ontario, Canada. However, evangelization is important no matter where you are! And I agree, knowing Scripture is essential (especially when we receive a visit from the Jehovah’s Witnesses…)nnI like what you said about the kids needing to see you at Mass, Confession etc…this is why being a good example is so important. There are many ways to evangelize, but I think this way is the most powerful.nn”Have you found any particular methods that work well?” n nAnother way to evangelize (and I didn’t mention this in my previous post) is through fiction. I have written two novels which promote the Church’s teachings on marriage and family. I think novels are great ways to evangelize! Some Catholic high schools are using my first book (www.emilyshope.com) as a supplement to their theology program (a study guide is provided as well). Many young people seem eager to hear the message.nnGreat discussion!

      • Ellen, I think novels are a great way to evangelize as well! Especially for kids. The message comes across very concretely in story form and it’s much easier to remember that way isn’t it? I wish I could write like that! I absolutely would be doing it to get the message out! I’m so grateful you’re using your talents as a writer that way. I think more people should.

    • You know, you’re kind of right Christian. Evangelization will never end, it will always be a mandate for the Church, and I guess it will always need to adapt and change to fit the different situations of period and culture. I think we find ourselves in a unique situation during this time that requires different and better methods due to the great changes in culture though. nnI love the idea of teaching what you know and understand well rather than teaching from a book. Again, that goes back to passion and enthusiasm. If you have that fire, it will become contagious and the students will catch it. You will engage them by just being who you are and that will lead the students to internalize the truths much better. That is evangelizing! nnYou also mention example and seeing your example lived in the life of the Church. That shows you’re not just talking to them about something in a book but that you actually believe it. That goes a long way towards inspiring a real, lived faith in students. Thanks for those suggestions!

  4. What is needed is a “new ardour, new methods, and a new means of expression.u201d We must seek to bring about the Gospel message with enthusiasm. Our Religious Education classes, our RCIA and Youth Ministry Programs should continue to draw people in through building relationships, through presenting the Gospel with a sense that it is the first time they are hearing it and helping others encounter Christ through the joy of this abundant life Christ has promised us. I realize my two cents is not a clear cut “how” but I think when we talk about the “new” evangelization its not a change in content but in how we communicate, live and express our Catholic Faith. nMarc, I’m reading Archbishop Wuerl’s Pastoral Letter on the New Evangelization and it is very good. Take a look at it on the Archdiocese of DC website. It’s called “Disciples of the Lord: Sharing the Vision”.

    • That’s okay that you don’t have a clear cut how. That’s my point, there isn’t a clear cut how! Why not? I think that’s the challenge we face and what needs to be developed. We need to explore the “how” and make evangelization quantifiable, attainable and repeatable. Right now there seems to be a lot of talk about why we should do it (including me!) and that we should do it but not a lot of how we should do it. nnI have a copy of Archbishop Wuerl’s pastoral! Someone was tweeting quotes from it the other day and it sounded fantastic. I definitely want to read it. It sounds like one of the definitive works on the subject. Thanks for recommending that. nnGreat “two cents” though!

  5. Anonymous says:

    “The Soul of the Apostolate” It always comes down to this. We can’t give what we don’t have. It begins with our prayer life. The deeper our prayer life, the more we can accomplish. Some will do this as parents, others as catechists, still others as friends. I think it’s easier for me to ponder how to perfect my message than how to perfect myself. Sigh.

    • Yes, that’s the other aspect to this. The deeper your prayer life, the greater an evangelist you will be. The Saints are all that way. Maybe the new evangelization needs to be that we all become saints! That would definitely work! Easier said than done though huh? 😉

  6. Lukwildcat1 says:

    Marc,nI enjoyed your article. In my experience the best way to reach/evangelize is to make it relevant while also still making it seem ancient. By that I mean providing current events on happenings in the church that apply to their daily lives. For example, I teach CCD and the kids were shocked when they found out that Mary was around their age. I showed them a clip from the movie, The Nativity and they were interested. Lastly, I tied it back into what we might call the ‘ancient’ aspect by giving them Biblical readings. nnI am a young college age student myself hoping to make my mark on The New Evangelization process in coming years by hopefully going into Catholic education. Good article you wrote.

    • Those are very good insights. Do you find that it’s engaging and enticing for the kids when they realize that something ancient is actually quite relevant to their lives? nnI’ve always had a fascination with history and historical things. I wonder if there is a mystique about the ancient that can grab hold of kids. Like the way The Lord of the Rings stuff does. nnThanks for the comments!

  7. Jschuster says:

    I’ve been struggling with trying to figure out why the current methods aren’t working and it seems to me that it’s because the culture at large has changed. As many have observed, we have to come to grips with the fact that we now live in a post-Christian world. The methods and structures we have inherited were (basically) effective in a time when there was a more or less Christian culture supporting our evangelizing/catechetical efforts. That created the atmosphere in which faith can be “absorbed” through experience. Since that culture was in place the need that churches tended to fill was more on the catechetical/informational side, and this was enough because what was learned was supported and reinforced outside the classroom.nnToday, we have lost the overall Christian atmosphere and so there is not that lived experience of the faith that was taken for granted before. I think we have to start thinking of ourselves as “catacomb” Christians. We have to see ourselves as distinct from the culture at large, living in a wholly different manner, and evangelizing a people with entirely different beliefs and values. Many of these people sound Christian and have adopted Christian terminology without realizing they are fundamentally at-odds with the Way.nnAs for method, definitely we must become more personal. In a word, we must establish environments where one is heard, listened to, and we are responding to the concrete needs and circumstances of that person with the life-giving Gospel. This can only take place in a small context, whether small groups or one-on-one. Many who are fired up about adult evangelization today are still limiting their efforts to lecture series that only reach the evangelized, those already on board.

    • This is an interesting insight Jim. That what was needed from churches in the past was catechetical information and that supported the experience of the Faith outside the classroom. Where do you think that experience came from? Was it the family or the culture in general? nnSaying that we’re “catacomb” Christians now makes me think, what did the early Christians who were really in the catacombs do to evangelize so effectively? Maybe we should look at them to get some clues, huh? nnYes, the personal touch is definitely what is called for. The small context appeals to this millennial culture as well I think. And, I think you’re right, people turn immediately to lecture series for evangelization. I don’t think it starts there.

  8. Nice post Marc! And I appreciate the words of the other commenters.nnSo much of the new evangelization is about the re-evangelization of people and places. I will be eager to learn what the 2012 Synod will be about. But in the meantime, there’s so much to be done.nnWhile “techniques” for communicating and handing on the faith are great, and we catechists surely need them, I think we also need a renewal in catechesis whereby we stress learning and teaching organically. For me, at the moment, it is more important that catechists, liturgists, priests, parents, (gee, everyone by golly!) grasp the UNITY of our faith… and have that unity permeate our thinking and catechesis and outreach.nnUnity that I refer to is that life, worship, and dogma are all tied together — and inform each other — in Christian life. Whatever work we are doing, we should see that it touches on those aspects and brings them in unity. nnCCC 89: There is an organic connection between our spiritual life and the dogmas. Dogmas are lights along the path of faith; they illuminate it and make it secure. Conversely, if our life is upright, our intellect and heart will be open to welcome the light shed by the dogmas of faith.nnThat says a lot about our own faith… and to echo the comment above, that we cannot give what we don’t have, indeed, cannot draw water from an empty well. The more we love the Lord and this faith, the more convincing our witness, the better catechists we will be — no matter what we teach, and what technique we use. Nobody will buy what we’re selling if we don’t love them, and love and respect what the Faith teaches and demands.nnSo much of the faith is caught not taught. But once it has caught the spark, we must fan it into flame with truth, beauty and goodness that is solid teaching.nnI could go on, but let me recommend the following book resource: nThe Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Craft of Catechesis. nBy Petroc Willey, Pierre de Cointet, Barbara Morgan.

  9. Marc,

    I don’t know if you have read “John Paul II and the New Evangelization” in Church and Society: The Laurence J. McGinley Lectures, 1988-2007 by Avery Cardinal Dulles, but I was reading it in Starbucks the other day and was getting seriously choked up. It is SO GOOD.

    As a convert, I have to say that I don’t think most Protestants on the street have any idea what is going on in the Catholic Church right now.

    Thanks to people like you, spreading the New Evangelization, I think many separated brethren are going to Come Home. And when that happens, I think the Church is going to be re-infused with such evangelical zeal, it may just be a renewed Golden Age of the Church. Or, it may just be getting us all ready for the worst of times.

    Either way, I really think that the more Catholics act evangelically, the more evangelicals will become Catholic!

    • Marc Cardaronella says:

      I have “John Paul II and the New Evangelization” and have been meaning to read it but haven’t yet. I had not heard of “Church and Society: The Laurence J. McGinley Lectures” but it’s on my list now! Thanks for bringing it to my attention! I’m a huge fan of Cardinal Dulles’ recent work on evangelization, especially the evangelical Catholicism he calls for (I’m thinking you are too, eh?).

      I’d be interested to know what Protestants would think of an evangelical movement going on within the Catholic Church. I’d be tempted to say that many would think it’s not legit and would dismiss it. Others, I’m sure would say it’s a good sign. I know there are some at the national level in the Navigator’s who see it as a good sign and even have a collaborative attitude toward Catholics with an evangelical bent. But, I also saw a statement where they were summarily denounced for their involvement with Catholics.

      I really hope you’re right that the New Evangelization will spur people to “come home.” And, I surely hope that it will spark an even greater evangelical zeal. That would be my dream. Until then, you propose a good motto…”the more Catholics act evangelically, the more evangelicals will become Catholic.” I hope it’s true!

  10. midwestlady says:

    The New Evangelization is an unfortunate term though. People think it’s about going out and harassing Baptists and Methodists to be Catholic. That’s not what it’s about at all. The New Evangelization starts at home. Many Catholics have not had any sort of conversion to Christianity; they’re going through the motions, most of them. You cannot give away what you do not have! We must evangelize our own first.

    • Marc Cardaronella says:

      I would agree with you there. The term new evangelization isn’t really descriptive of what it is. Unless you consider that evangelization has always been about going out and this is about staying in, like you said. That’s new! And yes, so very true…we have to evangelize our own first. You can send a compelling message if everyone in the organization doesn’t believe it. If the insiders don’t care, why should the outsiders?


  1. […] Marc Cardaronella writes about The New Evangelization: “The New Evangelization is less about sending missionaries overseas as it is about re-evangelizing places (like South Louisiana) where Catholicism is supposedly firmly rooted but really isn’t. It’s targeted to cradle Catholics like me…baptized, sacramentalized, but never evangelized.” […]

  2. […] are very needed words in the Church. Essential words for the new evangelization because Catholics can be very reticent to share their […]

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