The New Evangelization - America


The Religious Identity of America 

At first glance, it might seem artificial to use the simple term "America" to designate the extensive territories of the hemisphere (North, Central and South America and the Caribbean) as a single geographic entity, without at the same time acknowledging the great variety of historical, ethnic, cultural and economic differences which characterize the various nations making up that immense land mass. However, from a religious point of view, it may be said that the American hemisphere has a common Christian identity, based on the proclamation of the Gospel in the New World after the discovery of the continent more than 500 years ago. At that time, the planting of a cross in American soil by Christopher Columbus upon his landing on the Island of San Salvador, was a prophetic sign foreshadowing how subsequent centuries, with their accomplishments and failings, would be intrinsically united to the mystery of redemption in the Lord Jesus Christ. 

From the time of that discovery, this new land witnessed the arrival of colonists and immigrants coming from various European nations and a considerable number of Africans who were victims of the slave trade. This influx was common historical fact for all parts of the continent, even though different characteristics accompanied this series of events in each region. This movement of people, coming in contact with indigenous American peoples, produced in many cases new cultural expressions, often reflecting the characteristic marks of each civilization. In the last century, waves of immigrants came from Europe, and in more recent times from Asia and Oceania, moved by the ideal and hope of a better life. In many areas of the continent the greater part of the immigrants were Catholic, whereas in other areas Catholics were in the minority, with the majority consisting of members of other Christian confessions coming from the Protestant reform of the 16th Century. 

As a result of these factors, the various nations of America today are a rich multi-ethnic and multicultural family, in which the following fundamental elements—among others—may be distinguished: 

common Christian roots, with which the majority of people with their various traditions and cultural expressions can identify despite human and temporal diversity. This common heritage is understood with different shades of meaning. In Latin America, the common Christian root, in addition to being Christian, is Catholic, while the rest of the continent is united in a predominantly Christian identity, without excluding, in minor proportions, the feature of Catholicism; 

a history rich in ancient Civilizations, yet marked by the proclamation of the Gospel for only 500 years, so that, from this point of view, it may be said that the common Christian roots have a relatively young history. Consequently, the Church in this hemisphere is a young Church, marked by a great vitality and a force of renewal, which is a source of hope and joy; 

these common Christian roots are incarnated in a plurality of cultural expressions which include a wide range of realities, those having social, political and economic aspects as well as highly ethnic ones. This heterogeneity is a richness providing a fertile field for undertaking the work of communion and solidarity, a work which can profit from the church's new evangelization. 

The Announcement of Jesus Christ in the Cultural Context

The Gospel and Culture 

In summarizing responses related to the evangelization of culture, certain general tendencies stand out in the present-day societies of the American hemisphere. These same tendencies can also be detected in cultural trends at the international level. Among them are: 

a pluralism presenting itself in all America under many forms: an affirmation of identity based on various ethnic, linguistic and national groups; a diversity of mentalities as a manifestation of freedom of expression; the coexistence in the same area of many different cultural and religious traditions; an openness through the world of communications to a wealth of information for enlarging the horizons of human knowledge; 

a secularism proposing a vision of life which lacks transcendent values, while at the same time indirectly stimulating the person of today to search for the ultimate purpose bf life, etc.; 

a subjectivism and moral relativism, producing in the person of today a great crisis and confusion of conscience, which consequently leads to a devaluation of the objective moral order and an over-emphasis on personal subjectivity. These characteristics lead to the loss of a sense of sin; 

a globalization of culture having positive aspects which offer the possibility of enrichment through intercommunication, while at the same time leading cultures towards an homogenization of contents and values, with the consequent loss of individual identity. This effect may be especially worrying when the Christian, and particularly Catholic, profile of local cultures is at stake; 

an awareness of the importance of certain values, some of which are connected with the dignity of the human person, such as freedom, life and justice; others relate to the innate desire of each human being towards spiritual and transcendent realities; and 

an urbanization raising new challenges for evangelization, not only because it creates new problems coming from urban culture (poverty and indigence of marginalized groups, uprooting, anonymity, loneliness, immorality and violence), but also because the present urban structure requires new pastoral methods, including the use of modem means and techniques of communication. 

It could be said that the above characteristics are common to the whole continent, even if they are present in various ways in different regional and local settings. For example, the phenomenon of urbanization raises the problem of social marginalization, both in the poor sectors of the "favelas" in Latin America as well as the disadvantaged areas of the big cities of North America. Similarly, the awareness of certain valuessuch as justice, freedom and lifeis manifested in various cultural expressions according to the degree of economic development and the political situation in the respective society, though in fact the basic ideals are the same. 

The Gospel and Indigenous and Afro-American Cultures 

The interest in the relationship between the Gospel and culture is extended to include indigenous and Afro-American cultures, which, to varying degrees, are a part of all the countries in the American hemisphere. These cultures are a legacy of the civilizations which existed on the continent before the arrival of the first evangelizers, or are the fruit of an immigration immediately following their arrival. In either case, it could be said that, from the outset, both these cultures welcomed the message of the Good News with a simplicity of heart. Nevertheless, the task of evangelization of these cultures was not completed with the first announcement of the kerygma. Today a greater presence of the Church is required in the cultures of these peoples so as to transform inwardly their authentic cultural values, through integrating the various cultures into Christianity and enlightening them by the faith. 

Among the indigenous and Afro-American groups, there is a growing awareness of the right to conserve one's cultural identity. The Church in all America, in communion with the Magisterium of the Holy Father, is conscious of the importance of such rights and makes every effort to bring to these people the Gospel message, while at the same time concerning herself with promoting their legitimate claims. Among the values of these cultures compatible with the Christian faith are the following: a great love for one's own land, a respect for ancestors and community traditions, the religious sense of life and death as expressed in ritual celebrations enlivened with dancing, music and singing as well as the belief in a life beyond this one. At the same time, these answers underscore aspects which need to be purified, since all cultures are a product of mankind and thus marked by sin. Some of the habits and attitudes needing purification are the following: a high rate of alcoholism (frequently connected with the holding of festivities), fetishism, superstition, casting of spells, religious syncretism, fatalism, black magic, witch doctoring and other mythical ideas which take the form of practices incompatible with the Christian faith. 

The Gospel and the Cultures of Immigrant Peoples 

No less important than the evangelization of indigenous and Afro-American cultures is the evangelization of the cultures of immigrants, which constitutes a reality in almost all societies in the American hemisphere since the end of the last century. There are two main immigration currents: one coming basically from Europe and to a lesser extent from Asia; and the other, a movement within the American hemisphere itself. The first immigrant movement occurred with greater intensity in some countries more than others, but generally speaking it may be said that the immigrants brought with them authentic human values, such as: the sense of family and work, a love of their country of origin, a solidarity with those poorer than themselves, the value of a promise given, the sense of justice, and also certain religious values, whether Catholic (mainly from the Latin Church, though also from Oriental Churches) or from other Christian religions (various Protestant communities and also Orthodox Churches) and including non-Christian religions (Judaism and to a lesser extent Islam). While, in certain countries like Canada and above all the United States the immigration flow consisted of many currents mainly coming from various European and to a lesser extent Asian countries and cultures, in the rest of the continent this same phenomenon reflects the presence of predominantly Spanish and Italian immigrants. 

The second current includes massive immigration from the South, Central and Caribbean parts of the continent to the North. More collaboration is needed between the a quo and ad quem Churches in order to provide adequate pastoral care of immigrants in which, for example, immigrant persons might receive assistance from priests coming from their own region. In the same way, suggestions are made to promote the forms of popular piety which the immigrants bring with them, such as: family festivities, religious holidays and patron saints' days, traditional celebrations associated with Christmas and Holy Week, as well as processions and devotions associated with special titles for Christ, the Blessed Virgin and the saints. In the United States of America the significantly increasing presence of Latin American immigrants represents in many instances an enriching element for this country's culture. Many immigrants, the majority of which were Catholic, brought with them authentic values: the sense of family, popular piety, folklore and local traditions. The Bishops of this country recognize the value of this style of life and the customs which manifest the Catholic faith, while at the same time point out the need continually to evangelize these popular expressions of Latin American piety to purify them and integrate them appropriately in accomplishing a major enrichment of the local Christian culture. 

The Gospel and Popular Piety 

Another factor in the evangelization of culture is popular piety. In the people of Latin America and Latin American groups living in North America, this expression of culture is basically the expression of the Catholic faith, while in the rest of the continent it can be said that such religious sentiment is generally Christian. In any case, it is noted that recently the simple, but no less profound, religious character of these people has received special attention in the pastoral initiatives of local Churches throughout all America. 

Some signs which indicate the importance of popular religious culture are: the increasing participation of people in pilgrimages to shrines (especially Marian shrines), the tradition in families of baptizing children, the giving of alms for the souls in Purgatory and celebrating Masses for the deceased, patronal feasts with their characteristic processions and the celebration of Holy Mass (generally attended by large numbers of people), devotion to the saints, not only those of the universal Church but also those of the American continent, etc. These and many other expressions of popular piety offer excellent opportunities for the faithful to encounter the living Jesus Christ. In fact, the ecclesial community, in coming together for the celebration of the Word and Sacrament in memory of the saints, remembers in a particular way those who faithfully imitated in their lives the Saviour of the world, and that same community enters into communion with those who are part of the heavenly Church. It is for this reason that popular pietypurified and duly catechizedmay come to be a decisive element in the new evangelization. 

Within popular pietybut not limited exclusively to this categorya privileged place is occupied by devotion to the Virgin Mary, a clear sign of the Catholic identity of the People of God. The Catholics of America are a Marian people. This is borne out by the many titles by which she is invoked by believers, as also by the innumerable Marian shrines throughout the American hemisphere. Among her many titles, the most noteworthy is that of, Our Lady of Guadalupe, which owes its origins to the appearance of the Virgin to Juan Diego on American sod, on the hill of Tepeyac (Mexico), in 1531. This Marian event has always been considered as a sign of the protection of the Mother of God for the men and women of the American continent, based on the words addressed by the Virgin to Juan Diego and conserved in the traditions of the faithful: "Am I not here, who am your mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Why do you fear, if you are in my mantle? If you are in my arms?" In recent times devotion to Mary under this title has increased, and that, without diminishing devotion to the Virgin according to local titles, the devotion draws together all the Catholic peoples of America in the profession of the same faith in the Mother of the Redeemer. This is occurring not only in Latin American countries but also in the United States of America. In this case, the growing popularity of this devotion is explained, among other facts, by the presence of Latin American Catholics in this country. Pope John Paul II proposes Marian devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe as a great example of perfectly inculturated evangelization, saying: "The mestizo countenance of the Virgin of Tepeyac sums up the great principle of inculturation: the intimate transformation of authentic cultural values through their integration into Christianity and the rooting of Christianity in the diverse cultures". For this reason, the Holy Father decided to honour the Mother of God on American soil by calling her: "the Star of both the first evangelization and the new one".

Among the many manifestations of popular devotion to Our Lady are the following: recitation of the rosary; pilgrimages and visits to shrines, frequently accompanied by the opportunity to receive the sacraments; Marian titles and invocations from which shrines, chapels and cities take their names; religious art providing devotional images and bearing witness to the people's Marian faith; patronal feast days; a month devoted to Mary; promises and vows made to her as an expression of the Marian dimension of the faith of believers. In local Churches in all America, efforts are being made increasingly to foster Marian devotion and have it lead towards a personal encounter with Christ, integrating affective and doctrinal aspects in it and bringing the faithful to partake of the sacraments and grow in faith, hope and charity. 

The Gospel and Education 

With regard to the subject of the evangelization of culture, the Church in all America is pastorally present in education at all levels. The underlying reasons given for the Church's concern in this area are basically two: 1) interest in the person, whose education stimulates specifically human capacities, thus preparing the ground for reception of the Good News; and 2) interest in society, since education is the source of attitudes towards behaviour and values, the defining features of culture which need to be imbued with evangelical values. 

In order to evangelize culture in the field of education, thinking and research, the Church in all America can rely on a considerable network of schools, colleges, universities and faculties to develop an efficient work of evangelization and an important human promotion. To take advantage of this potential, the Church in America faces the following challenges: 

the maintaining of a clear and precise Catholic identity in Church centres of education at all levels, above all regarding the basic Christian orientation of programmes and pastoral initiatives; 

the planning of educational programmes aimed not merely at providing efficient technical instruction but also, and above all, at offering a vision and a culture inspired by Gospel values which can be assimilated in terms of attitudes of human and Christian behaviour; 

the co-ordinating of the pastoral programmes of education at national, diocesan and local levels through ecclesial structures, above all, for the drawing up of programmes and texts on religious formation; 

the formation of professors and teachers who are professionally qualified as well as committed Christians; 

the intensifying of educational works by the Church in disadvantaged areas through free schools in the city and rural settings as well as through vocational schools; and 

the presence of the Church in universities and other educational environments, whether State or private, non-denominational ones, by means of chaplains and Catholic. Since the task of evangelization in the educational field is directed above all to young people, categories of youth culture are significant, not only its characteristic areas of expression (music, sport, leisure activities, friendship, group encounters, etc.), but also its specific challenges (drugs, violence, sexuality, marginalization, the generational gap, loneliness, etc.). 

The Gospel and the Means of Social Communication 

One of the "modern areopagi" requiring urgent evangelization is that of the means of social communication. The fundamental reason for this urgent need is the influence exercised by the media over almost every individual. Reference is quite rightly made to a "mass culture" which affects persons, changing their way of thinking, their values and style of behaviour. In contrast, many answers confirm the scarce presencein certain cases, the complete absenceof the Church in the field of the means of social communication. A common point of agreement is the need to deal with this question at two levels: 

1) the use of the media to transmit the Gospel message and the Magisterium of the Church. At this level, even where the Church in all America is utilizing various means in the media to transmit her news (periodicals, various publications, radio and television broadcasts, computer networks, etc.), there is evidence that the use made of these media is often inadequate for lack of updated equipment, economic resources and sufficiently skilled personnel. 

2) the integration of the Gospel message in this "new culture" created by modern communications. The evangelization of present-day culture indeed depends to a large extent on the influence of the media. At this level, there is a need to bring the values of the Gospel to bear on the ethical principles underlying the handling of information, the content of communication transmitted to the masses and the goals of working in the world of communications. Too frequently the goal of the agents of communications is economic gain and not the promotion of the person.

Conversion in the Church and in Society

Concrete Signs of a Religious Re-awakening in the Church

Many positive signs of joy and hope hearten and console the People of God in all America as it proceeds in the midst of the sorrows and anxieties of our time. There are signs of religious vitality marking the present situation of the Church in the American hemisphere. These aspects are the most valuable fruits of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council and the documents of the episcopal magisterium which is making ongoing efforts to apply the Council's teaching. Among the features which reflect this situation, the following deserve to be mentioned: 

a strong feeling of communion and participation in the life of the Church at various levels: episcopal collegiality between bishops within an episcopal conference, the communion of the bishop with priests, religious and laity in the pastoral life of dioceses, and pastoral planning in parishes with the active participation of religious and laity, etc.; 

a considerable increase, in some areas, in priestly vocations and vocations to the consecrated life has been recorded in the last few years. Although in many cases these vocations are still insufficient to meet the needs of certain particular Churches, some of these Churches demonstrate a spirit of missionary solidarity by sharing vocations with more needy dioceses. 

a major awareness of the importance of the formation of the clergy, both in the seminary and in the active ministry. In various responses, mention is made of the positive contribution given by the Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores dabo vobis, to opening new approaches in the renewal of priestly spirituality; 

a strong witness in the ministerial life of many priests committed to the new evangelization and an enthusiastic exercise of their priesthood. This too is often accompanied by a significant interest in community experiences of prayer, apostolic work, living in common, spiritual retreats, etc.; 

a growing active participation in the liturgy by the faithful, making it not only a moment of personal communion with God but the center of the pastoral life of the ecclesial community. The liturgical renewal of the Second Vatican Council has been welcomed by most of the People of God whose members have rediscovered the value of the liturgy as an encounter with God and others, and as a celebration of Church communion; 

a greater awareness on the part of the laity of the gift of Baptism, which leads them to a deeper involvement in the Church and strengthens their apostolic and missionary commitment. Similarly, the laity are generally becoming increasingly aware of the need to work wholeheartedly for the transformation of society according to Gospel values through participating in the following areas: the defense of life and the family; the promotion of solidarity, justice, human rights and ecology; the cause of peace and reconciliation in areas of violence; aid based on solidarity with the most needy through initiatives providing assistance; etc.

Urgent Aspects of Conversion Within the Church

There will always be a need for a more vibrant and clear witness of sanctity on the part of evangelizers—bishops, priests, those in the consecrated life and lay persons, both men or women—each according to his particular gifts and role. The sanctity of each one of the members of the People of God, in the occupations and circumstances of his life, is the most effective means to carry out the task of the new evangelization. 

A lack of communion is detected, above all concerning the coordination and collaboration of charisms within the Church. In particular, there is a lack of harmony between the charism of the consecrated life and that of the bishop's authority, between the charism of the diocesan clergy and that of those in service to the Church. Moreover, the diocesan clergy could be more open to welcome those in the consecrated life as well as in lay movements, who may contribute through their respective gifts and charisms to the service of the Church community. 

There may be a lack of harmony among certain theologians with the Magisterium of the Church, above all regarding certain aspects of dogmatic and moral teaching. Such disagreements create in members of the People of God a great confusion, and even worse can lead to divisions which damage Church communion. 

Situations reveal a certain pastoral ineffectiveness resulting from inadequate pastoral structures which no longer meet the new situations of society or do not allow sufficient opportunity for lay involvement. 

An incomplete application of the Second Vatican Council, above all in certain areas concerning diocesan and parish structures (especially in reference to the establishment and functioning of pastoral and administrative councils). A major distribution of conciliar and papal documents through formation programs at various levels may assist in implementing these and other aspects of the Second Vatican Council. 

A lack of renewal in methods of catechesis, both in preparation for the sacraments (above all the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Marriage) and in ongoing formation. 

An incorrect application, in some cases, of the principles of liturgical renewal proposed by Vatican Council II. It has sometimes happened that, even after proceeding with good intentions to achieve a better adaptation of the liturgy to popular culture, the result has led to arbitrary liturgical practices which conceal the transcendent nature of liturgical celebrations.

Positive Aspects of Contemporary Society and the Gospel

There is a growing awareness of the dignity of the human person and his inalienable rights as well as a sense of justice, finding expression, among others, in the refusal of all social discrimination as a consequence of respect for the person and in a search for an ever greater forthrightness in the administration of justice; a respect for nature expressed in an attentive consideration of ecological problems. This is a positive aspect in that it properly predisposes persons to become aware of their being part of creation, thus eliciting a respect for the Creator's work; a pronounced interest in spiritual values and a concern for transcendent realities. While, at times, this interest takes the form of syncretic and pseudo-religious practices, it continues to serve as the basis for the Church's dialogue with people today, who are thirsting for the Word of Life; and a strong feeling of solidarity and generosity, expressed in a growing sensitivity to the needs of others. This positive sign, reflected in many humanitarian organizations, characterizes not only various national situations but also international relations.

Aspects of Today's Society Requiring Conversion

Certain aspects also exist in the societies of the American continent requiring conversion and a change in attitudes. The Church in all America attentive to the social situation has expressed in numerous documents of the Pastors her continuing desire to offer enlightenment to temporal matters through the teachings of the Gospel. The following points emerge as social aspects necessitating conversion: 

in the family context, both a concept of freedom and an ideal of human love without obligations are often detected. Separation and divorce have become more and more frequent with the consequent break-up of families. Contraceptive practice and abortion are leading to the loss of a sense of the value of life and to the spread of a "culture of death." Family violence is very real and on the increase. A feminine and masculine identity is being lost, and, at the same time, an inadequate formation in sexuality is being indiscriminately promoted in the field of education. Childhood, women, youth and the elderly are areas requiring greater attention; 

in the economic sphere, many societies in the American hemisphere are marked by the lack of a greater distributive justice. Unemployment is on the rise, wages are low, and the distance between rich and poor continues to grow. In the entire American continent, there are indications of the difference mentioned by Pope John Paul II in his Encyclical Letter Redemptoris missio: "the North has constructed (a development model) which is now spreading to the South, where a sense of religion as well as human values are in danger of being overwhelmed by a wave of consumerism." There is an urgent need to find a solution to the problem of the foreign debt in the context of the celebration of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, as proposed by the Holy Father in his Apostolic Letter Tertio millenio adveniente

on the social level, the process of urbanization continues to accelerate in connection with the appearance of an industrial society and demographic growth. The development of big cities, often uncontrolled and lacking order, brings with it serious social problems such as poverty, uprooting of persons and whole families, drug trafficking and addiction, child and youth prostitution, alcoholism, de-personalization, etc. 

on the political level, a concept of politics is becoming prominent which does not take into account the common good. It is not unusual for upper class people to live in remote contact with the needs of other people and to be guided by partisan interests. Frequently, a spirit of demagogy is seen with the increased corruption of the structures of power. This situation leads to a lack of confidence regarding political institutions, above all affecting the administration of justice, which is not always forthright, equal and effective. 

on the cultural level, an atheistic lay culture is sometimes manifested in scholarly and cultural circles by the presence of only a few committed Christian lay men and women in universities and among intellectuals, professionals and artists. There is a need for a greater presence of the Christian laity in the means of social communication. In some cases, a scarce application of ethical principles leads certain agents of social communications to lack objectivity in presenting the truth. Shortcomings in the educational field are evidenced, above all in illiteracy and in the reduction of education to mere instruction, where there is little space for transcendent values.

Evangelization for Communion in America

The evangelization of the New World, begun more than 500 years ago, brought many men and women to an encounter with Christ and resulted in many saints who characterize the history of the Church in all America. The saints in the lands of the American hemisphere make present the mystery of Christ and show him as an attainable ideal for the men and women of the continent. Their lives are not only a personal testimony of Jesus Christ, but also an expression of the communion of his Mystical Body, the Church. This christological and ecclesiological dimension of holiness has been the means—and continues to be the means—for drawing many people close to Christ and for entering into communion with him in the Church.

Edited from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
17 September 1997
Special Insert