Evangelisation and New Evangelisation

Evangelisation and mission are at the heart of being Christian. The Church has always placed mission and evangelisation as its priority.

Sep 08, 2023

Evangelisation and mission are at the heart of being Christian. The Church has always placed mission and evangelisation as its priority. Jesus’ mission on earth is exactly that, mission. Even the four Gospel writers are called evangelists, not authors or novelists. The Acts of the Apostles is so named as it documents the actions of the early Apostles in spreading the message of Jesus.

Evangelisation at its simplest is to “speak about Jesus to others” or “tell others about Jesus”. The Catholic Church advocates mission in words and deeds, not just preaching or quoting scriptures. We evangelise with our life, as role model as well as with words and actions. We do acts of charity, foster peace and justice. We show kindness, compassion and love to people around us.

Throughout the past century, the universal Church had issued many documents based on evangelisation and mission. Of the 16 documents in the Vatican Council II, two documents (Gaudium et Spes and Ad Gentes) contains the spirit of evangelisation. Other not so known Vatican documents on mission includes Maximum Illud (Apostolic letter of Pope Benedict XV on the Propagation of the Faith throughout the World, 1919), Rerum Ecclesiae (Encyclical of Pope Pius XI on Catholic Missions, 1926) and Evangelii Praecones (Encyclical of Pope Pius XII on promotion of Catholic Missions, 1951).

In 1975, Pope Paul VI’s Evangelii Nuntiandi (on Evangelisation in the Modern World), addressed specifically the need for evangelisation in today’s modern world. In his Apostolic Exhortation, he called upon the “pastors of the universal Church .... a fresh forward impulse ... a new period of evangelisation”. He went on to say “The conditions of the society in which we live oblige all of us therefore to revise methods, to seek by every means to study how we can bring the Christian message to modern man”.

In 1979, Pope John Paul II, in his Apostolic pilgrimage to Poland started using the term “new evangelisation”. He said “We were given a sign that on the threshold of the new millennium, in these new times, these new conditions of life, the Gospel is again being proclaimed. A new evangelisation has begun, as if it were a new proclamation”.

In subsequent speeches and documents, Pope John Paul II continued to expound on this “new era of evangelisation” and “new evangelisation”. His Encyclical Letter Redemptoris Missio (on the permanent validity of the Church’s missionary mandate, 1990) speaks at length of this new evangelisation, followed through with his Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente (towards the Third Millennium, 1994) and his Apostolic Exhortation Novo Millennio Ineunte (at the beginning of the new millennium, 2001).

As a lay faithful, like me, you may have asked “What is new evangelisation?”; “Why NEW?”; “What is the difference between the old evangelisation and the new evangelisation?” Without attempting to give any theological or philosophical answers to the above questions, my grasps of the questions are as follows.

#1. The world has changed. It is no longer, Catholic Christians versus non-Catholics. The Vatican Yearbook states there are 1.3 billion (17.7 per cent) Catholics in the world. Meaning, Catholics, though many, are no longer the majority or dominant religion, unlike the colonial days when the world was divided between Spain and Portugal, each sending missionaries out to convert the population.

#2. Previously, mission work was done mainly by clergy, religious and fulltime pastoral workers, sent to various parts of the world to preach the Word of God, and to convert. Today, the dwindling response to vocations to the priesthood and religious life means mission work has to fall upon the lay faithful as well.

#3. During the industrial era, people mostly worked, played and prayed. Resources were limited, social activities were scarce and job employment was few and far between. Religion and faith provided “support” and “means” for them to hope for a better life. Today, in the age of internet, social media and globalisation, career choices are plentiful. The numerous 24 hours’ day activities give people plenty of opportunities for other pastimes, except think of God, Church or religion.

The list goes on. Many papers have been written about the declining interest of people in faith and religion. With these as its backdrop, our Holy Fathers saw it coming and simply calls it “the Church in the modern world”. In light of the above, the universal Church came out with a string of initiatives. In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI established the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelisation. In 2012, he called for a Year of Faith on the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council. He opened it with a general assembly of the Synod of Bishops on The New Evangelisation for the Transmission of the Christian Faith.

In 2013, Pope Francis released the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) on “the Church’s primary mission of evangelisation in the modern world”. In its opening paragraph, Pope Francis calls the Church to a new chapter of evangelisation and invites every Christian to a life of missionary discipleship. The Holy Father writes that “the Word of God constantly shows us how God challenges those who believe in Him ‘to go forth.’”

The Church in Malaysia too had embarked on her own initiatives ? the School of Evangelisation and the current Institute for New Evangelisation. Despite her best efforts to train and form the people of God on the need for mission and new evangelisation, success is mostly slow. Perhaps it is because many see evangelisation as equal to conversion. In Malaysia, conversion from one religion to another is a very sensitive subject.

The Catholic Asian News had a feature article “The New Evangelisation is for Everyone” (CANews, July 2023). Among others, the article states that “although we speak of evangelisation as ‘new’, it only seems new to our present generation of Catholics”. Our Christian mission has not changed. Quoting from the late Pope Benedict XVI “the entire Christian community is called to revive its missionary spirit in order to offer the new message for which the people of our times are longing”.

In addition, a “new form” of evangelisation had grown during the COVID-19 pandemic. Digital evangelisation became synonymous with new media tools such as the internet, social media and smartphones, where talks, seminars and formation sessions were conducted online. Media organisations like EWTN, National Catholic Register, Word on Fire, Catholic Answers and Formed use the new media to promote the work of evangelisation. Individuals do the same with their social media accounts.

Is this really what Jesus meant when He said “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (The Great Commission, Matthew 28:16-20).

(Richard Chia has been actively involved in Church since young. He held full-time corporate jobs while serving in ministries and groups at various church levels for the past four decades.)

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