We had a great Diocesan Development Day today in Sheffield on the theme of learning to be salt and light in our communities. 500 people came together from all across South and East Yorkshire. Ann Morisey was our main speaker. There was a great buzz in the room. Thanks be to God and to the organising team.
The Development Day was the main reason that I’m arriving at the Synod a day late. Everything begins tomorrow in Rome at 0930 local time with the solemn inaugural Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica.
However my bags are packed (just!) and I leave first thing in the morning for the flight so I will be there well in advance of the first congregation at nine o’clock on Monday morning.
The subject of the Synod needs a slightly fuller introduction. What is meant by the term “the new evangelisation”?
Fifty years ago, evangelisation became one of the central topics of the Vatican Council. According to one of the key documents of the Council, “evangelisation is the energy which permits the Church to realise her goal, namely to respond to the universal call to holiness” (Lumen Gentium, 39-40).
These ideas around evangelisation have been developed and underlined now by three popes. Pope Paul VI emphasised the need in particular to evangelise those who have been baptised but have never understood or grasped the faith as their own. Pope John Paul II developed the term “new evangelisation” to describe this aspect of the task: the transmission of the faith to those who have already received it through baptism but not embraced it as their own and especially in the traditionally Christian countries of the so-called First-World.
Pope Benedict VI has built on these ideas in his own teaching and has made this the theme of the key Synod of Bishops. The new evangelisation is not therefore the primary communication of the gospel to those who have never heard it but the transmission of a real, living faith in Jesus Christ to those who have grown up in some sense within the Church and within nations which have been traditionally Christian.
Anglicans are familiar with the need to do this though we would not distinguish in such depth between the transmission of the gospel to those who have only a nominal faith and those who have never heard it. We would acknowledge that society in the United Kingdom contains different groups with different experiences of both the Church and the faith and that different means are needed to connect with each.
There is a recognition in all the documents that the only place to begin is through the renewal of the individual Christian and the Church through a fresh encounter with Christ. Pope John Paul II’s great encyclical letter to welcome the new millennium (in novo millienio inuente), calls all Christians to begin again by encountering the face of Christ. We will be led from there to develop new tools and new expressions for the transmission of the faith.
So the Synod, I hope and pray, will not be about techniques and methods but about encountering Christ and helping others to do so. Please pray for us!