The New Evangelisation: A Challenge for the West

POST BY GClapson

Archbishop Fisichella
Archbishop Rino Fisichella

As we enter Holy Week, Simon Bishop SJ offers his thoughts on a talk that he attended recently at Heythrop College, given by the President of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelisation.

“Do you remember Pope Francis’ first homily after his election?” This was one of the questions posed by Archbishop Rino Fisichella at a conference on The New Evangelisation at Heythrop College organised by the Religious Life Institute. Fortunately, Archbishop Fisichella was able to refresh our memories! He said that Pope Francis used three verbs which have been key to his pastoral vision: ‘to walk, to build, to profess Jesus Christ crucified.’ (Homily during the “Missa pro Ecclesia” with the Cardinal Electors, Sistine Chapel, 14 March 2013.)

The New Evangelisation invites us to ‘walk’ – to ‘go forth’, as the new translation proclaims at the end of the Mass; to open our doors and, as Archbishop Fisichella suggested, to leave our desks and our buildings so as to visit others where they are, instead of waiting for them to come and visit us.

More than this, the New Evangelisation is challenging us not only to visit others but to build a community with and for them, ‘to take part in the construction of a new city’, where our preaching becomes real through the visible sign of a community with a ‘credible face’. He said that where this is not already happening, we may need to ask specific people to accompany others, especially those most in need, so that they know they are not alone: a community which says in words and in action: “we will not leave you alone.”

Thirdly, where Pope Francis used the word ‘profess’, Archbishop Fisichella used the word ‘confess’. The two words are, of course, linked, in the way, for example, we both profess and confess our faith but the slight change of translation was a subtle and revealing nuance, not only of Archbishop Fishichella’s meaning, but also of the Pope’s. ‘Before confessing doctrine’, the Archbishop stated, ‘we need to confess with our lives, the merciful love of God. When others meet us, they need to encounter the risen Jesus whom we have met.’


How might we ‘walk, build and confess Jesus Christ crucified’? This is where Archbishop Fisichella paused for a long time and then repeated again and again and again: “take time … take time … take time … take time to listen to people. Rediscover the culture of encounter … inter-personal relationships, this is the most important way of the New Evangelisation”. In this he was clearly echoing the message which Pope Francis has himself been emphasising again and again: ‘Today, when the networks and means of human communication have made unprecedented advances, we sense the challenge of finding and sharing a “mystique” of living together, of mingling and encounter, of embracing and supporting one another, of stepping into this flood tide which, while chaotic, can become a genuine experience of fraternity, a caravan of solidarity, a sacred pilgrimage. Greater possibilities for communication thus turn into greater possibilities for encounter and solidarity for everyone.’ (Evangelii Gaudium, 87)

Finally, to conclude where Archbishop Fisichella, in fact, began, he recognised that the New Evangelisation is a challenge in the West, because of our way of living. He said our ‘excess of activity’ needs our own pastoral conversion. We need to rediscover the gift of contemplation, to focus on what is essential: the face of Christ, so that we can live in Him and communicate this encounter, this healing experience of God. How can we be open to this gift of contemplation? “We need to be formed in silence”, to listen, to listen to the Lord, to listen to others, to listen to ourselves. In walking and in building together, in contemplating and in listening, we will come to adore, we will fall to our knees and confess: ‘You are my God. I abandon my life into your hands.’ For those familiar with the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius, it seemed that Archbishop Fisichella had led us to the contemplation to attain love where, ‘filled with gratitude for all, I may in all things love and serve the Divine Majesty’, and in this Spirit, pray:

Take, Lord, and receive all my freedom, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will. All that I have and possess, You have given to me. To You, O Lord, I return it. All is Yours. Make use of it wholly according to Your will. Give me only Your love and Your grace, for this is enough for me. (Spiritual Exercises 234)