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In major synod address, Cardinal Wuerl rues secularism and poor catechesis, analyzes new evangelization

October 09, 2012

Poor catechesis and a “tsunami of secular influence” have led to a situation in which the need for the new evangelization of once-Christian societies is urgent, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington said in an important Latin-language address to the Synod of Bishops.

Cardinal Wuerl, whom Pope Benedict appointed the synod’s relator-general, delivered the relatio ante disceptationem (report before the discussion) following a meditation by Pope Benedict, brief remarks by Cardinal John Tong Hon of Hong Kong in English, and a lengthy Latin-language overview of the synod process by Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, since 2004 the secretary-general of the Synod of Bishops.

The relatio ante disceptationem inevitably helps shapes the synod fathers’ deliberations in the weeks that follow.

“This current situation is rooted in the upheavals of the 1970s and 80s, decades in which there was manifest poor catechesis or miscatechesis at so many levels of education,” Cardinal Wuerl said. “We faced the hermeneutic of discontinuity that permeated so much of the milieu of centers of higher education and was also reflected in aberrational liturgical practice. Entire generations have become disassociated from the support systems that facilitated the transmission of faith.”

“It is as if a tsunami of secular influence has swept across the cultural landscape, taking with it such societal markers as marriage, family, the concept of the common good and objective right and wrong,” he continued. “Tragically, the sins of a few have encouraged a distrust in some of the very structures of the Church herself.”

Cardinal Wuerl added:

Secularization has fashioned two generations of Catholics who do not know the Church’s foundational prayers. Many do not sense a value in Mass attendance, fail to receive the sacrament of penance and have often lost a sense of mystery or the transcendent as having any real and verifiable meaning. All of the above resulted in a large segment of the faithful being ill-prepared to deal with a culture that, as our Holy Father has pointed out on his many visits around the world, is characterized by secularism, materialism and individualism.

“The missionaries in the first evangelization covered immense geographic distances to spread the Good News,” he observed. “We, the missionaries of the New Evangelization, must surmount ideological distances just as immense, oftentimes before we ever journey beyond our own neighborhood or family.”

Cardinal Wuerl also discussed elements of the new evangelization, its theological foundations, and the qualities of “new evangelizers.”

“The New Evangelization is not a program,” he said. “It is a mode of thinking, seeing and acting. It is a lens through which we see the opportunities to proclaim the Gospel anew. It is also a recognition that the Holy Spirit continues actively to work in the Church.”

“At its heart the New Evangelization is the reproposing of the encounter with the Risen Lord, his Gospel and his Church to those who no longer find the Church’s message engaging,” he continued. “The New Evangelization begins with each of us taking it upon ourselves to renew once again our understanding of the faith and our appropriation of it in a way that more deeply, willingly and joyfully embraces the Gospel message and its application today.”

“We rely first and always on Jesus,” Cardinal Wuerl said. “He alone is the cornerstone. As we approach those who have grown cold or distant in their faith, the touchstone is the simplicity of instruction that motivates and speaks to the depth of the human person. We turn to our brothers and sisters who have received baptism, and yet, no longer participate in the life of the Church.”

“The personal witness of the follower of Jesus is itself a proclamation of the Word,” he continued, adding:

Among the qualities required for the evangelizer today, and there are many that can be identified, four stand out: boldness or courage, connectedness to the Church, a sense of urgency and joy…

Today the New Evangelization must show a boldness born of confidence in Christ. Examples abound of the quiet boldness: Saint Maximilian Kolbe, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, and before them Blessed Miguel Pro and the recent martyrs of Lithuania, Spain, Mexico and the more distant witness by the saints of Korea, Nigeria and Japan.

When we speak of courage, we must also recognize the need for institutional witness in the those particular churches that enjoy the presence of institutional expressions of the Church, colleges, universities, hospitals, health care ministries, social services and other types of outreach to the poor, there must be a recognition that these institutional expressions of the life of the Church should also bear testimony to God’s Word.


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  • Posted by: unum - Oct. 10, 2012 2:51 PM ET USA

    The good Cardinal's remarks make me wonder if the bishops understand what leadership is all about because they are not communicating with the people of God. For example, the American Church has no program of adult formation, and thus most parents and grandparents, the principal educators of children, are ignorant of the faith. Cardinal Dolan admits that the clergy doesn't speak out on controversial issues. So how does the heierarchy expect these adults to magically change the culture