New Evangelization – Collegial process

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The synods of bishops call for a long process to assure the participation and contribution of all local Churches to the teaching service of the Church. When the Vatican II instituted the Synod of Bishops, the aim was to find and foster a concrete path to assert the collegiality of the magisterium: of the bishops with the Pope and of the people of God with their bishops. The task of the bishops to listen to the grassroots was strongly emphasized; and the Lineamenta and the Instrumentum Laboris prepared before each synod are tools to be used. In other words, the Church recognizes to be a community of disciples who need to discover and deepen the message of Christ, before being a community of apostles which strive to spread it out in the process called evangelization.

Sy2The Instrumentum Laboris of the forthcoming Synod on the New Evangelization clearly takes into consideration the suggestions submitted to the Secretariat of the Synod from bishops around the world, from Catholic Universities, and other apostolic bodies in the Church. The attention to the documents of the Vatican II – which is the Magna Charta of the new evangelization in the third millennium – is now more explicit.
What I find a serious omission is the lack of formal recognition of the contribution of the local Churches and apostolic bodies. Also, the criteria followed by the Secretariat of the Synod to accept certain suggestions and to exclude other ones are not clear. The only bodies mentioned in the footnotes are: Popes, Roman Congregations and Pontifical Councils. Yet the strategy of John Paul II with the five continental synods seemed to recognize the continental specific identity and differences of local Churches. The systematic overshadowing of the continental magisterium by the Secretariat of the Synod seems to be not an accident or an occasional oversight, but a policy which is not consistent with the broad understanding of Catholicity express in Lumen Gentium, where Catholicity includes elements of pluralism.
As a missionary with 40 years of involvement in African, sent by vocation to found and develop local Churches with their own explicit identity through inculturation, I feel the lack of recognition of local Churches as part and parcel of the universal magisterium of the Church to be a disqualification of the missionary endeavour. From my research, the reception of Synodal documents in Africa, both active and passive as it were, is modest to state the least. The reasons might be many but I would like to mention four:
Sy3* The celebration of the synod outside the frame of a given continent turns it into as a kind of bureaucratic initiative with hardly any real and lasting impact on local Churches.
* The time and space separation between celebration and document; for instance, Africae Munus was published two years after the actual celebration of the African Synod in Rome.
* The very poor involvement of local structures in the preparation and the dissemination of the document of a synod.
* The frequency of the synods: a new synod every three years gives little time to receive and digest the finding of the previous one.
All these causes end up torpedoing the intention of Vatican II, which rediscovered the synod as tools of participatory magisterium and a visible sign of collegiality. I say ‘rediscovered’ because during the first millennium the Synods were the most common tools of regional magisterium.
I have been involved in the study and reflection on the New Evangelization since the nineties of the last century, when John Paul II launched this new expression which became soon a slogan, and little understood as slogan usually are. Not all were in favour of the terminology for a variety of reasons. Then as now, I found the words rather foggy: it is not clear what the limitations of the ‘old’ evangelization are, and what should be done to allow the ‘new’ to emerge with clarity and freshness. The confusion favours the assertions of those fundamentalist groups which claim that the ‘new evangelization’ is the return to a pre-Vatican II Church, though the world is totally different. Hence I would encourage the identification of old traits to be phased out:
* less confession and more reconciliation: in an era of growing fundamentalism when religions are used to inject violence in civil society and blowing oneself up is considered a highly acceptable martyrdom, we need new and more convinced commitment to ecumenism and interreligious dialogue, collaboration and solidarity.
* Less devotions and more discipleship: through a better and more widespread reading, actualization and internalization of the Word of God for personal and social conversion and transformation. Often devotions are self centred, little rites to snatch God’s favours and to ward off curses and fears.
* Less administration and more celebration of sacraments: the community is the celebrant and the priest is the president of the celebrating community. Today, many perceive the ordained minister as the real celebrant and the rest of the faithful as assistants only.
* Less religious apostolate and more social ministry. We need a more systematic commitment to the dissemination and contextualization of the Social Teaching of the Church, which implies as clearer recognition and autonomy of lay apostolate for the penetration of Gospel values in the realms of politics, economics, finances at national and global level. Clericalism is to be plainly denounced as one of the most serious limitation and mistake of the old evangelization, which generated the conviction that ordained ministers are the Church, though they set up less is than 1% of the full membership of the Church.
* Less soul focused redemption and more holistic salvation which is both in this world and in the fullness of the Kingdom to come. Salvation is not only for human being but for the whole of creation. This entails a more systematic attention to integrity of creation. The old evangelization was so concerned with redemption from sin that the mystery of creation was by far overlooked.

Francesco Pierli


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