The New Evangelization and Its Silences

Over the years I have written several articles on The New Evangelization of the Catholic Church, particularly as it takes shape in the US. Our friend, Leonardo De Chirico, professor and pastor in Rome, Italy, has recently addressed the subject from a European point of view. His analysis reveals a point that may also be applied to evangelical Protestants: it is easy for the church to blame secularism for the evils of society without seeing our failure in catechesis as at least partly responsible.

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The New Evangelization is the buzzword for much of what happens at the Vatican. It could well become the catchword of Ratzinger’s entire pontificate given the attention that is receiving. Benedict XVI instituted a new Pontifical Council in 2010 entirely dedicated to the New Evangelization. The latter is mentioned in nearly all his speeches and is slowly but steadily becoming the overarching theme of many projects sponsored by the Vatican.

The President of the newly created Vatican department, Msgr. Rino Fisichella, has just published a book (La nuova evangelizzazione, Milano: Mondadori, 2011) where he spells out the significance of the New Evangelization and offers an interesting perspective on the direction that this initiative is going to take. Fisichella was professor of Fundamental Theology (i.e. the RC way of defining a discipline between Apologetics and Systematic Theology) for many years and then Rector of the Lateran Pontifical University, one of the major and most prestigious academic institutions in Rome. After spending much of his life reflecting on the often turbulent relationship between faith and the modern world, Benedict XVI called him to lead the Vatican efforts towards mobilizing the RC Church towards the New Evangelization. From the chair to the square, so to speak.

1. What the New Evangelization is About

Fisichella makes clear that the New Evangelization applies to those countries where the RC Church was established in ancient times and where the first proclamation of the Gospel resounded many centuries ago. He acknowledges the fact that the word “evangelization” and the vocabulary around it has been treated with suspicion in RC circles due to its “protestant” usage and overtones. Mission and catechesis were more traditional and preferred terms for a long time. It is only after Vatican II that the language of evangelization began to be used.

The expression “New Evangelization” was coined by John Paul II in 1979 and subsequently achieved a technical theological meaning. Its specificity has to do with its recipients, i.e. the masses that have been baptized in the RC Church but have “lost a living sense of their faith”. The goal of the New Evangelization is to call them back to the mother church.

2. Why the New Evangelization is Needed

Fisichella embarks on the attempt of analyzing what has caused such a transition to practical unbelief. The root of the Western crisis is the transformation of the process of secularization in a strong movement towards secularism. The former is a sociological process which reflects pluralism, the latter is a new dogmatic religion which is anti-Christian. This new stance forgets the rich “synthesis between Greek-Roman thought and Christianity” and replaces it with an ideology of religious indifference and relativism. In a telling comment, Fisichella argues that “the pathology that afflicts the world today is cultural” and is to be entirely attributed to secularism.

This is a standard reading of Western cultural trends from a traditional point of view. What is striking in Fisichella’s otherwise nuanced reconstruction is the lack of self-criticism as far as the RC Church is concerned. It seems that the charge of the present-day crisis lies in secularism only, whereas churches seem to bear no responsibility. Even when he deplores the profound ignorance that most people show as far as the tenets of the Christian faith is concerned, he skips over the rather obvious point about who is to blame (at least partially but truly) for it. Are we sure that European churches do not bear any responsibility in today’s spiritual and cultural crisis, especially when they claim to have 70%, 80%, 90% of baptized in most countries? Isn’t there something wrong in their theology of Christian initiation? Isn’t there a problem in their catechetical impact? Isn’t there something awkward in their witness to the Gospel? In the end, are churches blameless in the Western spiritual turmoil? For Fisichella, the issue is not even mentioned.

3. New Evangelization … New Humanism

The New Evangelization is needed because the West has turned away from its Christian roots and it is time to reverse the tide. According to Fisichella, the battle ground is cultural, the issue at stake is anthropological, the task before the Church is to promote a New Humanism, i.e. a more advanced synthesis between Christian values and the Greek-Roman heritage through the rediscovery of the virtue of coherence on the part of Christians. The New Evangelization will be a means to achieve this ambitious goal, a goal that Benedict XVI wholly embraces and proactively spearheads.

So far, the narrative of the New Evangelization does not contain crucial biblical words like repentance from past and present mistakes, confession of sin, conversion to Jesus Christ. If the New Evangelization is to bear its fruit there is no other way than the biblical one.

Leonardo De Chirico

Rome, 7th February 2012



If you happen to live in the Chicago area, we will have Leonardo with us from Italy in another few weeks. You are welcome to join us for his talk in the Rotunda of the Billy Graham Center Museum, The Coming Gospel Challenge: A Portrait of Modern Day Italy.

Rome is called “The Eternal City” and “Capital of the World.” A cosmopolitan center with more than 2.7 million residents, it is famous for its history, style, art, and cuisine; but have you ever thought of it as an object lesson?
On March 1, at 7:00pm we are privileged to have Leonardo Di Chirico, Ph.D., pastor of a center-city congregation in Rome (associated with Redeemer in New York) speaking about challenges and opportunities for gospel renewal in modern day Italy. You are invited to hear Leo explain how God’s people can exert a transformative influence on our community, in the face of political, media, and cultural opposition, with the resources of Christ’s kingdom.

Since the Billy Graham Center Museum’s Rotunda has limited seating, Please RSVP to

About the author

Chris Castaldo (PhD, London School of Theology) is the lead pastor at New Covenant Church in Naperville, Illinois. He is the author of Talking with Catholics about the Gospel and coauthor of The Unfinished Reformation.


  1. Pope Benedict addresses these questions frequently, as do others, in the context of the New Evangelization. And in these many addresses repentance and conversion to Christ is central. Secular culture and relativism are certainly serious threats that undermine the entire basis for society, and so they must be understood and met, as St. Paul did wherever he went, figuring out with the Spirit’s help how best to present the Gospel to his audience, BUT all Catholics involved in the New Evangelization frequently admit that in the past decades our parishes and churches have done a woeful job of catechesis and formation.

    So as always it’s both-and: both confront the secular culture and seek to redeem it in light of Christ AND realize our ongoing need for faith, hope, conversion, repentance, formation, and love of Christ.

  2. Thanks, Devin. This might be the difference between the American experience of The New Evangelization compared to what we find in places like Italy. The movement, of course, is bigger than the Pope’s personal communication, and the way it is expressed through institutions will differ depending upon geography. I have only had a brief view of what it looks like on the ground in Italy, but my sense is that it tends to be far less doctrinal (or evangelical) compared to what we find here at home. A positive way to say it is that the numerous apostolates here in the US, everything from Relevant Radio to EWTN, to the ministry of Scott Hahn, to John Paul the Great University in San Diego, have raised the doctrinal bar for Catholics in America. I don’t think you find the same dynamic approach to catechises in most other countries.

  3. Chris,

    Yes it is true that the Catholic Faith in Europe (including Italy) with the New Evangelization is not in the same state that it is here. Fortunately we Americans have not yet gone as far as Europeans in apathy and general disregard toward God and eternal questions. It is possible though we are not far behind, as the basis for culture, the Christian Faith, is being eroded here significantly, as it has been eroded in Europe so tragically.

    God bless,

  4. Yes, I agree. That will actually be the topic of Leo’s talk when he visits Wheaton later this month… how Italy’s gospel challenges are a harbinger for us. Praise God for the promise of Jesus, “I will build my church.”

  5. If you asked me, I would say that the U.S. is 30 to 40 years behind developments in Europe in terms of the impact of radical ideas. So funny Don Camillo stories may be, the ideological conflict in the background is anything but funny. Even if one overlooks the Sovejt-domination over large parts of Eastern Europe for decades and the ethnic conflicts there, the influence of so-called scientific socialism on schools and universities in all European states is obvious. We have promoters of radical humanistic ideologies in every European Parliament, in the media and in universities for a long time. The church is targeted form all sites by nationalism, fascism, socialism and liberal capitalism. Sometimes it seems that the Church is the only one interested in a genuine exchange of opinions. Take for example the German politicians who left the Bundestag during the speech of B16. Quite a few people here believe that the Church has no right to participate in public discussions. In their worldview the church is only a social service provider but has no right to speak about moral, ethics and politics.
    Certainly the church has missed much. The lack of catechesis is obvious. Nevertheless, the Church does very well. At least when I look at the Evangelical Church in Germany. Due to the abuse scandal 2010 was the first year that more Catholics than Protestants quit their church membership since the founding of the Federal Republic.
    Instead of worrying about where the Catholic Church has failed, as a Protestant you should ask, why people leave the Protestant churches in droves for decades. And no matter what church planters will tell you they don’t leave for american-style community churches, they leave Christianity. A god question to ask would be: How can it be that the leadership of most mainline Protestant churches in Europe are no longer confesses the ancient creeds and openly teach syncretism?
    Ask people like Herbert Koch, Margot Kaessmann and Nicholas Schneider why they preach from the pulpit, that the apostolic creed is an ancient impertinence and why genetically modified seeds are more damaging to the church than the loss of the central Christian doctrine like the atonement of Christ.
    I do not think that people form the U.S. not really understand what is going on in Europe. The Catholics in the U.S. just got a taste of what it means to constantly swim against the tide of political majorities who push their agendas in order to enforce anti-Catholic legislation.
    To send church planters here does not really help the cause. I mean these type of communities is what the secularist hope for. Poorly networked small groups with high diversity in organization and competing doctrines with an emphasis on private commitment are not a threat to the relativistic mainstream.

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