Pope Benedict XVI opened the first working session of the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization Oct. 9 by closely following the proceedings and issuing a call for a "renewed evangelical dynamism" in the Church.

"The Holy Father's participation has been unbelievable," said Curtis Martin, founder of the U.S.-based Fellowship of Catholic University Students.

Martin, who is attending the synod as an observer, said that Pope Benedict took a keen interest in the proceedings.

"He's been taking copious notes, working harder, I think, than anybody in the room. It's been extraordinary watching this man twice my age working twice as hard as I am."

In his address to open the Oct. 9 working session of the synod, Pope Benedict explained how the Church is missionary and that there are two branches of its mission.

Those areas are "the announcement of the Gospel to those who do not yet know Jesus Christ and his message of salvation and … the New Evangelization, (which is) directed principally at those who, though baptized, have drifted away from the Church and live without reference to the Christian life."

The Tuesday session of the synod was dedicated to this New Evangelization, "to helping these people encounter the Lord, who alone fills our existence with deep meaning and peace; and to favor the rediscovery of the faith, that source of grace which brings joy and hope to personal, family and social life," the Pope said.

He was joined in St. Peter's Basilica by some 262 Synod Fathers – all of them bishops except for 14 priests – the Holy Father gave his opening address from prepared remarks.

Over the next three weeks, the Synod of Bishops will work to map out a New Evangelization of the contemporary world.

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One of the Synod Fathers from an increasingly post-pagan society underscored the importance of this mission.

Archbishop Bernard Longley was appointed to lead the Archdiocese of Birmingham in England three years ago, and this is his first time attending a synod. Speaking to CNA early on Oct. 9, he said that the second working day of the synod was particularly significant for the faithful in Great Britain.

"Today in England we're celebrating the feast day of Bl. John Henry Newman," said Archbishop Longley. "And I can't but be moved by his example. He understood the people of his time. He listened to their needs. But he was able to distinguish between what they needed and were really longing for and the things that preoccupied them or kept them from the truth of Jesus Christ. So I hope I can bring something of this tradition to the workings of the synod, especially in the smaller groups."

Newman is widely regarded as a forerunner of the Second Vatican Council because of his evangelistic orientation.

The Synod for New Evangelization coincides with the beginning of the Year of Faith, which will begin on Oct. 11, the 50th anniversary of the opening of that council.