Pope's document hailed as reshaping modern evangelization

Archbishop Rino Fisichella at the Vatican Press Office on July 5 2013 Credit Lauren CNA CNA US Catholic News 7 10 13 Archbishop Rino Fisichella at the Vatican Press Office on July 5, 2013. | Lauren Carter/CNA.

In his first apostolic exhortation, the uncommonly simple terminology of Pope Francis brings a fresh approach to the new evangelization, also giving a decisive direction to the Church's mission, say Vatican officials.

"Pope Francis speaks in a direct way, easy, communicative, in a way that quickly reaches the hearts and the minds of people," said Archbishop Rino Fisichella in a Nov. 26 interview with CNA.

Archbishop Fisichella is the president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, and was present at the Nov. 26 press conference detailing the new document.

The apostolic exhortation, known as "Evangelii Gaudium" (The Joy of the Gospel) follows the 2012 bishops' synod on the new evangelization, held as part of the Year of Faith. Released Nov. 26, the papal document stressed in particular the need for Christian joy in the Church's work of sharing the Gospel with all people.

"The Gospel, radiant with the glory of Christ's cross, constantly invites us to rejoice," the Pope said in the exhortation, citing the angel's greeting "Rejoice!" to Mary at the Annunciation as an example of what our attitude ought to be when we encounter the Gospel.

"I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them," the pontiff encouraged.

"I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since 'no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.'"

Archbishop Fisichella noted that the language which the Pope uses to illustrate the call and challenges of evangelization "is a language that we all use in everyday life."

In modern day society, he said, the Church does not have a "parallel or distinct way" of approaching modern man, but "it has the same path, and the same Gospel should enter in the hearts of people and should make understood the great mystery of revelation."

Drawing attention to the Pope's frequent use of images when speaking, Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, stated during the press conference that the Pontiff illustrates the importance of "simplicity."

This "involves the vocabulary used," observed Archbishop Celli, explaining that "it must be a language people understand to avoid the risk of speaking into a vacuum."

Pope Francis' approach, he affirmed, is marked by "simplicity, clarity and positivity."

Archbishop Fisichella observed that the document "is an exhortation primarily directed at Christians to recover, above all, the missionary spirit."

In the document, Pope Francis highlighted that "an evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people's daily lives," through "bridging distances," "embracing human life," and "touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others."

"Evangelizers thus take on the 'smell of the sheep' and the sheep are willing to hear their voice," he continued, reflecting on the need for evangelizing communities to be patient and supportive, "standing by people at every step of the way, no matter how difficult or lengthy this may prove to be."

Noting the importance of the bishops' role in the evangelization of their dioceses, the pontiff stated that "it is not advisable for the Pope to take the place of local Bishops in the discernment of every issue which arises in their territory."

"In this sense," he stressed, "I am conscious of the need to promote a sound 'decentralization'" in order to simplify the Church's focus on mission and outreach.

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This decentralization could involve reforming the structure and role of episcopal conferences. According to the exhortation, "a juridical status of episcopal conferences which would see them as subjects of specific attributions, including genuine doctrinal authority, has not yet been sufficiently elaborated."

Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, general secretary of the synod of bishops, pointed to the rarity of a papal document citing documents from bishops' conferences, saying "I don't believe this has been done abundantly in the past. The ordinary magisterium is not just that of the Pope, it is that of the college of all the bishops."
He suggested that Pope Francis is leading to a sort of "primacy of collegiality."

In addition, the archbishop observed that although "Evangelii Gaudium" comes from suggestions of the 2012 synod of bishops on the new evangelization, it is not a "post-synodal exhortation," because the Holy Father wanted to make of it a wider "programmatic" document.

"Pope Francis himself wanted the document to be an apostolic exhortation," thus detaching it from the synod of bishops, Archbishop Baldisseri told the press.
Through the way in which he communicates in this exhortation, "Pope Francis is inviting the Church to assume an attitude of encounter, of going towards the men and women of today and showing these men and women the love of the Father," Archbishop Celli told CNA. 

"I believe that this is a fundamental point. The Church exists to proclaim the Gospel, to announce Jesus."

"The Pope," he emphasized, "wants the Church to know how to dialogue, how to walk, how to express its sympathy to the human being and establish with him a respectful dialogue to announce Jesus Christ."

"Pope Francis invites us to be valiant, courageous and missionaries."

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