Twenty-five years ago, Pope St. John Paul II called Catholics to enter a new evangelization during World Youth Day in Denver. This evangelization (the sharing of the good news) re-engages Christians who are baptized and not practicing their faith as well as encouraging Catholics to share their faith more fervently. The anniversary of John Paul’s visit provides us an opportunity to think about how we are responding to his invitation to share our faith with others. Cardinal Francis Arinze’s new book, The Evangelizing Parish (Ignatius, 2018) can help us in this reflection.
Evangelization requires discipleship. Jesus calls everyone to follow him—to become his disciple by imitating him and sharing in his mission. We may not have had the opportunity to say “yes” to Jesus’ invitation of becoming his disciple and growing in a personal relationship with him. Prayer stands at the heart of discipleship as it provides us with the opportunity to meet Jesus and grow closer to him. Therefore, Cardinal Arinze teaches us that “prayer is a vital necessity both in the spiritual life of each Christian and in the apostolic engagement of the individual and of the Church community” (66). He recommends taking at least 10 or 15 minutes each day for personal prayer and learning how to speak to God in our heart.
The highest expression of prayer comes through the parish: “The Eucharistic celebration on the Lord’s Day is the major weekly event at which the parish community gathers before the Lord to adore him, to give thanks, to ask for pardon for sins, and to make other requests” (69). This weekly encounter with the Lord animates the life of the parish: its religious education, sacramental preparation, devotional practices, administration, and community life. A strong focus on faith and God’s grace helps the parish to avoid certain pitfalls the Cardinal points out, especially a reduction of parish life to bureaucracy which impedes evangelization (118).
Rather, Cardinal Arinze challenges us to recognize the parish as the central and most important “evangelizing community” (33). Refocusing the parish on evangelization entails a shift of mentality in reaching out to all of those within the parish boundaries, Catholic or not, seeking to serve them and share the Good News with them. It requires forming stronger relationships in the parish, getting more lay people involved in outreach, and allowing the Word of God to guide our vision, prayer, and message (52). Evangelization also will push us beyond our fears and inhibitions and beyond the status quo, which fears “fresh ideas and approaches” in favor of “over-conformity” (138). Instead, “a parish is expected to look out in a dynamic way for what it can do for Christ,” in its own parishioners but also in serving all of those in need (83).
The parish comprises a center of evangelization, but it also should serve as a launching pad for inspiring greater witness in society. Cardinal Arinze exhorts us that “every Christian should give witness to Christ as an individual parent, doctor, lawyer, teacher, business owner or partner, nurse, taxi driver, pilot, or politician” (136). This is because “every baptized person is called to engage in witnessing to Christ according to the person’s vocation and mission and opportunities in life” (7). Baptism makes us a child of God, with the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, giving us our own share in Christ’s mission of salvation for others. The parish can help us to realize our own potential as an evangelizer.
Finally, as we reflect on our role in the New Evangelization, we should remember St. John Paul’s maxim that “the future goes by way of the family.” Cardinal Arinze agrees, stating that “the health and condition of the family are of great importance to the health and condition of both Church and State” (122). Therefore, the parish must prioritize support for families, helping them to live the Christian life, and should “give much attention to the preparation of young people for marriage” (ibid.). With the support of the parish, families are the ideal place to form disciples, who will be ready to respond to the Lord’s command to share their faith with others. Ultimately, helping our children to embrace the call of discipleship is the best way to continue the legacy of World Youth Day within the Archdiocese of Denver.