May 11, 2007


All Catholics need to be evangelized

(Listen to this editorial being read)

A recent article in The New York Times described research showing that Hispanic immigrants who come to the United States fairly quickly adopt local attitudes toward religious observance.

“Several studies show that Hispanics are just as likely as other Americans to identify themselves as having ‘no religion’ and to not affiliate with a Church,” the Times article says.

And, while the percentage of “unchurched” Americans of Hispanic descent is no greater than that of other Americans, what might be called the Hispanic “dropout rate” is growing.

“Migrating to the U.S. means you have the freedom to create your own identity,” one researcher says. “When people get here, they realize that maintaining a pro forma display of religiosity is not essential to doing well.”

A “pro forma display of religiosity”? That is hardly an accurate (or unbiased) characterization of the faith and religious observance of Hispanic Catholics, but we’ll not dispute the basic conclusion to be drawn from the findings of the researchers: Hispanic Catholics need to be evangelized like all other American Catholics.

Evangelization is not a word that most Catholics are used to hearing. As individuals and as a group, we often hesitate to share our faith openly. As a result, we tend to keep to ourselves. We are not “evangelical” Christians who go from door to door preaching the Gospel. We are often shy about telling others what our faith means to us.

According to the teaching of recent popes (Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI), every Catholic Christian in America and throughout the world is called to a renewed understanding of (and commitment to) the Gospel.

This means that we are challenged to rediscover the richness and power of our faith, and to put this new awareness into practice through our words and our actions.

But we cannot settle for an individualized (or private) conversion experience. Faith is strengthened when it is given to others, the Church teaches. We are all called to be missionaries— even if we never leave our hometowns— by living as Jesus Christ has taught us and by using every opportunity we have to share our faith with others.

In their recent pastoral statement, I Was A Stranger and You Welcomed Me: Meeting Christ in New Neighbors, the Catholic bishops of Indiana also addressed the issue of evangelization:

“We Catholic bishops of Indiana reaffirm the importance of a ‘new evangelization,’ a new openness and a genuine welcoming outreach to others that is centered on the person of Jesus Christ. We recommit ourselves and our dioceses to welcoming others as Christ himself.

“Together with all our sisters and brothers throughout the state of Indiana, we embrace an authentic and enduring form of Hoosier hospitality that goes beyond superficial slogans or casual tourism to the heart of what it means to be a community that welcomes all who wish to share our way of life. … We believe that the new evangelization—if it is truly lived in our parishes and dioceses—will lead, in the words of Pope John Paul II, all the peoples and nations of the Americas ‘to a daily vision of the risen Lord, present and active in the world, especially in the poor, in the stranger, and in the migrant and refugee.’ ”

One of the wonderful paradoxes of Christian living is that we learn our faith most fully when we share it with others. Evangelization begets conversion, communion and solidarity. When we share our faith with others, our lives are changed for the better. When we unite ourselves with others, we come more truly independent and free.

And when we join hands with those who are most in need—the poor, the marginalized and those who suffer in any way—we are liberated from our preoccupation with selfish things and released from our loneliness and fear.

Pope Benedict XVI recently said: “The fundamental task of the evangelization of culture is the challenge to make God visible in the human face of Jesus. In helping individuals to recognize and experience the love of Christ, we awaken in them the desire to dwell in the house of the Lord, embracing the life of the Church. This is our mission.”

It doesn’t matter who we are: Irish-Americans, African-Americans, Italian-Americans, German-Americans, Mexican-Americans or the children of any other racial, ethnic or cultural heritage. None of us needs “pro forma displays of religiosity.”

What we need is a new evangelization. We all need to experience the love of Christ and to embrace our fundamental identity as members of the one family of God.

We all need to seek the face of the Lord—and to work together to transform our world in accordance with God’s plan.

— Daniel Conway

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