FORT WAYNE — Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades was the keynote speaker on the theme of “The New Evangelization and Social Justice” at an event recently hosted by the ARISE Parish Planning Team of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. The gathering, held at the North Campus Building of the University of Saint Francis, included ARISE small group leaders and team members from other Fort Wayne and area parishes as well.
ARISE Together in Christ, begins its third season titled “Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus.” It focuses on social justice and includes some 6,000 participants throughout the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.
After leading recitation of the “Come, Holy Spirit” prayer, Bishop Rhoades asked the attendees to extend an invitation to others to experience the renewed commitment to living as faithful disciples of Jesus in the midst of the present culture. He then spoke about what the term New Evangelization means and tied it to the theme of social justice.
“New Evangelization is the great task of the Church in our time,” he said. “The Church has always had the missionary mandate to make disciples of all nations. … That’s how the Catholic Church has grown and spread throughout 2,000 years, and now has more than a billion members in the world.”
The Church is embarking today on a New Evangelization directed to those who, even though they are baptized, have drifted away from the Church and even live without reference to the Christian life. Recent popes have traveled throughout the world leading this New Evangelization. Pope Benedict established a new Vatican office for it, Bishop Rhoades related, and called for this Year of Faith presently being celebrated, all to help people rediscover the truth, beauty and power of the Catholic Faith.
Last year the World Synod of Bishops met on this very theme — the New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith. Bishop Rhoades referred to Cardinal Donald Wuerl, of Washington, D.C., who served in one of the principal positions at the Synod. He said, “The Church needs to re-propose the Gospel of the Catholic faith today. Across the Church we deal in … most of the so-called first-world countries, with a dramatic reduction in the practice of the faith among those who are already baptized.”
Bishop Rhoades said the synod meeting was not all bleak. “… he and other bishops spoke about … some very positive signs that we’re seeing: better and stronger catechesis, stronger Catholic identity in many of our schools, more young people getting involved in the Church, some increase in vocations to priesthood and consecrated life — we’re definitely seeing that here in Fort Wayne-South Bend — and a growing number of deeply committed Catholics, though the decline in Mass attendance and sacramental practice is still a major concern.”
Bishop Rhoades spoke on small Christian communities, saying, “The success of small Christian communities, like ARISE, the renewal of parish life in some places, are components of the New Evangelization and all are priorities of my ministry as bishop.” He spoke of better use of the new media, social communications, the Internet and important initiatives like Redeemer Radio and Catholic television as well.
Bishop Rhoades said, “This begins with our own deepened understanding and appropriation of our faith. … It’s the encounter with Jesus Christ, with His Gospel and with His Church. … I especially believe personally in the great value of praying with the Scriptures and praying the holy rosary. These provide the fertile soil for the growth of the New Evangelization.”
Moving to the topic of social justice, Bishop Rhoades said, “I believe it’s a vital component of the New Evangelization. … It’s truly part of the Church’s mission to proclaim the Gospel in the context of social life and present-day realities.” He continued,
“That’s why the Second Vatican Council taught that at all times the Church carries the responsibility of reading the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel.”
“We promote fundamental values that are inherent in the dignity of the human person,” he continued. “And the inner wellspring of our activity is always love, the greatest of all the virtues and the core of the Christian message. … Love is the only force that can lead to personal and social perfection, allowing society to make progress towards the good. So the Church seeks to build a civilization of love.”
Bishop Rhoades continued, “The New Evangelization necessarily includes the commitment to Christian charity and social justice. Works of charity and justice, inspired by our faith, are part of the plan of God to bring about His Kingdom. Being involved in service ministry — and there are a lot of opportunities in our diocese — promotes the New Evangelization.”
“Finally, it’s important to always keep in mind that the task of the New Evangelization is God’s work. The Holy Spirit is the Agent, the Protagonist, and we’re His instruments. He gives us strength, courage and joy — all the things that are necessary qualities for evangelizers,” the bishop concluded.
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