Our latest post comes from Scott Hahn and the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology!

A lot of people are asking the question, what is the New Evangelization? What’s so new about it?

Well, this is where we need to make a distinction.

The church distinguishes between primary evangelization, where you share the good news with those who have never encountered Jesus Christ before. That’s been going on for 20 centuries.

Then secondary evangelization is precisely what is meant by the New Evangelization and that is where you’re re-evangelizing the de-Christianized, where you’re targeting the people who live in formerly Christian lands, and formerly Catholic countries, and sharing with them a faith that has been nearly lost.

Now, when you take a step back, you realize how much time went into this, and how much planning.

Origins of the New Evangelization

Back in 1979 before John Paul had even been Pope for one year, he went back to his homeland of Poland and visited this town known as Nowa Huta. And this was sort of a “worker’s paradise” that the Marxists had designed, and yet it was really a corrupt place and a depressing area, except for one thing.

At night, the the workers would come out and plant crosses on the hillside, not dozens, hundreds, thousands. And of course, the communists would come and take them away, and then they’d be back again and again.

So when John Paul came to Poland and he visited Nowa Huta, for the very first time he employed that phrase, the New Evangelization.

And why? Because Poland had gone through a dark night. And this crisis had tested its own spirit. And a lot of Poles had lost their faith. And so what he called for was what was really needed, a new evangelization, to lay hold of the faith, and to really prepare to come out of the dark night of communist oppression.

The New Evangelization is Begun

Now, about four years later, in 1983, when John Paul was visiting the Americas, he was speaking to the Latin American bishops in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. And that’s where he took the phrase that he had used once in Poland, and then suddenly exalted this phrase and announced that this is going to be not only a priority, but a long term program.

Because he called in 1983, for the New Evangelization of the Americas, but he targeted the year 1992, nine years away, and why ’92? Well, he explained because that would represent the 500th anniversary of the first founding and the first evangelizing of the Americas way back in 1492.

And if you rewind the tape and you go back five centuries, you realize that back then, what were the most populous Catholic countries? Well, they were Spain, Italy, France.

Fast forward five centuries, and what are they now? They’re Brazil in first place, Mexico in second, and the US in third. Countries that didn’t exist five centuries before, are now the most populous Catholic countries in the world.

The Significance of the New Evangelization

Now, what about those countries that were around and so Catholic five centuries ago?

Well, they’re really not that Catholic now, they’ve practically lost their faith. And so are we, unless this New Evangelization really takes off.

And so in 1992, that was the official public launch and not just for the Americas but for the whole world. But in a certain way, in a very special way, it was to be centered in the Americas.

No wonder in ’92 they announced that World Youth Day would be held in Denver the very next year in 1993. Now, prior to this World Youth Days have been previously held in Buenos Aires, in Częstochowa, in Rome, in Santiago de Compostela.

Places that you have a predominant Catholic population and a long tradition of pilgrimage. And so all of these so called experts predicted that this would be a catastrophic failure in ’93, but were they in for a surprise.

The New Evangelization Continues

When august of ’93 rolled around, nearly half a million young people showed up in Denver to greet St. John Paul, who was then the Pope, and this really becomes the fountainhead of countless graces, not only for North America but Central and South America and for the whole world as well.

So I think it’s time for us to recognize that the New Evangelization, which was launched in the ’90s, didn’t end at the turn of the century. And this is another question. Why was it that Pope Benedict sort of renewed and advanced the New Evangelization as he did two or three years into his own pontificate? You know, was this something like restarting a battery? Jump-starting it? I don’t think so. I think if you go back to the ’90s, you’ll discover what Pope Benedict understood then as Cardinal Ratzinger.

Because in the ’90s, Pope John Paul made it very clear that this last decade of the 20th century, the 1990s, represented what he called the Advent Season of the New Evangelization.

A New Season in the New Evangelization

So what Advent is for the whole liturgical calendar, the ’90s would be for the whole New Evangelization.

So when the 21st century came and then when St. John Paul passed on to his heavenly reward, it didn’t mark the end of the New Evangelization. It marked the end of the Advent season as it were.

And so when Pope Benedict announced that this would be renewed and advanced with even greater urgency and energy, no wonder, because he understood what so many other people didn’t understand that this wasn’t a short term policy. This wasn’t a band aid solution. This is a long term commitment that has a certain note of urgency like no other.

So what we’ve got to do is recognize that the New Evangelization is not just running a sprint, it’s much more like a marathon. It is going to be taking up the better part of the 21st century.

And it’s not something that is just nice.

It is something that is absolutely necessary for the survival of the faith and for the renewal of the church in the Americas and throughout the world.

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