Evangelizers of Hope in the Modern World

Wednesday, February 10 2010


Evangelizers of Hope in the Modern World[1]

As the theme of our meeting is “The Word of God: Identity and Mission”, we will seek to better understand our mission to spread the Good News by proclaiming the Word of God; that is to say, evangelization. How are we called to become “evangelizers of hope,” messengers of the Good News, of the Word of God, particularly, as members of Catholic associations or movements?

1. Catholic Associations and Movements

The question of evangelization, which has been at the heart of ecclesial preoccupation since the 1974 Roman Synod, concerns more than ordained ministers who have been charged with pastoral care, and more than those in consecrated life. Since Vatican II, we have a better understanding of how the mission of the Church is a responsibility of all of the baptized. It is not necessary to receive a mandate from the Bishop in order to be an evangelizer: baptism makes each person a disciple who is co-responsible for the proclamation of the Good News to the world today.

You represent different Catholic associations and movements linked to the Bishops of Canada. We have a wonderful diversity here, with priests, religious, members of secular institutes, and, above all, lay people represented.[2] Many associations, founded long before Vatican II, have a very precise goal within the Church’s larger mission. As such, the Knights of Columbus, founded in 1882, and present in the Canadian Church since 1897, help men keep the faith, protect their families, and put into action the virtue of charity. The Catholic Health Alliance of Canada, founded in 1939, strengthens and supports the ministry of Catholic health care organizations and providers. The Saint Vincent de Paul Society, founded in 1833, strives to assist those who suffer. The Catholic Women’s League of Canada, founded in 1920, unites Catholic women around the country to accomplish eight specific objectives.[3] There is little doubt that the mission of the Church, the task of evangelization, is entrusted to all of the baptized. However, certain associations created after the 1960s make a more explicit reference to the Church’s mission and the task of evangelization.[4]

Catholic organizations and movements are often a privileged place where we become aware of the missionary responsibility of all baptized persons. Furthermore, movements that insist on a communitarian experience offer support to all members of the Church who are conscious of their responsibility and are involved in evangelization. In his apostolic exhortation, Christifideles laici, Pope John Paul II underlined the forms of collective participation in the life and mission of the Church.[5] He went so far as to “speak of a new era of group endeavours of the lay faithful. These new associations want to participate responsibly in the mission of the Church, which is to carry the Gospel of Christ, the source of hope for humanity and of renewal for society. They offer precious help for Christians to remain faithful to their missionary and apostolic commitment. The Pope also sees the group apostolate as a sign of the communion and of unity of the Church of Christ.

On the eve of Pentecost in 2006, Pope Benedict XVI saw in new movements and communities a gift from the Holy Spirit to manifest the victory of the Risen Christ and to accomplish the missionary mandate given to the entire Church… a gift to respond effectively to the challenges of our time.[6] New associations, movements and communities have thus an important role to play in the Church’s mission of evangelization.

2. Presence of the Holy Spirit and Centrality of the Reign of God

As I told my brother bishops[7] in 2007, we cannot approach the question of evangelization today without considering two important elements of the current vision: the ecclesial conviction of the universal presence of the Holy Spirit in our world, and the centrality of the God’s Reign in the mission of the Church and that of its disciples in the Church.

The profound belief of the Church in this time regarding the universal character of the action of the Holy Spirit has a major impact on the way we live our mission of evangelization. Pope John Paul II describes the Holy Spirit as the “principal agent of mission[8]“. In his encyclical, Dominum et Vivificantem, he affirms that the Spirit is at work always and everywhere, even before the Christian era.[9] Given our social character, the Pope recognized the action of the Spirit throughout history and in societies, in cultures and different religious traditions. [10]

From this comes an understanding of missionary life that includes a dimension of contemplation of the presence and action of the Spirit of the Risen Christ in all those to whom we are sent to proclaim the Good News.  Our mission cannot be unidirectional, as we may have understood it in the past; it is rather to give and to receive, as each person involved in the meeting brings their own richness, their own experience of the Spirit to the other.

Before looking at our own mission of evangelization, we need to underline the mission of the Spirit of the Risen Christ, who precedes us in the world.  We do not bring God to the world: He has been there long before us.  Rather, we are to make His presence and action visible.  We are invited to recognize him, welcome him, and collaborate with him in the pursuit of Christ’s mission, a mission that is at the service of the coming of God’s Reign.

This is the second important element of our vision of evangelization, the central role of the God’s Reign, proclaimed and inaugurated in his Pascal mystery. Admittedly, Jesus never defined the Reign of God that he proclaimed, but the disciples understood that Jesus makes it present, through who he is, what he said, and what he did.

The rediscovery of God’s Reign allows us to have a deeper understanding of the unity of the Church’s mission and the complementarity of the different approaches that characterize this mission.

Among the important elements to mention:

  1. The acceptance and re-integration of all of society’s marginalized: the poor, sinners, publicans, Samaritans, foreigners, women.  Jesus made it possible for each to find their place in community.
  2. Jesus’ prayer life which reveals to us a God of mercy and love, a God who hasn’t forgotten humans, but who calls them to enter into communion with Him.
  3. Jesus’ attitude toward Jewish Law is also important: although Jesus is a faithful observer of the Law, it is not absolute in his eyes.  The only absolute is God who is Love, mercy and forgiveness.
  4. His preaching was not as much an announcement of punishment, judgement, and retribution as that of John the Baptist would have been, but rather, it was more often a message of forgiveness and mercy.
  5. Jesus’ healings and exorcisms are presented as signs of the presence of God’s Reign among us and help us to grasp how this Reign touches all dimensions of the human person, the spiritual, psychic, and physical…  We can no longer speak exclusively of the salvation of souls.
  6. Jesus also came to change the relations between members of the community.  There are no longer the dominant and the dominated, but now brothers and sisters, ready to put themselves at the service of others, ready to give their lives so that others may live.
  7. Jesus, a free man, invites us to experience inner freedom.

Together, all of these elements help us to understand the riches of God’s Reign, inaugurated by Jesus. We understand that Jesus came to fight against all forms of evil that are obstacles to the fullness of human life that God wants for His children.

Jesus proclaimed God’s Reign throughout his entire ministry and he inaugurated it definitively through the mystery of his death and resurrection; the Risen Christ pursued this mission to establish this Reign and to prepare humankind for the fullness offered by the Father at the end of time.

3. Evangelizers of Hope

Becoming evangelizers implies that the baptized have profoundly welcomed this Good News of God’s Reign, that it has touched them, transformed them, and that they have experienced the joy of believing, of hoping. Without this profound joy and peace that can resist the disappointments and deceptions in the experience of ecclesial life, we could not become credible witnesses of the Good News of God’s Reign.

To truly understand the “how” of our mission, the actuality of “sacrament,” a term already used by Vatican II to speak of the Church (as universal sacrament of salvation) is very useful. “Sacrament” includes the values of “sign” and “instrument.” Because we are talking about people, members of the Church, people of God, and sacrament of God’s Reign, contemporary theologians prefer to use the terms “symbol” and “artisan” of God’s Reign.

Evangelizers of today are called to be “symbols” of this God who comes to humankind through Jesus Christ, making His action visible in our world. We are thus reminded of all of the values of God’s Reign, which were promoted by Jesus: dialogue, human development, commitment to justice and peace, education and the care of the sick, help for the poor and the children, freedom, forgiveness, love, respect for others, with the affirmation of the priority of transcendence and spirituality.[11]

As witnesses of the free and unconditional love of God revealed in Jesus Christ, we become “symbols,” we make visible the Spirit of the Risen Christ present and active in our world. By promoting the values of God’s Reign present in so many of our brothers and sisters, we become “artisans” of this Kingdom. This love, freely given, implies the service of God’s Reign at work in the heart of every person. This freely-given love also becomes the pre-requisite for all of our actions; each of our words becomes very significant to those to whom we are sent.

a.      “Going toward…”

How can we be “symbol” and “artisan” of God’s Reign in our modern world?  We, who are engaged here in our communities in Canada, do not need to leave for Africa or Asia like our admirable missionaries of the past. Instead, we must cross the psychological and sociological distances that separate us from those to whom we are sent. This is a difficult challenge: to die to realities that are familiar to us in order to open ourselves to a new world, different from the one we have known. The Spirit pushes us to go toward the other, to demonstrate God’s unconditional love by loving the other freely, without looking to save them for our own personal or collective interest to increase the number of faithful in our Church. These deaths, these conversions have marked the Church’s missionary life since its very beginnings.[12]

Again today, the Spirit pushes us to go toward the world that many call “post-modern”; and it is clear that we will have to die to certain ways of being a Church. We must not nourish nostalgia for the past; we need to face the new challenges posed by questions of justice, peace, sustainable development, protection of the environment, the meeting of religions, and questions that touch the meaning and quality of life.

Since Vatican II, the Church has a better understanding of how it is called to put itself at the service of God’s Reign: not only by proclaiming the Good News and forming new Christian communities, but also by spreading the evangelical values that are the expression of God’s Reign.[13]

Making ourselves present, therefore, involves seeking to discover the other, knowing them for what they are, in their culture, their mentality, in their search for a full human life, for a profound meaning of life. We are invited to welcome the questions of our brothers and sisters in the world.

And so, by going out to young people, we approach them with interest in them, in their lives, their joys and pains, their dreams and despairs, and also in their commitments, their loves, friendships, questions and fears. We must recognize whom we are addressing. Yet, there are certain groups in our communities that suffer, feeling invisible and unacknowledged in the Church: we should mention in particular women, ethnic minorities, homosexuals, and the poor. They can express feelings of resentment towards the Church. They are in need of the respect and the love that they so fervently desire.[14]

At times, our presence to them may be the only possible form of evangelization. Furthermore, some of our contemporaries have developed an allergy to all preachers and all forms of preaching. For such as these, Blessed Charles de Foucauld adopted the orientation of silent witness of divine love. The Little Brothers and Little Sisters of Jesus pursue their mission in this same line in our world today.

Our contemporaries remain sensitive to how attention is paid to people, how charity is offered towards the poor, children, and those who suffer. We must remember the impact that Mother Theresa of Calcutta, Abbé Pierre and Jean Vanier have had on our contemporaries.

b.      Entering into Dialogue

Evangelization now takes the form of dialogue. This marks the end of a monologue, in which we believed we had the exclusive right to speak. Dialogue implies that the evangelizer genuinely knows how to listen to the other, not to confront them and convince them rationally of the validity of our point of view – this was attempted for centuries without success – but rather to recognize that the partner in dialogue has some truth to share and some good to offer, truth and goodness, fruits of the action of the Spirit of the Risen Christ.

It is possible that some of our partners in dialogue may be more influenced by the action of the Spirit than we ourselves, committed disciples in the footsteps of the Risen Christ. What is important for all of the persons involved in dialogue is to seek to draw closer to the God they are experiencing. Opening ourselves to the truth and goodness of the other can open the heart of the other to recognize the truth and goodness to which we wish to bear witness.

When meeting with today’s youth, we must recognize the fundamental values that mark their lives: the search for happiness, freedom, and authenticity. We need to accept these values, while considering them with a critical eye.

Dialogue is a method and a means for mutual knowledge and enrichment. Today, we have a better understanding that dialogue does not conflict with the mission, but is rather an expression of it. If together we listen to the Spirit of the Risen Christ who speaks, we are already committed to the work of evangelization. We prepare ourselves to welcome more deeply this God who speaks and reaches out to us.

Dialogue is required by our profound respect for everything that the Spirit is doing within our partner. As such, we discover the “seeds of the Word,” the rays of light that illuminate every human. These seeds can be found among individuals in different cultural and religious communities as well as in the accumulated human experience.

This dialogue, to which the Spirit of Christ invites us, is founded on faith, hope, and charity.  It is animated by the desire to discover and recognize the signs of the presence of the Risen Christ and the action of his Spirit. This dialogue also allows us to deepen our own identity as disciples of Jesus in the Catholic community and to witness to the integrity of Revelation.    In recent decades, the Church’s experience of dialogue has made us refer to our faith with new questions and allowed us to better understand certain aspects of the Christian mystery.

This dialogue also assumes that we remain coherent about our own traditions and faith beliefs. It is thus important to provide proper formation to the baptised so that they may live in this new context of religious pluralism. We need to remain open to the convictions of others in order to truly understand them without being dismissive or closed. Dialogue must take place in truth, loyalty and humility.

In dialogue, we cannot relativize what our partners consider as absolute. We must recognize the truth and goodness present in others. We cannot affirm the truth and goodness in our own faith while denigrating that of others. Dialogue also invites us not to absolutize what is relative in our own faith. We need to respect the “hierarchy of truths” in the faith that we want to understand.  This type of dialogue is developed in multiple forms:

  1. the dialogue of life underlines the fact that we live in an increasingly pluralist context; more and more we are in contact with members of other religious traditions and people who are inspired by other philosophical approaches;
  2. the dialogue of actions invites us to bear witness to the values that lead us, and to collaborate in the integral development of the person for a world of truth, honesty, and justice with those who do not share our beliefs;
  3. dialogue as the communication of spiritual experiences;
  4. exchanges among experts or official representatives, at the level of Christian ecumenism or interreligious dialogues.

The Church undertook dialogue over forty years ago. Not all of its efforts have been crowned with success. But the Spirit invites us to persevere in this direction: a wall of distrust, built throughout the centuries, must be torn down. The Church is convinced that it entered into dialogue with the world under the inspiration of the Spirit. It is at times the only form of evangelization possible. Condemned to live together on this planet, dialogue remains essential. Surely, it represents one of today’s paths toward God’s Reign inaugurated by Jesus, even if the fruits come only at the hour decided by God.

c. Commitment to justice

Another way that we can be “symbol” and “artisan” of God’s Reign, is through a commitment to justice, to the transformation of our world according to God’s loving plan. In 1971, participants at the Roman Synod affirmed that “the fight for justice is a constitutive dimension of our mission to announce the Good News.” This entire field of the social teaching of the Church has been synthesized into the “Compendium[15] published by the Vatican in recent years. Pope Benedict XVI just published his social encyclical “Caritas in Veritate” on integral human development, taking into consideration the current reality.  Yet, this dimension of the Gospel still remains the “best kept secret” of the Church. Many of the faithful who are most involved in the Church, even in its movements and associations, are not yet able to make the link between the Risen Lord, the Gospel, and the commitment to justice.

In Christifideles Laici, his post-Synodal exhortation on the vocation and mission of the lay faithful, Pope John Paul II reiterated many areas in which Christ’s disciples could commit themselves to serve individuals and the community, thus bearing witness to the Good News of God’s Reign: it is interesting to note how the present movements and associations are often already at work in these areas.

  1. Promotion of the dignity of the person: this dimension is at the heart of the Catholic Health Alliance of Canada and COLF’s (Catholic Organization for Life and Family) priorities. Faith and Light (Foi et Lumière) reveal the gift of an intellectually handicapped person to their family, the Church and society. The Saint Vincent de Paul Society promotes the dignity of the destitute. The Catholic Women’s League of Canada recognizes the human dignity of all persons wherever they are and seeks to enhance the role of women in the Church and in society.
  2. Respect of the inviolable right to life: the Knights of Columbus make the protection of life, from conception to natural death, a priority – as does COLF.  The Catholic Women’s League of Canada seeks to protect the sacred character of human life.
  3. Commitment to religious freedom: the Catholic Women’s League of Canada seeks to contribute to the understanding and growth of religious freedom.
  4. Commitment to the family: this is what the Knights of Columbus seek, particularly through their life insurance policies. In recent years, they have been involved in the promotion of the traditional definition of marriage. COLF seeks to build a culture of life and a civilization of love, through the promotion of the respect for life, human dignity, and the essential role of the family. The Communauté du Chemin Neuf works primarily for the couple and the family.
  5. through forms of volunteer work;
  6. in the political realm;
  7. in socio-economic life: Development and Peace seeks to support the actions of people of the South so that they can take their destiny into their own hands and to raise awareness among people here about issues related to the North-South imbalance. The Saint Vincent de Paul Society seeks to serve the poor, to relieve the suffering and to promote the dignity and integrity of people. The Catholic Women’s League of Canada promotes social justice.
  8. Cultural life: Canadian Catholic Campus Ministry seeks to bring the Gospel into the heart of the academic world. The Canadian Catholic Students’ Association works to nurture Christian student leadership, and to support prayerful, prophetic, and pastoral action with the context of Canadian post-secondary education. Their motto: “Uniting students who witnesses to the Gospel on campus.” The Organization for Communications and Society (L’Organisation Communications et Société) promotes from a Christian perspective quality in the media, the development of a good critical sense, and ethical and spiritual values in the world of media and communications.

That is to say, associations and movements in the Canadian Church are already involved in many of the areas indicated by Pope John Paul II. Many members of movements and associations are involved as volunteers to lend a hand to other members of their group.  However, among the movements and associations present, we find few elements to support the involvement of the baptized within the field of political life.

d. Sharing the Good News

Once hearts are open to welcome the Good News, disciples can announce the Gospel in words, forming the invitation to conversion and faith. The God who reveals Himself in Jesus is a God of communication for the purpose of communion. Because God enters into communication with us, we are invited to communicate with one another. This is Paul’s belief: “Woe to me if I do not evangelize.” The Gospel to proclaim is a message of happiness, not only for the future but also for the present. Our announcement is centred on a reality that is taking place before our eyes: the Reign of God, inaugurated by Jesus.

In today’s context, we must consider the initial announcement that was made in the past.  In communities catechized in the past, our brothers and sisters of a certain age are well aware of the message we offer – they have been hearing it since childhood – and they do not necessarily believe it is Good News. For some, unfortunately, our message is limited to prohibitions, primarily rules of a sexual nature. They have also communicated this belief to younger generations. Thus, our challenge is to show that the news we bring is good for living in freedom and happiness. Under the action of the Holy Spirit, we must learn how to discern when hearts are open once again to receiving our message.

We must remember that in our world, witnesses are needed much more than teachers, experience more than doctrine, life and facts more than theory. It is not as much a question of recovering people to enlarge the Church, as it is to help them embark on their journey toward the plenitude of God’s Reign.

In the proclamation of the Gospel, it is important to note the importance of the media. We need to witness to it, demonstrate what is living within us and gives us life. It is not merely a question of technique. We need to address media professionals, and fight against the image of our Church that is often portrayed by the new means of communication. Our Church is often portrayed as more dogmatic than enlivening, more constraining than liberating, more concerned with orthodoxy than wit serving the Gospel. Obviously, we must not dilute the message, but rather we should concentrate on what is more pertinent, more vital, more energizing for those we address.

e. In a Meaningful Language for the People of Today

An equally important challenge is that of “inculturation,” which means taking into account the culture of the people to whom the message is addressed. This is a pre-requisite for our message to be understood and received. Those who welcome the Good News and who become disciples of Jesus will bring their answers based on what they are and on the culture that is theirs; they will reformulate the message in their own language.


The goal of our mission is to collaborate with the Spirit of the Risen Christ, already at work in our world, to support people and communities in their journey towards the plenitude of God’s Reign, inaugurated by Christ in his Pascal mystery. Christ’s disciples, members of the Church, recognize their mission to become living symbols and artisans of God’s Reign in their surroundings.

+Claude Champagne, O.M.I.
Bishop of Edmundston
December 4, 2009


1. Does the movement or association which I represent consider evangelization as the mission of each of its baptised members?

2. What dimensions of evangelization are already lived out in the mandate, projects and priorities of our movement or association?

3. How could we help our members to better understand this mission of ours?

4. How can we support our members in the work of evangelization? Can we work together on certain activities?

[1] The members of the former Episcopal Commission for Relations with Associations of Clergy, Consecrated Life and Laity had decided to hold the 2008 Forum on the theme of evangelization, “Evangelisers of Hope in the Modern world”, taking their inspiration from Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical “Spe Salvi”, dated 30 November 2007, that focuses on the theological virtue of hope.  The forum was not held, due to a lack of participants.

[2] I based myself on the 2006 list of forum participants, where each association and movement introduced itself to the group.

[3] 1. to achieve individual and collective spiritual development; 2. to promote the teachings of the Catholic church; 3. to exemplify the Christian ideal in home and family life; 4. to protect the sanctity of human life; 5. to enhance the role of women in church and society; 6. to recognize the human dignity of all people everywhere; 7. to uphold and defend Christian education and values in the modern world; 8. to contribute to the understanding and growth of religious freedom, social justice, peace and harmony.

[4] See the following associations:

[5] John Paul II, Christifideles laici, no. 29.

[6] See Benedict XVI speeches, 24 March 2007 to members of Communion and Liberation and 8 February 2007,to members of the Focolari and Sant’Egidio movements.

[7] 2007 Plenary Assembly Pastoral Day, “The New Evangelization : New Challenges for the Mission of the Church in Canada”

[8] JOHN PAUL II, The Mission of Christ the Redeemer, (1991) ch. III. “The Holy Spirit, the Principal Agent of Mission.”

[9] JOHN PAUL II, Dominum et Vivificantem, no. 53.

[10] JOHN PAUL II, The Mission of Christ the Redeemer, no. 28.

[11] The Mission of Christ the Redeemer, no. 20.

[12] See my October 2009 presentation to the Plenary Assembly of the Episcopal Conference

[13] The Mission of Christ the Redeemer, no. 20.

[14] See BENEDICT XVI, Deus est Caritas, no. 18.

[15] PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR JUSTICE AND PEACE, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 2005.