WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ
Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio says the Catholic Church is the world's largest evangelical church.
All Catholics, not just priests and nuns, are called to evangelize, says a American theologian. In fact, the Church exists in order to evangelize, says Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio, a theologian and writer from Texas.
"The challenge is not just to keep the faith or deepen the faith," he said. "The ultimate challenge is to share the faith with the world. That's what the Second Vatican Council is calling us to do."
D'Ambrosio was the keynote speaker at the 17th annual Catholic Family Life Conference at Lac Ste. Anne on the Canada Day long weekend. He gave several sessions on truth, Vatican II and the Catechism, the beauty of the Eucharist and the challenges of the Catholic faith. About 2,000 people attended the conference.
D'Ambrosio, who has a doctorate in historical theology from the Catholic University of America, told his audience that the Second Vatican Council was called because of the loss of faith and the weakening of faith.
"It was called to help us to renew our own faith so we can be a greater witness to the world and speak in the world's language the truth of the Gospel."
Vatican II used the verb "evangelize" 31 times, compared with Vatican I, which used it once, he said. "The theme of the (Second Vatican) Council is to call us to share the Gospel with the world."
The central document of the council is the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, which calls Jesus Christ the light of all nations and says the Church's obligation is to bring Jesus Christ to all nations, D'Ambrosio said.
Knowing that the Church's main obligation is to evangelize, Pope Paul VI took his name from the greatest evangelist the world has ever known – St. Paul, the one who travelled all over. As soon as Pope Paul was elected he did something radical and new for a pope – he began to travel. He travelled to the Holy Land and then to America. His message was "Come to Jesus Christ."
Ten years after his election Paul VI called all the bishops to a synod and reminded them of the mission to evangelize. Out of the synod he produced the document Announcing the Gospel to the World, where he said, "We ought to stop making excuses for why we are not evangelizing."
In the document, which D'Ambrosio partially read, Pope Paul also stated, "The task of evangelizing constitutes the essential mission of the Church. She exists in order to evangelize."
The next pope took the name John Paul I because his mission is to fulfill the call of the Second Vatican Council "to renew and evangelize the Church." He died within a month and a Polish pope was elected taking the name of John Paul II.
John Paul II travelled even more than Paul VI. "He was the one who coined the phrase 'the New Evangelization' and all he was doing was putting a name on what Vatican II told us to do."
Everywhere he went John Paul would say "Be not afraid; open your lives to Christ," D'Ambrosio said. "His message was like Billy Graham. If you listen to JP II he sounds like Campus Crusade for Christ."
That shouldn't surprise anyone because, as D'Ambrosio pointed out, "The Catholic Church is the biggest evangelical Church in the world."
In fact, John Paul II in 1993 called the Church to commit all its energies to a new evangelization, saying, "No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty to proclaim Christ to all peoples."
What did the pope mean by New Evangelization? "It's new because of who does it," D'Ambrosio explained. "Who are the evangelizers? Us, everybody."
We used to think of evangelizers as foreign missionaries, namely priests and nuns and a few unusual laypeople. "Now it's everybody. We are all called to be evangelizers."
Prior to the 1960's, almost of the missions were located in foreign soil. "Things have changed," D'Ambrosio said. "Who needs to be evangelized? Everybody needs to be evangelized around us. There are people all around us in our neighbourhoods who don't know Christ at all; there are many unchurched people who have no religion."
There are also fallen away Catholics and Protestants who need to be evangelized, D'Ambrosio said. "Everybody needs to know the fullness of faith."
In this New Evangelization we also need a new, more joyful focus because we are sharing good news, the theologian said. He urged his audience to use "all contemporary forms of expression" to evangelize, from printed media to social media.