New Evangelization Takes to the Streets in Paris

Interview With Organizer of Innovative Urban Missions

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PARIS, NOV. 21, 2004 ( Hundreds of thousands of Parisians participated in the 2nd International Congress for the New Evangelization, a series of missions to bring the message of Christ to major European cities.

The first ICNE mission was held in Vienna in 2003, and the next mission will take place in Lisbon in 2005.

«Paris — All Saints 2004,» held Oct. 23-Nov. 1, continued the effort begun in Vienna to evangelize city dwellers with nearly 500 planned celebrations, festive gatherings, talks, exhibitions and concerts.

Notre Dame Cathedral and 150 churches of the French capital were open for meetings, debates on the meaning of life and happiness, concerts, celebrations, and times of silence and prayer.

According to the organizers — the Archdiocese of Paris and new movements and communities — vigils took place every day of the week and were attended by more than 100,000 people. More than 50,000 met Friday to venerate the relics of St. Thérèse of Lisieux.

Christian pop-rock concerts attracted 80,000 youths; conferences and debates attracted 15,000 people; and plays and shows on the lives of saints attracted more than 7,000.

Nearly 300,000 prayer intentions were entered into a «Book of Life» that was available in every church. An estimated 10,000 volunteers worked to carry out the mission.

ZENIT interviewed Jean-Luc Moens, ICNE secretary-general and member of the Emmanuel Community, to evaluate the progress of the first two missions.

Q: From your point of view, what was the most interesting or positive aspect of the mission?

Moens: I would like to emphasize two points.

The first is the tremendous commitment of the Parisian parishes to the mission. Thousands of people, involved in the daily parish life of the Church, mobilized to promote a multiplicity of missionary activities: reception in churches and courtyards, house-by-house evangelization, artistic exhibitions, services to the poorest. The list is impressive and not limited to the duration of the congress. The mission continues beyond it.

In second place is the congress itself, which focused on the principles of evangelization. It is an important aspect. It is necessary that Christians at the grass-roots level to understand what evangelization is, and why Christ and the Church call us to evangelize.

This understanding is one of the keys to their commitment in the mission. At bottom, the fundamental key is love: love of Christ that impels us to proclaim the Good News out of love for our brothers.

In this connection, the Paris congress made its contribution to reflection and offered a wealth of experience with the publication of all the talks given during the week in a book entitled «You Will Be My Witnesses.»

Q: Can you single out some concrete fruits of this week of evangelization?

Moens: As often happens in the field of evangelization, the essential cannot be seen with the eyes. But we have been able to appreciate numerous testimonies as, for example, requests for baptism.

I take the liberty to mention a simple fact that took place during the week. Two missionaries sent by a parish were carrying out house-to-house visits. A young woman who opened the door admitted that she was about to commit suicide at that moment and that their arrival put a stop to her intentions. Obviously, the girl and the two missionaries were able to have a very profound conversation.

Q: Some fear that the intent to relegate religion to private life in France will paralyze the Church. Do you share this fear?

Moens: We have been surprised by the welcome Parisians gave us as well as the reception of the ensemble of the congress’ activities. It seemed as though the city had been awaiting this event.

Therefore, I don’t think there is a risk that the Church will be paralyzed by the external conditions. We already live in a world in which the religious is relegated to a great extent to the private sphere.

For me, the greatest danger is that Christians will cease to be witnesses, with their lives in the first place, as well as with their words.

Regardless of society’s conditionings, it is always possible to find a way for the Gospel. As St. John Chrysostom said, for the Christian it should be as impossible not to give witness as it is for the sun not to shine.

Q: Paris — All Saints 2004 was organized by the diocese with the participation of Christians of different movements, communities and parishes. Was it difficult to work together?

Moens: It can be said that the collaboration between parishes and new movements and communities was one of the strong points of the congress.

It is one of the objectives we have pursued from the beginning, from Vienna to Budapest, because, as you know, the Paris congress was in the framework of an ensemble of meetings that began in Vienna and will continue in Lisbon, Brussels and Budapest.

As Monsignor Jean-Yves Nahmias, coordinator of Paris — All Saints 2004, emphasized at the end of the week: «The congress manifested the capacity of the new communities and a diocese to work together. It is a beautiful demonstration of how it is possible to put oneself at the service of a common project.»

Personally, I was impressed by the harmony in which everything took place. It is, perhaps, one of the aspects of the spirituality of communion to which John Paul II calls us in his apostolic letter «Novo Millennio Ineunte.»

Q: Are there concrete initiatives in Paris to give continuity to this week’s work?

Moens: As I was saying, Paris — All Saints 2004 was conceived as an intense time of a long-term missionary effort. Therefore, the mission continues in Paris and the parishes are proposing other activities.

In fact, a new congress is now being prepared in Lisbon. The Paris experience will contribute to promote this project so that the evangelization of our large cities will be increasingly a concern of all Christians.

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