By Kathleen Naab

SYDNEY, Australia, AUG. 10, 2012 ( Only through people who are touched by God can God return to humanity, the Vatican's leader in new evangelization told participants in Australia's first national Catholic conference on the new evangelization.

Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella cited Benedict XVI when he said this at the three-day Proclaim 2012 conference, concluding in Sydney today. 

The president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization was the keynote speaker at the conference, organized by the Office for Evangelization and Catholic Mission on behalf of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.

The Vatican official touched in his address on Christ as the center of the new evangelization, and the importance of the Year of Faith for the amplification of the new evangelization.

He also gave insights into the challenges posed to evangelization by the particular culture of today. For example, he noted the "seduction of preachers who, lacking the necessary intellectual preparation, play insistently upon the chords of sentiment, putting forward utopias which, while promising every form of happiness, leave people in even greater loneliness."

"Today," he observed, "God is not denied, but is unknown. In some respects, it could be said that, paradoxically, interest in God and in religion has grown. Nevertheless, what I note is the strong emotive connotation [...]; there is no interest in a religion and much less for the theme of the 'true religion'; what seems to count are, rather, religious experiences. People are looking for different modalities of religion, selected by everyone taking up that which they find pleasing in the sense of ensuring for them that religious experience which they find more satisfying on the basis of their interests or needs at the moment."

In such a context, the 60-year-old Italian archbishop said, "The new evangelization requires the capacity to know how to give an explanation of our own faith, showing Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the sole savior of humanity. To the extent that we are capable of this, we will be able to offer our contemporaries the response they are awaiting."

Not an outsider

Offering reflections on an effective evangelization, Archbishop Fisichella affirmed, "We need to direct our reflection towards the meaning of life and death, and of life beyond death; to face such questions, those affecting people's existence and determining their personal identity, Jesus Christ cannot be an outsider. If the proclamation of the new evangelization does not find its power in the element of mystery which surrounds life and which relates us to the infinite mystery of the God of Jesus Christ, it will not be capable of the effectiveness required to elicit the response of faith."

The Vatican official also admitted that evangelization requires sacrifice. "Hiding away in our churches might bring us some consolation," he said, "but it would render Pentecost vain. It is time to throw open wide the doors and to return to announcing the resurrection of Christ, whose witnesses we are."

"The road to be followed is by no means easy. It requires that we remain faithful to the fundamentals and, precisely for this reason, are capable of constructing something coherent with those foundations, which at the same time are able to be received and understood by people who are different from those of the past. The trials will be numerous," Archbishop Fisichella affirmed.

Along this path, the prelate stated, we must "avoid traveling alone," though he added that as Catholics "we cannot do this; we are incapable of it; by nature we are Catholics, that is open to all and wishing to be alongside each person to offer them the company of the faith."

Opening others' hearts

Toward the end of his reflection, Archbishop Fisichella cited a speech made by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger a few days before his election as Benedict XVI.

"What we need at this time of history," the future Pope said, "are people, who, through a faith which is enlightened and lived out in practice, make God credible in this world … We need people who keep their gaze fixed upon God, learning from there what true humanity is. We need people whose intellect is enlightened by the light of God and whose hearts God may open up in such a way that their intellect may speak to the intellect of others and that their hearts may open the hearts of others. Only through people who are touched by God can God return to humanity." 

"Hence," Archbishop Fisichella proposed, "the new evangelization starts from here: from the credibility of our living as believers and from the conviction that grace acts and transforms to the point of converting the heart. It is a journey which still finds Christians committed to it after two thousand years of history.

"Within this context, it is worth recalling a story from the Middle Ages. A poet passed by some work being conducted and saw three workers busy at their work; they were stone cutters. He turned to the first and said: 'What are you doing, my friend?' This man, quite indifferently, replied: 'I am cutting a stone.' He went a little further, saw the second and posed to him the same question, and this man replied, surprised: 'I am involved in the building of a column.' A bit further ahead, the pilgrim saw the third and to this man also he put the same question; the response, full of enthusiasm, was: 'I am building a cathedral.' The old meaning is not changed by the new work we are called to construct. There are various workers called into the vineyard of the Lord to bring about the new evangelization; all of them will have some reason to offer to explain their commitment. What I wish for and what I would like to hear is that, in response to the question: 'What are you doing, my friend?', each one would be able to reply: 'I am building a cathedral.' Every believer who, faithful to his baptism, commits himself or herself with effort and with enthusiasm every day to give witness to their own faith offers their original and unique contribution to the construction of their great cathedral in the world of today. It is the Church of our Lord, Jesus, his body and his spouse, the people constantly on the way without ever becoming weary, which proclaims to all that Jesus is risen, has come back to life, and that all who believe in him will share in his own mystery of love, the dawn of a day which is always new and which will never fade."

Athletic effort

The Proclaim conference also invited Martha Fernández-Sardina, director of the Office for Evangelization of the Archdiocese of San Antonio, Texas, to address the participants.

She reflected that the call to holiness is just as hard, but infinitely more rewarding, than any Olympic contest.

Fernández-Sardina said that we too can aspire in our faith to emulate the Olympic ideals of "stronger, faster, higher," but that holiness requires effort, self-discipline, self-denial and a "fierce Olympian attitude and mindset."

"After all, you want to, as St. Paul writes in Corinthians, 'run so as to win,'" she said. "It requires getting up and going at it every day. But if we want to, we too can be Olympians and medallists. As Fr. Benedict Groeschel said: 'Saints are people like us who simply tried harder.'"

--- --- ---

On the Net:

More information on Proclaim:

Full text of Archbishop Fisichella's address: s%20of%20the%20proclamation&locale=en