The changed social, cultural, economic, civil and religious scenarios call us to something new: to live our communitarian experience of faith in a renewed way and to proclaim it through an evangelization that is “new in its ardor, in its methods, in its expressions”, as John Paul II said (Discourse to the XIX Assembly of CELAM, Port-au-Prince, 9 March 1983, n. 3).1
This is the call of the Church through the XIII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization for the Transmission of Faith.
Twenty-two years ago, the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP II) envisioned a renewed integral evangelization in the Church in the Philippines. Today, this Church in South East Asia, in particular the Archdiocese of Manila, joins the journey of the universal Church towards new evangelization. This Philippine Conference on the New Evangelization (PCNE) is a milestone in the Church’s journey and a concrete response to her call as well as a reawakening to PCP II’s vision of renewed integral evangelization.
The Synod Fathers recognize that in heeding the call for new evangelization, “we cannot remain indifferent to the process of secularization.”2 Moreover, “(t)he proclamation of the good news in different contexts of the world – marked by the processes of globalization and secularism – places different challenges before the Church: at times in an outright religious persecution, at other times in a widespread indifference, interference, restriction or harassment.”3
Today, we Filipino Catholics find our country and the Church not far from the contexts described by the Synod Fathers as PCP II already observed. Urbanization, globalization and communication technologies are bringing changes in Philippine society. We are still challenged by pluralism,4 burdened by much graft and corruption in politics and governance,5 saddled in economics with “inequalities of the grossest kind”6 and widespread poverty resulting in the poor becoming poorer and the rich becoming richer,7 and confronted with increasing imbalances in the educational sector.8 We cannot ignore the emergent powerful culture developed by developments in information technologies, new media and social networking that influence our way of thinking, feeling and relating with others.9
However, one with the Synod Fathers’ optimism and trust in the Lord,10 we still strive to preserve the culture and faith of our ancestors; many of us still anchor ourselves on basic faith and trust in God’s mercy. Our religiosity is even more heightened among overseas workers who have migrated in Europe and America.11
Thus, for us Filipino Catholics, the call for new evangelization is both “entering into the long path of proclaiming the Gospel with the apostolic courage of Paul who would go so far as to say ‘Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!’ (1 Corinthians 9:16)”12 and making the spirit of PCP II come alive and rekindle this in the hearts of the clergy, those in the consecrated life and the lay faithful to move forward.13
The Synod Fathers declared: “We need not invent new strategies as if the Gospel were a product to be placed in the market of religions. We need to rediscover the ways in which Jesus approached persons and called them, in order to put these approaches into practice in today’s circumstances.”14 Applying this basic approach in new evangelization, three events in the life of Jesus serve as inspiration and framework in organizing the PCNE. These three events point to the phases of the conference.
The meeting of the first disciples with Jesus affirms that at the beginning of all evangelization is a personal encounter with Jesus. "Come and see" was the reply of Jesus to the disciples who were curious about the home of the Teacher. But for Jesus curiosity is not enough; what matters is a personal friendship that should grow and remain constant yet ever new.
The Synod Fathers in their Message wish to remind all of us: "Before saying anything about the forms that this new evangelization must assume, we feel the need to tell you with pro-found conviction that the faith determines everything in the rela-tionship that we build with the person of Jesus who takes the initiative to encounter us. The work of the new evangelization consists in presenting once more the beauty and perennial newness of the encounter with Christ to the often distracted and confused heart and mind of the men and women of our time, above all to ourselves."16
PCP II was not very far from the thoughts of the Synod. In answering the question "How do we live as Catholic Christians today?" its answer is:
It is to know, to love, to follow Christ in the Church which he founded. This is why we need to contemplate the face - and the heart of Christ. We have to retell his story to ourselves, that we may, more credibly, more authoritatively, tell it to others. This is our belief.17
PCP II mentioned this Christ encounter at the start of its reflection on "Envisioning A Church Renewed." It was aware that true renewal of the Church begins with a personal relationship with Christ that takes off with a personal encounter, deepening our friendship and entering into communion with Him.
Indeed, our Christian faith is a religion of encountering Jesus in a community of believers. The experience of Jesus in our lives - the seeing of Jesus - is pivotal in the life of every believer. It is Jesus who initiates the encounter - it is Jesus who sustains and nourishes it.
But why do we fail to see God's presence in our lives? Why does God seem to have no place at all in our lives, or is it applicable only to this generation? The reality besets us that emptiness, meaninglessness, shallow joy, sense of incom-pleteness and insufficiency haunt us in our lifetime and we search for answers to our questions in life. Human cooperation is a necessary response to the initiative of God. Every believer must respond in faith to his invitation. Thus the two disciples "stayed with him that day"18; in fact all their life they stayed with the Teacher and Savior.
The new evangelization reminds us it is the Church's task to show the face of Christ - "to make his face shine... before the generations of the new millennium."19 "There is no greater priority than this: to enable the people of our time once more to encounter God, the God who speaks to us and shares his love so that we might have life in abundance (cf. Jn 10:10)".20
The PCNE looks toward providing participants an experi-ence of God's presence, an encounter with Him and in going back to their homes, workplaces, Christian communities, and elsewhere an urge to share this personal encounter, thus becoming agents in the new evangelization.
As with the first disciples, the two men who encountered the Risen Jesus on their way to Emmaus begged Him to stay with them. As the Lord opened to them the Scriptures they couldn't help saying: "Did not our hearts burn within us...?"22 In staying with them the Lord broke bread with them and led them to a more intense experience of communion with Himself. Their eyes were opened and they realized that it was the risen Lord who met them on the road, befriended them and gave them meaning, hope, enthusiasm in life.
According to the Synod Fathers this Emmaus event becomes our experience today as "(t)his divine Word, heard and celebrated in the Liturgy of the Church, particularly in the Eucharist, strengthens interiorly the faithful and renders them capable of authentic evangelical witness in daily life."23 Furthermore, they affirm that "The worthy celebration of the Sacred Liturgy, God's most treasured gift to us... the primary and most powerful expression of the new evangelization... The liturgy is not just a human action but an encounter with God which leads to contemplation and deepening friendship with God. In this sense, the liturgy of the Church is the best school of the faith."24
Our bishops in their Pastoral Letter Landas ng Pagpapakabanal already made this observation:
"Sa maraming mga paraan at pagkakataon sinasamahan Niya tayo bilang isang hindi nakikilalang kapwa manlalakbay. Sa Kanya natin ihinga at ipagkatiwala ang ating mga kabiguaan at kalungkutan. At sa sandaling buksan Niya sa atin ang Banal na Kasulatan, buksan din natin ang ating mga kalooban, upang kanyang pag-alabing muli ang mga ito sa bagong paliwanag na Kanyang ibibigay. Sa pagsapit ng dilim, yakagin natin Siyang makipanuluyan at makisalo sa atin. Doo'y hayaan nating mabuksan naman ang ating mga mata sa pagpipiraso ng tinapay. Sa pagbibigay Niya ng sarili sa atin bilang pagkain, pag-aralan natin ang landas Niya; ang landas ng pag-aalay ng buhay alang-alang sa kaibigan".25
The PCNE will highlight the Scriptures and the Liturgy and will provide the participants moments to strengthen bonds of communion with each other so that they can relive the experience of the disciples of Emmaus in the context of the new evangelization.
The third and last event in the life of Jesus that directs the PCNE is His encounter with Peter as He ordered him to go into the deep28 and gave him the mission to be a fisher of men.29 In every authentic encounter with the Lord there is mission. True friendship with Jesus entails to be sent to proclaim the Good News. The Samaritan woman at the well, after her personal encounter with the Lord, proclaimed the Good News to her neighbors.30 She became a disciple, a true missionary only after her whole being was touched and her basic longings were fulfilled by Jesus. Similarly, the two disciples at Emmaus, after Jesus opened their hearts and eyes, went back to Jerusalem and told their story and encounter with the Risen Lord.31 The very last words of Jesus to the apostles and disciples, his ultimate command before He went back to the Father, was "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation"32.
To be called by Jesus, to encounter Him and to remain with Him brings us to the clarion call of the New Evangelization. For the Synod Fathers this means that "(t)he task of the New Evangelization, following in this apostolic tradition, is the transmission of the faith... This faith cannot be transmitted in a life which is not modeled after the Gospel or a life which does not find its meaning, truth and future based on the Gospel. For this reason, the New Evangelization for the transmission of the Christian faith calls all believers to renew their faith and their personal encounter with Jesus in the Church, to deepen their appreciation of the truth of the faith and joyfully to share it."33
PCP II also envisioned us Filipino Catholics to be a Community-in-Mission that "exists for the world... sent on mission to proclaim the good news of Christ and to be the instrument of his grace."34
Truly, we need to hear the words of Jesus: "Put out into the deep!" This may mean sitting at one table with people of various faith traditions, whether Christian or not; or letting go of our old self so that new life may be born; or undergoing intensive renewal of hearts and structures; and yes, of tranquil daring in hope for his coming.
Both Benedict XVI, our beloved Pope emeritus and Francis, our new Pope are inviting us to look into our own relationships with our Lord. The best communicator of the message is one who becomes a witness of what one preaches. We have to discover what God is saying and doing in our lives to answer our basic longings as human person. We have to probe our hearts and see how we respond to God's movements in our lives. If we are appreciative of God's actions especially his love for us we cannot help but share to others our experience of love.
Moreover, more than a decade ago our own Bishops linked mission with spirituality in their pastoral letter:
Kaya't sa bahaging ito, sa ngalan ng Guro at Panginoon na naghugas din sa aming mga paa, hayaan ninyo kaming mangahas na bigkasing muli ang kalooban Niya, iguhit muli ang landas Niya. Anong uri ng landas ang landas ni Kristo? Ito ang aming pinaninindigan bilang "matatanda": ang pagpapakabanal ay ang patuloy na pakikipagtagpo sa kalooban ni Kristo, ang patuloy na pagtahak sa landas ni Kristo. Samakatuwid, ang buhay-kabanalan (spirituality) ay buhay-pakikipagkapwakalooban kay Kristo.35
Thus, during the PCNE, the participants will be provided with avenues of inspiration and directions imbued with the spirit of mission so that they can hear more clearly the words of Jesus: "Duc in altum" or "Put out into the deep!" The main talks and the concurrent workshops aim at helping the participants to understand the meaning of the new evangelization in the context of the pastoral priorities and commit themselves to respond to this call of the Church.
Given this biblical-theological framework, the following are proposed as objectives of PCNE:
Finally, in the spirit of the Synod on New Evangelization and following the footsteps of PCP II who turned their gaze to Mary, the first of the Lord's disciples, the first to be evangelized and the First Evangelizer, we also entrust the PCNE to her, ang Mahal na Birhen and the Star of the New Evangelization.