The Social Dimension of Evangelization (Part 3-Conclusion)

Previous posts in this series can be found here (part 1) and here (part 2).

Pope Francis and Evangelii Gaudium

If the “new evangelization” has become the definitive terminology and vision of the Catholic Church’s mission today, how is the papacy of Pope Francis shaping this ongoing conversation about the relationship between evangelization and works of charity and social justice? Evangelii Gaudium offers a clue. The fourth chapter is given over to a reflection on the social dimension of evangelization. Interestingly, Pope Francis quickly connects the terms “evangelization” and “liberation” in this discussion:


“Evangelization is meant to cooperate with this liberating work of the Spirit. The very mystery of the Trinity reminds us that we have been created in the image of that divine communion, and so we cannot achieve fulfilment or salvation purely by our own efforts. From the heart of the Gospel we see the profound connection between evangelization and human advancement, which must necessarily find expression and develop in every work of evangelization” (178; emphasis mine).

The relationship between evangelization and charity is a theme dear to Pope Francis. Pope Francis suggests a fundamental link between the preaching of the Gospel and the promotion of human life in all of its expressions: “The kerygma has a clear social content: at the very heart of the Gospel is life in community and engagement with others. The content of the first proclamation has an immediate moral implication centred on charity.” (177).

Moreover, he points to work for social justice as a key test of a “faith which is authentic,” since genuine faith “always implies a profound desire to change the world” (183). Interestingly, on this point he again does not steer away from connecting evangelization and liberation as concepts: “Each individual Christian and every community is called to be an instrument of God for the liberation and promotion of the poor, and for enabling them to be fully a part of society” (187). Continue reading

The Social Dimension of Evangelization (Part 2)

From the Latin American Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) installment, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel

From the Latin American Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) installment by Adolfo Pérez Esquivel

Latin America and the New Evangelization

In my previous post, I considered the historical precedent in magisterial and some bishops’ writings on the New Evangelization (NE) to underscore the necessary social dimensions of sharing the Good News, that is, of evangelization. But I also highlighted a certain ambivalence about the terms and ideas of “liberation” and “social justice” in their comments about the precise relationship between evangelization and work for societal change.

It is illuminating to explore the position of Latin American bishops and liberation theologians on the topic of the NE, since a stress on the intimate connection between the Christian faith and work for social justice and “preferential option for the poor” has become a hallmark of Latin American theology and pastoral practice. What is the contribution of Latin American bishops to the conversation about the socioeconomic aspects of evangelization?  Responding to John Paul II’s call for the NE in 1992, the Latin American bishops embraced the mission of the NE and, with John Paul II, suggest that “human development” concerns can be understood as a dimension of the wider task of the NE. Yet importantly, they note the violations of human dignity associated with Christian evangelization in the Americas, for example: “With John Paul II,” they write, “we want to ask God’s pardon for this ‘unknown holocaust’ in which ‘baptized people who did not live their faith were involved.’”[1] The bishops elaborate on evangelization’s social justice dimensions and urge that the “new evangelization” not become exploitive, but rather champion the poor’s socioeconomic liberation.[2] For them, this is key if evangelization today is to be “new in its ardor, in its methods, and in its expression,” as John Paul had remarked.[3] Continue reading

The Social Dimension of Evangelization (Part 1)

New Evangelization synod, October 2012

New Evangelization Synod, October 2012

Few Catholic commentators would deny that the New Evangelization has become one of the–if not the–most important ecclesial policies of the  Catholic Church today. Influential Catholic reporter John Allen suggests that the term itself has “become the buzzword par excellence in Catholic circles. Books are being published, lectures given, conferences organized, diocesan offices created, and whole courses of study put together, all devoted to the ways and means of the New Evangelization.”[1] Many have also noted Pope Francis’ deep concern for the poor and the social implications of the Gospel and questioned how his papacy will shape the meaning of and conversation about the New Evangelization (NE).

This is the question I’d like to explore in a series of posts.Building upon the important sociological research of two of our contributors, Mike McCallion and Benjamin Bennett-Carpenter, on this topic, I’d like to ask the following: What is the place of Catholic social teaching and liberation theology in the ongoing conversation about and vision of the NE in the U.S. and beyond?  Pope Francis’s brand new apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, will be a suitable place to end this discussion. But first… Continue reading