I write to you as Catholics prepare for a Year of Faith, proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI to begin on October 11. The Year of Faith marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and the 20th anniversary of the 1992 release of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Pope Benedict has called on dioceses to promote the goals of the New Evangelization during the Year of Faith. This effort is something we take very much to heart here at Catholic Relief Services. You might find that surprising because, as you know, although CRS provides services to the poor and most vulnerable people across the world, we do not seek to convert people of other faiths to Catholicism.
The work of conversion is certainly an important mission of the Church, but it is only a slice of all that evangelization entails. At CRS, we were privileged to have Bishop Richard J. Malone, a member of our board who was recently installed as the Bishop of Buffalo, talk to us about the New Evangelization. Bishop Malone once served as the chair of the Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
As he noted, the word evangelization comes from the Greek. It means “good news,” which is what the presence and promise of Jesus Christ brought to the world. Certainly telling people of Christ and his Church is a fundamental way of proclaiming that Good News.
But Bishop Malone reminded us the Church has always maintained that we also proclaim the Good News with our actions. And so the work of CRS is an important manifestation of the New Evangelization. You proclaim the love of Christ when you feed hungry people, when you give shelter to our homeless brothers and sisters, and when you uplift those who are struggling.
In his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, Pope Paul VI said this about evangelization: “It is therefore primarily by her conduct and by her life that the Church will evangelize the world, in other words, by her living witness of fidelity to the Lord Jesus.”
The work of CRS is part of the conduct and the life of the Church as, together, we seek to be obedient to the Gospel’s call to serve the poor.
This brings me to another, and perhaps even more important, aspect of the New Evangelization: It is not just about reaching out to others—it is about reaching down within ourselves and within our communities of faith.
As the USCCB says on its website, “The Year of Faith is an opportunity for Catholics to experience a conversion—to turn back to Jesus and enter into a deeper relationship with him…. The ‘door of faith’ is opened at one’s baptism, but during this year Catholics are called to open it again, walk through it and rediscover and renew their relationship with Christ and his Church.”
What you know so well is that, when you reach out a hand to help others, you receive as much as you give—perhaps more. When your hand is grasped by those in need, you feel their dignity, you feel their strength, you feel their resilience, you feel their humanity. You feel the presence of God.
What you are feeling is the solidarity that Christ commands of us, the unity of the family of humanity, the realization that we are all God’s children, all blessed in his eyes, subject to his benevolence. You realize what is meant by the phrase often used at CRS: Solidarity can change the world.
You can feel that solidarity within your Church as you celebrate its wonderful diversity, particularly now in the middle of National Hispanic Heritage Month. Our Church, like our nation, opens its arms to those from all around the world, welcoming them into a community of love and devotion that knows no borders.
At CRS, we truly are your servants trying to give you an avenue to feel that solidarity with our poor brothers and sisters all around the world. We hope you will use CRS to reach out your hand to those in need as a way of rediscovering and renewing your relationship with Christ and his Church.
For information and resources to help enrich your journey during the Year of Faith and the New Evangelization, please visit our Year of Faith resources site.
May blessings overflow,
Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo
President & CEO
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