By Gabriella Ceraso
It is a structure dedicated to proclamation. As the Popes wished, it is missionary in every fiber of its being. Pope Benedict XVI established the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization and Pope Francis expanded its responsibilities. After only a decade, it has found various paths to bring the Gospel in new ways into the center and to the margins of humanity: The Sunday of the Word of God, the Jubilee of Mercy, the World Day of the Poor — these are only the tip of the apostolic “iceberg”. A small group of people work there, and its “mission” budget, which, according to official data published by the Holy See in 2021, is a portion of the 21 million Euro spread across 30 Vatican Dicasteries and institutions. The President of the Pontifical Council, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, who has been its President since it was founded, explains the dicastery’s purpose and what it does.
Established by Pope Benedict XVI in September 2010, the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization is among the youngest Dicasteries in the Roman Curia. What has it done during its first ten years and what are the priorities you have for the immediate future?
As announced in Pope Benedict XVI’s Motu proprio Ubicumque et semper establishing it, the concrete priorities of the Pontifical Council are focused on sustaining the reflection on topics regarding the new evangelization and, above all, in indicating and promoting ways and means for accomplishing this. With Pope Francis’s election, the Dicastery welcomed and assumed the additional challenges stated in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium. Throughout the first decade, the Pontifical Council received various additional tasks that specified its priorities even more. In particular, in 2013, with the Motu proprio Fides per doctrinam, it became responsible for the area of catechesis; and in 2017 with the Motu proprio Sanctuarium in ecclesia, it became responsible for shrines. In the same way, various initiatives were entrusted to the Pontifical Council that are now regularly celebrated in the universal Church — such as the 24 Hours for the Lord, the World Day of the Poor, and the Sunday of the Word of God. Lastly, in these 10 years, this Dicastery was entrusted with the organization of the Year of Faith (2012-2013), and the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy (2015-2016). These responsibilities and events have helped define the challenges and the Church’s focus regarding the new evangelization. Therefore, little by little, the Dicastery has tried to encourage the Christian community so that it might be aware of the work of evangelization, while not forgetting the cultural context, especially in the West, which is living a profound epochal transformation that has consequences also on the faith.
The limitations the pandemic has imposed are also changing the way the evangelical message is being proclaimed. How is this affecting the activity of the Dicastery? What role do the new means of communication and social media platforms play?
This past year, the Dicastery has had to take the pandemic into consideration when planning its initiatives and activities. The Dicastery has verified that there is the will to make the proclamation of the Gospel even more effective. We have attended many initiatives for the new evangelization, in which the health protocol was respected. Social media has played a huge role. We have been able to organize meetings and conferences online. Well aware that the proclamation of the Gospel cannot and should never be separated from a personal encounter, we cannot deny that the digital sphere is one of the major challenges of our day for the new evangelization, toward which this period accelerated an unavoidable development. Personally, I was able to participate in many online conferences, organized throughout the world, in which many people participated (sometimes more than 1,000) and which were viewed afterwards by many more.
Knowing how to speak of God to men and women in the digital age is one of the most urgent challenges for the Church. What indications did the Dicastery suggest in last year’s publication, the Directory for Catechesis?
The Directory for Catechesis contains several paragraphs on the relationship with the digital culture (359-372). To fully understand this challenge, we need to understand first and foremost, that it is a lot more complex than the mere presence of the Church on the internet. To think that keeping up with the times means that every diocese and parish have its own web page is an illusion that we need to keep away from. Being present on the internet is certainly something positive, but the digital culture goes far beyond. It touches the very heart of the anthropological question decisive in every formative context — that of truth and freedom. The question that the Dicastery poses in this regard is not how to use the new technologies to evangelize, but how to become an evangelizing presence in the digital world. In fact, catechesis certainly needs to understand the power of these means and needs to use them to their utmost potential, while also being aware that we do not catechize only by using digital means, but by giving space to effective experiences of faith. In this new context, therefore, the task of catechesis is that of fostering accompaniment and an experience of God in such a way as to offer meaning to existence. The transmission of the faith, in fact, is founded on authentic experience that is transformed into witness that gives a sense of meaning to life.
What is the current structure of the Pontifical Council and how does it carry out its service? What are the costs associated and how does the “bottom line” correspond to the “missionary budget” entrusted to the Dicastery?
The Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization is presided over by a President, assisted by a Secretary. There is also an Under-Secretary, a Head of Office and Officials. According to their language and expertise, they are entrusted with the different areas the Dicastery covers. The Catechesis office has a special Delegate, while other personnel are assigned to the technical secretariat. It is obvious that the Dicastery’s budget provides for the most immediate necessities, while the great generosity of its benefactors makes it possible to organize other initiatives, especially those that take place the week before the celebration of the World Day of the Poor.
“Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ”, Saint Jerome wrote. In light of this admonition, can the celebration of the Sunday of the Word of God — established two years ago by Pope Francis and entrusted to the Pontifical Council — contribute to inculcating greater familiarity with the sacred texts in the people of God?
With the 2019 Motu proprio Aperuit illis, Pope Francis established the Sunday of the Word of God, to be celebrated on the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, precisely because the Christian community focus on the tremendous value that the Word of God has in our everyday lives. By establishing this Sunday, the Pope wanted to respond to the many requests he received from the people of God, so that the entire Church could celebrate a Sunday of the Word of God in the same way that we celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi, dedicated to the Eucharist. The Sunday of the Word of God, therefore, can be viewed as one of the pastoral initiatives of the new evangelization, with the objective of reviving the responsibility that believers have of knowing the Sacred Scriptures and of keeping it alive through an initiative of permanent transmission and understanding, capable of giving meaning to the life of the Church in the various situations in which she finds herself. So, this Sunday can be an opportunity for reflection and of seeking to incarnate the Bible in daily life. Every Christian community has found the best way to do this: giving particular attention to the liturgy, to lectio, to various initiatives to deepen Sacred Scripture and many others. The Dicastery will soon be more concretely sustaining the Episcopal Conferences so that the innovation introduced by Pope Francis regarding the ministry of lector might be given greater attention.
From word to deeds: since 2017, the Word Day of the Poor invites us to break open the bread of the Word and of charity above all with those who are victims of the “throwaway culture”. How long will it take before the Church is truly a “poor Church for the poor”, as Pope Francis expressed the day after his election?
In the Letter Misericordia et misera on the conclusion of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis affirmed: “I had the idea that, as yet another tangible sign of this Extraordinary Holy Year, the entire Church might celebrate, on the Thirty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, the World Day of the Poor. This would be the worthiest way to prepare for the celebration of the Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, who identified with the little ones and the poor and who will judge us on our works of mercy”. It is a Day that helps the communities and every baptized individual to get involved, because, as long as Lazarus lies at the doors of our houses, there will be neither justice nor social peace. This Day is also a genuine form of the new evangelization that renews the face of the Church in its ongoing work of pastoral conversion so as to be a witness of mercy.
The Fifth World Day of the Poor will take place in November. It will be celebrated with many initiatives throughout the world, but especially with a renewed attention to those who are so often the victims of the “throwaway culture”, together with the understanding that it is truly they, the poor, who evangelize us. This dimension of reciprocity is reflected in the logo chosen for this Day: two people stand with an open door between them. Both have their arms extended. One asks for help, the other wants to offer help. However, it is difficult to understand which of them is the one who is poor. Or better, both are poor. The one who extends his or her arm in order to enter, asks for something to be shared; the one who extends his or her arm to offer help is invited to go out to share. Two hands are extended. They meet wherever someone offers something. Two arms express solidarity. They do not want to remain on the threshold but want to meet the other. The journey that still needs to be made is obviously always a long one. But the Day is certainly contributing to the Church’s journey in this direction.
Six years ago, inducting the Extraordinary Jubilee with the bull Misericordiae vultus, the Pope established the role of the “missionaries of mercy”. What role do they have and what types of tasks do they currently perform?
Inducting the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy in the bull Misericordiae vultus, Pope Francis established the Missionaries of Mercy. They are priests to whom the Pope has granted the authority to forgive those sins that are reserved to the Supreme Pontiff, so that the breadth of their mandate might be evident. These Missionaries are above all the living sign of how the Father welcomes anyone who seeks his forgiveness. The mandate of the Missionaries of Mercy was then extended beyond the Jubilee. The Pope wanted it to be understood that their pastoral ministry makes it clear that God does not place limits before those who seek him with a penitent heart, because he goes out to meet everyone as a Father, especially in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Currently, there are about 1,000 Missionaries, priests and religious from everywhere in the world who, in their respective contexts, through the ministry of confession, spiritual events, and preaching, promote and allow people to experience God’s great mercy. The Pontifical Council receives letters almost on a daily basis from these Missionaries. These letters allow us to participate in their activity and make us realize how many people and how many priests are truly in need of experiencing God’s forgiveness in their own lives.
By Gabriella Ceraso