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Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and the Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
When last June 28, at First Vespers of the Solemnity of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, I announced that I wished to institute a dicastery for promoting the New Evangelization, I gave an operative beginning to a reflection that I had had for a long time on the need to offer a concrete answer to the moment of crisis in Christian life, which is being verified in so many countries, above all those of ancient Christian tradition. Today, with this meeting, I can see with pleasure that this new pontifical council has become a reality. I thank Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella for the words he addressed to me, introducing me to the work of your first plenary assembly. My warm greetings to all of you with my encouragement for the contribution you will make to the work of the new dicastery, above all in view of the 13th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops that, in October of 2012, will in fact address the topic "New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith."
The term "New Evangelization" speaks of the need for a renewed method of proclamation, especially for those who live in a context, such as the present one, in which the developments of secularization have left heavy traces even in countries with a Christian tradition. The Gospel is the ever new proclamation of the salvation wrought by Christ to render humanity a participant in the mystery of God and in his life of love and to open it to a future of sure and strong hope. To underscore that at this moment in the history of the Church she is called to carry out a New Evangelization, means intensifying missionary action to correspond fully with the Lord's mandate. The Second Vatican Council reminded that "the groups among which the Church dwells are often radically changed, for one reason or other, so that an entirely new set of circumstances may arise" (Decree Ad Gentes, 6). With farsighted understanding, the Conciliar Fathers saw on the horizon the cultural change that today is easily verifiable. Precisely this changed situation, which has created an unexpected situation for believers, requires particular attention to the proclamation of the Gospel, to give the reason for one's faith in situations that are different from the past.
The crisis being experienced bears in itself traces of the exclusion of God from people's lives, of a generalized indifference toward the Christian faith itself, to the point of attempting to marginalize it from public life. In past decades it was still possible to discover a general Christian sense that unified the common feeling of whole generations, growing up in the shadow of the faith that had molded the culture.
Today, unfortunately, we are witnessing the drama of a fragmentation that no longer consents to a unified point of reference; moreover, we often see the phenomenon of persons who wish to belong to the Church, but are strongly molded by a vision of life that opposes the faith.
To proclaim Jesus Christ the only Savior of the world seems more complex today than in the past; but our task remains the same as at the dawn of our history. The mission has not changed, just as the enthusiasm and the courage that moved the Apostles and the first disciples must not change. The Holy Spirit who pushed them to open the doors of the Cenacle, making them into evangelizers (cf. Acts 2:1-4), is the same Spirit that moves the Church today in a renewed proclamation of hope to the men of our time. St. Augustine said that one must not think that the grace of evangelization was extended only to the Apostles and with them that source of grace was exhausted, but that "this source manifests itself when it flows, not when it ceases to be poured out. And it was in this way that, through the Apostles, grace also reached others, who were sent to proclaim the Gospel ... what is more, it has continued to call, up to these last days, the whole body of his only-begotten Son, namely, his Church spread throughout the earth" (Sermon 239, 1). The grace of the mission is always in need of new evangelizers capable of receiving it, so that the salvific proclamation of the Word of God will never diminish in the changing conditions of history.
A dynamic continuity exists between the proclamation of the first disciples and our own. In the course of the centuries the Church has never ceased to proclaim the salvific mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but that same proclamation today needs a renewed vigor to convince contemporary man, often distracted and insensitive. Because of this, the New Evangelization will have to be responsible for finding the methods to make the proclamation of salvation more effective, without which personal existence remains in its state of contradiction, deprived of the essential.
Even in one who remains linked to his Christian roots, but lives the difficult relationship with modernity, it is important to make it understood that being Christian is not a sort of uniform to wear in private or on particular occasions, but is something alive and all-encompassing, able to take up all that is good in modernity.
I hope that in the work of these days you will be able to delineate a plan able to help the whole Church and the various particular Churches, in a commitment to the New Evangelization; a plan where the urgency for a renewed proclamation will take care of formation, in particular for the new generations, and be combined with a proposal of concrete signs able to make evident the answer that the Church intends to offer in this peculiar moment. If, on one hand, the whole community is called to reinvigorate the missionary spirit to give the new proclamation that the men of our time await, it must not be forgotten that believers' style of life needs to be genuinely credible, convincing all the more when the life situations of those who see it is all the more dramatic. It is because of this that we wish to make our own the words of the Servant of God Pope Paul VI when, in regard to evangelization, he said: "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 witness of poverty and detachment, of freedom in the face of the powers of this world, in short, the witness of sanctity" (Apostolic Exhortation "Evangelii Nuntiandi," 41).
Dear friends, invoking the intercession of Mary, Star of evangelization, so that she will accompany the bearers of the Gospel and open the hearts of those who listen, I assure you of my prayer for your ecclesial service and impart to all of you the apostolic blessing.
[Translation by ZENIT]