The church exists in order to evangelize,” wrote Pope Paul VI in his 1975 apostolic exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi; it is “the grace and vocation proper to the church, her deepest identity.” In the three decades since that classic statement, though, the church in Europe has found itself not growing but shrinking, so drastically that it now invites missionaries from countries to which it once sent them.
In country upon country, Catholicism struggles where it once flourished, with church affiliation and priestly and religious vocations dramatically lower than their peaks of fifty years ago. Like his predecessor John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI has stressed the urgency of the situation and called for rediscovery and renewal of Europe’s Christian identity. The note is one of concern, but not despair. The faith, while perhaps less visible, remains resilient, and many encouraging efforts of evangelization are already underway. What follows is a sketch of recent intriguing approaches to the new evangelization.
First, though, we should consider what evangelization itself is and is not. In simplest terms, to evangelize is to follow Jesus in proclaiming “the good news of the kingdom of God” (Luke 4:43). Paul VI says that salvation is “the...
Timothy P. Schilling studied English at Princeton and theology at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, and earned a doctorate in practical theology at the Katholieke Theologische Universiteit te Utrecht. Since 2003 he has served on the staff of the Center for Parish Spirituality, Nijmegen, The Netherlands.