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Some Reflections on Pope Francis' Address on Evangelization

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Pope Francis at Vargihna.
Pope Francis at Vargihna.
(Image by (From Wikimedia) Tânia Rêgo/ABr, Author: Tânia Rêgo/ABr)
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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) September 23, 2019: I have published several OEN commentaries about Pope Francis. For example, I commented in detail about his doctrinal conservatism in my OEN article "Pope Francis on Evil and Satan" (dated March 24, 2019):

More recently, I briefly contrasted the pope's general orientation with the orientation of certain Catholic traditionalists such as Steve Bannon and Ross Douthat in my OEN article "Pope Francis = 'Open Closure'; But Catholic Traditionalists = Closed-Systems Thought" (dated August 30, 2019):

In it, I borrowed the terminology "open closure" from the American Jesuit Renaissance specialist and cultural historian Walter J. Ong's 1977 book Interfaces of the Word: Studies in the Evolution of Consciousness and Culture (Cornell University Press, pages 305-341).

Now, the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, an organizational structure in the Vatican's bureaucracy, organized an international meeting for Academic Centres, Movements and Associations of New Evangelization at the Vatican on September 19-21, 2019. The theme of the conference was "Knowing God: Is It Possible? Ways for New Evangelization." The culminating event was an audience with Pope Francis, at which he delivered a prepared address titled in English translation at the Vatican's website as "Audience with participants in the meeting promoted by the Pontifical Council of Promoting New Evangelization, 21.09.2019" (but no direct link to it is available, even though the entire text can be printed out).

After the pope's brief greetings, he quickly gets down to business:

"You have reflected on a central theme of evangelization: how to ignite the desire to know God despite signs that obscure His presence. In this sense, Luke's Gospel offers us a good starting point when it tells us of the two disciples who went to Emmaus: Christ was there, walking with them, but because of the discouragement they had in their hearts they were not able to recognize Him (cf. Lk. 24:13-27). This is the case for many of our contemporaries: God is close to them, but they cannot recognize Him."

Ah, how many of us have not ever felt crushing disappointment and discouragement similar to what those two disciples felt after their hero Jesus of Nazareth was ignominiously crucified on the trumped-up charge of political insurrection?!

Just to be clear here, I will quote the entire episode from Luke's Gospel (24:13-35, not just 13-27): "Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, 'What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?' They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, 'Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?' He asked them, 'What things?' They replied, 'The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was still alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.' Then he said to them, 'Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?' Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

"As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, 'Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.' So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, 'Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?' That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, 'The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!' Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread" (NRSV).

As mentioned, Pope Francis says that this episode "offers us a good starting point." From it, he concludes, "Enflaming hearts is our challenge."

Next, he turns to certain other challenges facing the church. About one of them, he says, "I am Catholic because . . . I have digested Denzinger [Enchiridion symbolorum, definitionum et declarationum de rebus fidei et morum]" the compilation of excerpts from the historical documents articulating official teachings of the Roman Catholic Church over the centuries. In other words, the pope is saying that Roman Catholic faith involves more than just knowing all of the historical doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church over the centuries (the material in square brackets appears in the text at the Vatican's website; I did not add it).

However, toward the end of his address, Pope Francis refers positively to "the process of catechesis" which I assume includes instruction in the Catechism of the Catholic Church that Pope John-Paul II promulgated in 1992. But Pope Francis is emphasizing that Roman Catholic faith is based fundamentally on hearing and taking to heart "the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ Who died and rose from the dead."

In any event, the people who attended the conference at the Vatican are oriented toward evangelization in the West. Pope Francis says that "our brothers and sisters who, while benefiting from many technical achievements, live absorbed by the vortex of great frenzy."

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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