Cardinal Wuerl speaks Nov. 5 at the Catholic Information Center in Washington on “The Future of the New Evangelization.”
Cardinal Wuerl speaks Nov. 5 at the Catholic Information Center in Washington on “The Future of the New Evangelization.”
Returning home to Washington from the nearly month-long Synod on the New Evangelization held in Rome, Cardinal Donald Wuerl said that call to share the faith is the responsibility of all Catholics.

"It's our moment... it's our turn to share in this outpouring of the Holy Spirit, this new Pentecost," the cardinal said in a Nov. 5 talk at the Catholic Information Center in downtown Washington.

That sense of a "new Pentecost" unfolding in the Church was shared by the 250 bishops from around the world who participated in the gathering convened by Pope Benedict XVI, said Cardinal Wuerl, who served as relator general at the synod, summarizing and reporting on the bishops' suggestions and recommendations.

Noting that Jesus called the first disciples to be His witnesses, Cardinal Wuerl said today's Catholics must be witnesses to the Good News of Christ and help others encounter the risen Christ in a world where many have not heard the Gospel or have drifted away or grown lukewarm in their faith. The challenges that the early Church faced in bringing Christ to an indifferent or even hostile culture mirror those of our times, he said.

"We have to inspire (others) with the witness of our own faith, by our own lives," the cardinal said.

Pope Benedict's call to Catholics to take up the work of the New Evangelization is a key priority of his papacy, Cardinal Wuerl noted.

"Who's involved in the New Evangelization?...The answer is, every one of us," Cardinal Wuerl said.

Bishops at the synod emphasized the central role of families in sharing the faith, the cardinal said. "It begins in families. The task of telling the story of Jesus, of passing it on begins in every family."

Young people have a key role in the New Evangelization, Cardinal Wuerl added. Many young Catholics, he said, realize there's more to life than what the secular world offers. From the perspective of their faith, they come to understand the meaning of their lives, the cardinal said. "It's Jesus Christ, risen and with us."

Cardinal Wuerl said the synod also underscored how the Church as the body of Christ in today's world is the home of the New Evangelization, and people must remain connected to the Church and its teachings as they deepen their own faith, grow in confidence in its truth, and share that truth with others. Bishops at the synod also emphasized that the New Evangelization must unfold at parishes, where people encounter Jesus sacramentally and hear the word of God proclaimed.

Cardinal Wuerl said that the Synod on the New Evangelization "was positive, united and pastoral," and emphasized a practical, not a theoretical, approach for Catholics to take up that call.

"We were there to talk about how to renew the face of the earth, to proclaim again that Jesus Christ is Lord, and invite people into that personal encounter" with Christ, he said.

The cardinal said that Pope Benedict in his opening homily for the synod emphasized three elements of the New Evangelization. "The first element is recognizing the need for renewal of our own personal faith," Cardinal Wuerl said. "You can't participate in sharing something if it has not been renewed and revived in your own heart."

Prayer and studying Scripture, the cardinal said, are critically important to that personal renewal of faith. "Why is it so important for each of us to make space in our life, in our day, for prayer? That's how we learn of the presence of God in our lives," said Cardinal Wuerl.

With this renewal of faith comes a confidence in the truth of its message, which is the second element of the New Evangelization, the cardinal said. Recent generations of Catholics had poor catechesis, and many don't understand what the Church teaches and lack confidence in what they believe, said the cardinal, who has encouraged Catholics to use the Catechism of the Catholic Church as a sure guide for the authentic teaching of the Church.

"We not only renew our faith, we renew our confidence this is true," said Cardinal Wuerl. "There is nothing more reassuring than to know you stand in the truth."

The third element of the New Evangelization, the cardinal noted, "is the willingness to share the faith. That's probably where we're the shyest. We Catholics tend to be reluctant evangelists.... We're so reluctant, even with friends, to talk about the important things. Young people are much more open to talking about the place of the Lord in our lives."

Cardinal Wuerl said sharing the faith with others, especially with family members and friends, is what the New Evangelization is all about. "We have to be prepared to share our faith. There are so many ways you can do that."

In his opening address to the synod, Cardinal Wuerl talked about the context for the New Evangelization, noting that in recent decades a "tsunami of secularism" has swept over much of the world. "It washed away things we took for granted, that were part of the fabric of society, like marriage, the family, the concept of the common good and objective right and wrong," the cardinal said in his Washington talk.

The cardinal noted that modern culture tragically can't determine "the definition of something as simple as marriage, which goes back to Genesis." The Archdiocese of Washington has joined a coalition of faith groups opposing a proposed law in Maryland that would redefine marriage to include same-sex couples.

Cardinal Wuerl noted that Pope Benedict XVI during his 2008 visit to Washington had warned of how secularism, materialism and individualism are three key challenges confronting those who want to live and spread the Gospel in today's world.

The cardinal said that in our materialistic world, many people's horizons are limited to the things they have. At the synod, one bishop spoke poetically about the desire to seek God, noting that in his culture, transcendence "is only a dream away."

Noting the danger of individualism, Cardinal Wuerl said, "We tend as a culture to be focused only on ourselves."

In the face of those challenges, the cardinal said today's Catholics are called to pass on the faith, so people come to know and love Jesus who was crucified, rose from the dead and sent the Holy Spirit to guide his Church. Two thousand years after the first disciples brought that message to the world, today's disciples must take up that call, Cardinal Wuerl said.

In a question and answer session with the young adults at the Washington gathering, Cardinal Wuerl said that the Church must utilize new and social media in the New Evangelization, in order to reach younger generations. "We have to find ways of reaching them, speaking to them in their language," he said.

When asked about how to talk about the faith with family members and friends, the cardinal said a quiet witness of faith touches hearts. And he said that when it comes to difficult topics, "You can always speak the truth with love, and not offend."

The Catholic Information Center, located at 1501 K Street, N.W., is sponsored by the Archdiocese of Washington and directed by Opus Dei. The center has a bookstore, sponsors talks on the faith, and has a chapel that is believed to have the closest tabernacle to the White House. This spring, the Catholic Information Center presented Cardinal Wuerl with its first Blessed John Paul II Award for the New Evangelization.

After the cardinal's talk on the New Evangelization, one of the young adults present - Alex Cortes, who attends Mass at Holy Trinity Parish in Georgetown - reflected on the challenge of sharing his faith. "It means I've got a lot of work to do," he said.

Kate Flannery, who works at the Catholic Volunteer Network, said she was moved by hearing about the bishop's belief that "transcendence is only a dream away."

"As a young person who has rediscovered her own faith, I have a sense of yearning to touch the transcendent, and this Year of Faith has called into question how I can make that yearning materialize into my life," Flannery said.

Lea Wojciechowski, who works for Americans United for Life, said she now has a better understanding of what the New Evangelization entails. "He (the cardinal) gave us the challenge to renew our faith, grow in confidence in our faith, and share it," she said.