“Film, media, gaming; it's such a huge part of our culture now and so we're using those technologies to evangelize and to meet people where they are.”
With more than 350 lay missionaries serving on over 80 college campuses, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) has shown itself to be successful in finding new ways to bring the Gospel to the modern world.
But back in 1998, when the apostolate was barely off the ground, FOCUS founder and president Curtis Martin met with Pope John Paul II. As Martin described his vision for the budding organization, the Holy Father responded with two words: “Be soldiers.”
St. John Paul II’s call-to-arms for Martin echoes his urging for all Catholics to embark on a “new evangelization.” And in the years since that call was first made, it has borne fruit across the United States through numerous lay initiatives.
“The New Evangelization is one of the enduring themes of the pontificate of Pope John Paul II,” said Douglas Bushman, a professor at the Denver-based Augustine Institute, in an April 24 interview with CNA.
“You can tell a tree by its fruit, the Lord said. As we approach 10 years since his death, publications on the new evangelization abound. Most importantly, the increasing numbers of the faithful – now many who were in their teens when he died – are being drawn to a sense of personal responsibility to engage in the new evangelization.”
One of the late Pope’s most well-known references to the new evangelization comes from his 1983 address to the Latin American Episcopal Council. In light of the 500th anniversary of the evangelization of Latin America, Pope John Paul II urged bishops to embark on a “new evangelization,” which he described as “new in its ardor, its methods, in its expressions.”
Bushman suggested that John Paul II’s proclamation of the new evangelization was not a change in the Catholic message, but rather a renewed way of presenting it to the modern world.
“He often quoted Matthew 13:52, about the wise scribe being compared to a head of a household who could draw out of his storehouse things both new and old,” Bushman said. “He was always faithful to divine revelation and to the entire Tradition of the Church, drawing on all the saints and the ecumenical councils, showing us how relevant they are for the ‘today’ of the Church.”
“At the same time, there is something ‘new’ in John Paul’s teachings,” he said, pointing to the late Pope’s revolutionary teachings on the theology of the body.
Bushman explained that St. John Paul II’s vision for the new evangelization included several key parts.
“It begins with a rediscovery of the relevance of divine revelation,” he said, and from there, it discovers that Jesus Christ reveals what it means to be fully human.
“This awareness leads to conversion and the embrace of the call to holiness,” Bushman said. “Once renewed in Christ, His disciples then act as He did. They bear witness to the truth about God’s merciful love to a world that is in desperate need of this mercy.”
“This witness is the essence of the new evangelization. We are called to show the world what renewed humanity looks like, what God’s transforming love produces in our world.”
The founders of the Augustine Institute hoped to help make the new evangelization a reality by transforming Catholic education and forming new leaders. Established in 2005, the graduate school expresses in its mission statement a desire to “equip Catholics intellectually, spiritually, and pastorally to renew the Church and transform the world for Christ.”
The school offers M.A. programs in theology and leadership for the new evangelization.Academic Dean Christopher Blum said the majority of Augustine Institute students are already actively involved in apostolic fields and hope to bring their learning into the field “to bring the light of Christ to the world.”
The San Diego-based John Paul the Great Catholic University is another lay apostolate responding to John Paul II’s call for a new evangelization, specifically through media.