Archbishop Richard Smith
The message of salvation through Jesus has always been and will continue to be the most important message ever.
Reiterating the message of both Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith said all Catholics are called to a new evangelization.
In the modern world of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs, texting, and other hi-tech forms of social interaction, how are Catholic communications professionals to answer this call?
"The Church exists to evangelize. That is our raison d'etre," said Smith.
Smith, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, will join fellow bishops from around the world at the Vatican in October for the Synod on the New Evangelization.
An advocate of new technologies, Smith spoke on the New Evangelization at the Association of Roman Catholic Communicators of Canada (ARCCC) conference May 11 at Edmonton's Providence Renewal Centre.
The overall theme of the conference was A Primer on the New Evangelization: Discerning the Role of Catholic Communications Professionals.
Smith said today's evangelizing communicators must understand the message, understand themselves in relation to that message and also understand the audience.
Catholic communicators are evangelizing to many different groups of people - to those in the pews, those who have left the Church and those who have always been outside of the Church.
Two-thirds of North and South Americans are Catholic. Among Canadians, 48 per cent identify themselves as Catholic.
"If everyone of those two-thirds in the Western Hemisphere, if every one of those 48 per cent embraced the call of what it means to be Catholic, embraced the call to make their lives a sacrifice to God, embraced the call to be lay apostles transforming the world, would we be facing the difficulties and societal problems that we are currently facing? Well, I think not," said Smith.
An example of a New Evangelization initiative in the Edmonton Archdiocese is Nothing More Beautiful, aimed at spreading the message nothing is more beautiful than being a follower of Christ.
Smith said people living an achievable Christian life is the most effective means of evangelizing. "The Christian life is not something beyond us. It is something that is essentially livable and something to which we are all called."
Human life is full of questions, and Jesus is the answer to every question of human life. Evangelization must be directed to where people are struggling. It must focus on their questions, their concerns and their fears, and bring to all of that the hope of the Gospel.
A common challenge in evangelizing, said Smith, is recommending a whole new diet. The secularist world feeds on hedonism, individualism and consumerism. But when Catholics announce the Gospel, they are proposing a whole new diet, a smorgasbord of wonderful food, a diet of self-sacrifice, love for one another, peace, justice and solidarity.
"When you put out the diet of the Gospel, people who are accustomed to another cuisine are going to recoil. Our rule is to be seen merrily gobbling down this truth of the Gospel, so by our witness others will say, 'maybe there's something to this,'" said Smith.
The Church's inaccessible language is another challenge. The language barrier makes for limited attention and fragmented dialogue. Other common challenges in evangelizing include conveying the need for silence and the need for authentic witness.
"How do we find ways to communicate the joys of the Christian life at a time when the prevailing idea that's out there is that Christianity is nothing but a set of burdensome negations?" asked Smith. "It is one 'no' after another."
Smith countered that idea with Pope Benedict's joyful perspective that Christianity is a set of wings that sets us free.