By Elvis s.x.

On November 28, 2012, the Loyola School of Theology (LST) organized a theological Hour with the theme YEAR OF FAITH and NEW EVANGELIZATION. The speaker was Fr. Catalino G. Arevalo s.j, Professor Emeritus of LST, major contributor at the FABC and Dean of Filipino theologians.

Fr. Arevalo began by underlining 3 different aspects of Evangelization as given by Pope Benedict XVI in his speech at the opening of the Synod. The first is Evangelization as bringing the presence of Christ to groups to whom Christ has never been addressed (mission ad gentes). Secondly, it is the “ongoing Evangelization” as the pastoral life of the Church in different parishes. And third, evangelization as addressing those who have been baptized but have gone astray or distanced themselves, thus, losing contact with the Church.

According to our speaker, the discourses of Pope Benedict XVI up to the opening of the synod used to focus on the third aspect of evangelization, namely, those who abandon the Church. However, from the Synod’s conclusion on, the discourse changed significantly by referring to New Evangelization as something that ought to encompass all the aspects mission.

“The beginning of New Evangelization goes back to Vatican II”, said the speaker, then to Paul VI in his Evangelii Nuntiandi Encyclical Letter, recently to Pope John Paul II in the” triennial”(1998-1999-2000) for a renewed evangelization to proclaim the faith in this contemporary world and finally to the current pope.

One could ask why these two popes (John Paul II and Benedict XVI) are very much concerned with New Evangelization? The straight answer is that faith is dying in the West. The speaker provided some concrete statistics of shrinking Catholicism in some European countries such as Ireland, France and Italy. According to him, the situation is quite discouraging. Even though in some parts of the world such as Africa and Asia Christianity is increasing, the reality is still worrisome. Never in the history of humanity there have been so many people without being evangelized like there are now in the Asian continent.

Talking specifically of the Philippines, he said that the CBCP(Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines) chose 4 priorities for this Year of Faith:

  1. This year is tied up with the beginning of the nine-year-novena for the 500th anniversary (2021) of the arrival of the first missionaries in the Philippines. The CBCP is looking forward to making an integral formation on faith, since Filipinos has a special mission to propagate Faith in Asia especially through overseas workers.
  2. The Filipino Church has to be a Church of the Poor. Here he quoted Archibishop Socrates Villegas in one of his interventions during the last synod of bishops: “…Our experience in the Third World tells me that the Gospel can be preached to empty stomachs but only if the stomach of the preacher is as empty as his parishioners’.” The Church of the Philippines has to rediscover this call of being close to the poor and stand with and for them.
  3. The third of this year’s goal is to reach out to the people who have left the Church. According to the speaker, many people are leaving the Church and almost nobody cares about it. Most of us are unaware of what is going on, maybe because most of the Churches are always full but the reality is that the Church is losing many of her children. Fr. Arevalo asked the audience how many of us have brought back someone who had left the Church. Only 3 or 4 people, out of an audience of hundreds, raised their hands.
  4. The fourth goal is the outreach to the young people. According to the speaker, 52% of the Filipino population is below the age of 25. The reality is that the Church is not reaching them because only 6% are receiving an adequate religious formation. “The loss of the young is terrible!” He mentioned what Cardinal Tagle said in the last synod of bishops about a young Filipino woman who came and asked: “Have I lost the Church or has the Church lost me?” The most frightening thing is that less than 10% of the youth go to mass on Sundays. The 90% of youth do not go to mass are the adults of tomorrow.

One of the great challenges for the Philippine Church is to attribute the proper value and nurture constructively all the richness of popular devotions. They are a significant component of the Filipino religiosity and faith. To an immense number of people, in fact, their encounter with Jesus happens through their devotions to Black Nazarene, Sto. Niño, Sacred Heart, Divine Mercy, Legion of Mary, etc.

Since when the Pope announced that this would be the Year of Faith there has been a significant move in the most of the Philippine dioceses to focus on and strengthen catechetical formation with the aim of leading people to a better understanding of our faith. For Fr. Arevalo, who is a renowned theologian, such effort still misses the point. What really matters is that people have an encounter with a person and that person is Jesus Christ.

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