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2. Confused - about Evangelisation


Perhaps you might ask what evangelization is and how it differs from mission. After all you might have heard about missionaries who went to Asia or Africa to proclaim the Gospel and to instruct those who are ignorant of the message of Christ and the doctrines of the church. You also might have come across words, such as mission statement etc. But what is evangelization?

What Is Evangelization?

The word evangelization takes its original meaning from the Greek verb evangelizathai. In the imperial ancient Greece, this word is invested with an active-salvific connotation. As such, it exclusively designates the proclamation of the imperial message which contains the liberating words for those who were subjected to the emperor. Evangelization is the proclamation of the liberating good news issued by the emperor.

The verb evangelizathai appears often in Luke, Acts and in the letters of St. Paul. In Luke 4:18 and 7:22, Jesus is anointed with the Holy Spirit to proclaim the kingdom of God and to evangelize the poor. In this context, St. Paul praised the evangeliser with these words: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news!” [Rom 10:15]. Hence, Paul himself felt the pressure on him as he continued to write: “Woe to me if I do not evangelize.” ( 1 Cor 9:16).

In summary, evangelization is the process through which one proclaims the power of the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. Of course, evangelists are not left alone without the gifts and charisms of the Holy Spirit. They are sent by the risen Christ and endowed with a corresponding gift from the Holy Spirit.

Evangelization In The Past

From the Middle Ages onwards, evangelization was often associated with catechetical instruction and the pastoral care was mostly focus on the members of the church. Mission by religious groups to Asia and other parts of the world was aimed more at the increase of their membership by founding more houses and monasteries in those countries. The goal was to preserve the existence of the orders by passing on their traditions and rules. Thus the good news becomes interchangeable with traditions. It was more important to preserve traditions than faith. Evangelization in its true sense was only a secondary task.   

However, traditions which do not enter into the hearts of the people remain only external. It was only a question of time that traditions soon became antiquated and obsolete.  

It is only in the 1950s – at a time when Europe became more and more secularized and thus de-traditionalised – that evangelization re-entered in the Catholic conscience. It is now understood as a process of revitalization of the faith in the minds and hearts of a de-christianized Europe. So the Church is now busy with this question: How can we bring faith into the hearts of the people?  

The saintly Pope John XXIII who convoked the Council of Vatican II in 1962 defined the goal of evangelization as a process through which the evangelisers would “bring the modern world into contact with the vivifying and perennial energies of the Gospel.” The church, as he saw it, should not only concern with instructions. He appealed to Catholics to demonstrate that the church is “always living and always young, which feels the rhythm of the times and which in every century beautifies herself with new splendour, radiates new light, and achieves new conquests. The world should not be conquered by threats and condemnation, but through beneficence and gentle persuasion.

In following his predecessor, Pope Francis now invites all of us to re-discover the joy of the Gospel through a personal encounter with Jesus. He writes: “Whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realise that He is already there, waiting for us with open arms….with a tenderness which never disappoints, but always capable of restoring our joy.”

Who Should Be Evangelized?

There were many Catholics who were opposed to the Pope’s call for evangelization. They felt that there was no need for such a thing. Evangelisation needs to aim more at non-Christians because Christians enjoy the promise of salvation by Christ. Is there no need for Catholic to be evangelized? Are we not already baptized? And haven’t we all heard the Gospel of Christ? Do we attend mass each Sunday? Although Catholics may have been catechized and heard the Gospel and know the doctrines of the church, yet many Catholics have never captured the basic Christian vision. They know the church’s traditions, but they seem never to have encountered the living Christ. Many Catholics pray but seem never to enter into an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. Many understand the logic of faith but this faith logic appears not to have settled in their hearts. Although many Catholics attend the mass, yet the mysteries of the Eucharist seem still to be alien to their daily lives. Many Catholics believe that they are disciples of Christ. Yet, Jesus predicted that many disciples will run away from him when they will see him hanging on the cross. Some disciples even sold him for money. What Jesus called is that disciples become his friends? Because there is no greater love than this, that a friend lay down his life for his friends (John 15:23).

Fr. Joseph Lam, PhD STD