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Deacons, the Church in America and the New Evangelization

3/9/2003 - 4:15 PM PST

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By: Deacon Keith A Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC

Throughout his service to the Lord, the Church and the world into which it is called, the Vicar of Christ, Pope John Paul II, has called for a “New Evangelization.” This clarion call has gone out to the whole Church - which desperately needs a new evangelization - and to the contemporary culture, which has been deeply de-christianized. The two aspects of the one call are profoundly connected.

The Church, reeling under a season of purification, desperately needs conversion at every level. The contemporary culture has also clearly lost its way. Throughout all of his writings, in his homilies, catechetical instructions and addresses, the Pope has made it clear that cultures, formerly infused with a Christian culture, are now "post-Christian" and need to be "re-evangelized." Only a holy, vibrant faith filled Church can bring a culture of death and darkness to transformation.

Given the strong influence of Christian faith in the past in the whole region known as “the Americas” and the current state of moral decline in our nation and indeed in all of North and South America, it is not hard to identify the entirety of the American continent now as "missionary territory". As a Catholic deacon, I have come to believe that deacons can play a pivotal role in this new evangelization of culture, serving as we do with one foot in the sanctuary and the other in the street.

Deacons are not priests. Yet, we are no longer laymen either. We are an order of clergy called into the world to represent and “incarnate” the presence of Christ the Servant on behalf of His Church. Most of us are very close to the daily realities of the lay faithful, living and working in “secular” professions. Most of us are married with children and we understand the unique vocation of Christian family. We can serve as a "bridge" between the Church and the culture in this new evangelization.

When the Pope last visited the Americas just before the turn of the millennium he addressed this challenge to the entire Church in America: “The new Evangelization calls for a clearly conceived, serious and well organized effort to evangelize culture. The Son of God, by taking upon Himself our human nature, became incarnate within a particular people, even though His redemptive death brought redemption to all people, of every culture, race and condition. The gift of His Spirit and His love are meant for each and every people and culture, in order to bring them all into unity after the perfect unity existing in the Triune God” (Pope John Paul II, Ecclesia in America, 70).

This was the last time we hosted the Holy Father on the shores of America. During this historic visit to Mexico, Pope John Paul II, continued this clarion call to all of the faithful to engage in this “New Evangelization” of the culture. On 22 January 1999, the very day that he arrived in Mexico, he signed this apostolic exhortation, Ecclesia in America (The Church in America). This exhortation has laid out a missionary challenge to all of the faithful throughout the entire American continent.

This Exhortation and the issues that it addressed flowed out of a series of meetings held in Rome in 1998 from 16 November to 12 December, by the “Special Assembly for America of the Synod of Bishops.” “To the Church in America” was the Pope’s response to the assembly and directions to the faithful in America.

The document is a serious, detailed, specific missionary blueprint. It speaks to “America” as one continent, including North, Central, and South America—and the Caribbean islands. He writes to “the Bishops, priests and deacons, men and women religious, and all the lay faithful on the encounter with the living Jesus Christ: the way to conversion, communion and solidarity in America”.

His message is clear; we are all called to live out our baptismal vocation in lives of sacrificial service on behalf of the world. He asks all of the faithful, men, and women, lay, clergy and religious, ALL of the faithful to view ourselves as missionaries and to understand that the mission of the Church is OUR mission. It is not reserved for a group of “professionals” but is the task incumbent on all of the faithful. We are first sons and daughters of the Church, which is a seed of the Kingdom, in the midst of this world.

Since the Second Vatican Council, the consistent emphasis of the Catholic Church has been on the fundamental truth that the Church is by nature missionary and that every baptized Christian participates in that missionary activity. Our task, no matter what our state in life or vocation, is to be missionaries, in every nation and to every culture. That understanding lies at the heart of what it means to be Christians - we carry on the redemptive mission of Jesus Christ in time.

In the ancient Christian manuscript entitled ...

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