President for the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization Archbishop Fisichella gave the introduction to the International Conference on Catechesis, September 26–28, 2013. Here it is translated into English for our subscribers.
The subject matter at the heart of the two terms in question—new evangelization and catechesis—has been discussed on many occasions in prestigious venues and documents that have left their mark on the history of catechesis. Our sole aim here is to highlight the concerns that have been raised and the directions, which may be taken in the near future. I like to situate these reflections upon the stage of Pope Paul VI’s Evangelii nuntiandi, because in fact his Apostolic Exhortation focuses the issues in the immediate wake of the Council: “A means of evangelization that must not be neglected is that of catechetical instruction. The intelligence, especially that of children and young people, needs to learn through systematic religious instruction the fundamental teachings, the living content of the truth, which God has wished to convey to us and which the Church has sought to express in an ever richer fashion during the course of her long history. No one will deny that this instruction must be given to form patterns of Christian living and not to remain only notional. Truly the effort for evangelization will profit greatly- at the level of catechetical instruction” (Evangelii nuntiandi, 44). In order to more directly examine this programmatic text, it is worth recalling, first of all, the context in which this Apostolic Exhortation was developed. The Pope, in effect, identified certain privileged means necessary for carrying out evangelization. He centered the focus on “how to evangelize” (Evangelii nuntiandi, 40), emphasizing that Christian witness is the foremost sign of all genuine work of evangelization.
It is in this context that we further read this paradigmatic expression: “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses” (Evangelii nuntiandi, 41). He added, however, that the proclamation of the Gospel is the determining factor in effective evangelization, all the while underscoring the importance of the new culture steadily crowding onto the horizon, the effects of which can be readily ascertained today. The Pope spoke of the “civilization of the image”, which has risen to predominance over the word. On this stage of evangelizing preaching, Paul VI gave primacy of the Word of God, particularly in the framework of the liturgy, highlighting the fundamental importance of paying all due attention to the homily, so as to reclaim the full pastoral effectiveness of this privileged means of evangelization.
Reconstruction of this context permits us to view catechesis as inserted in service, above all, to the Word of God, which is proclaimed, as one particular stage in the evangelization process. To forget this aspect is to distort what catechesis is, making it inconsistent with the pastoral plan of the Church, and thus, impoverishing the pledge to evangelize.