Pope Benedict XVI has to parcel out his time in
such small bits that even heads of state normally get no more than a brief 20
minutes’ audience. But after the Holy Father announced the creation of the
Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization in June 2010, he
conferred with his appointee for president for a full two-and-a-half hours.
This fact alone in an indication of the importance the Holy Father attaches to
this endeavor. The man called upon to shoulder this responsibility is
Archbishop Salvatore “Rino” Fisichella, former president of the Pontifical
Academy for Life and the prelate known to have been Pope John Paul II’s
mainstay in drawing up the 1998 encyclical Fides
interviewed Archbishop Fisichella in his Rome office, located in a building
that houses many different pontifical councils, on the broad street that leads
from a bridge over the Tiber River all the way up to St. Peter’s Basilica.
Excellency, what has brought Western society to such an utter
de-Christianization as to necessitate starting all over again with a “new evangelization”?
Fisichella: The reasons are many, but one of the most important isas Pope
Benedict has often pointed outsecularization, combined with a lack of
confidence in seeking out truth, and therefore with the ensuing relativistic
vision of life.
Nihilism has seeped into society so quietly
that, in the past, the Church did not perceive it as an actual challenge, focusing
rather on Marxism. But while Marxism was building social structures, nihilism
was permeating people’s behavior. This makes it much more difficult to get
people to understand many things.
your personal experience, prepared you to work for this Council for the New
Fisichella: Well, my 20 years as a teacher of fundamental theology at the
Gregorian University were good training. One of the subjects I taught was
finding ways and words to present the Christian message to our contemporaries.
In the past few months, as I was moving into my new office, I came across many
useful notes and texts of lectures I have worked on in this regard.
about your years as chaplain to Italy’s Parliament?
Fisichella: The 15 years in which Parliament was my “parish,” so to speak,
gave me an exceptional opportunity to deal, as a priest, with people who can
make a difference in the life of a country. I had to work with them in their
everyday life, meet their families, celebrate their weddings, baptize their
children, and, of course, assist them in times of grief at the death of loved
This experience provides insight into the
importance that the Church must have in society: where they make laws, in a
democracy, they must listen to the voice of all the people, including to those
who represent religion, because laws do not only force behaviors but inevitably
create a culture and a mentality that cannot be ignored.
already started your activities in this new council?
Fisichella: Actually, my first priority is not doing, but thinking and
sharingactivities that are indispensible to providing a basis for creating.
After all, it was only last October 12, with the publication of Benedict’s apostolic
letter Ubicumque et Semper, that
the Council was even founded. Nevertheless we have indeed taken a few steps,
and we have our first seminar to show for it, which involved 30 or so experts
from our sphere of action.
you mean by “sphere of action”? Can evangelization be limited to a certain
Fisichella: Well, the sphere of action of the Church is, of course, the
whole world. But in his apostolic letter, Pope Benedict directed our attention
to the churches of ancient traditions, the ones that are in the lands that have
experienced Christianity for centuries. In geographical terms this refers to the
“first” and “second” world: Europe, North America, South America, Australia,
about the Arab countries? Are they excluded?
Fisichella: Not at all. At the Synod on the Middle East the bishops
specifically asked for a new evangelization! I have received visits and
requests from bishops of India and Africa.
seek missionaries then?
Fisichella: Evangelization is always done by missionaries. And they
are already out there. Pope John Paul II promoted the new evangelization for 27
years. He first used the term on his very first visit to Poland after he became
pope, and then again in Medellin, in Latin America, when he said, “It
is not a matter of re-evangelizing but of a new evangelization.” This
is why we are in the process of studying how to proceed. Our particular
contribution is first and foremost to the bishops’ conferences, because the
bishops are those who know these countries best.
Subsequently, of course, the new evangelization
is supposed to become the ordinary modus
of everyday pastoral work, capable of involving the entire life of the Church,
with a view to challenging the missionary spirit of Christians.
rely on the laity?
Fisichella: First and foremost comes the bishop: he is the prime
evangelizer. Then comes the entire body of the Church, in unity with him:
deacons, laity, and consecrated people. We draw no distinction between
laypeople and priests and nuns: all Christians must take part, because the call
to evangelize derives from our very baptism.
the difference between the new and the old evangelizaton?
Fisichella: Well, for starters, the new evangelization is not going to pass
judgment on what has been done thus far. The Church has always evangelized, but
in order to be effective we need to examine the context we find ourselves in.
We assuredly won’t be doing the exact same things in Italy as in France or
Germany, and we won’t be doing things in the same way in Europe as in North
America and in South America, because ecclesial traditions vary, and the
challenges even within the same type of situations can require different
The content, of course, will always be the same:
we announce Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today, and always; Jesus
Christ who died and rose from the dead, who gives hope and sense to life. But
this announcement, which the Church has carried on for 2,000 years, must
address the queries and expectations of women and men today, which aren’t what
they were in the 19th century because of the challenges to human life with
which we are confronted [today]. Abortion, genetic selection, laws that
threaten innocent life and themselves make a difference in the culture…. The
good news we announce must be consistent with a Christian lifestyle. It must be
a challenge to those who think they’re Christian but don’t live a Christian
you, are the primary obstacles that the new evangelization has to overcome?
Fisichella: The first difficulty consists in the possibility of being
misunderstood in our attempts to reinvigorate the spirit of Christians, in
our efforts to enable them to truly be themselves and to understand that
without a sense of belonging to the Church one can’t really build a true
identity as a believer. The main focus, however, isn’t on the obstacles, which
have always been part and parcel with announcing the Gospel for the past 2,000
years, but on giving our “reason for hope” and on maintaining a credible
lifestyle in the eyes of those who approach us and ask for help in seeking out
the meaning of their lives. It is a great challenge, but that is why the Pope
has confronted the problem with great provident care.
have anything specific in store for the United States?
Fisichella: At this time, America is showing great pastoral dynamism,
thanks above all to bishops who refuse to be cowed or silenced in public
debates, particularly with regards to laws in the area of life. This means
shouldering responsibility for young people and future generations. If we allow
laws to be passed that trivialize life and death, it will be the future
generations who will bear the consequences.
On the other hand, I also see that there are new
challenges for the United States, which is undergoing momentous
transformations. These are also brought about by the people from Latin America,
who bring with them their religiosity, so that the North American tradition is
mingling with the popular tradition of Latin America: two types of religiosity,
creating a past and a present.
counting on a particular profile or figure to be the torch bearers of the new evangelization,
such as deacons, for example?
Fisichella: We are not singling out particular figures but we are preparing
a map of [groups] that have been involved for some time in the new
evangelization. One that comes to mind, in the United States, is FOCUS, a
foundation set up by a young married couple, who have attracted thousands and
thousands of new members. They bring the new evangelization to campuses. Young
people for young people.
Many bishops come to mind who are also active in
the field. The latest is the archbishop of Washington, Donald Wuerl, who
dedicated his pastoral letter last October to the subject. There are also many,
many contexts; many…priests, deacons, and laypeople who already live out the
new evangelization; many movements linked to bishops, many pro-life
movements that are doing work in the field of an authentic promotion of life.
And we are witnessing the fruit in the many conversions that are coming about.
the Courtyard of the Gentiles [currently organized by the Pontifical Council
for Culture with the goal of engaging non-believers] have been a part of this pontifical
Fisichella: No, it has a different goal: that of allowing people who
profess atheism to find some answers. The people we intend to address are
lapsed Christians, the ones who have become distant and indifferentthe ones
who think they know all about Christianity, while they actually don’t even know
the ABCs. And as a matter of fact, one of our tasks is promoting the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and [demonstrating]
how the Catechism has been used in
the 20 years since it came out. So, we have different objectives, but our
motivation is the same.