Q&A on the synod for new evangelization

The 25th Synod of Bishops began Sunday, this one dedicated to “The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith.” New evangelization is the apple of Pope Benedict XVI’s eye, so the synod, held every couple of years or so since 1967, is being touted by the Vatican, along with the Year of Faith that opens Oct. 11, as the biggest happening of the fall.

In all honesty, at least from a media point of view, it’s not even the biggest Vatican event happening right now. That distinction belongs to the trial of Paolo Gabriele, the former papal butler charged with being the mole at the heart of the Vatican leaks scandal. An initial verdict could come as early as Saturday.

Yet the synod is nonetheless worth tracking, especially given the theme. (For those not fluent in Catholic-speak, “evangelization” refers to missionary outreach. We’ll get to the “new” part below.) Here are three good reasons why:

  • Particularly in places where Catholicism traditionally has been strong, evangelization is a real challenge. In Latin America, the church has sustained massive losses to Pentecostal and evangelical Christianity, estimated at 8,000 defections per day during the 1990s; in the United States, Catholicism has a higher retention rate than other Christian denominations, but a lower recruitment rate, and would be losing ground without Hispanic immigration.
  • Synods are always a valuable sounding board for the realities of the church in various parts of the world — sort of a graduate seminar in being part of a global family of faith.
  • Synods are also a bit like the Iowa caucuses of Catholicism, a chance for up-and-coming leaders to break out of the crowd, often with one eye on the next papal election.

This synod will run Oct. 7-28. I’ll be in Rome for most of that time covering it, so watch the NCR website for regular reports. In the meantime, here’s a basic primer. Read more


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