By David Kerr
Pope Benedict XVI is urging the Church in Australia to evangelize all Australians, not simply those who are Catholic.
“It is urgent to ensure that all those entrusted to your care understand, embrace and propose their Catholic faith intelligently and willingly to others,” the Pope told the Australian bishops in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, Oct. 20.
In this way, said the Pope, Australian Catholics will “give such an account of your faith by word and example that it will be convincing and attractive,” particularly to people of good will who, “seeing your witness, will respond naturally to the truth, the goodness and the hope that you embody.”
The bishops of Australia are currently in Rome for their “ad limina” meeting with the Pope, which is taking place Oct. 10-22. During those days the issue of “new evangelization” has figured in several discussions with curial officials and Pope Benedict himself.
“That’s the great challenge – for us to become a more missionary church,” Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Canberra told CNA on Oct. 19.
“Our parish communities have to become not just pastoral centers but evangelizing centers,” he said, suggesting that now is not the time to “circle the wagons” but “roll the wagons out into new territory.”
Next year, the Archdiocese of Sydney will run a television campaign based upon the U.S. Church’s “Catholic Come Home” initiative – with a particular focus on promoting Catholic schools and reaching non-Catholics.
Cardinal George Pell explained to CNA, “(w)e are hoping to do more by way of the new evangelization, taking out the message of Jesus Christ to the wider public rather than just concentrating on our own.”
The Pope said that in their efforts to reach out to the three-quarters of Australians who are not Catholic, the Church down under is building upon “two special moments of grace in recent years.”
The first was the 2008 World Youth Day gathering in Sydney. The Pope noted that “one of the outstanding consequences of the event” is the increase in the number of young people who are discerning vocations to the priesthood and the religious life.
“You should therefore continue to foster that radical attachment to the person of Jesus Christ,” he told the bishops, “whose attraction inspires them to give their lives completely to him and to the service of the Gospel in the Church.”
The second special moment was the 2010 canonization of St. Mary MacKillop, Australia’s first saint. “She is an example of holiness and dedication to Australians and to the Church throughout the world,” said the Pope.
In the late 19th century, St. Mary MacKillop founded a number of schools and charitable institutions throughout Australia and New Zealand, with a particular emphasis on the education of the poor in rural areas. But her life had its share of difficulties, including being excommunicated by her local bishop in Adelaide for several months.
Pope Benedict pointed Australian Catholics to Saint Mary MacKillop’s “courageous response” to the difficulties she faced and said it should inspire them “as they confront the new evangelization and serious challenges to the spread of the Gospel in society as a whole.”
Her legacy, he suggested, should inspire “sound catechesis for children,” as well as “much-needed catechetical programs for adults” and “ongoing formation” for clergy and religious.
The Pope also encouraged the bishops to honestly and openly work to repair the damage caused by the clerical abuse scandal.
His final exhortation to the Australian bishops was that they embrace and promote the new translation of the Mass in English.
“Make every effort to help catechists and musicians in their respective preparations to render the celebration of the Roman Rite in your Dioceses a moment of greater grace and beauty, worthy of the Lord and spiritually enriching for everyone,” said Pope Benedict.
He concluded by telling the bishops that through such prayer and initiatives “you will lead the Church in Australia towards her heavenly home under the sign of the Southern Cross.”