What is the “new evangelisation”?

The term “new evangelisation” has gained much currency in the Australian Church and indeed throughout the world since Pope Saint John Paul II adopted it on his return from the Latin American Bishops Conference at Puebla, Mexico in 1979.

But what does it mean?

As I’ve noted previously, the term first emerged at the Second General Conference of the Latin American Bishops at Medellin, Colombia in 1968, a conference devoted to the implementation of Vatican II in the region.

In the Message to the Latin American peoples issued by this conference, the bishops proposed a set of commitments to “the entire People of God,” one of which was encouraging “a new evangelisation.”:

Inspire, encourage and urge a new order of justice that incorporates all men in the management of their own communities;

Promote the constitution and the virtualities of the family, not only as a sacramental human community but also as an intermediate structure in function of social change;

Dynamise education, to accelerate the training of mature men in their responsibilities of the present hour;

Promote professional organisations for workers, decisive actors in socio-economic transformation;

Encourage a new evangelisation and intensive catechesis that reach the elites and the masses to achieve a lucid and committed faith;

Renew and create new structures in the Church that institutionalise dialogue and facilitate collaboration between bishops, priests, religious, and laity;

Collaborate with other Christian confessions, and with all people of good will who are committed to an authentic peace, rooted in justice and love.

In other words, the “new evangelisation” fits into an overall conception of the role of the Church in the world. And what is this conception? The answer is found in the 16 Medellin documents, each of which is organised as a see-judge-act.

Part I, which deals with “Human promotion,” contains a series of documents on justice, peace, family, education as well as on catechesis and liturgy.

Part II, which is devoted to “The visible Church and its structures,” then sets out of the role of various groups in the Church in working for this human promotion.

The mission of the laity

Significantly, Part II begins not with a chapter on the bishops and priests but with a chapter (Chapter X) on the role of lay people, indeed with the role of lay people organised in lay movements.

And what is the role of these lay people organised in lay movements? Chapter X offers a very clear vision of the mission of lay people in building the world:

8. The laity, like all members of the Church, participate in the triple prophetic, priestly and royal role of Christ, in view of the fulfillment of his ecclesial mission. But they specifically carry out this mission in the realm of the temporal, in order to construct history, “managing temporal affairs and ordering them according to God.”

9. The typically secular is constituted, in effect, by commitment to the world, understood as a framework of human solidarity, as a web of significant events and events, in a word, as history.

Now, to commit oneself is to actively ratify the solidarity in which every man is immersed, assuming tasks of human promotion along the lines of a certain social project.

The commitment thus understood, must be marked in Latin America by the peculiar circumstances of its present historical moment, by a sign of liberation, humanization and development.

It goes without saying that the laity enjoys their own autonomy and responsibility in the option of their temporary commitment. This is how the Gaudium et spes recognizes it when it says that the laity “aware of the demands of the faith and invigorated with their energies, undertake without hesitation, when necessary, new initiatives and bring them to fruition … Do not think that your pastors they are always in a position to immediately give them a concrete solution to all the questions, even serious ones, that arise. This is not their mission. Rather, the laity fulfill their own function in the light of Christian wisdom and with the careful observance of doctrine. of the Magisterium “.

And, as the final appeal of Populorum Progressio says, “It is up to the laity, with their free initiative and without passively waiting for slogans and directives, to penetrate with a Christian spirit the mentality and customs, laws and structures of the community in which they live.”

In other words, the “new evangelisation” as understood by the Latin American bishops at Medellin offers a holistic vision beginning with an emphasis on the role of lay people – lay apostles – and their role in human promotion understood as having both a human and Christian dimension.

Old versus new methods

If the document speaks about “new evangelisation,” what then was the “old evangelisation”? The Medellin documents do not offer a complete description of these old methods. However, what Document X, Lay Movements” says in this context is quite significant:

Let us recall, once again, the characteristics of the current moment of our peoples in the social order: from the objective point of view, a situation of underdevelopment, betrayed by massive phenomena of marginality, alienation and poverty, and ultimately conditioned , by structures of economic, political and cultural dependency with respect to the industrialized metropolises that hold the monopoly of technology and science (neocolonialism). From the subjective point of view, the awareness of this same situation, which provokes in broad sectors of the Latin American population attitudes of protest and aspirations for liberation, development and social justice.

This complex reality historically places Latin American laity in the face of the challenge of a liberating and humanizing commitment.

3. On the other hand, modernization reflects the most dynamic sectors of Latin American society, accompanied by increasing modernization and urban agglomeration, manifests itself in phenomena of mobility, socialization and division of labor. Such phenomena have the effect of the growing importance of groups and functional environments – based on work, profession or function -, compared to traditional neighborhood or territorial communities.

Said functional means constitute in our days the most important decision-making centers in the process of social change, and the foci where the conscience of the community is condensed to the maximum.

These new conditions of life force lay movements in Latin America to accept the challenge of a commitment to presence, permanent adaptation and creativity.

The insufficient response to these challenges and, especially, the inadequacy of the new ways of life that characterize the dynamic sectors of our society, largely explain the different forms of crisis that affect the lay apostolate movements. .

Indeed, they did a decisive job in their time. But, due to later circumstances, they either closed in on themselves, or unduly clung to structures that were too rigid, or did not know how to properly place their apostolate in the context of a liberating historical commitment.

On the other hand, many of them do not reflect a compact sociological milieu, nor have they perhaps adopted the most appropriate organization and pedagogy for an apostolate of presence and commitment in the functional environments where, to a large extent, the process of social change takes place.

So the problem with the older lay apostolate movements then is the fact that they do not respond to the problems experienced by the Latin American peoples or to various sociological changes, e.g. moving away from traditional territorially-bound communities to more “functional” settings, e.g. workplace, etc. In other words, unlike the Specialised Catholic Action movements, they “do not reflect a compact sociological milieu.”

English Translation

Well, there’s obviously a lot more that could be about the Medellin conception of the new evangelisation.

For the moment, however, here is a working English translation of the Medellin documents – mainly a Google translation with some corrections by myself. For those who are able to read Spanish, nothing of course beats reading the original. For further reading, see the articles by Rafael Luciani (links below).

Second General Conference of the Latin American Episcopate

Final documents of Medellín

Message for the peoples of Latin America


Part I – Human promotion

I. Justice

II. Peace

III. Family and demography

IV. Education

V. Young people

VI. Pastoral work with the people

VII. Pastoral work with the elites

VIII. Catechesis

IX. Liturgy

Part II – The visible Church and its structures

X. Lay movements

XI. Priests

XII. Religious

XIII. Formation of clergy

XIV. The poverty of the Church

XV. Collective pastoral work

XVI. Social communications media

Jocist influence

In reading the Medellin documents, it’s hard to overlook the evident jocist influence: the see-judge-act, the lay apostolate, the roles of the elite and the masses, the transformation of the milieu, the importance of priests as chaplains or counsellors, and of course, lay movements organised on the basis of various milieux.

This of course is unsurprising, given the roles of  Helder Camara, Eduardo Pironio, Leonidas Proaño, Marcos McGrath and many other bishops who had been jocist chaplains and close collaborators of Cardijn, including at Vatican II.

Indeed, it’s clear that at Medellin, the “new evangelisation” was fundamentally based on Cardijn’s jocist method.

Stefan Gigacz


Documentos finales de Medellín (Ensayistas)

Rafael Luciani, Medellín Fifty Years Later:From Development to Liberation (Theological Studies2018, Vol. 79(3) 566 –589) / Academia

Rafael Luciani, From social unity to the pastoral activity of the People of God – The contribution of the conference of Medellin in Thomas Kelly and Bob Pennington, Bridge Building, Pope Francis’ Practical Approach,

Stefan Gigacz, Liberation and the New Evangelisation (Cardijn Research)

Stefan Gigacz, The Leaven in the Council


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