Catholics urged to evangelize

Vatican official speaks at Saint Vincent College

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For much of his speech, the high-ranking Vatican official spoke in deliberate tones in a pronounced Italian accent, calling for Catholics to spread their message to those who have grown indifferent, jaded or even hostile to the faith.

But at one point, Archbishop Rino Fisichella put aside his printed text, took off his reading glasses and made piercing eye contact with his audience of hundreds at Saint Vincent College.

He recalled how in the biblical book of Acts, the label "Christian" was first applied to a faith community in the multi-ethnic city of Antioch.

"The first community in Antioch was 25 people, and they have been immediately recognized by everybody for their style of life," he said, gesturing to emphasize his pulsing words. "They are 'Christians' immediately."

He continued: "This is my problem. Today we are 1 billion, 200 million Catholics, and do they recognize us as Christians? As Catholics? ... We [conform to] the style of life of this world and the world doesn't recognize us anymore. It's very simple. For this reason we need the new evangelization."

And with those words, Archbishop Fisichella summed up his own mission -- and that of his audience.

Originally appointed by now-Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Archbishop Fisichella heads the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization -- a concept he said is equally affirmed by Pope Francis and was endorsed by previous popes over the past half-century.

The concept, he said, is to present the ancient faith in new ways to people who have heard it all before and haven't bought in.

Archbishop Fisichella spoke at the annual Pope Benedict XVI lecture at Saint Vincent, drawing a standing-room crowd at the college's Fred Rogers Center.

He told the crowd many developed countries with a historic Catholic presence have become highly secularized.

"Many people lack an experience of God's goodness," he said. "They no longer find any point of contact with the main churches and their traditional structures."

Many modern people, he said, quoting a philosopher, don't even "recognize absence of God as an absence" in their lives.

But the answer, he said, is not to hector people with the gospel message but to demonstrate it in one's own life.

"Are we to yield to the pressure of secularization by watering down the faith?" he asked. "It is not by watering the faith down but by living it in its fullness that we achieve this. ... The world needs to recognize the disciples of Christ."

Peter Smith: or 412-263-1416.

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