The layman’s contribution to the New Evangelization in Africa – Spirituality

Msgr Peter KIHARA – Bishop of Muranga

“You are the salt of the earth and you are the light of the world” (Mt 5:13-16) 
“New wine has to be poured into fresh wineskins”. (Lk 5:38)

My dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ: Christ thy Kingdom come!
To share with you dear delegates on the above topic, I have found inspiration from the above quotations of the scripture. Although Jesus directed them to the twelve disciples, they became open to all those who believe and follow him from the Pentecost event. It is then when he extended the missionary mandate not only to the apostles, but to all who would believe in Him. Hence, his mandate continues: “Go to the whole world and make disciples of all nations, baptise them… and teach them to keep all the commandments” (Mt 28:19).
Time and time again, the theme of the “New Evangelization” has hit our ears from the Holy Father’s speeches during his various journeys and pastoral Encyclicals. In spite of his poor state of health and age, he has not hesitated to remind us that the times and world social order have changed. As such he has been recommending new Pastoral approaches or methods so as to respond adequately to those needs. Most of these challenging needs are found on the direct field of the layperson. Since the harvest seems to become even ”richer than ever”, the layperson’s immediate contribution would be to provide the expected response and witness the Gospel more adequately than the ordained minister. (cf Mt 9:37-38).
For many centuries the Church has concentrated its attention to the formation of the clergy and religious and rightly so because of their role in the field of Evangelization. Thanks be to their contribution in guiding and inspiring the world order through the Gospel light. But more than even before, we are realizing that there are direct forces contrary to this light and its direction. The Church ministers and its mission are being denied and closed out of the decision-making forums. These create new world-order and civilizations whose progress is not based on the Gospel of truth and neither is it intended to promote the human person integrally. Some are open deceptions intended for material gain, others for short-term pleasure, search for unlimited freedom and power beyond the Creator’s will. This is the place and area of the layman’s contribution through life-witness.
So, in such social, political and economic situations whose consequences we witness and go through daily, we tend to question: how can the Church respond and give answers to these challenging demands? Or: has the “light become overcome by darkness?” Or even more: “has the salt lost its taste and become sour?” Since the driving force has shifted the attention from reaching God as the final Goal guided and inspired by the Gospel to Science and Technology whose final goal is man himself, the only living witness of Faith required and fittingly is that of a committed catholic lay-person. Jesus continues to stress that we “are salt of the earth”. Salt has the capacity to preserve, purify and flavour and so, by calling us “the salt of the earth”, Jesus wants us to preserve the human beauty and dignity, to purify it, and heal the painful wounds and bitterness caused by hatred and war, by healing relationships and putting the necessary flavour life. That is in spite of all the challenges that are creating hopelessness in life, the hidden image and likeness of God in man, his human value is still there and they should come first. The challenges we are facing in this new millenium are calling for a direct contribution of the layperson according to Vatican Council II, Church on Modern world, (GS 43)

How can the lay people contribute to the New Evangelization? 
By participating fully in the field of evangelization Formation in the various areas of Social Teaching of the Church. This means giving more importance to their Spiritual Formation so as to fully witness the Gospel values in their field of work and life. This will enlighten and empower them even more so as to play their fitting role in Evangelization more faithfully. There has been a shift of needs in the apostolic field such that the traditional pastoral methods and approaches seem out-dated. As the Vatican Council II has been calling for up-to-date renewal for almost fourty years, the response has been slow. But counting with the fervent faith, love and will to commit themselves even more in the apostolate, we feel that the Third Millenium is an open chance “to be the salt and light of the world” as they are called to be. Any delay will make us be over-taken by the events if we are not overtaken already! Well formed and informed about the mission ahead, the lay people will fittingly provide what the new world and social order requires to be Gospel inspired. (cf GS 42: “this religious mission can be the source of commitment, direction, and vigour to establish and consolidate the community of men according to the Law of God”).
What more can they do to hasten the mission of the New Evangelization? As the Holy Father reflects that… “faced with the great challenges of our time, we do not find some magic formula. No, we shall not be saved nor save the situations by a formula but by a Person, Christ who assures us: I am with you always, to the close of the age (Mt 28:20)”. And so the formula is in Christ whom we have known and believed in. Loving and imitating him, we shall “live the life of the Trinity and with him transform history until its fulfilment in the heavenly Jerusalem…This programme does not change with times and cultures… and it is our programme for the third Millenium” (cf NMI 29). 

What Spirituality is required for the New Evangelization in the New Millenium? 
It is one that will re-instate the Gospel values prioritizing their place in the person, the family and society at large. As in the early primitive Church when these values were allowed to become the driving force, new avenues will open and the Risen Lord will guide the programme as He has done it for two thousand years. 
I consider the following as the main characteristics of the Spirituality we require to be able to contribute fittingly to the New Evangelization to respond adequately to today’s needs:

1. Search for Holiness 
This was Jesus first Goal in His initial public ministry: “Be holy as your heavenly Father is holy”, attainable by repentance of sin (Mk 1:15). This call directed to every individual, family and communities, demands a personal response. It is an invitation that pre-supposes a new way of living and doing our apostolate today (cf Christifidelis Laici 17). This means we have to intensify our Catholic Action Motto to Prayer, Action and Sacrifice and live the Gospel in action, or to become living Gospels. A new beginning through the help of the Holy Spirit as the early Christian community whose living witness attracted many to their group day by day: “And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47b). 
The lay people’s commitment to the sanctity of life and work in their social, political and pastoral field is inevitable and makes a great contribution in deed to the new evangelization. I believe that given the right chance and formation, they will truly shine in life and work.

2. Prayer
The call to holiness is impossible to achieve by human strength and will and so, just as the disciples approached their master to teach them to pray, we too should learn to pray (Lk 11:1). Since Prayer is our daily commitment through which we offer the world and its needs, we should also learn to become more and more intimate friends with Jesus so that what we ask can be granted. He told his disciples to “abide in me and I in you” (Jn 15:4). The more intimate and the deeper the communion with Jesus, the more Christlike will our loving charity be to reach others and transform them as in the Gospels. The closer we are to God through prayer, the closer we shall be to our brothers and sisters offering them Jesus’ compassion transmitted by that communion. Hence, the higher we go vertically towards God in prayer, the closer we shall reach others horizontally. So, prayer inspires the action that follows it making it a living sacrifice offered to God with love. In this we shall be fully living our CA motto, the powerful force to move the challenging mountains in our personal, family and community life. “I tell you the truth: the Father will give you whatever you ask of him in my name” (Jn 16:23b). 

3. Following the Holy Spirit’s Guidance 
To be able to venture into the vast sea of apostolate calling for our witness in this new millenium, we shall have to trust and follow the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit. He is the principle agent of evangelization even today, for Jesus said: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will lead you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak of what he hears and tell you of things to come” (Jn 16:13). Therefore, if we commit ourselves to be moulded by this Gift of the Father, then we shall be able to reflect the face of Christ and look at the rich harvest with his eyes full of compassion. I have no doubt that we shall not remain indifferent but that we will respond to the needs accordingly like Jesus. He will provide us with the grace of fortitude and discernment to go out of ourselves courageously like the apostles from the upper room. The Holy Father concludes that “The Spirit will impel us to start out on Evangelization anew sustained by hope which does not disappoint (Rom 5,5)” (NMI 58). 
We truly need the discerning eyes of Christ and his generous heart to be his instruments and continue his mission. Cf the Hymn: 
“Abba, Abba Father, you are the potter, we are the clay.
Mould us into the image of Jesus your Son”

4. Living the Mystery of Christ, Who was sent
If we shall be able to continue and contribute into the new evangelization as the situation requires, we shall have to understand that although it is ever new, it remains the One Mission of Father who sent the Son Jesus. The Holy Spirit continues to guide the Apostles and the Church through all times so that as agents, they remain faithful to their Master who assured them: “And remember! I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt 28:20). We too have to know that He is sending us unto his vineyard just as the Father sent Him. This means that mission to evangelize is the Father’s but entrusted to the Son: “I did not come to do my will but that of my Father”.
This deep understanding in the mystery of Salvation has to become another element of our Spiritual Life so that we are able to live and fulfil our role faithfully as Jesus’ mission. 
We have to cultivate the spirit of a Disciple – the one who is sent and his duty is to do as he is taught by the master. A spirit of Loving Obedience has to characterize our life and work in imitation of Christ whom the Apostle Paul wrote: “Though He was in the form of God, Jesus humbled himself taking the form of a servant, becoming obedient to death, death on a cross” (Phil 2:5-8). If we have to contribute effectively towards the mission of the New Evangelization, we need this spirit of Fidelity and to the end. This should teach us that the Mission always belongs to the Father who appointed the Son and us today, apostles, we are just servants honoured to participate in it. What a grace to be found worthy of such a cause! Let us therefore heed his call: “I give you a new commandment, love one another as I have love you” (Jn 15:12-13, 17). 
At this new era Jesus directs us as his disciples, “Throw your nets to the right, ready for a catch” (Jn 21:6-8).

May Our Lord Jesus renew our enthusiasm by sending us the gift of the Holy Spirit under the maternal guidance and care of the blessed Virgin Mary. May He bless our Catholic Action Movements and all members keeping them faithful to his mission of bringing all to the Salvation he brought.

II African Continental Meeting
YOU WILL BE MY WITNESS IN AFRICA. Reality and prospects for the laypeople’s formation. The contribution of Catholic Action/2 – Bujumbura, August 21st/25th 2002

Msgr Peter KIHARA - Bishop of Muranga