Bernardo M. Villegas
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Defining Evangelization in Non-Christian Cultures Part I

           I recently attended an international conference in which the topic of evangelization in non-Christian cultures was brought up.  Among the predominantly non-Christian countries represented were Indonesia and China.  Those of us from the Philippines were interested in finding out how the Christians in these countries carried out the new evangelization that is called for in the Year of Faith that we are celebrating.  Those attending the conference were lay people from the most diverse professions.  Among them were specialists in the leading edge technologies of the 21st Century:  material sciences, information technology and biotech.  There were the more traditional professionals:  medical doctors, university professors, architects, accountants, and business managers.  What was common among them was that they are totally immersed in the middle of the world, co-existing with their colleagues of the most diverse cultures and religions.

          From their ordinary lives and working conditions, it was immediately obvious what it means to evangelize in a predominantly non-Christian environment.  It was to simply go back  to the roots of Christianity among the earliest Christians in the first Century after Christ.  These first converts of the Apostles did not separate themselves from the predominantly pagan environment that surrounded them.   They lived together with their non-Christian relatives, friends and co-workers.  They were able to transform the world from within through the example of the Christian virtues they lived from day to day.  They were not preachers like the Apostles.  Although they were always ready to speak of their faith to anyone who inquired what was behind their clean and cheerful lives, they did not impose their doctrine on their fellow citizens.  They merely proposed the faith to whoever was willing to listen. 

          I was reminded of a document that appeared on December 8, 1975, ten years after the end of the Second Vatican Council.  It was entitled "Evangelization in the Modern World," written by Pope Paul VI.  Under the section "What Is Evangelization," the Pope wrote:  "The church appreciates that evangelization means the carrying forth of the good news to every sector of the human race so that by its strength it may enter into the hearts of men and renew the human race.  'Behold, I make all things new.'  But there cannot be a new human race unless there are first of all new men, men renewed by baptism and by a life lived in accordance with the gospel.  It is the aim of evangelization, therefore, to effect this interior transformation.  In a word, the church may be truly said to evangelize when, solely in virtue of that news which she proclaims,' she seeks to convert both the individual consciences of men and their collective conscience, all the activities in which they are engaged and, finally, their lives and the whole environment which surrounds them." (To be continued)