Shoe Leather Evangelization

Most of us are just getting to know Cardinal Bergoglio, the man who is now Pope Francis. Anyone with access to the Interwebs can now be an “expert” after a few searches.

As I learn more about Bergoglio, I’m struck by his simplicity and humility, as are many others. His sincere and prayerful countenance when he first greeted the world yesterday made a strong impression.

SHOESWe don’t know much about how he ran the chancellory in Buenos Aires, but we do know that he lived a simple life and practiced evangelization in a concrete and tangible way: by hitting the pavement. We’ve been tossing about the term “new evangelization” for many years, but it hasn’t been clearly defined. In many cases, it has been a source of encouragement for more writings and more conferences. All well and good, but what does it mean, what does it look like, and how do we engage in it? Cardinal Bergoglio seems to have given a profound witness in the way in which he lived his life as Archbishop with the people. In the truly Catholic tradition, he didn’t wait for his flock to come to him. He went to his flock, serving the poor and needy himself. He practiced and encouraged his priest to do likewise what we call shoe leather evangelization.

For a long time, we’ve known that local works better. And evangelization is no different. People come to the faith because of a personal encounter, typically with an individual, but ultimately with Christ. Doctrine is important, but it means nothing if it is not lived.

Last month I gave a talk for the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for Culture. Based on interviews I conducted with people who run successful catechesis programs for youth as well as my own experience of encountering substantial faith filled communities on secular university campuses across the country, I identified three components to every successful program:

  1. Create community by building relation, e.g. through friendship.
  2. Offer solid catechesis.
  3. Encourage and guide people in the development of a truly deep spiritual life which is the encounter with Christ.

The response of the cardinals and bishops at the meeting was quite moving. They understood this better than I. The second and thirds steps have to happen concomitantly. But the first step paves the way and sustains the journey.

Maybe it was their understanding of this very basic component absolutely essential for evangelization that was part of what led them to choose Cardinal Bergoglio as our new pope. I don’t know. No one outside the conclave knows, not even those who hint at insider information whether from this conclave or the one in 2005.

But my inclination is that Francis, like his various namesakes, will be encouraging an evangelization that involves meeting people where they’re at (not unlike Christ himself) and witnessing the faith in very small, personal ways. Once we start that, we just might see the springtime that John Paul II foretold.



Categories:New Evangelization Pope Francis

5 thoughts on “Shoe Leather Evangelization

  1. JackB says:

    Tell me which is more important to the church. Evangelism or ecumenism? I believe it presents a paradox.

  2. Joannie says:

    I have to disagree with Pia when it comes to Doctrine it is important but the problems is that the average Catholic does not even KNOW what the doctrine is much less how is carried out. In short Catholics don’t know anything about their Faith. This is what both John Paul & Benedict have done. I ‘m not sure about Francis. Just my 2 cents worth.

    1. Pia de Solenni says:

      Hi Joannie,

      I don’t think it’s an either/or situation. It’s a both. If the social were better lived, starting in the family, the doctrine would probably be taught better, starting by example.

  3. Rich Ketter says:

    But it isn’t “local” that works as much as the personal or the relational that works. The basic adage among us would work for greater acceptance of peoples (Immigrant and refugee, LGBT, prisioners returning to communities) is that it is easy to hate (or dislike even) in the abstract, but your heart can be changed by actually meeting the other, the stranger, the Christ witnessed in him or her.
    Who would not have conversion if Jesus came into your living room or church. But we miss seeing him as Francis did in the poor and needy, the other the outcast.
    I am sure good youth programs help youth see the other in a new way, in a manner where Jesus can shine into their lives easier.
    And please, lets hope for less talks and less writings until one learns how to write as Francis, with tenderness and confidence in humility.

  4. Linda Kuhle says:

    Pope Francis has stirred the Catholic Faith.

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