In a new pastoral letter, Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl encourages Catholics in the Archdiocese of Washington to embrace Pope Benedict XVI's call for a New Evangelization, to renew their own love for Christ and then to share their faith with others who may have drifted away from the faith or never heard the Gospel message.

"What we call the New Evangelization is all about retelling the story, this time awakening a sense of meeting Jesus," the archbishop writes in Disciples of the Lord: Sharing the Vision, his pastoral letter on the New Evangelization. "...Our archdiocesan efforts to share the good news and invite others into the joy of new life in Christ are not simply a new program - one among many. I hope all of us will see the New Evangelization as a lens through which we see everything that we are doing, but now in the light of our understanding of how important it is for each of us to tell the story, share the excitement and be that leaven where the faith has gone flat and that salt where the faith has lost its zest."

Addressed to the clergy, religious and laity of the Archdiocese of Washington, the pastoral letter notes that Catholics can help transform the world by reaching out to others with Christ's message of hope and love. "We can help people we know, neighbors, coworkers, even, in some cases, family members, hear all over again, this time for the first time, the good news."

In the pastoral letter, Archbishop Wuerl notes, "We are summoned to transmit faithfully the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world. The Church's primary mission is evangelization. The word 'evangelization' comes from a Greek word for 'Gospel'... Jesus himself establishes evangelization as of the very nature and essence of the Church when he gives his disciples the commission to evangelize that is, to announce this good news 'to all the nations.'" (Mark 13:10, Luke 24:47)

The Second Vatican Council emphasized that every Catholic, as a disciple of Christ in today's world, is called to undertake the mission of evangelization. Writing in the pastoral, Archbishop Wuerl notes, "Strengthened by the summons of Jesus and by love of our neighbor, it is our call to reach out again, in charity and truth, to our brothers and sisters who have been away from the practice of their faith so that the Church may bear abundant fruit for each person, each parish and for our society."

This past June, Pope Benedict announced he was establishing a new Pontifical Council to promote the New Evangelization, "to repropose the perennial truth of Christ's Gospel."

Writing in his pastoral letter, Archbishop Wuerl notes, " Pope Benedict XVI used the word 'repropose' to describe the New Evangelization. Somehow in what we do and how we express our faith, we have to be able to repropose our belief in Christ and his Gospel for a hearing among those who are convinced that they already know the faith and it holds no interest for them."

Christ's truth is urgently needed in a world where many people are distracted by secularism, materialism and individualism, the archbishop notes in his pastoral letter. "No darkness, no matter how dense, can thwart or shroud the seed of new life waiting to emerge in this fresh moment," the pastoral says. "The missionaries in the first evangelization covered immense geographic distances to spread the Good News. We, the missionaries of the New Evangelization, must surmount ideological distances just as immense, oftentimes before we ever journey beyond our own neighborhood or family."

Any evangelization effort begins not in a program, "but in a Person, Jesus Christ, the Son of God... We rely first and always on Jesus. He alone is the cornerstone," the pastoral notes.

The call to discipleship "involves us welcoming Jesus into our everyday lives," writes Archbishop Wuerl. "We can do this by beginning and ending our days in prayer, by reading Scripture each day and hearing God's word and reflecting on how to make it a part of our life. We draw closer to Jesus by faithfully attending Mass and receiving our Lord in the Eucharist, and by accepting his love and mercy in the sacrament of penance."

Today's evangelists, like the first disciples who burned with love for Christ, are called to help others get to know and love Jesus, the archbishop writes. "Our call is to stir up again and rekindle in the midst of their daily life and concrete situation, a new awareness and familiarity with Jesus. We are called not just to announce, but to adapt our approach so as to attract and to urge an entire generation to find again the uncomplicated, genuine and tangible treasure of friendship with Jesus."

The archbishop's pastoral letter offers practical advice for how Catholics can be evangelists in their everyday lives: "At the individual level this action may be through a deepening of our own personal faith as well as outreach to others: a direct conversation about Catholicism, extending an invitation to Mass, or providing simple witnesses such as blessing ourselves before a meal in a restaurant, offering to pray for someone in need, keeping a devotional item on our desk at work or wearing a crucifix for others to see."
The pastoral notes that many opportunities arise every day for Catholics to plant the seeds of faith. "The field is rich and the seeds are plenty. Those who have fallen away from the practice of the faith are all around us. We meet them in our workplace. They stand next to us in the grocery line, at the bus stop and on the Metro. They are in the car next to ours as they wait to pick up their children from sports practice and band rehearsal and as we go about our daily and weekly errands."

Today's Catholics can be agents of the New Evangelization in simple ways that can transform people's lives, the archbishop writes. "Our routine and commonplace tasks can be transformed into an urgent quest. The Holy Spirit in urging us to begin, without hesitation, this conversation with our neighbor will provide us openings, coaxing us to initiate the invitation, to invite our neighbor to come to Mass, to encourage them to come to Bible Study or a small faith group, to ask them to consider discussing what might keep them away. Wounds heal through exposure to light and air. The Holy Spirit invites us to speak about our Catholic faith, to have the courageous, and sometimes awkward, conversation. He even wants us to reach out and invite others by name, with a smile and a friendly welcome."

Those engaged in parish ministry, including priests, deacons and catechists, and parishioners themselves, can welcome people home when they return to church for Easter or Christmas or for the Baptism of their children or the funeral Mass of a loved one, or while they face illness. "These are moments to invite not to scold," the archbishop says in the pastoral. "These are times which are, by the power of the Holy Spirit, already made new and contain a summons for us tirelessly to invite and cheerfully to welcome, in a personal and caring way, the return of someone we have missed for a long time so that they may willingly recommit to the Lord."

The pastoral letter points out the special role that the 140 parishes in the Archdiocese of Washington have to play in promoting the New Evangelization. The letter listed five Indicators of Vitality by which parishes can assess their strengths and identify ways to strengthen and revitalize their outreach:

¥ Worship, including liturgy, the sacraments, renewal efforts, and opportunities for devotions and prayers. "We come together so that we might not only profess our faith and listen to the Scriptures, but also to worship the Father as Christ's new Body," the pastoral says.

¥ Education, ongoing faith formation for all ages, including Catholic schools, parish religious education programs, the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, sacramental formation programs, adult faith formation, youth ministry and evangelization outreach. The pastoral notes: "Catholic education in all its forms has as its primary task communication of the person and message of Christ to adults, youth and children. This unfolds through a wide range of efforts, but the goal is always the same...the threads of the encounter with Christ and his life-giving message are woven into the fabric of our human experience."

¥ Community life, which the pastoral notes, "relates to a parish's efforts to build a sense of community by actively including all members of the parish, by reaching out to Catholics who may have fallen away from active membership in the Church and to those in the local community who do not belong to any church, and by recognizing the diversity of talents and needs of the parishioners."

¥ Service. The archbishop writes that, "This dimension of parish life includes serving the poor, the marginalized, elderly, hurting families and other needy people in the community both in and beyond the parish. It is in this area of parish life that peace, justice and advocacy for those in need are actively pursued."

¥ Administration, which the pastoral says involves "those aspects of Church life such as leadership, stewardship, management and decision-making processes of the parish, as well as the relationship of the parish to the rest of the Church."

Archbishop Wuerl notes that, "As our efforts at the New Evangelization develop, my hope is that every parish, faith community and program, both archdiocesan and local, will utilize the Indicators of Vitality as a measuring stick not only for our collective effectiveness but also for our own personal growth."

Disciples of the Lord: Sharing the Vision begins with the words, "Christ is the way." The pastoral's introduction says that, "When Jesus first came among us, he offered a whole new way of living. The excitement spread as God's Son, who is also one of us, announced the coming of the kingdom. The invitation to discipleship and a place in the kingdom that he held out to those who heard him, he continues to hold out to you and to me today."

To reach those who have drifted away from the faith or whose faith has grown cold, the pastoral proposes using new means of communication, including "the development of a more engaging website that is designed to help Catholics deepen their relationship with Christ, and a new e-mail communications system that gives parishioners the opportunities to stay informed of current events from a Catholic perspective." Those efforts underway through the archdiocese's new Office of Evangelization, Outreach and Information have the goal of using "the new media to invite, engage and teach," the pastoral says.

Earlier this year, Catholics in parishes across the archdiocese submitted their e-mail addresses for the archdiocese's new e-mail communications system, and this week, the system's first e-mail message will be a letter from the archbishop to local Catholics, encouraging them to read the new pastoral letter and take its message to heart. The e-mail will include an online link to the text of the pastoral letter, on the archdiocesan website.

During his 2008 pastoral visit to Washington, Pope Benedict praised the United States' historic legacy of faith, noting how earlier generations of Catholics brought the faith to their new land, kept the faith and passed it on. Writing in the pastoral letter, Archbishop Wuerl notes that the "heritage and legacy of the local Church" has roots in the Maryland settlers who prayed at the first Mass in the English-speaking colonies in 1634, and that legacy continues as today's Catholics seek to be agents of the New Evangelization, bringing the Good News of Christ to their community and their world.

"As God was with those who first accepted the challenge, 'You will be my witnesses' (Acts 1:8), so God is with us as we accept the summons to be witnesses today in all that we say and do," the archbishop writes in the conclusion of Disciples of the Lord: Sharing the Vision. "We renew our commitment in the sure expectation that God's grace working through each of us can bring about a renewal of faith and a rebirth of life in the Spirit."