A Timeline of the New Evangelization

by John Nahrgang


Jesus shares with Ven. Concepción Cabrera de Armida his desire for priests to "evangelize anew the multitudes." He also affirms, "The Church and the world need a new Pentecost, a priestly Pentecost, an interior Pentecost." Regarding Ven. Concepción, the Congregation for the Clergy will say in 2007: "In the future, she will be of great importance for the universal Church."


Pope Pius XII writes the encyclical Evangelii Praecones (Heralds of the Gospel), in which he states:

"The Catholic Church, most loving mother of all men, calls on all her children to be zealous in helping these intrepid missionaries by their offerings, by prayer and by fostering missionary vocations. In motherly fashion she compels them to wear the livery of tender compassion, and to take part, if not in the actual apostolate, at least by zealous cooperation, and not allow the wish of the most loving Heart of Jesus to remain unrealized, who "came to seek and to save what was lost." If they help in any way to bring the light and consolations of the Faith to one hearth, let them understand that a Divine force has been thus released, which will keep on growing in momentum throughout the ages. If they help even one candidate for the priesthood, they will fully share in all the future Masses and in all the fruits of sanctity and apostolic works that will be his. Indeed, all the faithful make up one and the same immense family who, as members of the Church militant, suffering and triumphant, share their benefits with one another."


Pope John XXIII, at the opening of the Second Vatican Council, invites all the faithful to join him in praying that the Church be renewed "as by a New Pentecost."


Pope Paul VI promulgates Lumen Gentium (Light of the Nations), the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World and a major document of the Second Vatican Council. In it, the role of the laity is emphasized and esteemed, including their call to evangelize:

"Just as the sacraments of the New Law, by which the life and the apostolate of the faithful are nourished, prefigure a new heaven and a new earth, so too the laity go forth as powerful proclaimers of a faith in things to be hoped for, when they courageously join to their profession of faith a life springing from faith. This evangelization, that is, this announcing of Christ by a living testimony as well as by the spoken word, takes on a specific quality and a special force in that it is carried out in the ordinary surroundings of the world."


Pope Paul VI promulgates Ad Gentes (To the Nations), the Second Vatican Council's Decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church. The document reinforces the point that missionary labors for the salvation of souls are not to be limited to certain groups within the Church:

"Since the whole Church is missionary, and the work of evangelization is a basic duty of the People of God, this sacred synod invites all to a deep interior renewal; so that, having a vivid awareness of their own responsibility for spreading the Gospel, they may do their share in missionary work among the nations. As members of the living Christ, incorporated into Him and made like unto Him through baptism and through confirmation and the Eucharist, all the faithful are duty - bound to cooperate in the expansion and spreading out of His Body...For their fervor in the service of God and their charity toward others will cause a new spiritual wind to blow for the whole Church, which will then appear as a sign lifted up among the nations (cf. Is. 11:12), "the light of the world" (Matt. 5:14) and "the salt of the earth" (Matt. 5:13)."


Pope Paul VI convenes a Church Synod on Evangelization in the Modern World, in which the bishops state, "We wish to confirm once more that the task of evangelizing all people constitutes the essential mission of the Church." 


Pope Paul VI writes the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (Preaching the Gospel), in which he notes that the Church awaits "a fresh forward impulse, capable of creating within a Church still more firmly rooted in the undying power and strength of Pentecost a new period of evangelization." He goes on to write, "Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize, that is to say, in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace, to reconcile sinners with God, and to perpetuate Christ's sacrifice in the Mass."

1978 (October)

Karol Cardinal Wojtyła is elected to the papacy, taking the name John Paul II.

1979 (June)

At the Shrine of the Holy Cross in Mogila, Poland, Pope John Paul II proclaims: "A New Evangelization has begun."

1979 (October)

Pope John Paul II writes the apostolic exhortation Catechesi Tradendae (On Catechesis in Our Time), in which he addresses the connection between catechesis and evangelization: "There is no separation or opposition between catechesis and evangelization. Nor can the two be simply identified with each other. Instead, they have close links whereby they integrate and complement each other... We can say of catechesis, as well as of evangelization in general, that it is called to bring the power of the Gospel into the very heart of culture and cultures."


Pope John Paul II, addressing an assembly of Latin American bishops in Haiti, asserts: “The commemoration of the five hundred years of evangelization will achieve its full meaning if it becomes a commitment by you the Bishops, together with your priests and people, a commitment not to a re-evangelization but to a New Evangelization — new in ardor, methods and expression”.


Pope John Paul II writes the encyclical Redemptoris Missio (Mission of the Redeemer), using the phrase "New Evangelization" sixteen times and writing, "I sense that the moment has come to commit all of the Church's energies to a New Evangelization and to the mission ad gentes. No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples."

1992 (March)

Pope John Paul II writes Pastores Dabo Vobis (I Will Give You Shepherds), an apostolic exhortation providing key insights into the priestly character formed through the sacrament of Holy Orders and guidelines for seminary formation. In it, he notes that the New Evangelization requires "new evangelizers, and these are priests who are serious about living their priesthood as a specific path toward holiness."

1992 (May)

While celebrating Mass in the Italian town of Pordenone, Pope John Paul II calls the Eucharist "the basis of the New Evangelization" and beautifully expresses its power to transform humanity: "[T]he Eucharist becomes the solemn banquet of fraternal communion, the medicine of divine immortality, the source of the New Evangelization and proclamation of hope. The Eucharist becomes the font of charity that transforms, sanctifies and prepares us, in the shadows of this passing world, for the imperishable joy of eternal life."

1992 (October)

Calling it "an instrument for the New Evangelization," Pope John Paul II promulgates a new Cathecism of the Catholic Church, stating:

"The New Evangelization... requires first of all a catechesis that, presenting the plan of salvation, can call people to conversion and to hope in God's promise on the basis of certitude about the true resurrection of Christ, the first proclamation and root of all evangelization, the foundation of all human development and the principle of every Christian culture."


Pope John Paul II, celebrating World Youth Day in Denver with over half a million souls, calls the host city "a reflection of what happened in Jerusalem at Pentecost" and prophesies: "Out of all the diversity of the young people gathered here – diversity of origin, race and language – the Spirit of Truth will create the deep and abiding unity of commitment to the New Evangelization." Two months later, Pope John Paul II calls Denver "a revolution." Denver goes on to become an epicenter of renewal for the Church in the United States.


Pope John Paul II writes the apostolic letter Tertio Millenio Adveniente (Third Millenium of the New Era), in which he identifies the New Evangelization as the theme underlying all of the Church's synods since the Second Vatican Council, pays homage to Pope Paul VI for laying down the foundations of the New Evangelization in Evangelii Nuntiandi, and identifies the Holy Spirit as "the principal agent of the New Evangelization."

1999 (January)

In the wake of an important 1997 synod of bishops from the Americas, Pope John Paul II releases the apostolic exhortation Ecclesia en America, which seeks to further unite the Church in the Western Hemisphere in advancing the New Evangelization, with a special emphasis on the themes of conversion, communion and solidarity. Echoing the synod, he again invokes the special intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary as Star of the New Evangelization: "It is my heartfelt hope that she, whose intercession was responsible for strengthening the faith of the first disciples (cf. Jn 2:11), will by her maternal intercession guide the Church in America, obtaining the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, as she once did for the early Church (cf. Acts 1:14), so that the New Evangelization may yield a splendid flowering of Christian life."

1999 (June)

Pope John Paul II, in his prayer for the third year of preparation for the Great Jubilee Year, prays, "Father, by the power of the Spirit, strengthen the Church's commitment to the New Evangelization and guide our steps along the pathways of the world, to proclaim Christ by our lives, and to direct our earthly pilgrimage towards the City of heavenly light."

2001 (January)

Pope John Paul II writes the apostolic letter Novo Millenio Inuente (At the Beginning of the New Millenium) at the close of the Great Jubilee Year, emphasizing again the New Evangelization and declaring, "We must rekindle in ourselves the impetus of the beginnings and allow ourselves to be filled with the ardor of the apostolic preaching which followed Pentecost."


Pope John Paul II writes the encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia (Church from the Eucharist), in which he states:

"To contemplate the face of Christ, and to contemplate it with Mary, is the 'program' which I have set before the Church at the dawn of the third millennium, summoning her to put out into the deep on the sea of history with the enthusiasm of the New Evangelization. To contemplate Christ involves being able to recognize him wherever he manifests himself, in his many forms of presence, but above all in the living sacrament of his body and his blood. The Church draws her life from Christ in the Eucharist; by him she is fed and by him she is enlightened."

2004 (October)

ratzinger giving communion to jpii.jpg

Pope John Paul II inaugurates the Year of the Eucharist, writing in his apostolic letter Mane Nobiscum Domine ("Stay with Us, Lord"):

"The two disciples of Emmaus, upon recognizing the Lord, 'set out immediately' (cf. Lk 24:33), in order to report what they had seen and heard. Once we have truly met the Risen One by partaking of his body and blood, we cannot keep to ourselves the joy we have experienced. The encounter with Christ, constantly intensified and deepened in the Eucharist, issues in the Church and in every Christian an urgent summons to testimony and evangelization... The Eucharist not only provides the interior strength needed for this mission, but is also —in some sense—its plan. For the Eucharist is a mode of being, which passes from Jesus into each Christian, through whose testimony it is meant to spread throughout society and culture. For this to happen, each member of the faithful must assimilate, through personal and communal meditation, the values which the Eucharist expresses, the attitudes it inspires, the resolutions to which it gives rise."

2005 (March)

On Holy Thursday, less than three weeks before his death, Pope John Paul II directs his last formal letter to all priests, in which he affirms: 

"The priest is someone who, despite the passing of years, continues to radiate youthfulness, spreading it almost 'contagiously' among those he meets along the way. His secret lies in his 'passion' for Christ. As Saint Paul said: 'For me, to live is Christ' (Phil 1:21). Particularly in the context of the New Evangelization, the people have a right to turn to priests in the hope of 'seeing' Christ in them (cf. Jn 12:21). The young feel the need for this especially; Christ continues to call them, to make them his friends and to challenge some to give themselves completely for the sake of the Kingdom. Vocations will certainly not be lacking if our manner of life is truly priestly, if we become more holy, more joyful, more impassioned in the exercise of our ministry. A priest 'won' by Christ (cf. Phil 3:12) more easily 'wins' others, so that they too decide to set out on the same adventure."

2005 (April)

Pope John Paul II, apostle of the New Evangelization, goes home to his reward.

2005 (May)

Newly elected Pope Benedict XVI asserts that the purpose of the New Evangelization is "contributing to ensure that every person encounters the living Christ." 


Pope Benedict XVI makes a pastoral visit to the United States, with the following expressed purpose: "to summon the Church in America to recognize, in the light of a dramatically changing social and religious landscape, the urgency and demands of a New Evangelization." 


Pope Benedixt XVI creates the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization, with the stated goals of 1) "encouraging reflection on topics of the new evangelization" and 2) "identifying and promoting suitable ways and means to accomplish it." He also commits himself to continuing the advancement of the New Evangelization: "Making my own the concerns of my venerable Predecessors, I consider it opportune to offer appropriate responses so that the entire Church, allowing herself to be regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit, may present herself to the contemporary world with a missionary impulse in order to promote the New Evangelization." 

2011 (May)

With one million people in attendance, Pope Benedict XVI beatifies Pope John Paul II.

2011 (October)

Pope Benedict XVI celebrates a special Mass for the New Evangelization, highlighting three key points in his homily: 1) "one does not evangelize by oneself": 2) "proclamation is always preceded, accompanied, and followed by prayer": 3) "evangelization, to be effective, needs the power of the Spirit, who gives life to proclamation and imbues those who convey it with the 'full conviction' of which St. Paul speaks" (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:5).

2012 (October)

On October 7th, Pope Benedict XVI convenes a synod of bishops on the topic of “The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith.” At the Mass commemorating the occasion, Pope Benedict prays the following:

"Dear brothers and sisters, let us entrust the work of the Synod meeting to God, sustained by the communion of saints, invoking in particular the intercession of great evangelizers, among whom, with much affection, we ought to number Blessed Pope John Paul II, whose long pontificate was an example of the New Evangelization. Let us place ourselves under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Star of the New Evangelization. With her let us invoke a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit, that from on high he may illumine the Synodal Assembly and make it fruitful for the Church’s journey today, in our time. Amen." 

On October 11th, the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, Pope Benedict XVI declares a Year of Faith for the Church, and calls again upon Mary: "Let us entrust to her the Year of Faith, as I did last week when I went on pilgrimage to Loreto. May the Virgin Mary always shine out as a star along the way of the New Evangelization." 

At the end of the month, the synod of bishops responds with the following proclamation: "The principal agent of evangelization is the Holy Spirit, who opens hearts and converts them to God. The experience of encountering the Lord Jesus, made possible by the Spirit, which introduces one into the Trinitarian life, welcomed in a spirit of adoration, supplication and of praise, must be fundamental to every aspect of the New Evangelization. This is the 'contemplative dimension' of the New Evangelization which is nourished continually through prayer, beginning with the liturgy, especially the Eucharist, source and summit of the life of the Church."

2012 (November)

Mauro Cardinal Piacenza, Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, citing Pope Benedict's prayer to the Virgin Mary inaugurating the Year of Faith, writes a letter to all bishops around the world, encouraging them to ardently promote a worldwide movement of Eucharistic adoration and intercessory prayer for the sanctification of priests, principally through the promotion of an updated version of the Congregation's booklet Eucharistic Sanctification for the Sanctification of Priests and Spiritual Maternity.

2013 (February)

After a time of discernment, Pope Benedict XVI humbly and gracefully resigns his papacy. 

2013 (March)

Pope Francis is elected to the papacy. Two days after his election, in his first address to the cardinals, he proclaims:

"As Pope Benedict XVI reminded us so many times in his teachings and, finally, with that courageous and humble gesture, it is Christ who guides the Church through His Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church, with His life-giving and unifying strength. Of many He makes a single body – the mystical Body of Christ. Let us never give in to pessimism, to that bitterness that the devil tempts us with every day. Let us not give into pessimism and let us not be discouraged. We have the certainty that the Holy Spirit gives His Church, with His powerful breath, the courage to persevere, the courage to persevere and to search for new ways to evangelize, to bring the Gospel to the ends of the earth."

2013 (November)

In response to the 2012 Synod on the New Evangelization, Pope Francis releases Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), a rousing apostolic exhortation that explains how and why the Church must have evangelization as its primary mission in the modern world. He also emphasizes the role of laity in calling them to be spirit-filled evangelizers and missionary disciples: "The New Evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized. Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization; indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love. Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: we no longer say that we are 'disciples' and 'missionaries', but rather that we are always 'missionary disciples.'" 

2014 (April)

With Pope Emeritus Benedict and one million people in attendance, Pope Francis canonizes Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII.

John Nahrgang is a seminarian of the Diocese of Phoenix. He is currently pursuing a Master of Divinity at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio.