Social Dimension of Evangelization – Part I

In this next installment for Evangelii Gaudium, we take a look at chapter four: The Social Dimension of Evangelization. Evangelization is making the kingdom of God present in today’s world.  In this chapter, Pope Francis stresses that the social dimension of evangelization has to be a part of the mission, because forgetting this element distorts evangelization’s authenticity and meaning. In part one of this summary, two areas that Francis discusses are the communal and societal repercussions of kerygma  and the inclusion of the poor in society.


Communal and Societal Repercussions of the Kergyma


Kerygma, or the heart of Christ’s message, is “life in community and engagement with others.” (177) Francis says that Christ's message focuses on charity. Christ’s redemption for humanity is not only realized individually, but among the social relations between one another.  “To believe that the Holy Spirit is at work in everyone means realizing that he seeks to penetrate every human situation and all bonds.” (178)  The mission of evangelization implies a cooperative effort, with a responsibility to serve and protect the good of others.  


There is not to be a separation between the Gospel message and the genuine love to be shown for one another. This relationship from one person to another Francis considers the horizontal dimension of the cross. The act and virtue of charity are to be a constituents of the Church’s mission and expression. The Gospel message is to take into account both the personal and social accounts of a person’s life as its interplay within evangelization. "The Church's teachings concerning contingent situations are subject to new and further developments and can be open to discussion." (182) Francis challenges pastors, especially those from the different sciences, to engage people to help address social questions more applicably to their lives and the context of their time. The social questions surrounding social order and pursuit for the common good should take priority.


Francis laments that religion today is kept internally and isolated from the personal life. He believes that religion should have influence in society, with rights to offer opinions in matters without disrupting civil order.  Francis alludes to the absurdity of keeping silent the mission and evangelization of St. Francis of Assisi and Bl. Teresa of Calcutta.  There is a call for both the pastors and the lay to leave the world a better place as they found, aforementioned in Francis of Assisi and Teresa of Calcutta. The Church is not to remain on the sidelines in the midst of ongoing work for justice and peace.  Thus, Catholic social thought offers a guiding direction at the theological and practical level. However, Francis makes clear that this apostolic exhortation is not to address social questions specifically, but suggests that Catholics have recourse to the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church


The Inclusion of the Poor in Society


This inclusion begins with the realization that each person is an instrument of God to be a liberator of the poor and letting them become a part of society. Francis states that a lack of solidarity on our part directly affects our relationship with God.  Francis continues by saying that the term "solidarity" in social discussions has tended to wear out its meaning. Solidarity, according to Francis, is to “pressure the creation of a new mindset which thinks in terms of community and the priority of the life of all over the appropriation of goods by a few.” (188) Solidarity is a decision to return what is to due the poor. There is a call to hear the cry of the poor, which becomes incarnate the moment we are moved by their suffering.


In addition to the responding to the poor, Francis exclaims that there is a special place for the poor in God’s heart. This place for the poor is fully realized, in Christ himself. From the beginning, Christ lived in the midst of the poor: having been born in a manger, living with an ordinary family as a lowly carpenter, being persecuted and identifying with those also persecuted in his name, and ultimately offering himself to the hands of man as ransom for humanity’s sins.  Through this perfect model of discipleship, Francis tells us that God enriches humanity through the poor. “They have much to teach us. Not only do they share in sensus fidei [the sense of faith], but in their difficulties they know the suffering Christ. We ourselves need to be evangelized by them.” (198)


Inclusion of the poor is to not be solely focused on the apostolic charity, but also thinking of them as one of ourselves. “This entails appreciating the poor in their goodness, in their experience of life, in their culture, and in their ways of living faith.” (199)  Francis explains that what gives authenticity to the option for the poor is love, because this type of love gives them a sense of esteemed value.  Thus, another dimension that he briefly touches upon is the necessity for spiritual care. The necessity presents itself because  he says the “great majority of the poor have a special openness to the faith; they need God and we must not fail to offer them his friendship, his blessing, his word, the celebration of the sacraments and a journey of growth and maturity in the faith.” (200)


An important section addresses the challenges with distribution of income.  Francis here describes the unequal structural realities that result in poverty. He believes this inequality to be the root of the social injustice. The shaping of economic policies are to take into consideration the dignity of each human person and the pursuit of the common good. “Growth in justice requires more than economic growth, while presupposing such growth: it requires decisions, programs, mechanisms, and processes specifically geared to a better distribution of income, the creation of sources of employment, and an integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality.” (204)


This brings us to the last section, the concern for the poor and vulnerable in society.  Pope Francis here immediately identifies those whom are vulnerable in society. “I think of the homeless, the addicted, the refugees, indigenous people, the elderly, who are increasingly isolated and abandoned, and many others.” (210) Francis exclaims that he is a pastor of a church that knows no bounds, a church that is mother to all. He encourages all countries to have a spirit of openness in order to further cultivate their present cultures.


As we finish this reflection, let us call to mind the words of Francis during his first mass as Pope: