By Suzanne Weiss/Director of Public Relations
MANITOWOC, Wis. — The New Evangelization is more than a catch phrase.
It is at the heart of the message that Sister Marie Kolbe Zamora of Silver Lake College conveys to her theology students, who have plans to minister in the Catholic Church.The New Evangelization invites Catholics to renew their relationship with Jesus Christ and the church. It calls all Catholics to be evangelized and then to go forth and evangelize, particularly reintroducing the Gospel to those who have experienced a crisis of faith, according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“The New Evangelization is changing the way the church understands the world and itself in relationship to the world,” said Sister Marie Kolbe, chair of Silver Lake College’s department of theology and ministry.
“The Catholic Church cannot continue to do business as usual. Young Catholics are leaving the faith more rapidly and at a younger age than ever before, a phenomenon also experienced by Christianity at large,” she said. “The crisis is that baptized people don’t live like baptized people because they’re not taught what it means to be Christian, or, in this case, Catholic. Even if they’re taught, they’re not really taught to integrate that into real life.”
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Pope Paul VI and the Latin American bishops were the first to see the need for a new era of evangelization. The Latin American bishops coined the term “New Evangelization” in 1979, a concept that Pope John Paul II spread throughout the Catholic world, said Sister Marie Kolbe, who was living in Rome in 2010 when Pope Benedict XVI called a month-long meeting of bishops from all over the world to put together a church-wide plan for New Evangelization.
Pope Francis continued the work of these bishops and turned their work into a vision statement for New Evangelization called “The Joy of the Gospel,” Sister Marie Kolbe said.
“This is the kind of document that is animating the theology program at Silver Lake College,” she said. “Within the college setting, New Evangelization means a return to the primary sources of our faith. We are emphasizing the reading of the Bible, writings of the Fathers of the Church and Ecumenical Council, liturgical texts, papal documents and other magisterial texts. Students are being taught to look at these texts for themselves and to think for themselves using these sources.”
The theology faculty at Silver Lake College began revamping the curriculum to inject a global theological view when Sister Marie Kolbe returned to the United States in 2011, after eight years in Rome, and joined the faculty.
“When I am teaching fundamental Christian truths in the classroom, students often ask, ‘Why hasn’t anyone taught us this before?’ — for example, the historical fact that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, making it possible for all of humanity also to rise from the dead. Students have no idea that death was not part of ‘the original plan,’ and that Christ’s rising from the dead restores the life and immortality of the original plan,” Sister Marie Kolbe said.
She teaches courses including Catholic Theological Foundations, Ecclesiology, and Moral Theology, among others, and is training students for work in general pastoral, missionary, parish and high school ministry fields, as well as preparing them to go on to pursue master’s degrees in theology.
“At the center of our curriculum is the person of Jesus Christ and what it means to be a baptized person living in communion with Jesus Christ,” Sister Marie Kolbe said. “All Christians, regardless of denominations, can become better Christians.”
One key to New Evangelization is the ability to build relationships, she said.
“Anyone graduating from Silver Lake College will be trained to build relationships with every single person to whom they are going to minister. Forming relationships is going to open the door to them as Catholic leaders and enable them to draw others into a relationship with Christ,” Sister Marie Kolbe said.
For junior Angela Dvorak, a theology and English major, Silver Lake College’s theology program has been an eye-opening experience.
“As a child, I learned Bible stories and general information about Jesus’ life, but I wasn’t challenged to think about what that meant,” she said. “A lot of people who go to church think that Christianity is based on rules. After coming to Silver Lake College, I started to realize that my faith is about my relationship with Christ, and not about rules.”
Both of her majors involve studying texts that are difficult to read.
“In both disciplines, I have to organize ideas, work to understand those ideas and then put those ideas in my own words on paper,” she said.
“Angela has done very well at reading and understanding primary sources in her classes so far,” Sister Marie Kolbe said. “In her own study of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, ‘Humanae Vitae,’ she identified, through her own research, every major theme that knowledgeable theologians highlight.”
Added Dvorak: “I’ve learned to understand that my everyday life is not separate from my spiritual life. The theology program here has helped transform my understanding of my relationship with Christ in a very positive way.”
Sister Marie Kolbe is introducing New Evangelization to more than Silver Lake College students.
During the summer of 2015, Silver Lake College hosted the first seminar in a three-part series called Catholic Evangelization Studies. The seminar, developed by the Diocese of Green Bay with Silver Lake College, is geared to people who minister in area parishes. The first seminar drew 27 participants.
The next summer, attendance at the first two parts of the seminar grew to 66 participants, 150 diocesan employees and 140 priests, plus 12 individuals from Bishop’s Advisory Council.
In the summer of 2017, in addition to her work with the Catholic Evangelization Studies seminar, Sister Marie Kolbe has been invited by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to speak at the “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America,” bringing together more than 3,000 of the nation’s Catholic leaders to engage in dialogue about forming missionary disciples.
“We want to reach parents of future students and pastors of future students, demonstrating to the Catholic world that Catholic students can come to Silver Lake College and become better Catholics, better Christians, in dialogue with the world as it is today,” she said.
PHOTO: Sister Marie Kolbe Zamora, chair of the Silver Lake College department of theology and ministry, talks about the New Evangelization with junior Angela Dvorak, a theology and English major. Photo by Suzanne Weiss