Cardinal to theologians: Teach faith to ‘famished’ young adults

September 27, 2011

WASHINGTON – While acknowledging that their primary job is not catechesis, Daniel Cardinal DiNardo urged young theologians to help educate their fellow young adults who are “hungry, starving for the word of God.” 

Cardinal DiNardo was the opening keynote speaker for the Sept. 15 to 17 invitation-only symposium in Washington on “The Intellectual Tasks of the New Evangelization.” The conference was sponsored by the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Doctrine and the School of Theology and Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America. 

Cardinal DiNardo noted that in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston alone in the past year 2,500 people joined the Catholic Church, most of them never previously baptized; 1,370 Catholics who had been baptized and received first Communion were confirmed at Pentecost; and 500 young people showed up for a class in the Catholic faith. 

“The new evangelization is what they want, and you have the expertise to unpack it for them,” he told an audience made up of nontenured faculty members in theology or religious studies departments who have received their doctoral degrees within the past five years. 

“I beg you as a pastor not to lose sight of these young people who are famished,” he added. 

In response to a question after his talk, Cardinal DiNardo called young people “astonishingly enthusiastic” but said they are sometimes “catechetically innocent – they don’t know a thing.” 

“Sometimes you have to do some catechetical work with them first” before any theological discussions can begin, he said. 

Cardinal DiNardo used the words of Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI and the outline prepared for the 2012 Synod of Bishops to describe the new evangelization. 

The synod outline defines “new evangelization” as “the courage to forge new paths in responding to the changing circumstances and conditions facing the Church in her call to proclaim and live the Gospel today.” 

The document also said new evangelization is essential where the media tend to preach instant gratification, where population shifts have meant the disappearance of “Catholic countries,” and where science and technology have become so advanced and seemingly able to accomplish anything and everything that science is the god people go to when they’re hurting or confused. 

Catholics, it said, “must know how to speak in ways that are intelligible to our times and proclaim, inside these areas, the reasons for our hope, which bolsters our witness.” 

The cardinal warned the young theologians not to fall victim to the “terrible reductionism” that equates mind with brain and to not be “afraid of the cognitive sciences” such as psychology, sociology and philosophy. 

“Those people are not as smart as they think they are,” he said, “but they are taking over the nature of the discussion now” of what it means to be human. 

A proper understanding of being human must encompass “body, soul and spirit,” Cardinal DiNardo said. 

Capuchin Franciscan Father Thomas Weinandy, Executive Director of the Secretariat for Doctrine of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, doctrine committee chairman, came up with the idea of the symposium in order to offer encouragement to and build relationships with young theologians. 

“All of you and others like you are the future of theology within the American Church,” Father Weinandy said. “The bishops want to build up relationships with this new generation of Catholic theologians within the Catholic Church.” 

Others scheduled to address the symposium were Archbishop J. Augustine DiNoia, secretary of the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments and former undersecretary at the Vatican doctrinal congregation; Janet E. Smith, a professor of moral theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit; and John Cavadini, associate professor of theology and director of the Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame. †