VATICAN CITY (CNS) — New evangelization efforts cannot succeed unless they begin with the concrete lives, cultures and languages of the people whom the Catholic Church is trying to reach with the Gospel, said participants at the Synod of Bishops.

Indonesian Bishop Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo of Jakarta said many of the new Catholics in Indonesia were first attracted “by the way Catholics pray during public events such as wedding feasts or funeral services.”

They react to the prayers because they “are delivered in their vernacular mother tongue, so that they readily understand the content, whereas before they usually heard prayers recited in a foreign language as the Muslims pray in Arabic,” the archbishop told members of the synod Oct. 16.


The problem, he said, comes with translations of the Mass from the original Latin. While the Vatican has insisted on translations being as literal as possible in order to remain faithful to the full content and rich implications of the Latin terms, the Indonesian bishop said a “literal translation is not always possible, because of the diversity and complexity of languages.”

In Indonesia, he said, a problem can arise when translating “et cum spirito tuo” (“and with your spirit”) into a local language. “The word ‘spiritus’ as translated into ‘roh’ in our language could readily evoke the idea of ‘evil spirit,’ thus ‘et cum spirito tuo’ means, for some communities, ‘with your evil spirit,'” the bishop told synod members, who laughed.

With liturgical translations, he said, the “principle of subsidiarity” should apply: The local bishops should make the final decision because they know the local language.

Another consideration of the real-life circumstances that keep many baptized members from practicing their faith was raised by Maltese Bishop Mario Grech of Gozo. He said the church must continue to uphold Jesus’ teaching on the indissolubility of marriage, but it also must reach out to those whose marriages have ended badly.

Couples who are divorced and civilly remarried, he said, feel the church’s teaching “as a weight on their heads and their hearts, and find difficulties in reconciling themselves with the church and perhaps with God.”

Bishops, pastors and other Catholics must take seriously papal teaching that while couples in irregular situations “are not in perfect communion with the church” and may not receive the Eucharist, they do love the Lord and are still members of the church, Bishop Grech said.

He quoted Pope Benedict, who at the World Meeting of Families in June, said the church loves such people, and “it is important that they should see and feel this love.”

Another way the church must tailor its message to individuals is through the media, and particularly through social networks such as Facebook, said Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.

The pervasive presence of the digital media in the lives of modern people, particularly the lives of the young, means the church cannot treat social networks simply as “virtual spaces less important than the ‘real’ world,” he said. “If the Gospel is not also proclaimed digitally, we run the risk of abandoning many people for whom this is the world in which they ‘live.'”

The Catholic Church, which is used to preaching to people or reaching them through texts and books, he said, must learn the language of the need media, which value “spontaneous, interactive and participatory” discourse, the archbishop said.

Bishop Sarah F. Davis, vice president of the World Methodist Council and an ecumenical delegate invited to the synod by Pope Benedict XVI, told members, “Evangelistic outreach must be informed and shaped by the specific needs and cultural environment of those with whom the Gospel is being shared.”

Bishop Davis, who serves as the Jamaica-based bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, told synod members Oct. 16 that “creativity is needed so that in meeting the needs of persons, the Gospel is not compromised.”

However, she said, in the end, “it will be the evangelizers who are placed under the microscope, not the processes, not the programs, nor the plans developed out of this synod. People want to know that what the evangelizers are advertising has already worked in their lives.”

Irish Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin also urged particular care with the use of language and called for new educational efforts to help young Catholics learn what the church means by the terms and phrases it uses.

The church faces a challenge, involving not just the media, but a whole “culture of the manipulation of language and the management of information where the meaning of words is changed and manipulated for commercial, ideological or political motives,” he said.

The way language is used publicly, Archbishop Martin said, has created a situation in which “young people live in a culture of relativism and indeed banalization of the truth often without even being aware of it.”

The new evangelization must include a “robust confrontation of ideas” that can help young people discern the arguments and ideas presented to them, he said.