Pope Benedict XVI has declared a "Year of Faith" which will begin in October 2012, the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council.
"It will be a moment of grace and commitment to a more complete conversion to God, to strengthen our faith in Him and proclaim Him with joy to the people of our time," said the Pope, making his announcement during Sunday Mass at St. Peter's Basilica.
The Year of Faith will run from October 11, 2012, until November 24, 2013, which is the Solemnity of Christ the King.
The Pope said in his Oct. 16 remarks that it will give "new impetus to the mission of the whole Church to lead men out of the desert in which they often find themselves, to the place of life, of friendship with Christ." He also said that "reasons, purposes and guidelines" for the year will be set out in an Apostolic Letter to be published "in the coming days."
The vast congregation at this morning's Mass largely consisted of those involved in the "new evangelization," who were in Rome for a summit organized by the recently formed Pontifical Council for Promotion of the New Evangelization The new evangelization aims to revivify Catholicism in traditionally Christian countries which have been particularly affected by secularization in recent decades.
Unusually, the 84-year-old pontiff was wheeled both in and out of the Mass on a mobile platform. Normally Pope Benedict would walk the approximately 110 yards down the central aisle of St. Peters. "This is just not to tire him," papal spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., told reporters, adding that "nothing else should be read into the general state of his health, which is good."
Drawing upon the Scripture readings for today, the Pope outlined a roadmap for the new evangelizers. In the first reading, the Prophet Isaiah recounts how King Cyrus, the Persian Emperor in the 6th century B.C., played his part in fulfilling a divine plan despite that fact that he "did not know" God and was not even Jewish.
"Even the mighty Cyrus, the Persian Emperor, is part of a greater plan, that only God knows and carries forward," observed the Pope.
This demonstrates, he said, the need for a new "theology of history" as an "essential part" of the new evangelization "because "the men of our time, after the disastrous season of totalitarian empires of the 20th century, need to find a comprehensive vision of the world and time," more compatible with the vision of the Church.
In the second reading, taken from St. Paul's First Letter to the Thessalonians, the Pope said new evangelizers are reminded that "it is the Lord who touches hearts by His Word and His Spirit, by calling people to faith and communion in the Church."
The fact that it is God and not the evangelist who touches hearts, shows the importance of recognizing God as the prime mover in any apostolic activities which "must always be preceded, accompanied and followed by prayer," he said.
Pope Benedict also highlighted the importance of having collaborators like St. Paul who had Silvanus and Timothy as his companions in his work, and said today's new evangelizers should also seek coworkers in spreading the Gospel.
He then turned today's Gospel and said that it provides the key message the new evangelizers must bring to the world. In it, Christ tells the Pharisees to "render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." This is a reminder that the Church's message is not primarily a political one, the Pope said.
"The mission of the Church, like Christ," he said, "is essentially to speak of God, to commemorate His sovereignty, reminding everyone, especially Christians, who have lost their identity, of God's right over what belongs to Him, which is our lives."
Later in the morning, the Pope used his Sunday Angelus address to further explain his plans for a "Year of Faith" to over 40,000 pilgrims gathered in St. Peters Square. He summed up the initiative as "proclaiming Christ to those who do not know him or have, in fact, reduced him to a mere historical character."
He finished his address by placing all those involved in new evangelization under the protection of the Virgin Mary who "helps every Christian to be a valid witness to the Gospel."