Mary must be our key to the New Evangelization in the U.S., the incoming head of the U.S. bishops’ evangelization committee says.
“The greatest evangelization that ever happened in the history of the world was when Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared in what is now Mexico City, and converted seven million people within ten years,” Bishop Andrew Cozzens, auxiliary bishop of St. Paul-Minneapolis, told CNA in an interview at the recent fall meeting of the U.S. bishops’ conference.
“So divine help is the ultimate goal,” he said.
Bishop Cozzens was elected as the chairman of the Committee on Evangelization of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) at the recent fall assembly in Baltimore, from Nov. 11-13.
He will succeed Bishop Robert Barron, auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, in the role. Barron has served as chairman of the committee since the fall of 2017.
During his tenure, Barron emphasized the challenge of evangelizing the “nones,” or Americans who do not affiliate with any religion. In a presentation to fellow bishops in June of 2019, Barron noted that for every convert to the Catholic Church, more than six people are leaving the church.
The problem of religious disaffiliation is especially marked among young people. According to the Pew Research Center, more than four-in-ten Millennials are religiously unaffiliated.
Cozzens credited Barron with keeping the issue prominent as the bishops’ conference simultaneously responded to the renewed clergy sexual abuse crisis.
“I’d love to see us, as a bishops’ conference, take the problem head-on and come together in various ways,” Cozzens said, while stressing that evangelization at the parish level is the primary aim, together with strengthening families. He said that Marian devotion will be critical to any success.
“Teaching that Mary’s role in our faith and in the family can really help strengthen families” is essential, he told CNA.
As the Church responds to a rise in the “nones” and in Catholics leaving the church, a key question needs to be “how do we make our Catholics missionary disciples?” Cozzens asked.
This needs to be done at the “grassroots level,” he said, noting efforts which have been underway by groups like Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), St. Paul’s Outreach, the Neocatechumenal Way, and the Catholic Charismatic Renewal.
This involves “helping lead people to that encounter and that formation they need to be able to send forth people as evangelizers,” he said.
Another development during Barron’s tenure as evangelization chair was the V Encuentro, a national gathering of Hispanic Catholic leaders, held in September of 2018.
The future of the Church in the U.S. will largely be tied to the Hispanic community, but, in October, Pew reported that Catholics no longer constitute a majority among Hispanics in America.
“The whole basis of the Encuentro process was forming missionary disciples,” Cozzens said, “so that process, as it goes forward, is really intended to form leaders who would be able to help our young people, especially our Latino young people.”
“In some ways, I find it much easier to evangelize than your average American young person,” Cozzens said of the Hispanic Catholic community in the U.S. “They’re very open. But we have to do it.”