What is Evangelii Gaudium Sunday?

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Sunday, 18 September 2022

The Third Sunday in September, formerly called Home Mission Sunday, is now Evangelii Gaudium Sunday. Named after Pope Francis’ first (solo) Apostolic Exhortation on the Joy of the Gospel, the day offers the Catholic community in England and Wales the opportunity to celebrate the beauty of our faith and our commitment to witness to the fullness of life in Christ.

Fr Jan Nowotnik, Director of Mission at the Bishops’ Conference, tells us more about the day and how you can support this important work.

Evangelii Gaudium Sunday will be celebrated in Catholic parishes throughout England and Wales on Sunday, 18 September 2022.


You can watch the interview on YouTube or follow the transcription below.

Q: Today we’re talking about Evangelii Gaudium Sunday, formerly known as Home Mission Sunday. It’s going to be celebrated on 18 September, 2022. And I’m joined by Father Jan Nowotnik, our Director of Mission here at the Bishops’ Conference. The Day used to be known as Home Mission Sunday. It’s now ‘Evangelii Gaudium Sunday’, some people might not know the significance of Evangelii Gaudium and why we’ve called this day ‘Evangelii Gaudium Sunday,’ So tell us…

Well, to answer your first question, Evangelii Gaudium is the title of Pope Francis’ first Apostolic Exhortation in 2013 when he became Pope, and he spoke then about the joy of the Gospel. So Evangelii Gaudium is Latin for the ‘joy of the Gospel’. And in that document, he was really inviting the Catholic Church to be joyous in proclaiming the faith – seeking new ways of understanding the faith and reaching out to others. On our Evangelii Gaudium Sunday, on the 18 September, what we’re trying to do is to help people understand what we do here at the Bishops’ Conference secretariat to support our bishops in three areas of their work.

The first is evangelisation and discipleship, which encompasses all the work that the bishops do in those areas – particularly supporting our evangelisation and catechesis coordinators in the 22 dioceses of England and Wales. So the work here at the secretariat is not to tell people, top down, what to do, but to support that work and to be a conduit where information can be gathered and people can give and receive information and share good practice about what is going on across England and Wales to bring people to faith and to form them in faith.

Central to that is the work that we’re doing with the bishops to institute the ministries of catechist, lector and acolyte – supporting Pope Francis’ desire that we formally institute catechists for the Church and admit more lay people into the ministry of reader and acolyte.

Q: For those that may not know, what is an acolyte?

Well, acolyte means to be the candle bearer. You may think “Gosh, why are we training people to carry candles?” But realistically, in our parishes we have Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion – those lay people who assist in distributing Holy Communion – but also in visiting the sick and in having an outreach in the parish. So I think the Holy Father wants to say that this is an important ministry in the Church and it’s now more open. It used to just be for those on their way to priesthood so seminarians, those training to be priests, would be instituted as readers and acolytes. But Pope Francis has said that everyone should be able to do these, female and male alike, and the hope would be that we will gradually begin to introduce these into the life of the Church in England and Wales.

Q: Now, ‘Evangelii Gaudium Sunday,’ has evangelisation at its core, how we reach out, how we spread the beauty of our faith. But we’re also talking about the beauty of the liturgy, the beauty of our churches and the patrimony therein. Tell us a bit about that.

So the Mission area, which I head up, encompasses the first aspect we spoke about – evangelisation and discipleship – but it also supports the work of the bishops, guided by them, in areas such as the liturgy and patrimony. We respond to Rome’s requests regarding liturgical texts, making sure that we have proper translations in English which are then approved by Rome. Also offering opportunities for liturgical formation across the Dioceses of England and Wales. What goes on in our church buildings is essential and very, very important – the heart of what we do as Catholics when we gather Sunday-by-Sunday for the Eucharist – but we also preserve the beauty of the buildings. The buildings that we have need to be cared for and looked after. We have dedicated people here, who work within the secretariat, who support the bishops in their dioceses to look after historic churches and listed buildings to gain funding so that they can be repaired and looked after. This enables them to be truly beautiful places, so that when we enter them, we’re caught up in that mystery of the beauty of God. It’s really important work that has produced millions of pounds in funding for our churches, which we’re very grateful for.

Q: What is the third component?

Dialogue and unity are the two additional aspects of the work that I would stress and, again, perhaps not always fully appreciated. When I was in the parish, I remember we would have our ecumenical ‘walks of witness’. We would engage with Christian ministers from the other churches. People may be surprised to know that we actually do that at a national level as well. So part of the work that we do in the Mission Team is to work with members of other Christian denominations and those members of other faiths. In fact, the other half of my title is to be the National Ecumenical Officer. I work directly with the bishops to support them in that work. For example, I find myself at the General Synod of the Church of England, representing the Bishops of England and Wales, and I also represent them on lots of ecumenical bodies.

Just the other day, members of the Mission Team were supporting one of our bishops on a visit to a mosque – creating better and deeper relationships with our Muslim brothers and sisters. We also work with the Jewish community, with Sikhs, with Buddhists. So there’s a lot of outreach, which perhaps doesn’t directly, always impinge on the life of the diocese, but it’s really important work. When we think about ecumenism, Jesus in the Gospel in John, Chapter 17, prayed that we would all be one. So this is the work of Christ that we’re doing. We also support the ecumenical coordinators from the dioceses – directly supporting their diocesan bishop and encouraging that work nationwide.

Q: There’s also outreach to those of no faith, isn’t there?

Absolutely. Because I think going back to Evangelii Gaudium and even going back to Paul VI in 1964 in a really important document Ecclesiam Suam on the nature of the church… Pope Paul VI talked about the fact that we have a dialogue, obviously, with ourselves in the Catholic Church, with other Christians, with those of the other faiths, and then those who are seeking God – people of goodwill. In Eucharistic Prayer IV, there’s that lovely phrase about “those who seek you with a sincere heart”. So we are trying to find ways to engage with people. And again, that leads us into that vision of patrimony and the beauty of our churches, if our doors are open and people walk into a church, perhaps the first thing that they do will be to marvel that there is something special and they might just want to enter into a dialogue. So we support that work as best we can.

Q: It’s a second collection day and we’re just emerging from a pandemic and times are pretty hard for people. But we’d encourage a bit of support, financially, if possible, but certainly through prayer, for those important aspects of our work, wouldn’t we?

Absolutely. I’ve been a parish priest, and I know sometimes when people say there’s a second collection, there’s a sort of a collective groan! And I know at the moment that things are not easy for people. Providing for our families, putting fuel in our cars, getting food on our tables – these are really difficult moments for all of us. I know that some people may feel that they cannot give anything at the moment – and that’s fine, actually.

The first thing is to pray for this work, to pray for the work that we’re doing, to pray for our bishops in their outreach in all of these areas and their ministry, which we here at the Secretariat try to support as best we can. And if you can give something to the second collection, please do and be assured that the money you give – however big or small – directly supports this work. It doesn’t get lost in the ether. That money goes into a specific pot, which is for mission and Evangelii Gaudium work. We will use the money that you so generously give to support those of us who work within the Bishops’ Conference, the dioceses and alongside the bishops.