Cardinal Cupich: Evangelization is never coercive

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Thursday, February 1, 2018

Catholic-Jewish relations through Renew My Church

Cardinal Cupich was the guest speaker Jan. 29, 2018 at North Shore Congregation Israel in Glencoe. He spoke on the topic “What Does Outreach Mean in Light of Interreligious Dialogue?” and took questions from the audience. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Cardinal Cupich was the guest speaker Jan. 29 at North Shore Congregation Israel in Glencoe. He spoke on the topic “What Does Outreach Mean in Light of Interreligious Dialogue?” and took questions from the audience. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
As Cardinal Cupich speaks, the Hebrew Scripture "What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God" (Mi 6:8) can be read on the wall behind him.
Senior Rabbi Wendi Geffen listens as Cardinal Cupich was the guest speaker Jan. 29 at North Shore Congregation Israel in Glencoe.
Senior Rabbi Wendi Geffen of Northshore Congregation Israel prepares Cardinal Cupich for a Q & A following his lecture. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Assistant Rabbi Ryan E. Daniels, Rabbi Lisa S. Greene and Senior Rabbi Wendi Geffen greet Cardinal Cupich after the talk. (Karen Callway/Chicago Catholic)

Renew My Church is a call to build disciples and communities, Cardinal Cupich said at an evening lecture at North Shore Congregation Israel in Glencoe Jan. 29. Its spirit is a kind of evangelization that has nothing to do with proselytizing.

Cardinal Cupich explained what Renew My Church means to the Archdiocese of Chicago’s relationships with other religions at the lecture, which had a backdrop of the synagogue’s soaring open architecture designed by Minoru Yamasaki, the architect of the World Trade Center in New York City.

The cardinal shared with a congregation of about 200 people that through the multi-year planning process of Renew My Church, the Archdiocese of Chicago remains committed to the ideals put forth in the Second Vatican Council’s “Nostra Aetate” (“The Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions”).

“At the core is a shift from maintaining an institution to fostering vital faith communities, a shift from maintenance to mission. Certainly, this will mean how we use our resources, human, institutional and financial in new configurations,” he said. “But at its heart, Renew My Church seeks spiritual renewal that reinvigorates our call to discipleship, builds up our communities and inspires witness through service to the world.”

That doesn’t mean the archdiocese will set out to proselytize members of other faith communities, Cardinal Cupich said. 

“Evangelization … is about living a Gospel-centered life, as disciples continually encountering Jesus and formed into a community that inspires witness through service to others,” he said. “In freedom and with the help of God’s grace, a Gospel-centered life will attract some people to the Catholic Church. But note, our understanding of evangelization must always include a deep reverence for the religious freedom of every human person, which is a natural right; indeed it is a God-given right.”

This definition excludes any outreach that involves coercion or deception.

“Some people today worry that the new stress on evangelization by the Catholic Church means that we are abandoning the commitments made at Vatican II around ecumenism, interreligious dialogue and religious freedom,” the cardinal said. “I want to be as clear as possible tonight: We will not abandon these commitments either here in Chicago or throughout the universal church, for abandoning them would mean abandoning who we are.”

A concern for many faith leaders in the United States today is the decreasing number of young people who don’t practice any faith at all. Outreach to this population is part of Renew My Church.

“All people of good will struggle with these concerns. Both of our communities esteem tradition, in the sense that we see belonging as the means to move children and young people into a life of adult faith that takes responsibility for the needs of others, that makes us our brother’s keeper,” he said.

 Cardinal Cupich also suggested that Catholics and Jews together might explore how clergy support families, especially Catholic and Jewish families; the general issue of young adults disengaging from organized religion; and how to support any seeker in the spiritual quest. 

“Studies have repeatedly shown that conflict among religious leaders is one of the key factors that discourages young people from continuing the practice of the faith in their own families’ religious traditions,” he said. “The bottom line is that if we have any hope of reaching out to the next generation to pass on the everlasting life that God has planted in our midst, we have to reach out to each other in friendship and respect.”

After he concluded his prepared remarks, Cardinal Cupich fielded questions  on a variety of subjects ranging from how to reconcile differences in Scripture to how the Catholic Church maintains its commitment to children while closing schools. 

Regarding how the Catholic Church reconciles a desire to grow relationships with Jews and “an anti-Jewish bias in Scripture,” Cardinal Cupich said it helps to view these cases through the lens of what was happening to the people at the time. In the Gospel of Mark, an anti-Jewish sentiment appears when Jews are thrown out of the synagogue. But it is also more than that.  

“I think what we have to do is make sure that we are clear in our preaching about this that it in no way allows us to buy into an anti-Jewish or anti-Semitic attitude,” he said. “I think we have to point out how historically those texts have been misused to the detriment of Jewish people but also to the detriment of our relationships with them.”

When asked what is behind the violence in Chicago, Cardinal Cupich said he expects to release soon developments in his anti-violence initiative announced in April 2017.

“We’re going to try to move forward now with an agenda on how we can work together as a community here in Chicago to at least improve the situation, not necessarily cure the violence,” he said. “That’s going to be things such as people really becoming involved in the education of young people, ways in which we can mentor families and help kids find other choices, find ways in which too we can have safe corners or safe havens where people can come, a center for peace. This year is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King so I think it’s good for us to have a dialogue about this and what we can do.” 


  • renew my church
  • interreligious dialogue
  • evangelization

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