“What would a new evangelisation of this country look like?” It was a question that revealed my questioner’s suspicion that the new evangelisation might merely be a vague aspiration, rather than the central task of the Church in our lifetime.

I struggled to think of a picture to express this reality which, as St John Paul II once explained, is already taking shape wherever there is a new ardour to evangelise arising out of greater unity with Christ and confidence in his power. This is the supernatural confidence needed in the enormous task facing us across Western societies that are increasingly estranged from their Christian roots. As the saintly pope explained in Redemptoris Missio, this is a task involving nothing less than re-evangelising “entire groups of the baptised [who] have lost a living sense of the faith, or no longer consider themselves members of the Church, and live a life far removed from Christ and his Gospel”.

An image that comes to mind is the light which Christmas brings each year, not only to our darkened streets which are illuminated at this time, but also to the life of families and society as a whole.

Recently on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, in a seemingly endless queue waiting to enter the cave of the Nativity, our youth and adult pilgrims found the place of Christ’s birth marked by a silver star.

A star is a single point of light visible to the human eye in the darkness of the night sky. The Gospels relate that Christ was born in the darkness of night. They tell how the appearance of a mysterious star marked his Nativity and led the pagan world to Him and “the sight of the star filled them with delight” (Matthew 2:10). Christ’s first coming was like such a single point of light in the vast darkness of the ancient world, drawing to himself first the shepherds of Bethlehem and then the Magi.

On the night flight returning with our Holy Land pilgrims, I unexpectedly glimpsed the picture my questioner was seeking. Late into the night I looked out from the window at what seemed an ocean of darkness beneath which was the continent of Europe over which we were passing. In this dark landscape, I gradually noticed dispersed points of light. In the most inhospitable terrain they were few in number, and yet as our journey progressed the lights became concentrated in towns and cities eventually illuminating the whole horizon. This, I thought, is surely

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