For a while I have intended to write something on Pope Francis’ harsh comments in his informal chat related by the atheist newsie Eugenio Scalfari about proselytism.
The Pope smiles and says: “Some of my colleagues who know you told me that you will try to convert me.”
It’s a joke I tell him. My friends think it is you want to convert me.
He smiles again and replies: “Proselytism is solemn nonsense, it makes no sense. We need to get to know each other, listen to each other and improve our knowledge of the world around us. Sometimes after a meeting I want to arrange another one because new ideas are born and I discover new needs. This is important: to get to know people, listen, expand the circle of ideas. The world is crisscrossed by roads that come closer together and move apart, but the important thing is that they lead towards the Good.”
Some people are worried about this, as if Francis is saying that the Church should not try to convert people to Christianity, to formal membership in the Catholic Church.
That would mean that Francis directly contradicted John Paul II in Redemptoris missio 47:
The Church calls all people to this conversion, following the example of John the Baptist, who prepared the way for Christ by “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mk 1:4), as well as the example of Christ himself, who “after John was arrested,…came into Galilee preaching the Gospel of God and saying: ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel'” (Mk 1:14-15).
Nowadays the call to conversion which missionaries address to non-Christians is put into question or passed over in silence. It is seen as an act of “proselytizing”; it is claimed that it is enough to help people to become more human or more faithful to their own religion, that it is enough to build communities capable of working for justice, freedom, peace and solidarity. What is overlooked is that every person has the right to hear the “Good News” of the God who reveals and gives himself in Christ, so that each one can live out in its fullness his or her proper calling. This lofty reality is expressed in the words of Jesus to the Samaritan woman: “If you knew the gift of God,” and in the unconscious but ardent desire of the woman: “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst” (Jn 4:10, 15).
Some of you are going to run around in circles with your hair on fire now saying that “FRANCIS IS AGAINST JOHN PAUL II!”
I remind the honorable readership that none of the statements that Francis made in either interview are complete statements.
Furthermore, there is no indication that Francis thought that what he was engaged in was more more than a conversation. There is not the slightest shred of evidence that Francis thought he was teaching officially in his role as Successor of Peter.
The “proselytism” that Pope Francis scorns is not to be equated with “evangelization”.
Surely what Francis scorns is the crude proselytizing à la Pentecostals and Mormons in Latin America. That is the sort of proselytism with which Francis would be familiar. That is the sort of proselytism that we will probably be accused of when we engage in any kind of evangelization.
Is Francis breaking with his predecessors or is he simply stressing some different aspect of the same issues as his predecessors?
Let’s read Francis through Benedict.
Benedict XVI spoke about proselytism when he was in Aparecida in 2007, a gathering of CELAM which had a great impact on then-Card. Bergoglio.
The Church does not engage in proselytism. Instead, she grows by “attraction“- just as Christ “draws all to himself” by the power of his love, culminating in the sacrifice of the Cross, so the Church fulfills her mission to the extent that, in union with Christ, she accomplishes every one of her works in spiritual and practical imitation of the love of her Lord.
We don’t proselytize. The Church “attracts”. She attracts especially through spiritual and corporal works of mercy performed through true charity.
I don’t see a lot of daylight between Francis and Benedict on this point.
Finally, putting on my Cato the Elder cap for a moment, as I wrote after having read the Scalfari chat:
- abortion is still murder,
- gay marriage is still no marriage,
- we’re going to jaw-jaw with nonbelievers,
- we’re still going to be a minority,
- Former-Fr. – Mister Reynolds is still excommunicated!