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On his recent trip to Mozambique, Pope Francis had a meeting with a group of Jesuits. His answer to one of their questions is quite significant for us and our understanding of our role in evangelization. Evangelization is at the heart of the Christian mission, yet in ecumenical and interfaith relations the relationship between proselytism and evangelization frequently arises. Pope Francis, apparently off the cuff, gave a very precise answer.

Note: the use of the term "sect" is common in countries and languages other than English. It does not carry the same pejorative meaning in these languages. A sect is simply a religious group that has grown apart from the main branch. To describe Protestants in this way is not without difficulties, but does not constitute a negative judgment about their doctrine or ministry.

The text is below. The full transcript of the encounter is at https://www.laciviltacattolica.com/the-sovereignty-of-the-people-of-god-the-pontiff-meets-the-jesuits-of-mozambique-and-madagascar/

Next came a question from Bendito Ngozzo, chaplain of the Santo Inácio Loyola High School: "Some Protestant sects use the promise of wealth and prosperity to make proselytes. The poor become fascinated and hope to become rich by adhering to these sects that use the name of the Gospel. That's how they leave the Church. What recommendation can you give us so that our evangelization is not proselytism?"

What you say is very important. To start with, we must distinguish carefully between the different groups who are identified as "Protestants." There are many with whom we can work very well, and who care about serious, open and positive ecumenism. But there are others who only try to proselytize and use a theological vision of prosperity. You were very specific in your question.

Two important articles in Civiltà Cattolica have been published in this regard. I recommend them to you. They were written by Father Spadaro and the Argentinean Presbyterian pastor, Marcelo Figueroa. The first article spoke of the "ecumenism of hatred." The second was on the "theology of prosperity."[3] Reading them you will see that there are sects that cannot really be defined as Christian. They preach Christ, yes, but their message is not Christian. It has nothing to do with the preaching of a Lutheran or any other serious evangelical Christianity. These so-called "evangelicals" preach prosperity. They promise a Gospel that does not know poverty, but simply seeks to make proselytes. This is exactly what Jesus condemns in the Pharisees of his time. I've said it many times: proselytism is not Christian.

Today I felt a certain bitterness after a meeting with young people. A woman approached me with a young man and a young woman. I was told they were part of a slightly fundamentalist movement. She said to me in perfect Spanish: "Your Holiness, I am from South Africa. This boy was a Hindu and converted to Catholicism. This girl was Anglican and converted to Catholicism." But she told me in a triumphant way, as though she was showing off a hunting trophy. I felt uncomfortable and said to her, "Madam, evangelization yes, proselytism no."

What I mean is that evangelization is free! Proselytism, on the other hand, makes you lose your freedom. Proselytism is incapable of creating a religious path in freedom. It always sees people being subjugated in one way or another. In evangelization the protagonist is God, in proselytism it is the I.

Of course, there are many forms of proselytism. The one practiced by soccer teams, acquiring fans, is all right, obviously! And then it is clear that there are those forms of proselytism for commerce and business, for political parties. Proselytism is widespread, we know that. But it doesn't have to be the case with us. We must evangelize, which is very different from proselytizing.

St. Francis of Assisi told his friars: "Go out to the world, evangelize. And, if necessary, use words, too." Evangelization is essentially witness. Proselytizing is convincing, but it is all about membership and takes your freedom away. I believe that this distinction can be of great help. Benedict XVI in Aparecida said something wonderful, that the Church does not grow by proselytism, it grows by attraction, the attraction of witness. The sects, on the other hand, making proselytes, separate people, promising them many advantages and then leaving them to themselves.[4]

Among you there are certainly theologians, sociologists and philosophers: I ask you to study and deepen the difference between proselytism and evangelization. Read well Evangelii Nuntiandi of Paul VI. There it is clear that the vocation of the Church is to evangelize. Indeed, the very identity of the Church involves evangelizing. Unfortunately, however, not only in the sects, but also within the Catholic Church there are fundamentalist groups. They emphasize proselytism more than evangelization.

Another typical thing about proselytizing is that it does not distinguish between the internal and external forums. And this is the sin into which many religious groups fall today. That is why I asked the Apostolic Penitentiary to make a statement on the internal forum, and that statement is really very good.[5]

Evangelizers never violate the conscience: they announce, sow and help to grow. They help. Whoever proselytizes, on the other hand, violates people's conscience: this does not make them free, it makes them dependent. Evangelization gives you a filial dependence, that is, it makes you free and able to grow. Proselytizing gives you a servile dependence at the level of the conscience and the society. The dependence of the evangelized person, the "filial" dependence, is the memory of the grace that God has given you. The proselyte instead depends not as a child, but as a slave, who in the end does not know what to do unless he or she is told.

Once again I recommend these two articles in Civiltà Cattolica: read them and study them because they address much of what I am telling you. Here I tried to communicate to you the main message.

Footnotes:

[3]. A. Spadaro – M. Figueroa, "Evangelical fundamentalism and Catholic fundamentalism. A surprising ecumenism" in Civiltà Cattolica. 2017, https://www.laciviltacattolica.com/evangelical-fundamentalism-and-catholic-integralism-in-the-usa-a-surprising-ecumenism ; "The Prosperity Gospel: Dangerous and Different" https://www.laciviltacattolica.com/the-prosperity-gospel-dangerous-and-different.

[4]. Cf. Benedict XVI, Homily during the Holy Mass for the Inauguration of the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean (May 13, 2007): "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."

[5]. "Note of the Apostolic Penitentiary on the importance of the internal forum and the inviolability of the sacramental seal" July 1, 2019.

DOI: La Civiltà Cattolica, En. Ed. Vol. 3, no. 9, art. 10, 2019: 10.32009/22072446.1909.10

Page URL: http://archregina.sk.ca/news/2019/09/27/pope-francis-proselytism-and-evangelization