ROME — Every baptized Christian is called to actively proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, Pope Francis said Sunday in his weekly Angelus address.
The pope underscored the importance of missionary activity in his address to the thousands of pilgrims gathered in Saint Peter’s Square, noting that “passivity is not becoming to the Christian witness and the mission of the Church.”
“The world needs Christians who let themselves be moved, who do not tire of walking the streets of life, of bringing the comforting word of Jesus to everyone,” Francis said. “Every baptized Christian has received the call to proclamation, to the mission of evangelization!”
The Christian life “requires dynamism and a willingness to walk,” he insisted, “allowing one another to be guided by the Holy Spirit.”
The pope has often addressed the question of evangelization, insisting that Christians must bear witness to Jesus but must not try to convince others of the truth of Christianity.
“You know your contemporaries, you know that many are alone, that many do not know Jesus,” Francis told young people gathered for a national Catholic youth conference in Indianapolis last November. “Go, go and bring the Lord, go and fill your environments, even the digital, but not of convictions, not to convince, not to proselytize, but to witness to the tenderness and mercy of Jesus.”
In September 2019 Francis delivered a similar message in a meeting with his fellow Jesuits in Mozambique.
At that time the pope suggested that many Evangelicals in the United States do not preach the real gospel of Jesus and should not be considered Christians.
“They preach Christ, yes, but their message is not Christian,” Francis said. “It has nothing to do with the preaching of a Lutheran or any other serious evangelical Christianity.”
“These so-called ‘evangelicals’ preach prosperity,” he continued. “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.”
The pope also recounted his deep disappointment on meeting a young woman who was excited about having brought two people to Christ.
“Today I felt a certain bitterness after a meeting with young people,” he said. “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,” he said. “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 ego.”
“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,” he said.
Last December as well, the pope told a group of Christian high school students that they should respect people of other faiths and not attempt to convert them to Christianity, insisting “we are not living in the times of the crusades.”
Asked by one of the students Friday how a Christian should treat people of other faiths or no faith, the pope said that “we are all the same, all children of God” and that true disciples of Jesus do not proselytize.
A Christian should never try to convince others of the truth of Christianity but should simply give a testimony of consistency and wait for others to ask about the faith, he proposed.
“You must be consistent with your faith,” he said. “It never occurred to me (and nor should it) to say to a boy or a girl: ‘You are Jewish, you are Muslim: come, be converted!’ You be consistent with your faith and that consistency is what will make you mature. We are not living in the times of the crusades.”
“The last thing I should do is to try to convince an unbeliever. Never,” he said. “The last thing I should do is speak. I should live my faith with consistency. And it will be my witness that will awaken the curiosity of the other who may then ask: ‘But why do you do this?’ And yes, then I can speak.”
“But listen, the gospel is never, ever advanced through proselytism,” he continued. “If someone says he is a disciple of Jesus and comes to you with proselytism, he is not a disciple of Jesus. Proselytism is not the way; the Church does not grow by proselytism.”
The Church grows by attraction, by witness, he said. “Soccer teams can do proselytism, this can be done, political parties can do it, but there should be no proselytism with the faith. And if someone asks me: ‘But why do you do this?’ Read, read, read the Gospel, this is my faith. But without pressure.”