PopeWatch: Proselytism

Sandro Magister examines the hatred of the Pope for what he deems “proselytism”:


In entitling (see above) the speech given on May 20 by Pope Francis to the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, “Vatican News,” the official digital news bulletin of the Holy See, emphasized his umpteenth inevitable broadside against “proselytism.”

The text that Francis was reading did not mention it, but the pope could not resist making this addition off the cuff:

“There is a danger that is popping up again – it seems overcome, but it pops up again: confusing evangelization with proselytism. No. Evangelization is testimony to Jesus Christ, dead and risen. It is He who draws in. This is why the Church grows by attraction, and not by proselytism, as Benedict XVI had said. But this confusion has arisen to some extent from a political-economic conception of evangelization, which is no longer evangelization. Then the presence, the concrete presence, through which they ask you why you are this way. And then you proclaim Jesus Christ. It is not seeking new members for this ‘Catholic society,’ no, it is showing Jesus: that He should show himself in my person, in my behavior; and with my life opening up spaces for Jesus. This is evangelizing. And this is what your founders had in their hearts.”

Further on Francis again added off the cuff:

“On this allow me to recommend to you the last sections of ‘Evangelii Nuntiandi.’ You know that ‘Evangelii Nuntiandi’ is the greatest pastoral document of the post-Council: it is still recent, it is still in effect, and has not lost its power. In the last paragraphs, when it describes what an evangelizer should be like, it speaks of the joy of evangelizing. When Saint Paul VI speaks of the sins of the evangelizer: the last four or five sections. Read it well, thinking of the joy that he urges for us.”

In these two additions there is no surprise. Both the criticism of proselytism and the exaltation of “Evangelii Nuntiandi” are the mantra of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, every time he speaks of missions.

But it is the why and the how of this twofold insistence of his that are difficult to understand.


If by “proselytism” Francis means a missionary effort pushed to the extreme, forced, measured by the number of the newly baptized, it is a mystery from where he would gather the conviction that this is a real “danger” in the Catholic Church that “is popping up again today.”

Because if there is one incontestable reality in the Church of the past half century, it is not the excess but the collapse of the missionary drive.

It is the collapse that was well-known to Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI, who tried in various ways to oppose it and call the Church back to an authentic mission: the first, among other ways, with a synod on evangelization and with the subsequent apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Nuntiandi” of 1975, the second with the 1990 encyclical “Redemptoris Missio,” the third with the 2007 “Doctrinal note on some aspects of evangelization” and with a new synod on the missions.

Without receiving a favorable welcome for these appeals of theirs, except in the vitality of some young Churches of Africa and of Asia or, in the West, in a few isolated pockets that have been able to keep alive the authentic missionary impulse. Among which none other than the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions received in audience three days ago by the pope.

One member of this institute was Fr. Piero Gheddo (1929-2017), to whom John Paul II entrusted the composition of the encyclical “Redemptoris Missio” and who even before that was among the main authors of the missionary decree “Ad Gentes” of Vatican Council II.

But contrary to his predecessors and on the basis of an opposite interpretation of the missionary experience of the Church in the last few decades, Francis seems to want instead to put the brakes on the missions.

Go here to read the rest.  This Pope is a living example of what CS Lewis warned about in this passage from The Screwtape Letters:

“The use of Fashions in thought is to distract the attention of men from their real dangers. We direct the fashionable outcry of each generation against those vices of which it is least in danger and fix its approval on the virtue nearest to that vice which we are trying to make endemic. The game is to have them all running about with fire extinguishers whenever there is a flood, and all crowding to that side of the boat which is already nearly gunwale under. Thus we make it fashionable to expose the dangers of enthusiasm at the very moment when they are all really becoming worldly and lukewarm; a century later, when we are really making them all Byronic and drunk with emotion, the fashionable outcry is directed against the dangers of mere ‘understanding.’ Cruel ages are put on their guard against Sentimentality, feckless and idle ones against Respectability, lecherous ones against Puritanism.”

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  1. I tend to agree with what Sandro Magister wrote in so far as Francis isn’t giving us an idea as to what the bright line is between proselytizing and evangelizing. Even a single example might help steer folks in the right direction (a sort of a Catholic version of Goofus and Gallant). I wouldn’t necessarily limit such murkiness to the Pope, though. I find a lot of people don’t really know where to gauge whether some action doesn’t spread the message enough or if it’s being too forceful.

  2. Pope Francis is right. Proselytism is a terrible idea if your objective is to destroy the Catholic faith.
    We should all be pleased that PF emerged on the scene as the personification of Vatican II and its most successful effort to Protestantize the Catholic Church.

    Looks to me he is well on his way to riding the world of Catholicism and replacing it secular humanism and Communism. In the end he will lose out to God.

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