According to the Oxford Dictionary ‘proselytize’ means ‘convert or attempt to convert someone from one religion […] to another,’ while ‘proselyte’ means ‘a person who has converted from one opinion, religion […] to another.’ Ever since the time of Jesus, the Church – as guardian of the truth – has given special importance to attracting all people to its midst, thus leading them toward salvation. In other words, it employs a proselytism for the good, in the full sense of the word. However… perhaps other methods are more pleasing to God.
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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 (Interview with Eugenio Scalfari, October1, 2013 – La Repubblica text)
Note 1: The authors of this study are aware that the Vatican Press Office has denied the interpretations that some media sources have attributed to certain affirmations contained in the interviews of Francis with Eugenio Scalfari. On the other hand, it is noteworthy that some of these sources are still published on the Vatican website (found by clicking on the links of the articles), lending an official air to their content, seemingly with the approval of Francis himself. In the midst of all the turmoil and confusion caused, we always feel that a presentation of the true doctrine should be made with clarity, together with such affirmations. We must not forget that the majority of the public read only the titles that the media publishes, and, as we know, the latter frequently manipulate the truth. Consequently, it appears that a mere declaration that the content of these interviews does not correspond with the textual words of Francis, is simply not sufficient. As such, we publish this article with the intention of clarifying and orienting the faithful, who have always been the principle objective of this page, as we expressed in our letter of presentation. In this way, each person can make a correct judgment, having beforehand attained knowledge of the truth.
Should you go and convince someone else that he should become Catholic? No, no, no! Go and encounter him, he is your brother!And this is enough. And go and help him, Jesus or the Holy Spirit will do the rest. (Video-Message on the feast of Saint Cajetan, August 7, 2013)
But Paul, too, was ‘aware that he must evangelize, not proselytize’. Paul teaches what the path of evangelization should be, to follow with courage. And ‘when the Church loses this apostolic courage, she becomes a lifeless Church. Orderly, perhaps — nice, very nice — but barren, because she has lost the courage to go to the outskirts, where there are so many people who are victims of idolatry, worldliness, and weak thought.’ In order to curb the fear of making a mistake, you have to realize that you can rise and continue to move forward. ‘Those who do not walk for fear of making a mistake’ — concluded Pope Francis — ‘make the most serious mistake.’ (Homily, Santa Marta, May 8, 2013)
I am also delighted to know that in recent years, it has been possible to restore several Christian shrines in Algeria. By welcoming everyone as they are, with benevolence and without proselytism, your communities manifest the desire to be a Church with open doors, one which ever ‘goes forth’ (cf. Evangelii Gaudium no. 46-47). (Address to the Bishops of North Africa, March 2, 2015)
[Eugenio Scalfari] One day, at one of our meetings, he spoke to me of that mission which concerned also unbelievers. “The missionary Church” — he said to me — “does not proselytize, rather attempts to engender in people the search for good in their own souls.’ (Conversation with Eugenio Scalfari, La Repubblica, March 15, 2015)
[…] yet again: the problem of ecumenism. Never fight! Let the theologians study the abstract realities of theology. But what should I do with a friend, neighbour, an Orthodox person? Be open, be a friend. “But should I make efforts to convert him or her?” There is a very grave sin against ecumenism: proselytism. We should never proselytise the Orthodox! They are our brothers and sisters, disciples of Jesus Christ. […] Do not condemn. No. I must not do this. Friendship, walking together, praying for one another. Praying and carrying out works of charity together, when this is possible. This is ecumenism. But never condemn a brother or a sister, never refrain from greeting an Orthodox brother or sister because they are Orthodox. (Apostolic Journey to Georgia and Azerbaijan, October 1, 2016)
Conversion is not easy, because it means changing one’s life, changing one’s ways, changing so many things, even changing the soul. But this path of conversion will give us the identity of a people who knows how to bear children, not a sterile people! If we, like the Church, do not know how to bear children, something is not working! The great challenge for the Church today is to become mother: mother! Not a perfectly organized non-profit, with so many pastoral plans… We need them, sure… But that is not essential, it is just a help. A help to what? To the motherhood of the Church. If the Church is not mother, it is sad to say that she becomes a spinster, but she does become a spinster! That’s how it is: she bears no fruit. The Church not only makes children, but it is part of her identity to make children, that is, to evangelize, as Paul VI says in Evangelii nuntiandi. The Church’s identity is this: to evangelize, that is, to make children. I think of our mother Sarah, who grew old without children; I think of Elizabeth, the wife of Zacharius, old without children; I think of Noemi, another old woman without descendents… And these barren women did bear children, they were given descendents: the Lord is capable of doing that!That is why the Church must do something, must change, must convert in order to become mother. She must be fruitfull! Fruitfulness is a grace that we today need to ask from the Holy Spirit, so that we can go forward in our pastoral and missionary conversion. This is not a question of seeking to proselytize, no, no! To go ring the bell: “Would you like to come to this association called the Catholic Church?…”. We need to make a card, another member… The Church —Benedict XVI told us — does not grow through proselytism, she grows through attraction, maternal attraction, offering her motherhood: she grows through tenderness, her maternity, the witness that generates ever more and more children. She is a little aged, our Mother Church… We shouldn’t call her “Grandma Church”, but still she is a little older… We must rejuvenate her! We must rejuvenate her, but not by taking her to the plastic surgeon, no! This is not the true rejuvenation of the Church, it doesn’t work. The Church grows younger when she is capable of generating more children; she grows younger the more she becomes mother.(Address to participants in Rome’s Diocesan Conference, June 16, 2014)
[Francis]: That is why the Spirit is the author of unity among Christians. That is why unity comes about on our journey, because unity is a grace that one should ask for, and that is why I also repeat that all proselytism among Christians is sinful. The Church never grows due to proselytism but rather “by attraction”, as Benedict XVI said. Proselytism among Christians, therefore, is in itself a grave sin.
[Francis]: Because it contradicts the very dynamic of how to become and continue being Christian. The Church is not a soccer team looking for fans.(Interview with “Avvenire”, November 18, 2016 – English summary)
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