Then Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. ( Matthew 28:18-20 Modern English Version)
On Wednesday, Pope Francis, the head of the Catholic Church, addressed crowds gathered for his weekly general audience that convincing someone from another religion to become Christian is a “pagan” practice.
“To evangelize is not to proselytize,” the pope told crowds gathered in the Vatican for his weekly general audience. “To proselytize is something pagan, it is neither religious nor evangelical.”
Quoting the late Pope Benedict XVI, who died Dec. 31, Pope Francis said that “the church does not proselytize, but rather she grows by ‘attraction’” to the beauty of God’s love.
Evangelization “does not begin by seeking to convince others, but by bearing witness each day to the love that has watched over us and lifted us back up,” he said.
“This is not about proselytism, as I said, so that others become ‘one of us’ – no, this is not Christian,” he reiterated. “It is about loving so that they might be happy children of God.”
The pontiff has spoken against proselytizing several times. In the first year of his papacy, in an October 2013 interview with La Repubblica, he said, “Proselytism is solemn nonsense, it makes no sense … I believe in God, not in a Catholic God, there is no Catholic God, there is God and I believe in Jesus Christ, his incarnation.”
In an interview with Spanish language news outlet Mundo Negro back in mid-December, which was published on January 13, Pope Francis acknowledged that he initially became a Jesuit to go as a missionary to Japan.
“I see that the Catholic Mission is not a proselytizer, but announces the Gospel according to the culture of each place,” the Pope said. “Catholicism is that, respecting cultures.”
“A missionary goes, respects what is found in each place and helps to create harmony,” he added. “But it does not engage in ideological or religious proselytism, much less colonialism….the most serious sin that a missionary can have is proselytism. Catholicism is not proselytizing.”
Pope Francis has specifically forbidden attempts to convert Jews. In December 2015, the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with Jews released a document instructing Catholics not to try to convert Jews and should, instead, work with them to fight anti-Semitism. The document emphasized that the two religions were intertwined and that God had never annulled his covenant with the Jewish people.
“The Church is therefore obliged to view evangelization (spreading Christianity) to Jews, who believe in the one God, in a different manner from that to people of other religions and world views,” it said.
“A Christian can never be an anti-Semite, especially because of the Jewish roots of Christianity,” it said.
The document coincided with the 50th anniversary of a Vatican repudiation of the concept of collective Jewish guilt for Jesus’ death and the launch of a theological dialogue that traditionalists have rejected.