Pope Francis on ‘proselytism’

Pope says Christians should never seek to convert unbelievers, anyone who proselytizes “is not a disciple of Jesus”

by Adam Ford · Dec 22nd, 2019 1:53 pm

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In a dialogue with Catholic high school students in Rome this weekend, Pope Francis responded to a question about how to deal with atheists and people of other faiths by saying that Christians should never proselytize — and any who do are not truly Christians.

The Pope’s lengthy answer, reprinted in full at the bottom of this article, contained numerous notable remarks illustrating the Pope’s views on evangelism, including:

  • [Speaking of having Jewish and Muslim friends]: “We are all the same, all children of God.”
  • “It didn’t occur to me, and it doesn’t have to be like, saying to a boy or a girl: ‘You are Jewish, you are Muslim: come, be converted!'”
  • “We are not in the times of the crusades.”
  • “In front of an unbeliever the last thing I have to do is try to convince him. Never.”
  • “But listen: Never, never bring the gospel by proselytizing.”
  • “If someone says they are a disciple of Jesus and comes to you with proselytism, they are not a disciple of Jesus.”
  • “The Church does not grow by proselytism.”

🔦 Last year, Pope Francis told a grieving boy that his late father was in heaven, despite the fact that he was an atheist, because he had his children baptized.

The pope’s full answer (via Google translate):

Let’s go to your first. When I taught what a look and what words I had towards believing children or of other religions. But in Argentina there is a social phenomenon, which is the migratory phenomenon. After the two great wars there were waves of migration from Europe, also from Asia Minor and the Italians. He thinks that 40% of Argentines have an Italian surname, almost the other 40 Spanish. Then Poles, Russians, all … even Arabs, whom we called “Turks” because they came with the passport of the great Ottoman Empire. There is a mixture of blood, a strong mixed race in Argentina — I am the son of a migrant, and this has made a culture of coexistence. I went to public school and we always had companions from other religions. We were educated to coexist: “There is a Jew, Russian, ah — come, come! I am a friend of Russian!” They said Russian because the majority of the Jews came from Odessa, some from Poland but the majority from Odessa. Then there were some Arabs, Lebanese, Syrians — “Ah, Turkish! Come, come!” This was Muslim, this was Jewish. But we all played football together, we were all friends.

This has taught me so much, that we are all the same, all children of God — and this purifies your gaze, it makes you human. In Argentina there is a small group of closed-minded Catholics who do not want Jews, do not want Muslims, but this group … I have never liked it, is a group that is on the fringe, they have a cultural magazine but they do not have impact in society … This is the secret: You must be consistent with your faith. It didn’t occur to me and it doesn’t have to be like saying 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 in the times of the crusades. It is a bad thing but it made me suffer so much, a step of the “Chanson de Roland,” when the Christians, the crusaders had conquered the Muslims and then a line of all the Muslims was queued and the priest was in front of it and a soldier. The priest in front of the baptismal font and everyone came — read that passage — he asked: “Either the baptism or the sword.” This has happened in history! They also do it with us Christians in other parts, they are also doing it but what we did was shameful because it is a story of forced conversion, of not respecting the dignity of the person. This is why my experience was natural with people of other religions because my dad my dad’s job was an accountant and he had so many Jewish business clients and they came home, it was normal and I didn’t have this as a problem. But it must be normal. Nothing to leave them aside because they have another faith …

The first is all. In front of an unbeliever the last thing I have to do is try to convince him. Never. The last thing I have to do is speak. I have to live consistent with my faith. And it will be my testimony to awaken the curiosity of the other who says: “But why do you do this?” And yes, I can speak then. But listen: Never, never bring the gospel by proselytizing. If someone says they are a disciple of Jesus and comes to you with proselytism, they are not a disciple of Jesus. Proselytism is not done, the church does not grow by proselytism. Pope Benedict had said it, it grows by attraction, by testimony. Football teams proselytize, this can be done. Political parties, can be done there. But with faith there is no proselytism. And if someone says to me: “But why?” Read, read, read the Gospel, this is my faith. But without pressure.


Pope Francis never ceases to surprise us! This most recent statement that he made to Catholic high school students in Rome – might sound quite controversial to those whose religious fervour seeks to grab converts for one’s own particular Faith group in the belief that this is the most important way of proving one’s own fidelity. What Pope Francis is saying here, quite clearly, is that Faith – especially the Christian Faith – is a gift not to be purchased at any price but given by God who knows the secrets of our hearts and rewards us accordingly.

The example of Jesus himself was never to harangue people into believing in God (or himself, as God’s representative); but to examine the evidence of the life of a believer, to see if it is truly consistent with the truth of the Gospel – that God favours no-one but looks upon all with equal respect.

“They will know you’re my disciples by your love”, said Jesus on one occasion, and it is the evidence of loving care and concern that will draw people to Christ – not fear of what might happen if one does not accede to conversion!

After all, the Gospel is meant to convey Good News – the good news of God’s love for all God’s children – that should motivate any search to expand our Faith communities. Outright coercion does not necessarily mean that a convert will become fully conversant with what Jesus sets out as the model of citizenship of the Kingdom of God. (“By their fruits you shall know them”).

‘Making Disciples’ is a difficult and challenging vocation. It does not consist in proferring a set of credal propositions, so much as offering an honest example of one’s charity and loving concern for one’s neighbour – of whatever provenance or social position – in order to encourage them to make their own choice as to whether or not they want to join our enterprise.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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