Be tenacious in missionary work, pope says, as he warns against proselytism

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POPE FRANCIS PONTIFICAL MISSION SOCIETIES
Pope Francis poses for a photo with participants in the general assembly of the Pontifical Mission Societies during a meeting at the Vatican May 25, 2024. To the left is Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, pro-prefect of the Dicastery for Evangelization; to the right of the pope is Archbishop Fortunatus Nwachukwu, secretary of the dicastery's section for first evangelization; and far right is Archbishop Emilio Nappa, president of the Pontifical Mission Societies. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

VATCAN CITY (CNS) — Living out the missionary dimension of the faith never means trying to forcefully convert people to Catholicism, Pope Francis said.

“The Christian mission is not transmitting some abstract truth or religious conviction, much less proselytizing — still less,” he told the national directors of the Pontifical Mission Societies May 25.

Rather, “it is first and foremost enabling those we meet to be able to have the fundamental experience of God’s love, and they will be able to find it in our lives and in the life of the church if we are shining witnesses to it, reflecting a ray of the Trinitarian mystery,” the pope said.

Participants gathered at the Vatican from more than 120 countries across five continents for the general assembly of the Pontifical Mission Societies. Meeting the pope, the group was led by Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, pro-prefect of the Dicastery for Evangelization; Archbishop Fortunatus Nwachukwu, secretary of the dicastery’s section for first evangelization; and Archbishop Emilio Nappa, president of the Pontifical Mission Societies.

Perils of proselytism

To illustrate the perils of proselytism, the pope recalled an experience he had at a World Youth Day in which a woman belonging to what he described as an “ultra” Catholic group gloated to him about converting the two young people she was with.

“I looked at her in the eyes and I said, ‘And who will convert you?'” the pope said.

Regarding “this mission of conversion, there are religious groups that carry around a list of conversions; this is terrible,” he said.

In addition to giving money to support the church’s missions, Pope Francis said Catholics must find new ways of engaging with and promoting the church’s missionary projects.

“All missionary activity is creative” since it is rooted in Christ’s charity, he said. “With inexhaustible imagination, such charity inspires new ways of evangelizing and serving others, especially the poorest, and include the customary collections taken for the universal funds of solidarity with the missions.”

Innovative support for missions

While Catholics should promote those collections, they must also “explore new ways of encouraging the participation of individuals, groups and institutions who wish to support the church’s missionary endeavors as an expression of their gratitude for the graces received from the Lord,” the pope said.

The pope said a spirituality of missionary communion “is the foundation of the church’s current synodal journey.”

“The call to communion implies a synodal style: walking together, listening to each other, engaging in dialogue,” he said. “This expands our hearts and fosters that universal outlook emphasized at the founding of the Society of the Propagation of the Faith,” a branch of the Pontifical Mission Societies which promotes missionary spirituality and universal solidarity with missions through prayer and the distribution of funds.

Tenacity in mission

Pope Francis also urged the participants to have “tenacity” in their missions, pointing to the church’s strength even in martyrdom. He said that a group of Catholics was recently killed in Congo for refusing to convert to Islam and recalled the Coptic martyrs killed in Libya for their faith.

“The martyrial church is the church of the Lord’s tenacity that moves forward,” he said. “We are therefore also called to be persevering and tenacious in purpose and action and to also live out this martyrial dimension by our example.”

Cindy Wooden

Cindy Wooden is a journalist with Catholic News Service.