ROME — Pope Francis said Wednesday that trying to convince someone to become a Christian is a “pagan” activity unworthy of followers of Christ.
“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.”
“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.”
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, proselytizing means “to try to persuade someone to change their religious or political beliefs or way of living to your own.”
Proselytism — or the attempt to convert others to one’s faith — is different from evangelization, the pope has proposed, which is the joyful witness of one’s experience of Christ.
“You know your contemporaries, you know that many are alone, that many do not know Jesus,” Francis told young people gathered for a national Catholic youth conference in 2019. “Go, go and bring the Lord, go and fill your environments, even the digital, but not of convictions, not to convince, not to proselytize, but to witness to the tenderness and mercy of Jesus.”
The following month, the pope told a group of Christian high school students that they should respect people of other faiths and not attempt to convert them to Christianity, insisting “we are not living in the times of the crusades.”
Asked by one of the students how a Christian should treat people of other faiths, the pope said that “we are all the same, all children of God” and that true disciples of Jesus do not proselytize.
A Christian should never try to convince others of the truth of Christianity but should simply give a testimony of consistency and wait for others to ask about the faith, he proposed.
“You must be consistent with your faith,” he said. “It never occurred to me (and nor should it) to say 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 living in the times of the crusades.”
“The last thing I should do is to try to convince an unbeliever. Never,” he said. “The last thing I should do is speak. I should live my faith with consistency. And it will be my witness that will awaken the curiosity of the other who may then ask: ‘But why do you do this?’ And yes, then I can speak.”
“But listen, the gospel is never, ever advanced through proselytism,” he continued. “If someone says he is a disciple of Jesus and comes to you with proselytism, he is not a disciple of Jesus. Proselytism is not the way; the Church does not grow by proselytism.”
The Church grows by attraction, by witness, he said. “Soccer teams can do proselytism, this can be done, political parties can do it, but there should be no proselytism with the faith. And if someone asks me: ‘But why do you do this?’ Read, read, read the Gospel, this is my faith. But without pressure.”