Yesterday I got itchy about Pope Francis seemingly saying that evangelism was a ‘solemn nonsense’.

Still pondering yesterday’s papal interview with Eugenio Scalfari I came across this article from Pope Benedict’s 2007 visit to Brazil. In the article Pope Benedict XVI discusses the matter of proselytization and says to the Latin American bishops,

“To you who represent the Church in Latin America, today I symbolically entrust my Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, in which I sought to point out to everyone the essence of the Christian message.” He then explained that the Church “does not engage in proselytism.  Instead, she grows by ‘attraction’,” “just as Christ draws all to himself by the power of his love.”

Benedict XVI stressed then that “this is the priceless treasure that is so abundant in Latin America, this is her most precious inheritance: faith in the God who is Love, who has shown us his face in Jesus Christ.”

Re-reading the Scalfari interview we can see that this is essentially what Pope Francis is also saying. So why did I, and so many others get itchy about Pope Francis’ comment?

I think there are several reasons. Firstly, the comment was stated negatively. The Pope said he wasn’t going to convert Scalfari and he said “proselytization was a solemn nonsense.” Contrast this with the positive way in which Benedict XVI said the same thing. He did condemn proselytization, but he did so in the fuller context of explaining the Catholic method of evangelization which is “attraction of love”. He referenced his comments back to a papal teaching so that we can gain a fuller understanding.

Secondly, Pope Francis’ interview had other disturbing hints which colored our reading of his proselytization comment. His new age sounding words about “the light of God infusing all souls and becoming one at the end of time” sounded like squishy universalism, and if this was right, then the need for any form of evangelization is eliminated.

Thirdly, we picked up these two subtexts and combined them with the words about “going out and showing love and making the world a better place” and the words about “infusing a feeling of brotherhood for all” and heard what sounded like the usual bland, universalist, social gospel mush that has been a force of stupendous weakness in the church for the last fifty years.

I was much helped therefore, by reading not only Benedict XVI’s comments on evangelization but also re-reading Bl.John Paul II’s encyclical Novo Millennio Ineunte — into the new millennium. Their words about evangelization and the church’s mission harmonize completely with Pope Francis’. However, we will probably still have to take some time to get used to Francis’ approach. His words and actions will be in harmony with the teachings of JP2 and B16 but his approach will be his approach–that of a pastor from Argentina–with his own unique perspective and emphasis.

As for me. I’m learning and listening, and if my blog posts yesterday were a bit scrappy–well that’s part of the process.

No forward motion without friction.