VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Do not treat evangelization as a simple mechanical task or a reason to brag, Pope Francis said.
People who boast about preaching the word of God, he said, “reduce the Gospel to a mere task or a badge of honor: ‘I go and evangelize, and I brought lots of people into the church.'”
“To proselytize, that too is a source of pride. To evangelize is not to proselytize. That is, it is not a walk in the park either,” the pope said Sept. 9 during morning Mass in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae. Christians have a duty to share the faith, he said, but they should be motivated by a feeling “from the heart” of an urgent need to bring Christ to others.
True evangelization is about one’s approach, a “style” of freely and humbly accompanying those in need and helping people grow in their journey of faith, the pope said.
It is being a living witness of Christ by concretely helping others without too much talk, if any, he said.
“If a person is sick, I go near” to help, not to heap on talking points, he said. By showing mercy, a person should become “all things to all” people in order to save at least some — “this is the testimony that carries the Word.”
The pope recalled having lunch with young people during World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland, and answering one teen’s question about what he should say to his close friend who was an atheist.
“That’s a good question,” the pope said. “We all know people who are distant from the church; what should we say to them?”
Pope Francis said he told the teen that the last thing he should do is say anything at all, but just focus on doing “and he will see what you do and he will ask you” out of curiosity what motivates him so.
At that point, the pope said he told the teen, respond, “Because I believe in Jesus Christ and I proclaim Jesus Christ and not only with the word — one must proclaim him with the word — but with one’s life.”
St. Peter Claver — whom the church remembers Sept. 9 — evangelized slaves and the unwanted by living with, listening to and caring for them, the pope said. The Jesuit missionary once said, “We must speak to them with our hands before we speak to them with our lips.”
“All of us,” the pope said, “have an obligation to evangelize, which is not knocking on our neighbor’s door and saying, ‘Christ is risen!’ It is living the faith and speaking about it with meekness and love without any desire to convince someone,” but to freely share what was freely given by God.