Being missionary is not forcing conversions, pope says

By Justin McLellan
VATICAN 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.

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.

Pope Francis greets participants in the general assembly of the Pontifical Mission Societies during a meeting at the Vatican May 25, 2024. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

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.”

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.