Monday, August 18, 2014

Francis: Evangelisation is not about bringing the other person to me

  "Pope Benedict XVI said it very clearly: 'the Church does not grow through proselytism but by attracting others. If we want to get to the theological root of this we go to the Father, we are all children of the Father.'"


Today Francis addressed 70 Asian bishops and invited the Church to be “versatile and creative”, explaining that dialogue and openness to all are inherent in Christian identity



The Asian Church is called to be “versatile and creative”, aware of its own Christian identity. Dialogue, openness and empathy towards others are inherent in Christian identity. And this makes  one receptive and able to listen. Pope Francis addressed seventy Asian bishops at the shrine of Haemi, where he gave the most important speech of his Korean visit, especially thanks to his customary deviations from the prepared text.
Francis chose not to sit in the throne that had been prepared for him on a raised platform. Instead he approached the microphone and lectern on the same level as the bishops’ seats. At one point the lectern collapsed and the Pope joked: “My speech has taken nose-dive”.

Francis said “dialogue” and an “openness to all” are essential in the Church’s mission in Asia. Our own identity must be our point of departure: “We cannot engage in real dialogue unless we are conscious of our own identity.  Nor can there be authentic dialogue unless we are capable of opening our minds and hearts, in empathy and sincere receptivity, to those with whom we speak.” The word “empathy” which the Pope uses in the written text corresponds to the trademark Spanish term he uses to refer to a church that is close to people, “iglesia de la cercanía”. “If our communication is not to be a monologue, there has to be openness of heart and mind to accepting individuals and cultures.”

The Pope went on to present some risks. “Everyday practical relativism which almost imperceptibly saps our sense of identity” and affects Christians communities too. “Superficiality, a tendency to toy with the latest fads, gadgets and distractions, rather than attending to the things that really matter.” This also poses a pastoral problem: “For theministers of the Church, it can also make itself felt in an enchantment with pastoral programs and theories, to the detriment of direct, fruitful encounter with our faithful, especially the young who need solid catechesis and sound spiritual guidance.” “Without a grounding in Christ ... dialogue can be reduced to a form of negotiation or an agreement to disagree.”

Then there is a “third temptation”, the Pope said: “that of the apparent security to be found in hiding behind easy answers, ready formulas, rules and regulations.” A “law and order”-style Christianity that manifests itself in the Church in many different forms. “Jesus fought so hard against people who behaved in a superficial manner; they are hypocrites,” he said in an off the cuff comment. “Faith by nature is not self-absorbed; it “goes out”.  It seeks understanding; it gives rise to testimony; it generates mission.”
In sum, “it is our living faith in Christ which is our deepest identity.” Being rooted in the Lord is what is important, everything else is secondary “because Christ is our life, let us speak “from him and of him” readily and without hesitation or fear.  The simplicity of his word becomes evident in the simplicity of our lives, in the simplicity of our communication, in the simplicity of our works of loving service to our brothers and sisters.”

“Authentic dialogue” and “empathy” were at the heart of the Pope’s speech. “We are challenged to listen not only to the words which others speak, but to the unspoken communication of their experiences, their hopes and aspirations, their struggles and their deepest concerns.” “Such empathy must be the fruit of our spiritual insight and personal experience, which lead us to see others as brothers and sisters, and to “hear”, in and beyond their words and actions, what their hearts wish to communicate.”

“I cannot engage in dialogue unless I am open to others. What I should say is: come into my home; we have to open up our hearts.” “This capacity for empathy enables a true human dialogue in which words, ideas and questions arise from an experience of fraternity and shared humanity.  It leads to a genuine encounter in which heart speaks to heart.  We are enriched by the wisdom of the other and become open to travelling together the path to greater understanding, friendship and solidarity.”
“But my brother Pope, if I act like this, no one will ever convert!” Francis said voicing a possible objection. “You do this, listen to that, walk with him. This refers to the doctrine of our father Abraham ... I should not bring the other to me. Pope Benedict XVI said it very clearly: the Church does not grow through proselytism but by attracting others.” “If we want to get to the theological root of this we go to the Father, we are all children of the Father.”

Dialogue has its basis in “the incarnation in Jesus, God himself became one of us, shared in our life and spoke to us in our own language.”Here the Pope pronounced a phrase from the prepared speech, adding one very significant point in reference to China. “In this spirit of openness to others, I earnestly hope that those countries of your continent with which the Holy See does not yet enjoy a full relationship, may not hesitate to further a dialogue for the benefit of all. And here I do not only refer to political dialogue but to fraternal dialogue as well.” In an improvised statement, he then added: “These Christians do not come as conquerors; they don’t come to take away our identity. They bring us their own identity but want to walk with us.” “The Lord will grant us his grace, some will ask for baptism and some will not, but we will always walk together.”

Essentially, Christians do not intend to impose any cultural models and neither are they motivated by political strategies. They simply wish to proclaim the Gospel, not achieve a political regime change.

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