The heart of Pope Francis’ “penitential pilgrimage” to Canada has focused on his personal closeness to Indigenous peoples and his request for forgiveness for the disasters wrought by the colonial mentality that sought to eradicate traditional cultures, including through the dramatic experiment of residential schools desired by the government and run by Christian churches.
Encounters with Indigenous peoples marked every stage of the trip and were quite moving. The understandable focus on the suffering endured by Indigenous people and the journey of reconciliation undertaken have overshadowed some valuable insights scattered throughout Pope Francis’ speeches, which offer useful paths for evangelization today in every corner on earth.
After saying he felt ashamed of what happened when believers “became worldly, and rather than fostering reconciliation, they imposed their own cultural models,” the Pope went on to emphasize that “this attitude dies hard, also from the religious standpoint.” He thus shifted his reflection to the present day, drawing on the events of the past. That is, it is a mentality that is still present.
“It may seem easier to force God on people, rather than letting them draw near to God. This is contradictory and never works, because that is not how the Lord operates. He does not force us, he does not suppress or overwhelm; instead, he loves, he liberates, he leaves us free. He does not sustain with his Spirit those who dominate others, who confuse the Gospel of our reconciliation with proselytism. One cannot proclaim God in a way contrary to God Himself.”
Even today, says the Successor of Peter, there is a risk of confusing the proclamation of the Gospel with proselytism, because the temptation of power and the quest for social and cultural relevance, as well as projects for evangelization based on religious marketing strategies and techniques, are phenomena contemporary to our own times.
“While God presents Himself simply and quietly, we always have the temptation to impose Him, and to impose ourselves in His name. It is the worldly temptation to make Him come down from the cross and show Himself with power. Yet Jesus reconciles us on the cross, not by coming down from the cross.”
Even today there is the temptation to manifest Jesus with the power and influence of the institution and its structures, with the appearance of projects that we think are working “without God, relying on human strength alone.”
Instead, the way the Pope proposes is “not to decide for others, not to pigeonhole everyone within our preconceived categories, but to place ourselves before the crucified Lord and before our brothers and sisters, in order to learn how to walk together.”
This is the face of a Church that seeks to adhere more and more to the Gospel and which does not have a set of ideas and precepts to impose on people but knows how to be a welcoming home for all by witnessing to Jesus “as He desires, in freedom and charity.”
Evangelizing in a time marked by secularism and indifference, Pope Francis reminds us, means offering the first Christian proclamation, because the joy of faith is not communicated “by presenting secondary aspects to those who have not yet embraced the Lord in their lives, or by simply repeating certain practices or replicating older forms of pastoral work.”
We need to find new ways and opportunities for listening, dialogue and encounter, leaving room for God and His initiative, not our own desire to be center stage, and thus facilitate a return to “the simplicity and enthusiasm of the Acts of the Apostles.” (Andrea Tornielli)
By Andrea Tornielli