“We renew before God our common commitment to promote the dialogue of charity in every possible manner, following the example of Christ in nourishing his Church and surrounding it with the solicitude of his charity (cf. Eph 5:29). In this spirit, we reject every form of proselytism, every attitude which would or could be perceived as a lack of respect.”

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Pope St. John Paul II

Joint Declaration with Eastern Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios I

December 7th, 1987

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30 Responses

  1. Avatar Joaquin Mejia says:

    It’s my personal favorite saint of the Catholic Church! St. John Paul II is very inspiring to me. But sadly, so many people like to point out how different he is from Pope Francis. St. John Paul II was a champion of the poor and a preacher of mercy. Just like Pope Francis!

  2. Avatar Peter Aiello says:

    “To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God” (2Corinthians 5:19-20).
    I hope that this would not be construed as a lack of respect for others.

  3. Avatar carn says:

    One should note that in a:

    “Joint Declaration with Eastern Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios I”

    following a sentence expressing resolve to renew a commitment to dialogue (possibly between the two parties signing the declaration)

    and referring clearly to this prior sentence with “In this spirit”

    the rejection of proselytism could be understood as a rejection of proselytism of Orthodox by Catholics or vice versa.

    And that accordingly this rejection of proselytism between Catholics and Orthodox might possible in no way indicate what the two parties thought about proselytism for example towards Buddhists, Muslims or Hindus. To be sure, one would have to read the document.

    Also Catholic and Orthodox church were at that moment and potentially still are on a long path attempting to reach full communion; already there is some partial communion; in that setting abstaining from proselytism is both beneficial for dialogue and theologically of limited problem, cause the other people are also trying to follow Christ and who has the better way is actually not absolutely certain.

    This also suggests, that this declaration has little indication about proselytism of Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus and other non-Christians, as with them there is no path towards full communion possible.

    So for whatever reasons proselytism of Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus and other non-Christians should be shunned, that declaration seems to offer little for or against.

    • Pedro Gabriel Pedro Gabriel says:

      Since the following two Popes have developed this statement so as to include at least Muslims, I would say that that distinction has no relevance today.

      Furthermore, I see nothing in that quote that would preclude the same reasoning from being applied to those other religions you listed.

      Finally, I shared these quotes not to make a point about ecumenism / interreligious dialogue, but to address the accusations leveled against Francis for being against “proselytism”. If Pope John Paul II or Benedict XVI were read with the same hermeneutic of suspicion characterizing Francis critics, they would’ve also been considered grave modernists when they decried proselytism, whatever the context. For the Orthodox are not in full communion with the Catholic Church, similarities and shared history notwithstanding.

    • Avatar Peter Aiello says:

      Proselytism should be directed towards those who are not reconciled to God through Jesus Christ (2Corinthians 5:20).

      • Pedro Gabriel Pedro Gabriel says:

        Depends on what you call proselytism. During Biblical times, a proselyte had a noble and defined role in Christianity. But nowadays, “proselytism” has taken a pejorative meaning in our culture, encompassing some errors that are condemnable.

        The Popes are condemning the latter, not the former. This just goes on to illustrate why neither the Bible, nor Pope’s statements, should be interpreted outside of proper cultural context, in a literalist fashion.

      • Avatar Peter Aiello says:

        Encouraging someone to be reconciled to God applies to people of all cultural contexts. No one is exempt from the law of sin (see Romans 7:14 thru 8:2).

      • Pedro Gabriel Pedro Gabriel says:

        Exactly. But are Popes, when decrying proselytism, really decrying “encouraging someone to be reconciled with God”? Really?

      • Avatar Peter Aiello says:

        I think that clerics should define the word as to what they mean by it so that we don’t misinterpret what they are saying.
        There is a legitimate use for the word (Acts 6:5).

      • Pedro Gabriel Pedro Gabriel says:

        I think laity should use common sense before criticizing what clerics say. There is a pejorative use for the word. So why assume at the forefront that the clerics are condemning the legitimate meaning of the word?

      • Avatar Peter Aiello says:

        How is it used in a pejorative way? I’ve always thought of it as a synonym for evangelizing. This is why I was puzzled when Pope Francis criticized proselytizing when he became pope. I wonder if it is because of the evangelical inroads in South America.

      • Pedro Gabriel Pedro Gabriel says:

        From the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith 2007 “Doctrinal Note on some aspects of the Evangelization”

        «The term proselytism originated in the context of Judaism, in which the term proselyte referred to someone who, coming from the gentiles, had passed into the Chosen People. So too, in the Christian context, the term proselytism was often used as a synonym for missionary activity. More recently, however, the term has taken on a negative connotation, to mean the promotion of a religion by using means, and for motives, contrary to the spirit of the Gospel; that is, which do not safeguard the freedom and dignity of the human person. It is in this sense that the term proselytism is understood in the context of the ecumenical movement: cf. The Joint Working Group between the Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches, “The Challenge of Proselytism and the Calling to Common Witness” (1995).»

        http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20071203_nota-evangelizzazione_en.html

      • Avatar carn says:

        “From the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith 2007 “Doctrinal Note on some aspects of the Evangelization”

        It is a very good idea to add a definition how the term is to be understood.

        It seems that based on that definition, traveling to mecca during hajj, climb the kaaba and preach the gospel would – if done for the motive of saving souls – not be objected by Pope Francis as being proselytism (though it might be objected due to other reasons, for example that is unlikely to be very successful and because it breaches some local laws).

        Just leaves me puzzled, what the Pope was exactly warning the Christians in Morocco not to do; cause coercive methods or similar problematic methods of “proselytism” are anyway out of question for Christians there – they lack the means to do so.

        But nonetheless the Pope warned them not to proselytize.

        What form of “means” or “motives” “contrary to the spirit of the Gospel” could actually appear when Christians in Morocco would try to convert the Muslims there to Christianity with the Christians?

      • Pedro Gabriel Pedro Gabriel says:

        We can understand better if we see His Holiness’ actual words, not only on what Christians in Morocco should not do (proselytism), but also on what they *should* do:

        “Our mission as baptized persons, priests and consecrated men and women, is not really determined by the number or size of spaces that we occupy, but rather by our capacity to generate change and to awaken wonder and compassion. We do this by the way we live as disciples of Jesus, in the midst of those with whom we share our daily lives, joys and sorrows, suffering and hopes (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 1). In other words, the paths of mission are not those of proselytism. Please, these paths are not those of proselytism! Let us recall Benedict XVI: “the Church grows not through proselytism, but through attraction, through witness.” The paths of mission are not those of proselytism, which leads always to a cul-de-sac, but of our way of being with Jesus and with others.

        I believe we should worry whenever we Christians are troubled by the thought we are only significant if we are the flour, if we occupy all the spaces. You know very well that our lives are meant to be “yeast”, wherever and with whomever we find ourselves, even if this appears to bring no tangible or immediate benefits (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 210). For being a Christian is not about adhering to a doctrine, or a temple or an ethnic group. Being Christian is about an encounter, an encounter with Jesus Christ. We are Christians because we have been loved and encountered, and not as the result of proselytism. Being Christian is about knowing that we have been forgiven and knowing that we are asked to treat others in the same way that God treated us. For “by this everyone shall know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”
        (…)
        Christians, here in these lands, learn to be a living sacrament of the dialogue that God wants to initiate with each man and woman, wherever they are. A dialogue that we are nonetheless called to take up following the example of Jesus himself, who is meek and humble of heart (cf. Mt 11:29), with fervent and disinterested love, without calculations and limitations, and with respect for the freedom of others”
        ******************************************
        This is Pope Francis’ preferred approach and it is consistent with what the previous popes asked. You really do not need to be in a position of power to try methods of aggressive evangelization that do not safeguard the dignity and freedom of others.

        Also, my understanding is that Pope Francis has more information on the strengths and weaknesses of his Moroccan flock, much more complete and detailed than any western pundit or commenter has. Maybe consider that there’s some subtext that we are missing and that Moroccans might have understood. After all, according to some news reports, Pope Francis was applauded when he said that.

      • Avatar Peter Aiello says:

        I find the whole thing confused. I proselytize all the time; but without coercion, of course. I don’t see how you can force someone to believe in something that they don’t want to believe in. You can hold a gun to their head; but then, they would probably fake it. So what good does that do? Discernment is something that we are all supposed to have; and we should use it.

      • Avatar carn says:

        ” You really do not need to be in a position of power to try methods of aggressive evangelization that do not safeguard the dignity and freedom of others.”

        I am a bit at loss about that claim.

        If thinking in terms of secular law, the only example of aggressive evangelization that could be a violation of dignity or freedom of others and does not (directly) require a position of power, would be that of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church; and even that requires a position of power in form of the authorities of the United States of America enforcing/safeguarding the first amendment. If the US would stop using their power in that way, this Westboro Baptist Church could no longer try their agressive “evangelization” (and i am aware that i interpret the term there very, very loosely), cause they would be sued into oblivion.

        No preacher at the street corner preaching that people should repent for otherwise they will burn in the eternal fire violates the dignity or freedom of others; cause they can just disregard him, like they disregard the countless commericial advertising that bombards them from every street corner.

        In what ways would my somewhat crazy example of preaching from the kaaba lack in safeguarding the dignity and freedom of others?

        And if preaching from the kaaba is not problematic proselytism, what might people in Marocco do that is such problematic proselytism?

        (BTW, my constant underlying theme: the Pope seems to discourage, forbid something and/or teach something and i am at a loss to even name, what that something is; accordingly, i cannot assent/dissent or whatever; e.g. i cannot resolve myself to avoid doing that “proselytism” that Pope Francis is negative about, cause i would not know what i am trying not to do; but at least that is a hypothetical for me, cause my calling is anyway to do something else than preaching God’s word from the kaaba)

      • Pedro Gabriel Pedro Gabriel says:

        You could, without needing any power whatsoever, just pester someone about conversion, even if that person has already said he is not open to it. That is just an example.

        Of course, the unlimited range of possible approaches to the almost infinite amount of situations for any of the billions of people out there makes it impossible to make a list of every possible way of proselytizing that goes against freedom and dignity. This requires discernment, a case by case basis approach

        This is why that, more than a list of behaviors and situations to avoid, Pope Francis urges a conversion of heart within ourselves first. If we do that, not only will our testimony to others be more attractive and coherent, we will never risk offending other people’s freedom and dignity while we evangelize.

  4. Avatar Christopher Lake says:

    Pedro,

    From various articles that I have read in past years on the relations between Christians and Muslims in certain Muslim-majority nations, there are, apparently, often baseless accusations that are made against Christians, in these nations, regarding them supposedly “evangelizing” in very coercive and unfair ways, such as offering food to desperately poor people to entice them to “convert” to faith in Christ. Christians, in general, in these particular countries have been, and still are, harshly persecuted, and these often (perhaps virtually always?) baseless accusations are used as part of the justification for said persecutions. I would not be at all surprised if all of these factors, together, were not in the Pope’s mind as he rightly criticizes proselytism while also rightly praising genuine evangelism in his writings, speeches, and interviews.

    • Avatar Christopher Lake says:

      Sorry, Pedro– I should actually have written above, “I would not be at all surprised if all of these factors, together, *were* in the Pope’s mind, as he rightly criticizes proselytism while also rightly praising genuine evangelism in his writings, speeches, and interviews.” This goes along with your suggestion to Peter Aiello that Pope Francis knows the situations on the ground in certain countries much better than we do, especially when he publicly and strongly speaks out against even any *hint or appearance* of Christian proselytism (as opposed to genuine Christian evangelism).

      • Avatar Peter Aiello says:

        Whether I label what I do as proselytizing or evangelizing, I try to avoid getting jailed or killed in the process. There is less risk in the US than in some other countries. The people in those other countries probably know what the risks are, and they act accordingly. If they don’t, it’s not going to matter what you label it.

      • Avatar Christopher Lake says:

        Peter,

        I could be wrong, but I doubt that many (if any) Christians in those other, more dangerous countries are *actually engaging* in manipulative, coercive, disrespectful proselytism, such as bribing people with food to entice them to supposedly “convert.” However, just because it isn’t happening, or isn’t happening often, that does not mean that some people in those countries aren’t *mistakenly believing* the accusations towards Christians and participating in persecutions of Christians as a result.

        When Popes such as John Paul II and Francis have spoken out against proselytism, they could well have been trying to counter the mistaken ideas that some non-Christian people have (in these more dangerous countries) about what genuine Christian evangelism means. In their writings, John Paul II and Francis both strongly disavow proselytism while also strongly, repeatedly, affirming the call of Catholics and other Christians to *evangelize*. (Pope Francis wrote an entire document on “The Joy of the Gospel.”) Proselytism and evangelism are not simply two different terms with the same meaning. They are two very different things altogether.

      • Avatar Peter Aiello says:

        I don’t believe that they are two very different things altogether until recently. Why change definitions just because there are abuses. Both can be abused. They should address the abuses and not the definitions.

    • Avatar carn says:

      If i take what you write in total, the warnings by Pope Francis would at most be about labelling and avoinding to be preceived in certain ways.

      But in no way would indicate that there is anything wrong in doing proselytism (whatever label one uses) the way the apostels did, by going somewhere preaching the word in public and/or in private (depending upon the circumstances on the ground) and baptize people who embrace God’s word.

      And i am highlighting that, cause a priest working at Vatican News told me verbatim that the described “classic” way of proselytism/evangelization is an “old” understanding, that appararently has been replaced with a better and new understanding; which clearly implied that the Church is no longer fine with the “old” way or that something is wrong with the “old” way, at least if applied today.

      So your interpretation seems to be at odds with other opinions i am aware of.

      • Avatar Christopher Lake says:

        Carn and Peter,

        In 2007, with the approval of Pope Benedict XVI, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith released the document, “Doctrinal Note on Some Aspects of Evangelization.” This document is well worth reading on the issues of evangelism and proselytism. Genuine, Biblical, Christian evangelism is strongly commended to, and commanded of, of believers in this document, following the exhortations of Christ and His apostles in Scripture.

        The increasingly negative connotations with which proselytism (as opposed to evangelism) have come to be understood and associated are also addressed in this document, including (but not only) in footnote 49:

        [49] The term proselytism originated in the context of Judaism, in which the term proselyte referred to someone who, coming from the gentiles, had passed into the Chosen People. So too, in the Christian context, the term proselytism was often used as a synonym for missionary activity. More recently, however, the term has taken on a negative connotation, to mean the promotion of a religion by using means, and for motives, contrary to the spirit of the Gospel; that is, which do not safeguard the freedom and dignity of the human person. It is in this sense that the term proselytism is understood in the context of the ecumenical movement: cf. The Joint Working Group between the Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches, “The Challenge of Proselytism and the Calling to Common Witness” (1995)

      • Pedro Gabriel Pedro Gabriel says:

        I quoted that document already 😛

      • Avatar Peter Aiello says:

        I prefer the ‘old’ ways unless the new way is shown to be better. For me, the new way is confusing and ill-defined.

      • Pedro Gabriel Pedro Gabriel says:

        It is not a “new” way, it exists since Apostolic times. That is why Emperor Julian, the Apostate, who wanted to extirpate Christianity from the Roman Empire, lamented: “look how they love each other.”

        He could not destroy Christianity because people were attracted by the way Christians loved. Curiosity would open ears and minds to the Word. This is growing through attraction, as Benedict as said.

        The problem is that the “old” way of evangelizing has been replaced by what you call proselytism. But, even if you go out into the streets proselytizing, are there any apostates begrudgingly admitting “look how they love each other” anymore?

        These are the old ways Francis is trying to bring back. And, in my opinion, they are much more Christian.

      • Avatar Peter Aiello says:

        Merely observing how people love each other does not instruct them on how this love comes about in the Christian.
        Becoming a proselyte requires hearing the word of God.