Don’t proselytize

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Saturday, August 2, 2014

ONCE more, Pope Francis takes the world by storm. His controversial statements about religious proselytism have offended, if not angered some conservative Catholics. Liberal thinkers like me, however, who were raised Catholic but then grew up confused about what the Catholic
Church was continuously preaching—rejoice.

We rejoice in the clarity of Pope Francis’ words. We rejoice in the pope’s affirmation of what we bear witness in our lives. More than anything else, we rejoice in a pope that finally understands what authentic religion is about.

In a recent interview with Argentine magazine, “Viva,” Pope Francis gave his top ten suggestions on how people could have a happier and more fulfilled life. Suggestion #9 is conspicuously controversial. Don’t proselytize; respect others’ beliefs.


"We can inspire others through witness so that one grows together in communicating. But the worst thing of all is religious proselytism, which paralyzes: 'I am talking with you in order to persuade you,' No. Each person dialogues, starting with his and her own identity. The church grows by attraction, not proselytizing," the pope said.

I have never advocated proselytism because I have always felt that trying to convert someone to your faith smarts of unbelievable arrogance. The implication of such action seems to be that your faith is better than theirs.

But no religion holds exclusive franchise to the kingdom of God. Authentic religion is about deed not doctrine. It is about life rather than liturgy. The way to God is not through the doorway of a cathedral but through a life lived well.

One of the highest ideals I espouse is individualism. I don’t believe we need to share the same faith to love one another. Real love is about acceptance of others who may not think, speak or believe as you do. This is why I believe that the highest form of love exists among people who live in harmony with one another despite dissimilar faiths, tastes and ideas.

Religion is a personal choice. Conversion is personal decision. We must convert because we believe we will become better human beings in doing so not because we are deathly scared of rotting in hell. It should be love not fear that should move us to worship God.

A wise guy once told me, you can sell a beauty product by telling people that it’s a great product or you can show them how great the product is. Don’t we ask friends who have such great skin what products they use? A truly good product sells itself.

You can preach the word. Or you can live a life that people want to emulate. Proselytism leaves a bad taste in the mouth because it is horribly hard-sell. If you want to sell Catholicism, be a good Catholic.
When the sick get healed, people automatically ask, what did you do? You don’t need to convince people to do as you do. When they see your transformation, they will ask what you did so they can live as you do.

We are living proof of what we believe, practice and embrace in life. The Catholic Church will not grow through coercion or condemnation but through attraction by authentic religion. Don’t proselytize; respect others’ beliefs.


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Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on August 03, 2014.


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