“And it does not begin by trying to convince others, but by witnessing every day to the beauty of the Love that has looked upon us and lifted us up,” he said.
Francis recalled a line from a homily given by Pope Benedict XVI at a meeting of Latin American and Caribbean bishops in Aparecida, Brazil, in 2007: “The Church does not engage in proselytism. Instead, she grows by ‘attraction.’”
“Do not forget this,” Pope Francis added, calling Christians who proselytize “pagans dressed as Christians.”
Pope Francis greets an elderly couple at his general audience on Jan. 11, 2023. Vatican Media
The pope’s general audience message was the first in a new series of catechesis, or teachings, on apostolic zeal.
“It is a vital dimension for the Church,” he explained. “It can happen, however, that the apostolic ardor, the desire to reach others with the good news of the Gospel, diminishes.”
“When Christian life loses sight of the horizon of proclamation, it grows sick,” he continued, “it closes in on itself, becomes self-referential, it becomes atrophied. Without apostolic zeal, faith withers. Mission, on the other hand, is the oxygen of Christian life: it invigorates and purifies it.”
The pope said the way in which Jesus called St. Matthew to leave his former life behind is an example for Christians today.
Pope Francis speaks to a family during his general audience on Jan. 11, 2023. Vatican Media
He recalled that Matthew, as a tax collector for the Roman empire, would have been viewed by others as a “publican” and a traitor to the people.
“But in the eyes of Jesus, Matthew is a man, with both his miseries and his greatness,” he said.
Jesus, Francis emphasized, does not see someone as the “adjectives” which are used to describe him or her, but as a person.