A key message of the bishops is that it is the responsibility of all the baptised to preach the Gospel to all the world, all the time.
I have to admit I’ve never been very comfortable with the word ‘evangelisation’, and I dare say a lot of other Catholics of my era are the same.
That might be due to some confusion between ‘evangelisation’ and ‘evangelical’, the latter conjuring images of Billy Graham crusading in stadiums around the world or, in more recent times, the pro-Trump evangelical churches of the southern US Bible Belt.
It was an interview with Pope Francis by an Italian journalist some years ago that made me rethink my position on evangelisation and clarify the difference between evangelising and proselytising.
When questioned by the journalist as to whether the Pope might try and convert him, Pope Francis replied: ‘Proselytism is solemn nonsense, it makes no sense. We need to get to know each other, listen to each other and improve our knowledge of the world around us.’
In another interview, Pope Francis clarified that he considered evangelising to be ‘witnessing’ whereas proseltysing was ‘convincing’. In the latter, he said, there was a sense of ‘subjugation’.
The new document produced by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference says from a biblical point of view, Jesus commissions us to ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you’
It then refers to a ‘more popular definition’ that the great saints of evangelisation, including St Therese of Lisieux, might use: ‘Making Jesus known and loved’.
As the editor of a Catholic newspaper, my approach to evangelisation has been to share stories of people who have been witnesses to the faith and in doing so provide inspiration to others.
Another underlying motivation has been to transmit the joy of being Christian, not someone who, in the words of Pope Francis, has a ‘face from a funeral wake’.
Hopefully Catholic media in Australia will continue to be seen as a vehicle for spreading the good news ‘to all the world, all the time’. After all, the Gospel message can go a long way to counteracting the polarising nature of much of today’s media content, and its dissemination through social media channels.
While technology has changed, the message and the need are the same as when St Francis de Sales, the patron saint of journalists, was Bishop of Geneva at the beginning of the 17th century, a time of deep religious division resulting from the Protestant Reformation.
Marking the 400th anniversary of his death, Pope Francis spoke of him in his World Communications Day message this year. He said St Francis’ ‘meekness, humanity and willingness to dialogue patiently with everyone, especially with those who disagreed with him, made him an extraordinary witness of God’s merciful love’.
One of his convictions was ‘in order to speak well, it is enough to love well’. His ability to communicate from the heart resulted in him befriending a deaf man, Martin, and today he is regarded as the protector of the hearing impaired.
While St Francis de Sales is not mentioned in the bishops’ document on evangelisation, he could easily be held up as a shining example of ‘making Jesus known and loved’.Jump to next article