Pope Francis says at a daily Mass that evangelizing is not proselytizing. Since they are two separate words, I am inclined to agree. But why does the pope need to make this distinction?
Evangelization is the act of proclaiming Jesus Christ.
Proselytizing is the attempt to win converts to your cause.
Emphasizing their differences masks just how complementary they are. Why proclaim the good news that is Jesus if you did not wish to convert people to His religion? How else can you win converts but by proclaiming the good news?
Proselytizing has, at some point, picked up a negative connotation. Proselytizing seems rude, disrespectful of a person’s beliefs. How dare you try to flip me to your belief by telling me that my belief is wrong?
Evangelization has acquired, dare I say it, a “new” connotation. It is now proclaiming the person of Christ as someone you need to meet first before you can know the truth. As Pope Francis stated, “The truth is an encounter - it is a meeting with Supreme Truth: Jesus, the great truth. No one owns the truth. The we [sic] receive the truth when we meet [it].”
This notion of having to have a personal encounter with Jesus before you can know what the truth is is backwards. Before you can love another, you have to know them. And while a personal encounter with Jesus is important, you cannot get to know Him without someone teaching you about Him. Not just being kind to you, not just being joyful, as important as those are: evangelizing you with words. With, perhaps, book learning.
Now it is easy for someone with book learning to get out of hand. It is a temptation to lead with book learning when the potential convert needs a shoulder to cry on, or a hot meal. But book learning is necessary. And to put it bluntly, the level of catechesis among Catholics is abysmal. The lack of even basic knowledge of the faith by the faithful is staggering. I wince when the Pope seems to disparage book learning when the Body of Christ is in such a state.
I also take umbrage when the Pope says “No one owns the truth.” The Roman Catholic Church owns the truth! She was put on this earth by Jesus, the Son of God, for the express purpose of keeping the truth alive in the world. She is to safeguard it, and to bring that truth to as many souls as possible, so that they may be saved.
The purpose of the Roman Catholic Church is to evangelize in order to proselytize, so that souls may be saved!
I tremble to think that either the pope does not realize this, or he chooses to not preach it.