A few excerpts (the interviewer’s comments are in bold):
It’s a joke, I tell him. My friends think it is you want to convert me.
He smiles again and replies: “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. Sometimes after a meeting I want to arrange another one because new ideas are born and I discover new needs. This is important: to get to know people, listen, expand the circle of ideas. The world is crisscrossed by roads that come closer together and move apart, but the important thing is that they lead towards the Good.”
Your Holiness, is there is a single vision of the Good? And who decides what it is?
“Each of us has a vision of good and of evil. We have to encourage people to move towards what they think is Good.”
Your Holiness, you wrote that in your letter to me. The conscience is autonomous, you said, and everyone must obey his conscience. I think that’s one of the most courageous steps taken by a Pope.
“And I repeat it here. Everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them. That would be enough to make the world a better place.”
Is the Church doing that?
“Yes, that is the purpose of our mission: to identify the material and immaterial needs of the people and try to meet them as we can. Do you know what agape is?”
Yes, I know.
“It is love of others, as our Lord preached. It is not proselytizing, it is love. Love for one’s neighbor, that leavening that serves the common good.”
Love your neighbor as yourself.
Jesus in his preaching said that agape, love for others, is the only way to love God. Correct me if I’m wrong.
“You’re not wrong. The Son of God became incarnate in the souls of men to instill the feeling of brotherhood. All are brothers and all children of God. Abba, as he called the Father. I will show you the way, he said. Follow me and you will find the Father and you will all be his children and he will take delight in you. Agape, the love of each one of us for the other, from the closest to the furthest, is in fact the only way that Jesus has given us to find the way of salvation and of the Beatitudes.” . . .
Do you feel touched by grace?
“No one can know that. Grace is not part of consciousness, it is the amount of light in our souls, not knowledge nor reason. Even you, without knowing it, could be touched by grace.”
Without faith? A non-believer?
“Grace regards the soul.”
I do not believe in the soul.
“You do not believe in it but you have one.”
Your Holiness, you said that you have no intention of trying to convert me and I do not think you would succeed.
“We cannot know that, but I don’t have any such intention.”
And St. Francis?
“He’s great because he is everything. He is a man who wants to do things, wants to build, he founded an order and its rules, he is an itinerant and a missionary, a poet and a prophet, he is mystical. He found evil in himself and rooted it out. He loved nature, animals, the blade of grass on the lawn and the birds flying in the sky. But above all he loved people, children, old people, women. He is the most shining example of that agape we talked about earlier.”
I don’t think this is what George Weigel had in mind for the new evangelization.
Update: once again, Francis has made statements that require folks without the appropriate pay grade to tell us what the pope really meant. Here is Jimmy Akin explaining what the chief explainer was supposed to have explained:
8) So what did Pope Francis mean by his comments on proselytization?
He and Scalfari were joking about converting each other in the interview, and Pope Francis assured Scalfari that he wasn’t going to strong-arm him to convert to Christianity right in the interview.
He said that employing such strong-arm tactics is “solemn nonsense, it makes no sense. We need to get to know each other, listen to each other.”
Later he contrasted proselytization with the way Jesus preached the Gospel, which was based on love.
Finally, he emphasized: “I believe I have already said that our goal is not to proselytize but to listen to needs, desires and disappointments, despair, hope.”
In other words, the Pope believes that evangelization should not involve trying to strong-arm people (proselytization) but that the Gospel should be preached with love and involve a dialogue in which Christians listening to unbelievers and their concerns and help them move toward Christ through a positive demonstration of word and action.
I do not know why St. Patrick sprinkling water on the Irish would be considered strong-arming. In the ex opere operato world of Roman Catholic sacramentalism, baptizing unconverted persons was the surest way to convert them. Baptismal efficacy was one of the reasons why Trent made provisions for non-priests, even Jews and infidels, to perform baptisms on unconverted persons near death. If salvation comes through the waters of baptism, and if the Roman Catholic Church operated according to that logic for almost a millennium, I am not sure why Pope Francis or his interpreters are looking for new ways to evangelize. It looks to this Old Lifer like Vatican II is baaaaack.