The Pope and the Atheist

This was a fascinating interview that I wish I had time to blog further, but this was my favorite part:

The Pope comes in and shakes my hand, and we sit down. The Pope smiles and says: “Some of my colleagues who know you told me that you will try to convert me.”

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.”

And I smile when I read the next line, because this is how my conversations with my atheist friends always go, too:

Your Holiness, is there is a single vision of the Good? And who decides what it is?

In my conversations, I tend to go for maximizing human flourishing, because that’s a traditional Catholic answer that has some hope of an objective assessment. This is Francis’ answer:

“Each of us has a vision of good and of evil. We have to encourage people to move towards what they think is Good.”

Getting to know each other, really listening, trying to expand our understanding, engaging in the spirit (or Spirit) of good will on both sides: this is how it works. It is heartwarming and validating for me to see Francis modeling this kind of dialogue.

Updated to add: This lovely paragraph from Catholicity and Covenant is a good description of Francis’ approach to evangelism, or more fundamentally his stance, his starting point:

It is Francis’ grace-filled hope in the radiance of being that lies at the heart of his approach to evangelisation. Evangelisation is not a war, not a propaganda contest, not a harsh reaction to a world without hope. It is, rather, an invitation to come and see a grace-drenched cosmos.

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