Dialogika

Pope Francis

On Giving Christian Witness

In this excerpt from an address to participants in the Ecclesial Convention of the Diocese of Rome, Pope Francis explained that witnessing to the Gospel has nothing to do with trying to convince or proselytize others. Although the pontiff was not speaking about witness in the context of interreligious dialogue, his understanding of witness is perhaps particularly relevant to it.

In the midst of so many sufferings, so many problems, as there are here in Rome, there are people who live without hope. Each one of us can think in silence of people who live with no hope and are steeped in profound sadness from which they struggle to emerge, believing they have found happiness in alcohol, in drugs, in gambling, in the power of money, in sexuality unbridled by rules.... However they find themselves even more disappointed and sometimes vent their rage against life with violent behaviour unworthy of the human being.

How many sad people, how many sad people without hope! Think too of the many young people who after trying out so many things, fail to find a meaning for life and opt for suicide as a solution. Do you know how many young people commit suicide in the world today? A large number. Why? They have no hope. They have tried so many things and society, which is cruel — it is cruel! — cannot give you hope. Hope is like grace: it cannot be bought, it is a gift of God. We must offer Christian hope with our witness, our freedom and our joy. The present offered by the God of grace gives hope.

Can we who have had the joy of knowing that we are not orphans, that we have a Father, be indifferent to this city which asks of us, perhaps even unwittingly, without being aware of it, a hope that will help it look to the future with greater confidence and serenity? We cannot remain indifferent. But how can we do this? How can we step forward and offer hope? By going on our way saying: “I have hope”? No! With your witness, with your smile, saying: “I believe I have a Father”. This is what Gospel proclamation is: it is saying with my words, with my witness: “I have a Father. We are not orphans. We have a Father”, and means sharing this sonship with the Father and with everyone else. “Father, now I understand: it is a question of convincing others, of proselytizing!”. No: it is nothing of the kind. The Gospel is like seed: you scatter it, you scatter it with your words and with your witness. and then it is not you who calculate the statistics of the results; it is God who does. It is he who makes this seed germinate but we must sow it with the certainty that he will water it, that he gives the growth. And we do not gather in the harvest. Some other priest will do this, some other lay person, a man or woman, someone else will do it. However the joy of sowing with our witness — for with words alone it is not enough, it is not enough. Words without witness are hot air. Words do not suffice. It must be the true witness that Paul speaks of.