VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The Catholic Church needs laypeople with a missionary spirit, which means Catholics do not have to try to force members into a vocation that is the Holy Spirit’s to give, Pope Francis said.
The temptation to impose a vocation on laypeople as some kind of validation of their service in the church “worries me,” the pope said April 27 during a meeting with members of Catholic Action.
“What has happened many times in dioceses?” the pope asked. “A priest comes and says, ‘I have a phenomenal layman who does this, this and that; he is a good organizer. What if we make him a deacon?’ Stop! Don’t give him a vocation that is up to the Holy Spirit to give him. Do not clericalize!”
Catholic Action’s meeting with Pope Francis kicked off a three-day forum designed to reflect on the theme “Catholic Action in mission with all and for all.”
Warmly greeted by some 300 participants from around the world, Pope Francis was presented with several meaningful gifts. Two members from Lampedusa, Italy, where thousands of refugees arrive each year, gave the pope an English copy of the Psalms and the New Testament found in one of the fishing boats used by migrants.
After being told that the book was found with a folded page marking Psalm 55, a song of supplication in times of need, the pope reverently took the gift and kissed it.
He was also greeted by a family from Bethlehem. The children, the pope was told, wanted to teach Pope Francis the Sign of the Cross in Arabic to prepare him for his visit to Egypt the following day.
Bending over and attentively listening to the instruction of the twin siblings, Pope Francis placed his hands above their heads and thanked them.
In his speech, the pope told members that a true missionary apostolate involves “going out” to those in need or who are far away from the church.
However, in calling others to conversion, the pope said Christians must avoid the practice of proselytism or coercion, “which goes against the Gospel.”
“It makes me really sad to see people who are in ministry — lay, consecrated, priests, bishops — who are still playing the proselytism card. No! It is done through attraction. That is the genius phrase of Pope Benedict XVI,” he said.
The pope also called on laymen and laywomen to be agents of mercy to those who are far from the church rather than acting like “border control” agents.
“You cannot be more restrictive than the church nor more papist than the pope,” he said. “Please, open the doors, don’t administer Christian perfection tests because you will only promote a hypocritical phariseeism.”
Prayer, formation and sacrifice are also crucial in preparing laypeople to become missionaries, otherwise, “there is no fruit,” the pope added.
Groups and movements like Catholic Action, he continued, must “take flesh” and be willing to serve within their dioceses while avoiding the temptation to become self-serving, which would otherwise remove them from their true calling.
“A Catholic Action that only pretends and does not take flesh isn’t Catholic. It is action, but it is not Catholic. To take flesh doesn’t mean what I want, it means what the church wants,” Pope Francis said.
Instead, he said, members of the international lay organization must continue to make their presence known in all areas of life, from the world of politics and business to prisons, hospitals and factories.
“Do not become an institution of exclusives that doesn’t say anything to anyone nor to the church. Everyone has a right to be evangelized,” the pope said.