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Contagious Faith: The Art of Friendship Evangelization
Although the word "evangelization" has gained greater notoriety among Catholics in recent years, it still gets confused pejoratively with its ugly step-cousin “proselytization.” To proselytize is to apply undue pressure on someone to convert, using unethical means like bribery, threats, or deception. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith offered this comment: “More recently, however, the term has taken on a negative connotation, to mean the promotion of a religion by using means, and for motives, contrary to the spirit of the Gospel; that is, which do not safeguard the freedom and dignity of the human person.” A good example of this happened during the Irish famine, when Catholics were starving. English landlords would prepare a huge stewpot for all the poor of the estate or village. There was only one catch: in order to get the stew, the person had to renounce the Catholic faith. You can imagine how great a temptation that was, especially during those years of famine and starvation. Pope Benedict XVI said, “The Church does not engage in proselytism. Instead, she grows by ‘attraction.’” There are a number of legitimate means of evangelization that are sometimes confused with proselytism: going door-to-door, standing atop the proverbial "soap box," or handing out tracts. Not everyone is comfortable with this kind of evangelization because it involves initiating spiritual conversations with strangers, something most of us don’t excel at. However, some people are really good at it! But the Catholic vision of evangelization involves much more.