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Five Things Evangelicals Will Cheer in Pope Francis' Plan to Change the Catholic Church

In 'Evangelii Gaudium' (The Joy of the Gospel), Francis says too many Christians have lost the joy of the Lord.
Five Things Evangelicals Will Cheer in Pope Francis' Plan to Change the Catholic Church
Image: Wikimedia
Pope Francis in Varginha, Brazil, in July 2013.

Today from the Vatican, Pope Francis released his most significant writing since taking office—the 50,000-word "Evangelii Gaudium" (The Joy of the Gospel). The document focuses on the pope's vision for evangelism, concern for the poor, the disabled, and the unborn.

Catholic News Service reports:

Pope Francis' voice is unmistakable in the 50,000-word document's relatively relaxed style—he writes that an "evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral!"—and its emphasis on some of his signature themes, including the dangers of economic globalization and "spiritual worldliness." Inspired by Jesus' poverty and concern for the dispossessed during his earthly ministry, Pope Francis calls for a "church which is poor and for the poor."

Evangelicals who read the lengthy document may find themselves agreeing with the pope's thoughts about changing the Roman Catholic church. Here are five key ideas:

1. The church must find new ways to evangelize.

"In this Exhortation I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church's journey in years to come."

2. The church must wake up to the reality that consumerism poses an existential threat to Christianity.

"The great danger in today's world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God's voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger for believers too. Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless."

3. The church should recover its enthusiasm for evangelism.

"[An] evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral! Let us recover and deepen our enthusiasm, that "delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing, even when it is in tears that we must sow… And may the world of our time, which is searching, sometimes with anguish, sometimes with hope, be enabled to receive the good news not from evangelizers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient or anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervour, who have first received the joy of Christ".

4. Preaching the good news should be "first and foremost."

"[We] cannot forget that evangelization is first and foremost about preaching the Gospel to those who do not know Jesus Christ or who have always rejected him. Many of them are quietly seeking God, led by a yearning to see his face, even in countries of ancient Christian tradition. All of them have a right to receive the Gospel. Christians have the duty to proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone."

5. The church should put the poor, disadvantaged, and overlooked at the front of the line for hearing the good news.

"[The] Church… has to go forth to everyone without exception. But to whom should she go first? When we read the Gospel we find a clear indication: not so much our friends and wealthy neighbours, but above all the poor and the sick, those who are usually despised and overlooked, "those who cannot repay you" (Lk 14:14). There can be no room for doubt or for explanations which weaken so clear a message. Today and always, "the poor are the privileged recipients of the Gospel",52 and the fact that it is freely preached to them is a sign of the kingdom that Jesus came to establish. We have to state, without mincing words, that there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor."

In addition, Pope Francis includes sharp criticism of the economic priorities in the developed West. He writes:

"Just as the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say "thou shalt not" to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape."

CT will update this report as reactions develop.

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