Pope Francis told Christian high school students this weekend they should respect people of other faiths and not attempt to convert them to Christianity, insisting “we are not living in the times of the crusades.”
Asked by one of the students Friday how a Christian should treat people of other faiths or no faith, the pope said that “we are all the same, all children of God” and that true disciples of Jesus do not proselytize.
Francis said that his experience growing up in Argentina with its waves of immigration was a great help in learning to respect other people.“This taught me a lot, that we are all the same, all children of God and this purifies your gaze, it humanizes it,” he said. “In Argentina, there is a small group of narrow-minded Catholics who do not want Jews, do not want Muslims but this group, I never liked it, it is a fringe group, they have a cultural magazine but they do not have impact in society and when I used to teach I saw them for what they were, this is the secret.”
“The last thing I should do is to try to convince an unbeliever. Never,” he said.
“But listen, the gospel is never, ever advanced through proselytism,” he continued. “If someone says he is a disciple of Jesus and comes to you with proselytism, he is not a disciple of Jesus. Proselytism is not the way; the Church does not grow by proselytism.”
As he did last month, the pope then went on to cite the 11th-century French fictional epic poem La Chanson de Roland as an example of how Christians have tried to convert Muslims by the sword.
“It is an ugly thing but it made me suffer so much, a passage from the La Chanson de Roland, when the Christians, the crusaders had defeated the Muslims and then all the Muslims were lined up and at the front of the line was a priest and a soldier,” Francis said. “The priest stood in front of the baptismal font and as each one approached, he would ask: ‘Baptism or the sword?’”
“This happened in history!” he added.
When the pope cited this poem in November to make a similar point, treating the account as if it were historical, a number of people offered corrections.
One writer said that The Song of Roland was inspired in part by a historical event, namely Charlemagne’s expedition to Spain in 778, but noted that this expedition to Spain was undertaken at the request of several Muslim governors of Spain, in rebellion against the Emir of Cordova.
“The fictitious case of the forced baptism of Muslims supposedly defeated after the capture of Zaragoza — which did not take place — is not historical, but is a pure imagination of the poet,” he added, noting that contrary to the pope’s account, there is not even a Christian holding a sword in the original work.