I knew some of the people - and at least half of them knew me.
What has this to do with mission work, with evangelization?
Evangelization, spreading the Good News of the Gospel, is central to a calling to be a disciple of Jesus. This is something that I have heard almost incessantly in the six and a half years I’ve lived here in Honduras. It is also central to the message of Pope Francis. I also recently found an interesting discussion in a book about Saint Francis.
A few nights ago, I finished Eloi Leclerc’s The Wisdom of the Poor One of Assisi. In this book, the author tries to present both the light and the shadows of a dark period of Francis life, imagining how Francis may have felt and thought.
It is a small intriguing portrait of Francis of Assisi during the time when he felt abandoned and betrayed. The original vision, with its ecstatic evangelical joy, no longer satisfied some of his followers, who wanted a more stable existence.
At the end of the book, when Francis has come to terms with the whirlwind around him and within himself, these are the words that come from his heart, in a conversation with a Brother Tancred.
“The Lord has sent us to evangelize the world. But have you already thought about what it means to evangelize people?
“Can't you see, Brother, that to evangelize a person is to say to that one: ‘You─yes, you too are loved by God in the Lord Jesus.’”
When I read this, I recalled the message of Pope Francis in his pastoral exhortation The Joy of the Gospel, ¶164:
On the lips of the catechist the first proclamation must ring out over and over: “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.”
But how, we ask?
In the words of Leclerc’s Francis:
“And you must not only tell that person so, but you must really believe it, and not only believe it, but conduct yourself with this person in such a way that this person can feel and discover there is something within that is being redeemed, something more majestic and noble than had ever been dreamed.”
Believing in the person before me is not always easy. Here, where the poor are marginalized, ignored, and looked down upon, friendship with them, accompanying them is critical.
When we interact with others in this way, believing in their goodness, their dignity, and their abilities, something happens. At times, I have seen the “spark of God” with others blaze up and create a change.
Leclerc’s Francis continues:
“Thus will this person be aroused to a new awareness of self. Thus will you have proclaimed to that one ‘the good tidings of great joy.’ This will be possible only if you offer that person your friendship, a true friendship, unbiased and without condescension, a friendship rooted in profound confidence and esteem."
The essential is to be friends with the poor. As Paul wrote to the Romans (12:16);
…do not be haughty but associate with the lowly…
Finally, as LeClerc’s Francis advises Tancred to accompany the people, to be with them in their struggles, as a companion:
“We must go unto all people, but that is not easy. The world of people is a huge battlefield for wealth and power, and too much suffering and atrocity can eclipse the face of God. In going to everyone we must above all never appear to them as a new species of competitor. We must stand in the midst of them as the peaceful witnesses for the All Powerful, as those who covet nothing and scorn no one, people capable of truly becoming their friends. It is our friendship that they are waiting for, a friendship that should make them feel they are loved by God and redeemed in Jesus Christ.”
This seems close to what Pope Francis wrote in Evangelii Gaudium, ¶ 268:
To be evangelizers of souls, we need to develop a spiritual taste for being close to people’s lives and to discover that this is itself a source of greater joy. Mission is at once a passion for Jesus and a passion for his people.
Being with people, accompanying them in their joys and sorrows and struggles, is central for evangelization.
That for me is an essential part of who I am and what I do here in Honduras. That's what I was privileged to do today.