Proclaiming the Gospel is not the same thing as proselytism and often means simply being a neighbor and friend to someone while living an authentically Christian life, Pope Francis said.
Mission "is that dynamic that leads you to be a neighbor to others to share the gift you have received: the encounter of love that changed your life and led you to consecrate your life to the Lord Jesus, good news for the life and salvation of the world," the pope said Feb. 8.
Pope Francis spoke about mission and witness during a meeting with the Missionaries of Africa and the Missionaries of Our Lady of Africa, men's and women's religious orders founded 150 years ago by Cardinal Charles Lavigerie of Algiers, Algeria.
Encouraging the missionaries to continue being "nomads for the Gospel," the pope asked them to be "men and women who are not afraid to go into the deserts of this world and seek together the means for accompanying brothers and sisters to the oasis that is the Lord so that the living water of his love can quench their every thirst."
To be a missionary, the pope said, a Christian first must be a disciple of Jesus.
And while the missionaries may be working in situations where an explicit invitation to follow Christ is not possible, he said, their own lives must be firmly rooted in "listening to his word, the celebration of the sacraments and service to your brothers and sisters so that your gestures manifest his presence, his merciful love and his compassion to those to whom the Spirit sends and leads you."
Pope Francis prayed that the Holy Spirit would continue to make the Missionaries of Africa and the Missionaries of Our Lady of Africa "builders of bridges" and promoters of a "culture of encounter" and dialogue where everyone involved "learns to draw riches from the diversity of the other."
The missionaries' dialogue with Muslims deserves particular recognition and the gratitude of the church, the pope said.