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(LifeSiteNews) — Cardinal-designate Stephen Chow, S.J., claimed Thursday that evangelization is meant to “help people to understand the love of God … without the agenda of turning them into Catholics,” a repudiation of almost 2,000 years of Church practice and teaching.

Chow, the bishop of Hong Kong, who will be made a cardinal in the consistory this weekend and is a defender of the controversial Vatican-China deal, told Catholic News Agency (CNA) that he agrees with Pope Francis’ understanding of evangelization, according to which Catholics should not try to convert people of other religions, as the pontiff has stated many times.

“I think it is important that we say that Pope Francis made a distinction. Evangelization is really to help people to understand the love of God — and the love of God without the agenda of turning them into Catholics — because that shouldn’t be the focus, as that focus would be very restrictive,” Chow said.

He added that evangelization should help people “to come to understand our God means love, means goodwill and a better life.”

READ: Francis-appointed Hong Kong bishop hopes the Church will ‘one day’ ordain women

Pope Francis himself has indeed made a novel distinction between evangelism and proselytism, apparently defining the latter as any attempt to convert someone to Catholicism. He has gone so far as to claim that proselytism is “the most serious sin a missionary can have” and that those who proselytize are “not disciples of Jesus.”

“Never, never bring the gospel by proselytizing,” Francis said in 2019, addressing the students of Rome’s Pilo Albertelli classical secondary school. “If someone says they are a disciple of Jesus and comes to you with proselytism, they are not a disciple of Jesus.”

“In front of an unbeliever, the last thing I have to do is try to convince him. Never,” he added. 

The same year, Francis drew a distinction between “evangelization” and “proselytism” while speaking to Jesuits in Mozambique, saying, “Evangelization is essentially witness. Proselytizing is convincing, but it is all about membership and takes your freedom away.”

Chow’s own claim about evangelization echoed remarks that Francis made earlier this year during a January 11, 2023, general audience, when he said of evangelization, “And it does not begin by trying to convince others, but by witnessing every day to the beauty of the Love that has looked upon us and lifted us up.” 

READ: Pope Francis has a long record of telling people not to convert to Catholicism

While communicating the love of God is indeed fundamental to evangelization, the idea of Francis and Chow that Catholics should not attempt to convert people of other religions entirely contradicts the example and testament of the earliest Christians, the saints, and the perennial teaching of the Catholic Church.

Christ Himself commanded the Apostles and all Christians to “make disciples” and baptize people into the Christian faith — that is, the Catholic faith: “Go therefore, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20).

Similarly, St. Paul instructed Timothy, “Preach the word, be urgent in season, and out of season; reprove, entreat, rebuke with all patience and teaching.” (2 Tim 4:2)  

The exhortations of Jesus Christ and St. Paul show that the Church must also strive to convince men of the truth of the Faith – “reprove, entreat, rebuke,” “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” – as well as include them as members of the Church through baptism and a common profession of faith – “baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” 

Far from being a “sin,” as Francis claims, evangelization in this sense of “proselytizing,” or convincing others to become Catholic, is, in fact, a necessity. It is a dogma of the Catholic Church that “Outside of the Church, nobody can hope for life or salvation.”

In confirmation of these teachings, Pope Leo XIII wrote in his 1896 encyclical Satis cognitum that everyone should become a child of God by taking “Christ Jesus as their Brother, and at the same time the Church as their mother.” He emphasized the grave necessity of this, writing, “What is cut away from the mother cannot live or breathe apart.”

Accordingly, the Church has gone a step further and declared that false religions should not have “equal rights” with the true Catholic religion. In his 1888 encyclical Libertas, Pope Leo XIII firmly warned against any promotion of other religions as somehow on a par with Catholicism: “One thing, however, remains always true — that the liberty which is claimed for all to do all things is not, as We have often said, of itself desirable, inasmuch as it is contrary to reason that error and truth should have equal rights.”

Chow’s and Francis’ denunciation of proselytism has particular significance in Chow’s home country, China, where the persecution of Christians has been ramping up under the Vatican-China deal, according to which the Vatican allegedly recognizes the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-approved version of the Catholic Church, and which allows the CCP to appoint and remove bishops. 

The U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China described the heightened increase in religious persecution in China as a direct consequence of the deal. In its 2020 report, the Commission wrote that the persecution witnessed is “of an intensity not seen since the Cultural Revolution.”

Most recently, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has sharply curbed religious practice with its Administrative Measures for Religious Activity Venues,” which came into effect on September 1. 

Among other measures, the new rules mandate that “the content of sermons and teachings … shall be integrated with the [traditional] Chinese culture and reflect the core socialist values;” that “places of religious activity shall not organize or hold religious activities outside their premises without authorization;” and that “churches shall carry out religious education” and religious personnel training “for no more than three months” and cannot “change the instructors, teaching content, enrolment scope, training time, etc. without authorization.”

The CCP also recently charged a validly ordained underground Catholic priest of “fraud” for not registering with the schismatic state-run church, the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA).

While both Francis and Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin have continually defended the deal, emeritus bishop of Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen has repeatedly criticized it strongly. He described the agreement as an “incredible betrayal” of China’s Catholics and accused the Vatican of “selling out” Chinese Catholics.

Chow, by contrast, has praised the deal and has encouraged the CCP agenda of sinicization, by which the Communists seek to bring all religions under the total control of the state.