VATICAN CITY — Like Jesus who dined with Pharisees and sinners and St. Paul who preached to idol worshippers, true evangelizers build bridges that lead unbelievers into the church, not walls to protect it, Pope Francis said.
The pope's words came in a homily May 8 during morning Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, the Vatican guesthouse where he lives. The Vatican employees present included those responsible for furniture and decor in Vatican buildings.
Commenting on the day's reading from the Acts of the Apostles, in which St. Paul preaches to pagan Athenians at the Areopagus, Pope Francis said that "Paul is a pontifex, a builder of bridges. He doesn't want to become a builder of walls."
"He doesn't say: 'Idolaters, go to hell!" the pope said. "This is the attitude of Paul in Athens: Build a bridge to their heart, in order then to take another step and announce Jesus Christ."
Pope Francis said that the apostle followed the example of Jesus himself, who "dined with Pharisees, with sinners, with publicans, with doctors of the law. Jesus heard everyone, and when he said a word of condemnation, it was at the end, when there was nothing else to do.
"Christians who are afraid to build bridges and prefer to build walls are Christians who are not sure of their faith, not sure of Jesus Christ," he said.
"When the church loses this apostolic courage," he said, "it becomes a stalled church, a tidy church, nice, very nice, but without fertility, because it has lost the courage to go to the peripheries, where there are so many victims of idolatry, of worldliness, of weak thinking."
In these terms, the pope said, "now is a good time in the life of the church, the last 50 or 60 years have been a good time.
"Because I remember when I was a child one would hear in Catholic families, in my family: 'No, we cannot go to their house, because they are not married in the church, eh!' It was like an exclusion. No, you couldn't go. Or 'because they are socialists or atheists, we cannot go,'" Pope Francis said.
"Now, thank God, that isn't said, right?" he said. "It was like a defense of the faith, but with walls. The Lord made bridges."