It is never easy to determine what Pope Francis means.
But can I suggest a rule of thumb? The true meaning of what he says (discarding or discrediting all subsequent explication, by himself or others) will be the meaning which most nearly approaches the current consensus of secular society. You can safely ignore ingenious attempts at mitigation – like the curious assertion about God’s ‘permissive’ will [see Cairo Revisited, below]. Francis is into the serious business of virtue-signalling to the liberal bien-pensants.
The recent words about proselytism in Morocco are a case in point. Compare and contrast with Justin Welby (see Missionary Zeal below):
‘We need to be conscious of our colonial history and how it has impacted other faiths in Britain today. How are British Christians heard when we talk of the claims of Christ by diaspora communities who have experienced abuse and exploitation by an empire that has seemed to hold the Christian story at the heart of its project?’ [J. Welby]
‘The paths of mission are not those of proselytism, which leads always to a cul-de-sac, but of our way of being with Jesus and with others… The problem is not when we are few in number, but when we are insignificant, salt that has lost the flavour of the Gospel – this is the problem – or lamps that no longer shed light. [J.M.Bergoglio]
The growing nervousness about conversion among leading clergymen derives from an inner conviction about the equivalance of religious thought. Religions are equally valid because equally peripheral.