It is done through living the life with the poor and oppressed and bringing them first and foremost the only thing a Catholic priest can bring them–the love of Christ. From that witness to the love of Christ and his transforming power all the rest flows. That’s why the slum priests do what they do. That’s why Mother Teresa’s sisters do what they do. That’s why Pope Francis does what he does–because the love of Christ constrains him to do so, and through that work the right kind of revolution takes place–the revolution of repentance and the triumph of truth.
Finally, the journalist’s contrast between “serving and converting” belies an American (probably Evangelical) bias about the work of a priest and the religious climate in South America. I am sure the slum priests mentioned serve the spiritual needs of their people with the sacraments, religious education and devotions. If they are not in the business of “converting” its because duh…its already a Catholic country and the majority of the population understand the basics of Christianity. They don’t need converting as such. They just need what the slum priests are providing–Christian ministry.
The situation in other countries is different. When a priest is in a country that is not yet Christian, or where the majority are non-Catholic, his social ministry work will need to have a more positive and pro-active dimension of sharing the Christian gospel and the Catholic faith. Of course working with the poor and helping the needy is itself a witness to the power and grace of the Catholic faith. St Francis is supposed to have said, “Preach always. Use words if you need to.” Sometimes you do need to, and when priests and religious are in missionary situations it is wonderful to see how they not only preach with their works, but also with their words.
Pope Francis’ emphasis on social action–living and working with the poor–is not an abdication of the need to proclaim the gospel, it is a validation of the gospel he proclaims. As he said in his inaugural sermon, “If we do not preach Jesus Christ, the church becomes nothing more than another NGO.” This faithfulness to the gospel is shown not only in his life, but in the courageous lives of the slum priests he has supported.
May the Lord send us more like them.