Msgr. Jean-Paul Vesco is the new Archbishop of Algiers. Bishop of Oran since December 2012, he was installed in his archiepiscopal seat on February 12. On the occasion of this installation, he gave an interview to the Sunday newspaper.
Born in 1962, Jean-Paul Vesco entered the Dominican order at the age of 32 after having been a business lawyer. He spent a few years in Algeria, then returned to France, having been elected provincial of the Dominicans of France. He was appointed Bishop of Oran by Benedict XVI in 2013.
Pope Francis appointed him Archbishop of Algiers in December 2021. He took possession of his seat on February 12. On this occasion he gave an interview to Laurence d’Hondt on behalf of the Belgian newspaper Dimanche. Some of his answers are astounding to say the least.
To explain what his role will be as the head of the diocese of Algiers, the new archbishop begins by quoting Pope Francis during his meeting with Ayatollah Ali el-Sistani: “Very often, you have to take risks to advance towards brotherhood. There are critics, it is said that the Pope is reckless, that he is taking steps against Catholic doctrine.”
Then the bishop comments: “Pope Francis’ words express very exactly what I live and feel: we are first of all human brothers. He dared to take the risk of affirming a human brotherhood, beyond religious affiliations. He thus shows that evangelization is done in fraternity and not in conversion. It's revolutionary! He affirms in a way that baptism is not the condition of salvation.”
There is one point on which we can fully agree: “it’s revolutionary!” Because, indeed, claiming that evangelization does not take place in conversion is exactly contrary to what Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, taught us:
“And Jesus coming, spoke to them, saying: All power is given to me in heaven and in earth. Going therefore, teach ye all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Mt. 28:18-20).
Or again: “And he said to them: Go ye into the whole world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved: but he that believeth not shall be condemned” (Mk. 16:15-16).
It is quite clear, and this is the interpretation of the whole of tradition, that evangelization is done in conversion and baptism. Certainly this baptism can be baptism of blood, by martyrdom, or baptism of desire, but it is necessary to baptize.
But the new archbishop goes even further. He affirms, on the occasion of a question on Islam: “In return, let us beware of ourselves whenever we are tempted to take a negative view of Islam. We must succeed in getting rid of the idea that we must evangelize, make others agree to our truth and simultaneously accept that there is perhaps also, in Islam, a part of truth that escapes us.”
Getting rid of the idea that we must evangelize... St. Paul had another idea. Here is what he teaches us: “For if I preach the gospel, it is no glory to me, for a necessity lieth upon me: for woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:16).
But in fact, it is not about St. Paul, it is about the Holy Ghost Himself, since this first epistle to the Corinthians is part of the canon of the sacred books inspired by God. It is God Himself who speaks to us in these books. Moreover, it is not about “our truth,” but about the One who said “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (Jn. 14:6).
Thus, when God, through the mouth of the Apostle, teaches us that it is an obligation to evangelize, particularly for the clergy, and especially for bishops, Msgr. Vesco tells us: “We must get rid of the idea that we must evangelize.” So who do we believe?
A man who sees evangelization only as a completely human fraternization, excluding conversion and even “in a way” baptism? Or the Incarnate Truth, Jesus Christ, Son of God, and the Holy Ghost, third person of the Holy Trinity?
Bishop Vesco's motto is: “I want to live and make you want to live.” But what kind of life is it? Unfortunately, it seems that it is not about the divine life, but about a poor human life.