“Your friends make known, O Lord, the glorious splendor of your kingdom.”
While talking to a Catholic friend of mine, I mentioned my new interest in world evangelism and I mentioned my intention of blogging on the subject. He suggested I look into some of the great evangelists of the past, those towering saints of the church who first took Christianity to a pagan world.
He also suggested I look into the Catholic Church’s Vatican office responsible for the Propagation of the Faith.
Saint Paul, of course, came to mind immediately. After a dramatic conversion, he received the gospel, and it so took hold of him that he was a completely changed person. He insisted that Jesus Christ himself had mysteriously transmitted the gospel to him! “No one taught it to me!” (Gal. 1, vs. 12) Taking that exact story, and without consulting anyone, he thrust himself out into increasingly remote locations throughout the northern Mediterranean coastline, eventually landing in Rome, the pagan capital of the world, where he was put to death for his faith. He left in his wake an impressive number of strong vibrant Christian communities and a legacy of written letters that make up a quarter of the entire New Testament.
St. Francis Xavier, a co-founder of the Jesuits, was another extraordinary evangelist, pushing out into the Far East with nothing but the shirt on his back and the gospel story in his head. He spent a great deal of time in India, where he assimilated himself into their culture and proceeded to convert tens of thousands of souls to Jesus. Pope Pius XI proclaimed him patron of all foreign missions in 1927.
How could I not mention Saint Patrick? An escaped slave and shepherd, he was impelled by several visions to return to Ireland, the place of his captivity, and to begin proclaiming the gospel to a land under the oppression of pagan Druids. His message was so extraordinary that he converted the entire Irish nation to Christianity in 40 years. He died…on March 17th of course.
And then there is the case of St. Turibius of Mogravjo. A brilliant lawyer serving as a member of the Spanish Inquisition in the 1500s, he was yanked out of that job and sent, against his will, to serve as Archbishop of the newly formed diocese of Peru in the New World. Disgusted with Spain’s treatment of the native population, he hit the ground running and traversed, on foot, the entire 170,000 square miles of his diocese, bringing comfort and help to the poor people he encountered. He actually traversed this enormous diocese on foot on three separate occasions, personally baptizing one half million souls, including St. Rose of Lima and St. Martin de Porres. The list of his achievements is as long as your arm.
One more special saint deserves mention: Saint Isaac Jogues. Isaac Jogues was a Jesuit missionary priest who travelled from his native France to work among the Huron and Iroquois native populations in North America in the mid 1600s. Despite having his fingers bitten and chopped off by the natives, he continued preaching the gospel accounts of Jesus’s life among them for many years. He was eventually brought back to France, but his zeal was so extreme that he returned to the New World to pour himself out until his death at the hands of a tomahawk wielding Iroquois warrior.
Now, these people made a mark in their world! They had a story and they stuck to it!
In my own case, I left rural Connecticut when I was 30 years old, and went to live in a Catholic church in the heart of Newark, New Jersey. Joining a number of other zealous young men and women in a program of Christian renewal, we often fanned out across the inner city neighborhoods inviting people to our church. Although some of my new friends may have been effective evangelizers, in my case I believe the local residents of Newark tended to look on me with downright pity. The Lord, in his great wisdom and mercy, arranged for me to meet a lovely young woman and get married, before I could do any real damage in the missionary fields!
Things are a lot calmer now than they were in ancient times. We do things in an orderly and thoughtful manner, and the faith quietly spreads its work of salvation throughout the earth. There is, for example, the Pontifical Mission Society known as the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. This society exists for the express purpose of raising funds to be used by individual missions until such time as the mission is able to stand on its own. The Society also educates the larger church with regard to the missions, and solicits prayers as well as financial sacrifice. The work done by this society is impressive and deserving of high praise. Some of the projects they are currently involved in are:
- Renovation of Presbytery, construction of wall fence, Maichea
- Completion of Sacred heart of Jesus Church, Bobo Village
- Training programme for evangelization agents on Mission Animation
- Construction of a convent for the FMA – Salesian Sisters at Gubrye
- Construction of St. Gabriel’s Poutstation Church, Ejefara
- Re-building Holy Saviour Church, Debiti
- Construction of Holy Trinity Parish Church, Danalega
- Construction of Gona Parish, Amurada District
- Construction of Bishop’s residence, Jimma town
- Construction of Gidda community church, Cenna District
- Construction of a church, Wekele village
- Construction of Chapel for the missionary sisters of Mary Help of Christians at Arsi Negelle
- Renovation of a convent for Sisters of Mercy – Gute, Abakuna
- Construction of Ketchi Church
- Purchase of furniture, equipment, kitchen material for Catechetical center in Adaba
These projects represent the Society’s work in just one country, Ethiopia. The Society for the Propagation of the Faith works with missions throughout the entire earth. It would be hard to think of a more worthwhile expenditure of resources.
And yet, back to our original concern: There are those five billion un-reached souls who have no way of hearing the wonderful invitation of our loving Lord Jesus contained in the gospels.
Furthermore, at least technically, the word “propagation” should imply some specific and intentional transmission of the faith toward the un-evangelized population, rather than just funding the maintenance and education of already established missions.
When a young couple falls in love, gets married, and begins discussing the “propagation” of the human race, they are not talking about repairs to the roof! (They are probably not discussing the process publicly at all, if they have any decency.)
So, although building projects and fundraising are highlighted on their website, it is safe to say that a great deal of direct and indirect evangelization is being carried out by this great society. The gospel is being actively spread both by word and example, otherwise where would the missions come from in the first place? And the sole purpose of mission outposts and shrines is to spread the gospel to as many people as possible.
In my opinion, with a limited knowledge of everything there is to know, the Society for the Propagation of the Faith is probably doing more to hasten the return of the Lord than any other single arm of the Christian church.