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Our readers asked:

When I sponsor a Catholic missionary, are they trying to convert people?

Richard G. Malloy, SJ Answers:

This question was submitted to Busted Halo’s Summer School Contest.

Q: In some denominations, the primary function of missionaries is to attempt conversion of the unchurched or non-practicing members of another religion to Christianity. Is this type of direct evangelization a common practice in Catholicism? Parishes are often asked to support missionaries, but we are asked to support a mission of service, not conversion. Just wondering.

missionary3In years prior to Vatican II, there was often a sense that if one died without being baptized in the Catholic Church they would be denied entrance into heaven. 16th century missionaries like Francis Xavier were greatly concerned with getting people baptized. Developments in theological understandings of the proper relationship between Catholics and members of other faith traditions have evolved over time. Vatican II clearly teaches in Lumen Gentium, the document where the Church explains her purpose and mission, that, “All are called to belong to the new People of God” (#13). Some are clearly members of the Catholic faith and explicitly baptized in the Church. Others are baptized in different Christian traditions. Others are members of different religious traditions (e.g., Jews, Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists). And there are those who sincerely seek God and strive to do God’s will, although they have no knowledge of the Gospel of Christ (#13-16).

Today, Catholics missionaries preach the word in love and deed. Many people in the communities around the world where missionaries serve are attracted to join the Church because of their selfless and heroic work. Many others work along with Catholics to build up the people of God as the Holy Spirit so moves them.

In short, Catholics do hope to convert the world by their actions, but their focus is on inspiring others with their service and then leaving the choice of conversion up to individuals.

The Author : Richard G. Malloy, SJ
Richard G. Malloy, S.J., Ph.D., is Vice President for University Ministries, the University of Scranton, Scranton, PA, and author of A Faith That Frees (Orbis Books).
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  • Rahul P

    In India there are numerous examples of poor people being converted to Christainity :
    1) When they are badly in need of medicine for sick parent.
    2) By constructing well near church in areas where there is scarcity of water. Then putting a condition that you can draw water only if you convert.
    3) Spreading lies to ignorant tirbal people about Indian vedic religions and coercing them into conversion.

  • Rick Malloy

    Here’s the section from Lumen Gentium…

    15. The Church recognizes that in many ways she is linked with those who, being baptized, are honored with the name of Christian, though they do not profess the faith in its entirety or do not preserve unity of communion with the successor of Peter. (14*) For there are many who honor Sacred Scripture, taking it as a norm of belief and a pattern of life, and who show a sincere zeal. They lovingly believe in God the Father Almighty and in Christ, the Son of God and Saviour. (15*) They are consecrated by baptism, in which they are united with Christ. They also recognize and accept other sacraments within their own Churches or ecclesiastical communities. Many of them rejoice in the episcopate, celebrate the Holy Eucharist and cultivate devotion toward the Virgin Mother of God.(16*) They also share with us in prayer and other spiritual benefits. Likewise we can say that in some real way they are joined with us in the Holy Spirit, for to them too He gives His gifts and graces whereby He is operative among them with His sanctifying power. Some indeed He has strengthened to the extent of the shedding of their blood. In all of Christ’s disciples the Spirit arouses the desire to be peacefully united, in the manner determined by Christ, as one flock under one shepherd, and He prompts them to pursue this end. (17*) Mother Church never ceases to pray, hope and work that this may come about. She exhorts her children to purification and renewal so that the sign of Christ may shine more brightly over the face of the earth.

    16. Finally, those who have not yet received the Gospel are related in various ways to the people of God.(18*) In the first place we must recall the people to whom the testament and the promises were given and from whom Christ was born according to the flesh.(125) On account of their fathers this people remains most dear to God, for God does not repent of the gifts He makes nor of the calls He issues.(126) But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Muslims, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind. Nor is God far distant from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, for it is He who gives to all men life and breath and all things,(127) and as Saviour wills that all men be saved.(128) Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.(19*) Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel.

  • Mike

    I didn’t even read this but I’d say yes, that is the main purpose of missionaers. Just need to know that you don’t try and shove the Bejusef in Jesus down there tharts, nor do like the Protestans and the Spanish did back in the day, force people to do what they say or put them to death, deprive them of anything, even exile them,

    Jesus said: It is better to never have heard of me, then to have heard of me and truned your back on me.

    • YaraGreyjoy

      Well you’re in luck: the Catholic missions are largely relief based & the least “pushy” by far of all missions – most don’t even broach the subject unless it’s brought up to them by a person curious about converting.

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