Note: On Oct. 4, 2019, Voice of the Family, a coalition of pro-life and pro-family organizations, hosted a roundtable discussion in Rome to address critical questions for the Church and for the family on the eve of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon region. Read LifeSiteNews’s report on this event here. Below is the full address given by Michael Matt of The Remnant.
October 4, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Over the past half-century, there has been a paradigm shift in the Catholic Church’s attitude toward missionary activity and evangelization—a shift which, based in doctrinal reorientation, has naturally led to a dramatic decline in traditional missionary priests and religious orders throughout the world.
These days, we hear much about the New Evangelization and no doubt much good has come from this effort, which essentially is introspective in essence and pertains to those who are already baptized Catholics.
But the very idea of a New Evangelization prompts two rather pressing questions: What was wrong with the old orientation? And why would the Church launch a new evangelization unless the point and purpose of the old one had changed?
The old evangelization, let us recall, saw Catholic missionaries from France and Spain and Portugal and Italy and many Catholic countries and over the centuries send missionary priests all over the world in an effort to lovingly lead the world’s indigenous peoples out of the darkness of paganism and into the light of Christ.
This meant conversion based—not on intimidation, not on coercion, and certainly not on black legends such as “forced baptisms”—but rather on one simple reality: Obedience to the great commission given to the Church by Jesus Christ Himself: Go forth and convert all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.
The Church over the past fifty years has moved away from this idea, citing as its authority the Second Vatican Council—the spirit of which more or less reneged on the Catholic Church’s own claim to be the sole means of salvation. And if there are many other roads to salvation, the Catholic missionary mandate of old is not only pointless but offensive to the Church’s dialogue partners.
At the Pan-Amazon Synod, the new and creative missionary spirit of the Church of Accompaniment (rather than conversion) will be taken to a new level from its foundational roots of 50 years of ecumenical outreach which evidently had nothing to do with conversion and everything to do with dialogue for endless dialogue’s sake.
Perhaps some of you have wondered as I have: What is the endgame of interfaith dialogue when it’s obviously not conversion—unless by “conversion” you mean the Church’s converting from the missionary Church of Christ into an ecumenical Church of Man, where even false religions will be regarded as good and holy…false religions which St. Paul warned in 1 Corinthians “make sacrifice to devils, and not to God.”
At the Pan-Amazon Synod will we see the Church abandon that Divine Commission to convert and baptize all nations? Will the Vatican bless and approve a certain indigenous theology whose animating principle is essentially pagan? Will the Church teach that pagan cultures themselves are of God because to suggest otherwise would be to engage in a sort of religious supremacism that holds Christianity as the only true religion?
We shall have to wait and see. But is it any wonder that the missionary spirit itself is fading into irrelevancy, when the Divine Mandate of Christ Himself has been undermined if not replaced altogether by the new and creative mandate of the Church of Accompaniment?
After all, isn’t it true that Francis himself has proffered novelties no pre-conciliar pope ever imagined: that souls don't go to Hell, for example, but rather are somehow annihilated?
After Abu Dhabi, isn’t it true that Pope Francis suggested diversity of religions is necessary and in accord with God’s permissive will, and that what God wants is a universal brotherhood of religions rather than a universal missionary campaign?
Isn’t it true that Francis warns against the “solemn nonsense” of proselytism, which is nothing more than the active attempt to lead non-Catholics back into the bosom of Mother Church?
Didn’t he rather famously say that atheists can go to Heaven, as long as they are of “good will”?
Given all this, is it surprising when the world begins to wonder if even the pope still believes baptism is necessary to salvation?
When missionary activity is reduced to vague invitations to non-Catholics to join our religious club if they feel like it—even though they can be saved in their own religious club if they prefer—isn’t it only natural that missionary orders would decline? After all, the imperative is, it would seem, no more.
Cardinal Walter Kasper—president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity—has said that the “ecumenism of return” is over! In other words, using truth and charity to share the good news and work to convert non-Catholics is no longer the Church’s goal.
And now we face a synod of bishops that promises to embrace an indigenous theology that would essentially abandon the Church’s missionary effort altogether while embracing an eco-theology that would send forth missionaries of climate change to teach all nations to listen to the cry of Mother Earth.
Please God, may this not come to pass, for if it does it will surely represent the Catholic Church’s formal surrender to the world and to the spirit not just of the age but also the jungle.
To prevent this crisis of faith, may I suggest Catholics the world over make special appeal to the intercession of the great St. Boniface…and for obvious reasons.