What Catholic Evangelization Looked Like


Indian Christians honoring the relics of St. Francis Xavier.

We rarely speak about the evangelization of non-Catholics in Catholic circles today.  When we do, we’re usually spoken to by men with theories that they believe will be effective in evangelizing others.  However, what we should ask is what evangelization looked like, practically speaking, for the greatest evangelists in Church history.  These would begin with Our Lord himself, whose practices we read of in the Gospels, and in the works of the Apostle Paul, which can read of in the book of Acts.

Another of the Church’s great evangelists was the Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier from Spain.  We have a letter written by him in 1543, which offers us many details of his work.  He was in southern India at the time and wrote the following:

“We could not understand one another, as I spoke Castilian and they Malabar; so I picked out the most intelligent and well-read of them, and then sought out with the greatest diligence men who knew both languages. We held meetings for several days, and by our joint efforts and with infinite difficulty we translated the Catechism into the Malabar tongue.

This I learnt by heart, and then I began to go through all the villages of the coast, calling around me by the sound of a bell as many as I could, children and men. I assembled them twice a day and taught them the Christian doctrine: and thus, in the space of a month, the children had it well by heart. And all the time I kept telling them to go on teaching in their turn whatever they had learnt to their parents, family, and neighbors.

Every Sunday I collected them all, men and women, boys and girls, in the church. They came with great readiness and with a great desire for instruction. Then, in the hearing of all, I began by calling on the name of the most holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and I recited aloud the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary, and the Creed in the language of the country: they all followed me in the same words, and delighted in it wonderfully.

Then I repeated the Creed by myself, dwelling upon each article singly. Then I asked them as to each article, whether they believed it unhesitatingly; and all, with a loud voice and their hands crossed over their breasts, professed aloud that they truly believed it. I take care to make them repeat the Creed oftener than the other prayers; and I tell them that those who believe all that is contained therein are called “Christians”.

After explaining the Creed I go on to the Commandments, teaching them that the Christian law is contained in those ten precepts, and that every one who observes them all faithfully is a good and true Christian and is certain of eternal salvation, and that, on the other hand, whoever neglects a single one of them is a bad Christian, and will be cast into hell unless he is truly penitent for his sin. Converts and heathen alike are astonished at all this, which shows them the holiness of the Christian law, its perfect consistency with itself, and its agreement with reason.

As to the numbers who become Christians, you may understand them from this, that it often happens to me to be hardly able to use my hands from the fatigue of baptizing: often in a single day I have baptized whole villages.”  (Source:  Internet History Sourcebook)

We see that catechism, prayers, the Creed and the commandments were the focal points of Francis Xavier’s evangelistic work and we can certainly imitate him in making these the focus of our conversations with our friends, relatives, neighbors and students.  It’s helpful to see that the missionary defined a “Christian” as one who believes all points of the Creed–a definition we can focus on to help us avoid unnecessary divisions among Christians and keep things simple.

May God help us introduce our neighbors to the Christian faith and persevere in leading them to true faith.

God bless you all,

William Michael
Classical Liberal Arts Academy

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