Cardinal Gerhard Müller of Germany, Vatican’s Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith says proselytism ‘is practically a manipulation of the conscience’ that the church’s mission is to help mankind relate to and love those escaping war and persecution.
His words came during an international conference at the Vatican organized to reflect on the Pope Emeritus’ first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, on charity (“God Is Love”) and the relevance of the Christian perspective of love in today’s world.
Christians assisting migrants should love them “without hidden intentions” and not try to convert them, he said.
The Church’s missionary spirit is not about proselytizing, but the testimony of a life that illuminates the path, which brings hope and love.
Cardinal Müller also said that the Church must assist with more than just material needs. He said: “The mission of the church is to give witness to Jesus Christ. It would be a way of despising someone if I said: ‘You only have material needs.”
Jesus’ new commandment to love one’s neighbor, he said, depicts the true Christian life where we are called to manifest God in our lives, to spread God’s message of love and power through others particularly through the act of giving. However, in addressing the needs of migrants, Christians are called to help “without hidden intentions.”
“We must not use the charity we practice and transform it into an instrument of proselytism,” Cardinal Muller said. “An expert Christian knows when it is time to speak about God and when it is best to keep quiet. Sometimes a silent witness is the best witness of the love of God.”
The cardinal noted that in his native Germany, where hundreds of thousands of migrants from Muslim-populated countries have been accommodated, the authentic witness of love through charity has caused migrants to inquire about the Christian faith without imposing one’s beliefs on them. The underlying reality of being a Christian is being open to a migrants religious belief and not using their vulnerabilities to impose or force them to conversion.
“There are among these migrants, the majority of whom are Muslim, who ask, ‘Why are Christians — and not our fellow Muslims — helping us?’ The love of neighbor is a starting point to the love of God because God, through Jesus Christ, is the cause and essence of our love toward our neighbor,” the cardinal Muller said.
Pope Francis on Proselytism, addressing a group of catechists sometime ago told them:
- Remember what Benedict XVI said: “The Church does not grow by proselytizing; she grows by attracting others.”
- We help, we lead others to Jesus with our words and our lives, with our witness. I like to recall what Saint Francis of Assisi used to say to his friars: “Preach the Gospel at all times; if necessary, use words.”
- Words come . . . but witness comes first: people should see the Gospel, read the Gospel, in our lives