by Father Ed Dougherty, M.M.
In one of His appearances to the disciples after the Resurrection, Christ said to them, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).
This command can seem like an overwhelming task until we recognize the role that grace plays in opening hearts to Christ. He assured us that He will be with us always, so it is important to remember that it is Christ working through us to share God’s love with the world.
I spent 12 years in Africa as a Maryknoll missionary and can attest to the fact that it is only through grace that we are able to share God’s love with the world. Much evangelization in missionary work takes place through the service we provide to those most in need. Christ said, “You will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16) and missionaries are certainly judged on this basis. Today, Catholic missionaries continue to bring vital aid in many forms to the people most in need in Africa. Missionaries to Africa demonstrate the transformative power of God’s love to all who encounter them. This kind of service wins hearts for Christ, and now the African people are poised to share their faith with the rest of the world.
During Pope Francis’ recent visit to Africa, The New York Times published an article entitled “In Africa, Pope Francis Comes Face to Face With the Future of the Church.” Their story detailed the spread of Christianity in Africa, estimating that 40 years from now about 40 percent of the world’s Christian population will reside in Africa. Some of Africa’s growth in Christianity is certainly attributable to Protestant missionaries, but Catholics will continue to have the greatest impact due to our extensive network of missionary activities throughout the continent.
I celebrated around 200 adult baptisms every year in the parish I served in Tanzania. Vocations were abounding then and continue to abound in Africa. Now we are seeing African priests sent to Europe and America to serve our communities, and I can say that they have much to share with the world. Asked by The New York Times about this trend, Father Estevao Antonio Pango said, “If Europe was proud of having evangelized Africa, now God permits Africans to evangelize Europe.”
In missionary work, we gain as much, if not more, than we give, and one of the greatest gifts I received in ministering to the people of Africa was understanding the importance their culture places on relationships and on being welcoming to others. These values are essential to building strong communities, and African missionaries carry these ideals in their hearts and can teach us so much.
Of course, evangelization isn’t just for missionaries who travel to far-off lands – it is for all of us in our everyday interactions. Working on relationships can be an essential form of evangelization. When others know that we believe in Christ, it is a powerful witness to show them love. And when we welcome new people into our lives, they will know that we have done this because we believe in Jesus Christ. So, wherever you find yourself in this world, adopt a missionary spirit and you’ll inspire those around you and win disciples for Christ.
Father Dougherty, M.M. is on The Christophers board of directors.