The Evangelization of Europe
Extracts from a conference given at Paris by Fr. Laroche, a professor at the Zaitzkofen Seminary and author of a doctoral thesis on the evangelization of the Muslims in France (Strasbourg, 2001).
Catechumens Coming from Islam
The variety of persons and situations makes it difficult to classify different kinds of conversion. Fr. Jean-Marie Gaudeul, the new Secretary of the SRI (Secretariat for Relations with Islam), a few years ago wrote a book on catechumens of Muslim origin: Called by Christ: They Come from Islam.1 The roads which lead from Islam to Christianity are numerous, he says, but they can be classified in five categories in which God calls these Muslims who wish to become Christians. Without wishing to give too much importance to classifications, we can mention: (1) those who are fascinated by the personality of Jesus, to whom they begin to pray, experimenting with His power and goodness, and who finish by recognizing Him as the Son of God; (2) those who seek a community according to God, a community they find in the Church; (3) those who, after realizing that they are sinners, seek the experience of gratuitous forgiveness—which is interpreted in various ways by Muslims; (4) those who seek first of all a message coherent in itself and with regard to life and who need intellectual certainty; trained in polemics, they have discovered the Bible, and the coherence of the Gospel attracts them; (5) those who most of all want to encounter God, to pray to Him heart to heart—which is not the case in Islam, where prayer is an ensemble of rites.
In addition to these motivations, two other causes ought to be mentioned. The first is that of meeting Christians who live the Gospel: “More and more frequent relations between Christians and Muslims can lead certain Muslims to put the question of God differently, and to seek out what inspires Christians. The desire to live a life of faith in the context of French society can lead these Muslims to follow the path of their Christian friends.” They appreciate their “spirit of welcome, their open minds, their sharing, their freedom, and their seriousness.”2
On other occasions, the road is that of a dream—a fact which can seem disorienting to the Western mentality. This is most often the case for Muslims who seek a personal relationship with God and a life of prayer not found in Islam; dreams and visions very often punctuate the itinerary of those who seek God. This road is often the only one that makes it possible for profound hopes to emerge in spite of the psychological conditioning which is violently hostile to any kind of “apostasy.” God can in this way take the itinerary of conversion in hand and supply by these means extra spiritual fortitude in order to continue to the very end. “Whatever the explanation we may give to these phenomena, it is important to take into account the words of the candidate for baptism, without contesting this kind of experience. It is indeed by the seriousness and the generosity of the catechumen that we can judge his action.”3
Once churchmen at long last realize that they have been seriously remiss in fulfilling their mission by putting off proselytizing the Muslims, the means with which to do so must be selected. Three means among others seem indispensable: They must return to traditional Catholic theology, promote scientific studies on the origins of the Muslim religion, and remind the public authorities that, although they may not be Christian, they have a duty to promote the common good.
Truly Missionary Ecclesiology and Theology
Weary of fighting its enemies, the prelates of the Catholic Church, in a kind of euphoria, opened up to the world during the Second Vatican Council. One might have thought that the Church had no more enemies. With the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes and its declarations on religious liberty and non-Christian religions, the Council tried to put the Church in tune with the modern world, with which it was entering into dialogue; it adopted the strategy, if not the principles, of the liberal Catholicism it had up to then condemned, for example in the Syllabus.
Islamic-Christian dialogue as it is practiced in Europe has grave deficiencies. It brings out the weakness of contemporary Catholic theology, which seeks to approach the mystery of salvation through modern individualistic philosophy much more than through Revelation. Only what Pope John Paul II called the “dialogue of life” is truly useful because it can be an effective means of integration. These contacts break down barriers, help Muslims have conversations with Christians, and thus integrate the country they have come to. But a Christian cannot stop there. A converted Muslim tells us:
“There is no dialogue, and there will be none. It’s an illusion, because Muslims, when they are together, begin with the principle that they possess the truth. Christianity doesn’t interest them, and so they’re not ready to discuss religion. In doing so, they would have the impression of doubting themselves. In addition, their arguments are puerile, feeble, unconvincing. But even if they don’t know it, many Muslims are waiting for the truth, and it is at the level of personal relationships that the priests have a role to play. If they love the truth, they must share it, at any price; that should be the natural act of any Christian. And this is possible when, as in France, Muslims are not subject to the influence of their community. Believe me, more than one Muslim living here is thinking about Christianity. Teaching them to love the true God, that is what the dialogue should be. Alas! Out of lassitude, out of cowardice, the Church has given up.”4
Raymond Lully said: “Let the Church cease to be missionary and it will immediately be threatened with internal weakness. The loss of our initial fervor explains the advance of Islam, which has already cut off half of Christianity’s territory and faithful.”5
...Since Vatican II, the new principles of evangelization have come down to a dialogue which seeks to discover in non-Christian religions riches which the Holy Ghost may have placed in them. More than a missionary method emphasizing the importance of preparing souls for the preaching of the Gospel through education and charitable acts, this dialogue consists in discovering part of the Word of God in what the other believes and in marveling at this. Not only is this method based upon a false conception of religions which is neither founded upon Holy Scripture nor confirmed by history, but in particular it is helpless before Islam. This theological dialogue practiced with Muslims can only increase their contempt for Christians and confirm them in their errors because they see in it either a trap or a sign of weakness.
Lowering the barrier that separates Muslim from Christian, eliminating prejudices through education and charitable acts—this is what true dialogue should be. It is a long-term undertaking to seek, by all possible means and with clear respect for Muslim individuals, to open them to Christian civilization. In a word, it is a question of showing them true values rather than turning them into atheists or rootless persons who are disgusted with a European civilization that rejects its own roots and embodies the “culture of death.”
Seeking the Common Good
If the “dialogue of life” is not enough, if modern theological dialogue is impossible, indeed harmful, if our secular world is repulsive to the Muslims and Islamization fanaticizes them, what solution can be found for the conversion of Muslims? Cardinal Lavigerie gave the response, and others have repeated it after him: a policy which moves from the secular world to Islamization is doomed to failure, and this has been amply proven by history. The solution, which would have been the means of assimilating North African populations, and which will be the key to the integration of Muslims present in France and Europe, is to restore a society that renounces neither its roots nor its Christian culture. We are obviously a long way from that,6 mainly because the men of the Church are no longer principally inspired by the data of Revelation and of the Faith, and because politicians are no longer guided by the search for the common good. They are all guided by an ideology: that of the rights of man, supposedly theologically justified by a new concept of the Faith and of the relationship of man to God.
Thus, while present conditions are ripe for a fruitful apostolate (the possibility of missionary dialogue exists, as does that of acquiring preliminary knowledge to facilitate it), religious indifference on the part of the government and of the Church hierarchy is such that what could have been a marvelous missionary opportunity has already become a serious danger.
It was a grave error to export secularity to Muslim countries. The Muslim is an essentially religious being, sensitive to all forms of piety. What disgusts him profoundly is the absence of faith. In the eyes of a Muslim, a man who does not pray is a kelb, a dog. In light of this the complaints of the missionaries in North Africa in the 19th century concerning France’s strategy of preaching secularization for the French and Islamization for the Berbers are entirely understandable. They echo in the comments of the Archbishop of Algiers in a letter written in 1872 setting forth the lessons to be drawn from the Kabylia insurrection:
“The remarkable thing is that it isn’t the Arabs, that is to say, the original Muslims, that are declaring holy war against us; this time it’s the Berbers. Six hundred years ago the Berbers were Christians like us, descended like us from the ancient indigenous race and Roman conquerors; during our conquest, the Berbers showed no fanaticism and their practice of Mohammedanism was limited to reciting the Prophet’s prayer. But since they have come under our control, it seems that we have nothing dearer at heart than to fanaticize them... In Kabylia, with money from France, we have founded Muslim schools; they have forbidden our priests to preach the gospel; our sisters, to exercise any charitable works. Well, we see the fanaticism that’s been protected and fomented by us now erupting in the burning of our villages and the massacring of our people. Will this spectacle at last open some eyes? Will they understand that what France has been doing for the last forty years is as odious as it is absurd? Will they understand that we shouldn’t isolate the Arabs and park them in the Quran, but rather assimilate them, inundate them, if I dare say, in the pacific invasion of truly Christian colonists, not in order to create an ‘Arab kingdom’ at last, but a French Catholic colony?”
As Father Charles de Foucauld wrote to René Bazin on July 1, 1916: “If we have not learned how to make Frenchmen out of these peoples, they will chase us out. The only way they can become French is if they become Catholic. Otherwise, in less than fifty years we will be driven out of North Africa.” These words, formulated by a connoisseur of Islam and of Muslims, proved tragically prophetic. Let us hope that the following words, equally prophetic, may also come to pass: “Learn by heart that it’s only by Christianizing the Muslims that you will make them civilized, and it is only by making them civilized that you will be able to integrate them into your society, and it is by thus integrating them that you will add other Cyprians and Augustines to your Vincent de Pauls and your Curés of Ars.”7
Let us conclude with Cardinal Biffi: “I think that Europe will either become Christian again, or it will become Muslim. What seems to me to have no future is ‘the culture of nothing,’ of liberty without limits and without content, which seems to be the dominant attitude among European peoples; it will not be able to withstand the ideological assault from Islam which is sure to occur: only the rediscovery of the ‘Christian event’ as man’s only means of salvation—and therefore only the determination to revive the ancient soul of Europe—will be able to offer a different outcome to this inevitable confrontation.”8
In conclusion, I shall summarize: Muslim doctrine, confirmed by experience in Muslim countries, makes conversion of a Muslim almost impossible under Sharia: whoever preaches the doctrine of Christ, like the one who converts, is subject to severe penalties, including death. Even when the Church benefits from some liberty in a few Muslim countries (Morocco, Tunisia), Christian doctrine can be preached only to Christians. On the other hand, where Christianity dominated, Muslims were free to convert if they wished. This was the case in the Kingdom of Jerusalem. It is the case today in Europe, but neither the secular government with its laicism, nor the Church with its inter-religious dialogue and its New Theology, desires this.
And so we understand better why St. Paul invited Timothy to pray for those in authority, that a calm and peaceful social life might be established in piety. Indeed, God wants all men to be saved and to know the truth—which is very difficult to achieve when the government is opposed to the Catholic religion. In a word: missionary activity must make known the social doctrine of the Church without cutting it off from its foundation, which is the doctrine of Christ the King.
1 J.-M. Gaudeul, Appelés par le Christ, ils viennent de l’Islam (Paris: Cerf, 1991).
2 Service National du Catéchumenat, Catéchumènes venant de l’Islam (1999).
3 Ibid., p. 30.
4 S.-P. Kerboua, op. cit., [sic—no previous ref.], p. 272.
5 Cited by V. Serverat, Utrum culpa sit in christianis ex ignorantia infidelium, in RSTP, 73 (1989), pp. 369-396.
6 Let’s recall that at the European Summit held at Nice in Dec. 2000, under the presidency of France, a charter of fundamental rights was adopted. The project included a preamble the second paragraph of which began: “Conscious of its religious and moral heritage, the Union is founded upon...” The French prime minister, Lionel Jospin, felt compelled to telephone Roman Herzog, former president of Germany and president of the commission charged with drafting the charter, to demand the correction of the preamble, the reason being that for France, a secular republic, reference to religious heritage was “unacceptable.” The word religious was replaced with spiritual. But spirituality designates an attitude or a disposition; it expresses no content.
7 La XIIe Croisade, p. 177.
8 Cardinal Giacomo Biffi, Note pastorale (Sept. 12, 2000).