Missions and the Amazon

Why aren’t there more efforts to convert to Christ these people whom he loves?

Children from Koreguaje indigenous community in Caqueta, Colombia. (Stiven Gaviria | Unsplash.com)

What if you had the cure for a terrible disease—what would be your obligation to make that cure known?

What if the terrible disease for which you had the cure were alienation from God? Then what would your obligation be to make that cure known?

I believe that great Jesuit missionaries such as Saints Francis Xavier, Isaac Jogues and Jean de Brebeuf would understand my point and say, “That’s why we worked ourselves to death as missionaries!” These great men have been much in mind lately, as I read of preparations for the upcoming synod on the Amazon. One story in particular stands out: a mission in the Amazon that (proudly?) admits that in 53 years of working in that mission territory, not one person has been baptized.

Now consider these words of Saint Francis Xavier, the great apostle to Asia:

I have not stopped since the day I arrived. I conscientiously made the rounds of the villages. I bathed in the sacred waters all the children who had not yet been baptized…. The older children would not let me say my Office or eat or sleep until I taught them one prayer or another. Then I began to understand: “The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” I could not refuse so devout a request without failing in devotion myself… Many, many people hereabouts are not becoming Christians for one reason only: there is nobody to make them Christians. Again and again I have thought of going round the universities of Europe, especially Paris, and everywhere crying out like a madman, riveting the attention of those with more learning than charity: “What a tragedy: how many souls are being shut out of heaven and falling into hell, thanks to you!”

I wish they would work as hard at this as they do at their books, and so settle their account with God for their learning and the talents entrusted to them. This thought would certainly stir most of them to meditate on spiritual realities, to listen actively to what God is saying to them. They would forget their own desires, their human affairs, and give themselves over entirely to God’s will and his choice. They would cry out with all their heart:” Lord, I am here! What do you want me to do? Send me anywhere you like…”

This man had a zeal for souls! No very long after the time of Saint Francis Xavier, Saint Isaac Jogues came to North America as a missionary to the native peoples. After surviving brutal torture, he returned to the mission fields. Why? Because he believed that people made in the image and likeness of God need the Gospel and the sacraments. He was so sure of that need that he chose certain death in order bring Christ to them:

My heart tells me that if I have the happiness of being employed in this mission, Ibo et non redibo (I shall go and not return); but I shall be happy if our Lord will complete the sacrifice where He has begun it, and make the little blood I have shed in that land the earnest of what I would give from every vein of my body and heart.

Jesuit Saint Jean de Brebeuf was Jogues’ companion in mission. His martyrdom was so gruesome I will not recount it here. This great missionary wrote the following to his superior in Rome:

As for the mysteries of our faith, although these are entirely new to their ears, they yet do not gainsay them, or mock or scorn them; nay, rather they wonder, praise and approve, though without keeping them long before their minds. They all have but one answer—“Such is not our custom; your world is different from ours; the God who created yours” they say, “did not create ours.” In short, caught in Satan’s snares, their evil habits hold them back.

What Saints Francis Xavier, Isaac Jogues and Jean de Brebeuf all had in common was a recognition of the unspeakable spiritual deprivation in a life lived apart from the grace of the sacraments. Each loved Christ and loved his neighbor and literally lived and died for the sake of winning converts to Christ.

As I read various accounts of the upcoming Synod, and about the practices of infanticide (which, historically, Catholic missionaries have always put a stop to wherever they went) and cannibalism among the Amazonians who have not been baptized, I wonder: Why aren’t there more efforts to convert to Christ these people whom he loves?

As the Synod meets in Rome this fall, I hope images of Saints Francis Xavier, Isaac Jogues and Jean de Brebeuf will be available to those attending.


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About Fr. Robert McTeigue, SJ 2 Articles
Fr. Robert McTeigue, SJ, is a member of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus. A professor of philosophy and theology, he has taught and lectured in North and Central America, Europe and Asia and is known for his classes in both rhetoric and medical ethics. He has long experience in spiritual direction, retreat ministry and religious formation and is a member of the National Ethics Committee of the Catholic Medical Association. His book on preaching, I Have Someone to Tell You: A Jesuit Heralds the Gospel is now available at Amazon in both paperback and electronic form. His weekly column on Wednesdays can be found at Aleteia.org. He is host and producer of “The Catholic Current” via The Station of the Cross Catholic Radio Network, and co-hosts “The Furrow”, a podcast available on most major platforms.

14 Comments

  1. Why? Because the Church has in large part apostasized. Jesus is just one more guru, one more idol. For others, Jesus is an embarrassment. But this fact can’t be escaped. Deny Jesus and He will deny you.

    On the other hand they are falling all over themselves to promote the depravity of the gay agenda. It is so much more than the smoke of Satan now.

  2. “One story in particular stands out: a mission in the Amazon that (proudly?) admits that in 53 years of working in that mission territory, not one person has been baptized.”

    Click on the link “not one person has been baptized” and read that article as well.

    The Amazon Synod goes far beyond a married clergy.

    • Oh, dear heaven. And that man is a priest?

      There is actually more sense in a column I read years ago, by a man who writes as Joe Bob Briggs and reviews B-movies, among other things. That’s a sad thing to have to say.

      “Ever once in a while some photographer or hiker or anthropologist or somebody finds a new “Stone Age tribe” living in Papua, New Guinea or Borneo or the Congo or the Amazon River Basin.

      “A big article comes out in Time magazine, and somebody writes a book about how “gentle” and “unspoiled” they are because all they do all day is run around nekkid in a cave.

      “And then a couple years later some photographer will go back there, and they’ll all be wearin’ Metallica sweatshirts and sellin’ bootleg videos to tourists.

      “And everybody goes, “Oh, isn’t that awful!”
      “And then the missionaries show up–Babtists and Catholics and those French guys with the funny shirts–and they turn all the Stone Age Nekkid People into Christians, and this makes the anthropologists mad because they think “You oughta leave ’em alone,” and when you ask ’em why they want us to leave ’em alone, they say “So we can study ’em.”

      “And then the tribespeople start buying Evinrude motors for their canoes, and tradin’ in their loincloths for Levis, and basically turnin’ themselves into Jungle Mall Rats.

      “And everybody thinks, “This is really disgusting. Modern civilization has destroyed these people.”

      “But lemme ‘splain somethin’ here.
      “What if the Outer Mongolian Tribespeople want Evinrude speed boats?
      “What if they’re sick to death of paddlin’ their canoes all day?

      “What if it’s easier to buy some cheap denim workshirts from German tourists than to sew banana leaves together?

      “And I don’t much like missionaries either, but I gotta ask:
      Isn’t it their goldurn choice whether they wanna be Babtists or tree-worshipers? What if bein’ a Babtist makes ’em feel better, because they’re switchin’ over from some religion that’s full of fear and revenge and superstition?

      “In other words, why don’t we just let the dang people choose what they want?
      If Indian tribes in Ecuador wanna drive around the jungle in Toyotas, that’s what they wanna do.

      “If African tribes wanna spend all their money on cellular phones so they don’t have to use drum signals anymore, I don’t blame ’em.

      “If the Stone Age people of Papua, New Guinea wanna charge tourists five bucks to come into the village and look at their Sacred Baboon Statue, let ’em make a little jack for the public treasury.

      “Everybody says “leave ’em alone.” But that doesn’t mean treat ’em like they’re pets. Show ’em everything we have. Let ’em use what they want.

      “They can go to the mall if they want to.
      “They’re just like us.
      “I’m surprised I have to point this out.” https://www.dallasobserver.com/film/joe-bob-briggs-6404795

      • I remember seeing something online about these old headhunters who became Christian (or at least partially). Why? Well, it was easier than being headhunters.

  3. Among the Tlingit Indians in the Pacific Northwest there lives a legend about a more-than-human Nobleman who hoarded the universe. The high Spirit (a Raven) noticed that the Nobleman had a daughter. . . He sneaked into her drinking cup, and she became pregnant and gave BIRTH TO A SON, a Raven Baby, born in human form. This son made appeal and was later given a box that contained the cosmos—and Raven Baby released all of creation!

    Even today, Native American interpreters compare the origin of the Raven Baby to the Christ’s virginal inception (misunderstood as the “Immaculate Conception”) and just as Islam, too, repaints Christ as a mere prophet. A more universal overstory—-surely today we see that all interpretive legends are equal, as in all the “same” (the original Greek meaning of “homo”. . . ).

    Under the spell of “homo”-genized sameness, lost too is the sacramental vision of reality, as with Western Utilitarianism which is actually diagnosed correctly in the Amazonia working paper. BUT then, is this loss (our materialism) to be answered with only a “new paradigm” (malappropriated from Thomas Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,” 1962) or even a growing PANTHEON of new paradigms?

    Hybrid? In Bolivia, a hammer-and-sickle substituted as a crucifix,
    Political? Urgent accommodation in China, however “provisional,”
    Subversive? Fr. Martin as keynote speaker at the World Meeting of “Families,”
    Chameleon? At the Youth Synod, a Wiccan stang substituted as a bishop’s staff,
    Syncretism? In Amazonia/Germania, pantheism + “ideological colonization.”

    In Amazonia/Germania, instead of an Amazon elder’s totem: Why not the Pacific Northwest missionary Bishop Blanchet’s 19th-century “Catholic Ladder”: a carved and instructional stick that chronologically depicted the truly divine self-disclosure—-as singularly fulfilled in the incarnate Christ? In its decades of use, the ladder yielded more than zero converts!

    http://www.awakentoprayer.org/Catholic_Ladder_1842.html

    Take a look. But who are we to judge? The Holy Spirit moves where he will…or is it now the paradigmatic Raven?

  4. Peter Santos is right. The missionary Church apostasized incrementally since my initial experience in Africa as a lay seminary lecturer evident many years later as a priest lecturing at another seminary. Holy Ghost Fathers wore the beautiful monastic like white habit whenever suitable [no one wore black white collar then and now except for diocesan clergy] giving a distinct sense of spiritual commitment. The missionaries taught and labored in the Vineyards of the Lord. Converts from animistic paganism torn shirts barefoot had great zeal, worshiping with piety singing with gusto. That disappeared when I returned. Benedict XVI identified the underlying cause as conflation of a truth, salvation outside the Church. That exaggerated error developed alongside the error post Vat II that mortal sin is a rarity due to mitigation. Currently Divine Mercy sans repentance is the catalyst. Amazonia is the culmination of a lost passion. Faithful love for the purest of loves, described by Faustina as purer than the Lily, more fragrant than the Hyacinth. Whenever October 19 rolls around I relish the words of Martyr Jean De Brebeuf. Excerpts from his letter, For days now I have experienced a great desire to be a martyr and to endure all the torments martyrs suffered. Jesus my Lord and Savior what can I give you in return? I will take from your hand the cup of your sufferings and call upon your name. I vow before your eternal Father and the Holy Spirit, before your most holy Mother and her most chaste spouse, in truth I vow to you Jesus my Savior that as far as I have the strength I will never fail to accept the grace of martyrdom. My beloved Jesus because of the surging joy which moves me I offer my blood and body and life. My God it grieves me greatly that you are not known, that in this savage wilderness all have not been converted to you that sin has not yet been driven out. My God even if all the brutal tortures which prisoners in this region must endure should fall on me I offer myself most willingly to them.

  5. Why? Um….because we don’t proselytize, OK? And besides, God wills all religions. It doesn’t matter what faith you profess. Only “rigid” people care about that stuff.

  6. If everyone gets to Heaven there is really very little urgency to mission work. If humanity’s de facto orientation is set towards glory and we are all born children of God out of the gate, constje concept of conversion ends up being little more than life enhancement. And bored clerics switch from preaching about Tje Four Last Things to sounding like policy wonks. Which is about where we are.

  7. Thanks for this article, Fr McTeigue,
    Your Order, long ago, made its accommodation with the world. It is now a cancer within the Church. The Jesuits can not, will not speak with clarity and precision. It is anathema to them. The result is the 53 years of mission with no Baptisims.
    I saw this during my 1970s undergrad years at Boston College. It is even more apparent now…the Jesuits have their own faith.
    The bishop of Rome is a very clever man. Something wicked this way comes.

    • There are too many Jesuit saints in Heaven for the order to be permanently crippled. There are many real Jesuits among us even today!
      The gruesome brutality of Christ’s crucifixion was the gateway into His glorification. God underwent human death – a terrible death – so that we can be gloriously and everlastingly alive in Him. Fr Mcteigue knows this. His heart is a missionary heart. A Jesuit heart.
      Missionaries have the duty to “Let God be God” (I know it’s an odd way of saying it) and give those who don’t know Him the chance to meet Him and dwell with Him. Alleluia!

  8. Years ago the Indonesian Bishops told Rome that if they did not have a married clergy they would have no vocations. The Pope did not back down. Now Indonesia is a vocations goldmine, and Indonesian priests are working throughout the world.

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