Image: Old Holy Name of Mary church, Tsiigehtchic
In the summer of 1913 two missionaries, Father Jean-Baptiste Rouvière, an Oblate who had served four years among the Dogrib and Hareskin Dene at Fort Good Hope, and Father Guillaume LeRoux, a man described as highly educated, a gentleman and a philosopher but given to frequent expression of hot temper, left the Roman Catholic mission at Fort Norman on the Mackenzie River to go northeast to proselytize among the Inuit of the Arctic coast.
When the priests were never heard from again, and reports began to reach Fort Norman that Inuit had been seen wearing priest’s cassocks, it was feared that the two men had been murdered and so it was that the first contact between the Christian faith and the Inuit of the central Canadian Arctic came to a tragic end.
When the Christian faith was first introduced to new cultures by missionaries it could never be predicted how it would be received. In today’s reading from the Acts of the apostles we hear two first contact accounts having to do with Paul and Barnabas. At Iconium they met a divided community. Some believed in what the preachers had to say and became converts but others reacted strongly against them and the two had to flee out of fear for their lives
It was a different story in Lystra where, thanks to a fortuitous miracle, the people were amazed and began to treat Paul and Barnabas as if they were Gods. Even the two missionaries insisting that they were mortal and refusing the crowd’s adulation and gifts was barely enough to quell the enthusiastic welcome.
You might think it safe to say that most of the world has had a chance to hear and be made aware of the “Good News” even if not all the world is Christian. However, we have entered into a new period of the Church’s life which, in its more formal sense, is being referred to as the “New Evangelization”.
This new movement in the Church was initiated by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010. The Pope said that “the process of secularization has produced a crisis of the sense of the Christian faith and role of the Church”, and a new pontifical council would “promote a renewed evangelization” in countries where the Church has long existed “but which are living a progressive secularization of society and a sort of ‘eclipse of the sense of God’.”
What this means for us, the ordinary believer, is that our role as missionary and evangelizer continues. The Church is always in need of renewal as are we all as individuals. The examples of Paul and Barnabas, of Fr. Rouvière and LeRoux should not make us pessimistic and afraid or even overly optimistic about how we will be received as we share the faith in our corner of the world. What is important is that we not be afraid to try.
In the Gospel, one of Jesus’s disciples asks, “Lord, how is it you reveal yourself to us and not to the world?” We might think that Jesus would respond that once he is gone it is up to us to tell everyone everything that we know about God and the Church but that isn’t the case. Jesus responds that all we need to share is that God is love. If the people respond to that love God will come and live in them and the Spirit will teach them all they need to know.
We don’t need to be experts, we just need to be willing to sow the seeds of God’s love.