THE CHURCH CHRIST FOUNDED (11) – Catholic Missionary Expansion

– Joni Cheng

At the end of the 15th century, after Christopher Columbus and his mission of exploration to the western hemisphere, the Spanish and the Portuguese struggled over the authority to colonize and evangelize different parts of the world.  Hence, in 1493, Pope Alexander VI divided the world between Spain and Portugal, the two great colonizing countries in Europe at the time, by giving Spain the Western Hemisphere while entrusting Portugal to the colonization and evangelization of the Eastern Hemisphere. 

The key figure in the colonization of the East is St Francis Xavier, a Jesuit and the patron of missions, who was one of the original Jesuits who brought the Christian faith to the Eastern hemisphere.  St Francis Xavier set out for his mission from Rome in 1540 as Papal Legate and stopped at Goa, India, the capital of the Portuguese possessions, where he baptized thousands of people.  In 1549, he continued his mission to Japan with some companions, where he made rapid progress.  He further expanded his missionary journey to Malaysia and Vietnam.  In 1552, he died at Shang Chuan Island in the south of China while trying to bring the Gospel into the country. 

Although St Francis Xavier never made it to his dream of proclaiming the Gospels in China, his fellow Jesuits, Mateo Ricci and Adam Schall Von Belt, continued his mission and entered into China in 1581. Through their beliefs in inculturation, that is, the idea to adapt Christianity to some degree to the existing culture, such as learning the language of the people, together with their western knowledge in astronomy, map making and mathematics, they made great progress. Fr Adam Schall was named Minister of Astronomy by the Chinese Emperor. 

Meanwhile, in the Western Hemisphere, the Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortez arrived in Mexico, together with the Catholic missionaries and priests.  In spite of their missionary efforts, the big conversion was actually through the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe to a local peasant, St Juan Diego in 1531, in which almost ten million people were converted to Christianity just within a few years. 

Peru was colonized by Francisco Pizarro and later developed two local convert saints, St Martin de Porres and St Rose of Lima. 

In North America, there was Fr Eusebio Francisco Kino, a Jesuit, who started up missions in northern Mexico and southern Arizona.  Also, the Franciscan, Father Louis Hennepin, who brought the gospel to Minneapolis.  The Jesuit, Father Jacques Marquette, accompanied by the French explorer, brought the faith to New France in the 17th century. 

In Canada, St Marguerite Bourgeoys was one of the first to come to the city of Montreal and is known as the founder of the Catholic Church in Canada. She founded the congregation of the Notre Dame de Montreal (Notre Dame Sisters).

(Image: Saint Francis Xavier taking leave of King John III – by José Avelar Rebelo, 1635)