"Dont pray for conversions, pray for unity"

The latest bit of wisdom from my high school religion class.

My teacher said “Dont pray for conversions, pray for unity”. She claims that the Church no longer tries to convert people of other religions or teach them the Catholic faith, instead the Church today tries to understand and support other religions, and if someone happens to convert to Catholicism so be-it but we shouldnt encourage it.

Now, this is something I could pass off as another part of the poor Catholic education I get in my school, by teachers who either have agendas or have dont have a clue as to what the Faith is about. But this is something I have seen in the mainstream Church as well. I can recall many example of His Holiness or various Cardinals and Bishops praying for ecumenism, but never of them offering prayers for the conversion of non-Catholics. Most missionary groups now, including religious orders devoted to missionary wrok, focus on social justice needs rather then converting and teaching people in foreign countries. I hear so much about how Catholics have to understand and learn about Islam or Buddhism or Protestantism, but nothing about teaching them the Catholic Faith.


They are departing from the rule of faith. It does bear pointing out that missions have always focused on charity and have brought the faith that way. There’s only so much you can do to convert people besides bringing the faith in truth and charity. You can present the truth in word and deed, but that’s it. Coercion has always been condemned. Benedict XV and Pius XII wrote good encyclicals on the missions which elaborate on these principles.

Anyway, ecumenism relates to bringing non-Catholic Christians into the fold. Evangelization relates to bringing pagans/infidels into the fold. According to Dominus Iesus written by then-Cardinal Ratzinger inter-religious dilaogue must be geared towards these ends.

According to John Paul II, ecumenism also involves conversion to the truth (from his encyclical on ecumenism, Ut Unum Sint):

“The unity willed by God can be attained only by the adherence of all to the content of revealed faith in its entirety. In matters of faith, compromise is in contradiction with God who is Truth. In the Body of Christ, “the way, and the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6), who could consider legitimate a reconciliation brought about at the expense of the truth? The Council’s Declaration on Religious Freedom Dignitatis Humanae attributes to human dignity the quest for truth, “especially in what concerns God and his Church”, and adherence to truth’s demands. A “being together” which betrayed the truth would thus be opposed both to the nature of God who offers his communion and to the need for truth found in the depths of every human heart.”

These same sentiments are expressed in Leo XIII’s encyclical on the such unity. (Most trads are ignorant of his ecumenical efforts–even founding the Confraternity of Compassion where Catholics and non-Catholics alike prayed for unity).

Other recent good reads on the need to spread the faith and call others to conversion are John Paul II’s encyclicals Ecclesia in Africa and Ecclesia in Asia as well as his encyclicals on the role of the laity and the permanent mandate of the missions. In them he specifically states the call must be to conversion and Baptism, not just social justice.

Also, the Second Vatican Council (in the documents on ecumenism, religious liberty, the role of the laity, the missions, communications, bishops, religious, Lumen Gentium, Gaudium et Spes, etc.–pretty much all of them) specifically called for the spread of the Catholic faith and prayer for the conversion and salvation of souls. In fact, over and over again this is stated as the mission of the Church. Paul VI made the same pleas in his encyclical on evangelization, Evangelii Nuntiandi.

I don’t see the rule of faith having been abrogated by the recent Magesterial teaching. Those who have expressed different sentiments have departed from the mission of the Church.

Now, it is also good to see the need for peace and to acknowledge the natural unity of human society, but it must be understood properly. Pope Pius XII’s encyclical on the unity of human society, Summi Ponitificatus.

You need to understand the official meaning of “Conversion”. One is a “Convert” when one Converts from being a pagan or Jew or from Islam to being a Christian. So technically she is correct in this. Lutherans, Methodist, Episcopalians and any other Christians with valid Baptism would not be “Converts”.

However she expands the meaning of Ecumenism beyond how the Church uses the word to describe efforts to Christian reuinon. As a seeking of the return to full union, both in belief and worship, of those who are Christian (validly Baptized) but not fully united to The Church.

OK: it’s great to learn about other faiths. How can you understand people if you don’t have some idea of what they believe?

That said, as a convert, I can honestly say that I truly believe that the only real unity comes from yielding to the Truth which Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, has revealed to us, and continues to reveal to us in the fullness of the Catholic faith.

This is a soul-by-soul approach to unity, not a legislative one based on a dreamy idea of ecumenism or inter-faith dialogue that skirts the real issues.

The interpretation of ecumenism that I am constantly faced with might not be the same as the Second Vatican Council or Leo XIII or Benedict XVI defines it as. The ecumenism that I get taught about is a merger of Christian groups. Last year we were told that not even Catholicism is completely correct and that if all Christian beliefs and practices were merged togather we will get the Church Christ wanted.

This is what I am being taught. You and the other posters here seem to have a differant idea of what ecumenism is.

Different from the errors your teacher is teaching. The idea that one faith is as good as any other called Indifferentism or the idea of the “Branch Theory” of Christianity put forth by the Anglican communion, are incorrect. The Catholic Faith is the ONE true, complete faith and the Catholic Church is the ONE true Church founded by Christ, on Peter.


Your teacher is teaching error, but it is a common one. There have been priests teaching the same thing. To be charitable, it is likely a misundestanding of the teachings of Vatican II.

Politely ask her, when you have the opportunity, whether that teaching comes from Vatican II. If she says yes then give her this quote from Unitatis Redintegratio (Decree on Ecumenism)#11;

Nothing is so foreign to the spirit of ecumenism as a false irenicism, in which the purity of Catholic doctrine suffers loss and its genuine and certain meaning is clouded.

She is forgetting one important fact. Anything that any Christian ecclesial communion has that is true, that conforms to the truth of divine revelation, they got from the Catholic Church. She forgets also that Jesus himself founded the Catholic Church.

That doesn’t mean we stand outside their churches with “Heretic!” signs. Ecumenism is about seeking common ground to initiate discussion to see if there are areas that we can agree upon. But the end goal is reconciliation with the Catholic Church, however gently we pursue it.

Certainly, in terms of methodology, enthusiasm and emphasis and so on, there are things we can learn from our Protestant brethren and perhaps even more so from our Orthodox brothers and sisters. But unity can only happen under the real authority of the successor of Peter.

Why do Popes, Cardinals and Bishops pray for unity? Because Jesus did. It’s that simple. Gospel of John chapter 17, verse 20-21. Jesus wants us to be united. But not at the cost of denying any part of what Jesus gave us through his apostles.

She has a relativistic mentality that is also common. The idea that if all Christians were blended into one super church we would have the complete picture is perhaps a nice thought but it is also error. The Catholic Church, despite its ups and downs, despite sinners within it, despite some bad bishops and popes even, despite all of that the Catholic Church has the fullness of the faith. It is complete, there is nothing to add, except converts.

In December 1990, John Paul II released Redemptoris Missio, in part, at least, to counteract the thinking of people like your teacher. She needs to read it. The subtitle in English says it all;
On the Permanent Validity of the Church’s Missionary Mandate.

I understand the true meaning of ecumenism, but what I dont understand is why, if true Christian unity means a single Church- the Catholic Church-, why we dont just say so. Why do we have to pray that we can understand the Lutherans and the Anglicans and the Methodists better when we can pray for conversions?

Because, humility suggests that we might just know what we’re talking about: that the fullness of truth IS found only in the Catholic Church.

Caesar, this is not addressed at you, so I ask you to consider it in the spirit that it is intended. So often, when some traditionalists post in these forums on this topic, they take such an arrogant, triumphalistic tone that it’s truly a wonder to me that anyone hearing them would ever want to be a Catholic. They are NOT wrong, not remotely, in the exact words of what they believe: There is only one Church, one Bride of Christ, One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism. Anyone who IS saved, whether formally joined to Her or not, is saved BY Her, by Her salvific presence in the world as the mediator of that salvation. All of that is true. But how we SAY it, the way in which we carry ourselves in the saying of it, in the living out of IT, as it were, can make all the difference in the world between the conversion of souls or their walking away. They want to see the Church crowned in resplendent, unassailable glory (She already is and She will be, as well). But the Church doesn’t exist for Herself, She exists for Her Lord and for the salvation of the souls of all the world.

Understanding Protestants, being in proximity to Protestants in the areas where we may be that proximity (there are areas where we simply may not be, ie, inter communion, ecumenical eucharistic celebrations, etc) allows them to see the Faith. If all we ever do is take the “anathema sit” tact, well, I don’t think that’s going to be effective. My coming into the faith was over a decade and a half long, though the Church started to invade my sould when I was about eleven years old. It was a long, slow, steady wooing, starting out with an old nun that helped nurse by great-grandfather in a Catholic hospital, continuing through the early pontificate of John Paul the Great, reaching into the monastic community that finally clinched the deal. If I’d been confronted by self-satisfied triumphalism, I’d have run the other way. It was still by the persistent claims that She made about Herself that the Church won me. She just didn’t brag.

One time, someone on these forums, self-identified as a “traditionalist,” made the statement that “Protestants can go to hell!” What precisely are we to make of that statement? You know me, I’m hardly ever at a loss for words, yet I couldn’t begin to muster a response to that, I was so taken aback.

I believe (with the Council of Trent, btw) that my being lead to the Truth, to the Catholic Church, was utterly and completely by Grace. I’ve no idea why I, out of all my family the only Catholic, should be given that grace. But because I believe it IS only by grace, I have absolutely nothing about which I can be proud or arrogant or triumphalistic.

Just my 2 cents.

There’s a lot more there than two cents worth!

Unitatis Redintegratio tells us that we should be looking to understand where others are coming from, particularly Protestants. As you point out, if we hit them over the head and/or write them off we are not being obedient to the Church or are we being good followers of Christ by any man’s measure.

I understand your question better Caesar and my first reaction is probably the truly Catholic one. Why does it need to be either one or the other?

I’m a convert, raised in an Evangelical Baptist home. A lot of what I learned there I still carry with me, especially in this area of evangelization, because I think there are some things we can borrow from their tradition and put to good use.

At the same time I would love to see Baptists coming over to the Catholic Church en masse but I know that is highly unlikely.

On the other hand, although the disagreements that divide us from the Orthodox, for example, are still deep and unresolved at this moment, if they were resolved, then there would a reuniting of the two from the top down, and a merger, so to speak, under one roof.

In the case of many Protestant churches, there is no real hierarchical structure with the authority to make decisions for the rest, so the same type of merger cannot happen in the same way.

Ecumenism is a fine line to walk and the Church teaches that it is the responsibility of the Bishops and Priests to make decisions about policy. But we should be praying both for converts and for unity. The mission of the Church hasn’t changed because of the Protestant Reformation, but a new element has been added.

Here’s a couple more quotes from Unitatis Redintegratio that I was surprised to see the first time I read it:

However, it is evident that, when individuals wish for full Catholic communion, their preparation and reconciliation is an undertaking which of its nature is distinct from ecumenical action. But there is no opposition between the two, since both proceed from the marvelous ways of God.
(That would be a good response to your teacher, Caesar)

For although the Catholic Church has been endowed with all divinely revealed truth and with all means of grace, yet its members fail to live by them with all the fervor that they should, so that the radiance of the Church’s image is less clear in the eyes of our separated brethren and of the world at large, and the growth of God’s kingdom is delayed. All Catholics must therefore aim at Christian perfection(24) and, each according to his station, play his part that the Church may daily be more purified and renewed.
(There’s a direct hit at all of us.)

There can be no ecumenism worthy of the name without a change of heart.

I guess that is the mandate of the New Evangelism.

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