VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Christians are called not to proselytize to migrants nor simply offer material aid, but rather give witness to Jesus Christ through love of one’s neighbor, said the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Cardinal Gerhard Muller said that proselytism "is practically a manipulation of the conscience" and that the church’s mission is to help mankind relate to and love those escaping war and persecution.
"The mission of the church is to give witness to Jesus Christ. It would be a way of despising someone if I said: ‘You only have material needs,’" Cardinal Muller said Feb. 25 at an international conference held at the Vatican.
The two-day conference reflected on Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical, "Deus Caritas Est" on charity ("God Is Love") and the relevance of the Christian perspective of love in today’s world.
Jesus’ commandment to love one’s neighbor, he said, is a call for Christians to manifest God’s love to others, particularly through works of charity. However, in addressing the needs of migrants, Christians are called to help "without hidden intentions."
"We must not use the charity we practice and transform it into an instrument of proselytism," he said. "An expert Christian knows when it is time to speak about God and when it is best to keep quiet. Sometimes a silent witness is the best witness of the love of God."
The cardinal noted that in his native Germany, where thousands of migrants from Muslim-majority countries have been received, the authentic witness of love through charity has caused migrants to inquire about the Christian faith without imposing one’s beliefs on them.
"There are among these migrants, the majority of whom are Muslim, who ask, ‘Why are Christians — and not our fellow Muslims — helping us?’ The love of neighbor is a starting point to the love of God because God, through Jesus Christ, is the cause and essence of our love toward our neighbor," the cardinal said.
The commitment of charity and love toward one’s neighbor, he said, must be sustained by prayer or risks becoming "blind activism and a fanatical desire to reform the world."
Using religious differences as a pretext to exclude others is contrary to faith because "God does not exclude anyone," he added. Excluding others "builds a wall that separates us from God; this is the original sin."
Cardinal Muller said that instead, the church’s mission is "to help overcome these walls" that only serve to exclude humankind "from both God and neighbor."