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Reflections on Missions to Muslims by a German Parish Priest - Father Christoph-Sperling

May 18, 2024
By Bassam Michael Madany


Following the end of WWII, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and other Western European countries sought to revive their industries, aided by the United States’ Marshall Plan. The lack of a labor force prompted them to welcome workers from Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia.

Initially, the plan was that the guest workers would eventually return to their homelands. That didn’t happen; and before too long, their families joined them. The demographic scene altered radically, with new social and religious factors impacting European societies.

Christian churches faced the challenge of proclaiming the Gospel to their new neighbors. A German parish priest took up the task of bringing the Good News to his Muslim neighbors. He wrote a book about the challenge of Christian missions to Muslims in Germany. A summary was posted on the website of the French Catholic organization: Jésus Le Messie - Le forum (

The following are translated excerpts from his book.

“I don't remember receiving any teaching about Islam, during my theological studies. I had general and vague information about the subject. Having been a priest for a few years in my parish, a Catholic discussion group asked me to give a lecture on Islam.

“One Sunday, during the celebration of the Mass, I noticed a foreign-looking gentleman among the worshippers. Following the Mass, I sat down with him on one of the back benches. He took a German translation of the Qur'an out of his pocket and gave it to me! He turned out to be a Muslim missionary who had come from Braunschweig, an hour's drive away. What an astonishing commitment!

“How I wish there existed a similar commitment among Christians, to bring the Gospel to the Muslims in Germany!

“I visited West Africa several times and found its culture strongly impacted by Islam. During my stay in Conakry, the capital of Guinea, I visited the largest mosque in Sub-Saharan Africa. It was built in 1982 under President Ahmed Sékou Touré, with help from Saudi Arabia, and accommodated 2,500 women and 10,000 men.

“In 2014, I met a young girl in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, who had converted from Islam to Catholicism. She went through a three-year preparation for baptism. In Africa, candidates for baptism must come to catechism every week for three years. The girl told her parents that she was attending an adult education center. It was only at the end of her studying the Catechism, that she told her parents that she wanted to be baptized. At first, she met strong disapproval from the family. Eventually, her parents relaxed their opposition. She was baptized taking Gertrude as her name.

“Having grown in my knowledge of Islam, I wrote a book on Missions to Muslims. It was published in German, Arabic, French and English. Here are the main points of my book:

The Primacy of Grace

“There is a notion that conversions depend on our own skills and initiatives. But we must remember the primary role of God in the process of conversion, as our Lord Jesus Christ said, ‘I have sent you to reap what you have not worked for, others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.’ John 4:38

“Quite often, it seemed that my efforts bore little or no visible fruit. And then, suddenly, unexpectedly, a harvest moment arrives. A high school student surprised me by asking me to baptize her. She wasn’t a Muslim, but the daughter of unbaptized parents in an extremely secular environment.

“The Muslim converts I was preparing for baptism were called by God, not by me. My role was to cooperate with the grace that God had given. This is explicitly taught by our Lord Jesus Christ in John 6:44, ‘No one can come to me except the Father who sent me draws him.”

Our Cooperation with Grace

“St. Paul set forth the process by which conversions take place in his Letter to the Romans 10:13,14:

“For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?

“It’s a sad fact that in much of the Catholic Church, Christ's mission to proclaim the Gospel is dormant. This topic is addressed in a book by Father Henri Boulad.i (See endnote for details)

“Furthermore, there is widespread naivety about fanatical Islam. For example, in our small town, some kilometers walk from my home, lived a 20-year-old Iraqi man who was arrested on November 2023 in Lower Saxony, for planning to attack a Christmas market. Then, on April 12, two teenagers were arrested in North Rhine-Westphalia and Baden-Württemberg for planning attacks on Christians and police officers.

“In his book ‘Lord, Stay with Us,’ Cardinal Robert Sarah, the impressive African shepherd, wrote:

“‘The best Europe should offer the world is its identity, its civilization deeply irrigated by Christianity. Instead, Europe offers Muslims, irreligion, and unfettered consumerism? Is it any wonder, that young Muslims take refuge in Islamic fundamentalism?

“The tragic fact is that at present, Europeans are ashamed of their Christian heritage. Immigrants, after settling in Europe, end up despising it, because they do not discover anything sacred in it."

Islamist Terrorists have been in Europe for several Generations

"Many of the Islamist terrorists have been in Europe for several generations. They are children of the consumer society. Disoriented by European nihilism, they throw themselves into the arms of radical Islamism.

“The causes of terrorism are largely religious. We can only combat this phenomenon by offering young people from immigrant backgrounds a real spiritual perspective. Who will have the courage to propose to them a Europe proud of its Christian heritage? Who will invite them to embrace an identity that is based on Christian morality and values? The evangelization of young Europeans of Muslim origin should be a pastoral priority. They expect us to give a clear and firm testimony. But, in the name of a misunderstood interreligious dialogue, we are pusillanimous and timid in proclaiming Christ.”

Concrete and specific Needs

“The Catholic philosopher Ferdinand Ulrich, who died in 2020, told me that during the student riots of '68, a Communist student leader came to see him at the University of Regensburg and questioned him about the content of his lectures: ‘So, what you are saying here is exactly what we want. But I must ask you now: do you know people who live as you say? Then I would go to that place.’

“But the professor didn't know where to send the young man. It’s often our distress. What do we do when someone comes to us and says, ‘I have read the gospel. Where can I find people who are living what I have read? Where can I join them?’ Praise God there are many strong believers and loving Christians in our parishes. But it is difficult to show those who are looking for places where the Gospel is being lived in small communities; where it is not only studied but practiced. Such places exist, but there are too few of them. Where they would be welcomed and accepted in an authentic Christian community that is not closed in on itself?

“I would like to quote here another great cardinal of our time: Willem Jacobus Eijk of Utrecht. In his book of interviews with Andrea Galli, he expressed himself as follows: ‘The Gospel must be proclaimed to all the inhabitants of this world. However, to evangelize the world again, the Church must also put her own house in order.’

“According to him, these lessons must be drawn from the painful experience of the almost total collapse of church life in the Netherlands in the 1960s and 1970s. First, there is a need for instruction that leads to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Secondly, an unambiguous teaching that does not put water in the wine of the Gospel.”

God’s grace is given when He wills, to whom He wills, and how He wills

“He loves all men. He loves our Muslim neighbors. We Christians must not regard them with suspicion and as strangers, but above all as people loved by God. In this love, we must not deprive them of the Gospel, which has been entrusted to us without any merit on our part. Because of the great crisis of the church and the state of our society, this enterprise may seem to us impossible. But our goal is not primarily numerical success. It is a question of bearing fruit. Jesus said, ‘He who abides in me, and I in him, he bears much fruit.’ (John 15:5) ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.’ (Matthew 9:37)

“It’s wonderful that this Forum took place, and for the first time in Germany. I want to thank the couple Xavier and Anne Alloy and all the others for their great commitment. May God make this commitment bear fruit for His glory and the salvation of souls. Thank you for your attention.”


The information in the end note refers to a little-known phenomenon that impacted the lives of several Christian families in Syria and Lebanon, during the nineteenth century. Taking advantage of opportunities for work in Egypt, they moved there. The Jirjis Zayden, an Orthodox Christian family from Beirut, established a publication company in Cairo, including the daily Al-Ahram, a weekly pictorial magazine, Al-Musawar, and a monthly journal, Al-Hilal, with literary, political, and historical articles. Growing up in the Levant, I appreciated reading vowelled Arabic Children’s Stories published by this institution.

i According to Wikipedia: Henri Boulad, SJ (Egyptian Arabic: هنرى بولاد; 28 August 1931 – 14 June 2023) was an Egyptian-Hungarian priest in the Jesuit order, author, and commentator who lived in Egypt. He was a member of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. Henri Boulad was born in Alexandria, Egypt on 28 August 1931. His father came from a Syrian Christian family originally from Damascus, but settled in Egypt in 1860. The Boulad family belongs to the old Damascene bourgeoisie and has produced many clerics including Father Abdel Massih (Damascus) and Father Antoune Boulad (Monastery of the Holy Savior, Lebanon).

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