08. September 2014
Voices of the begin of the First World War - An insight in the missionary journals of 1914 and 1915

The Catholic Missions Die katholischen Missionen (November 1914)

The Catholic Missions Les Missions Catholiques (January 1915)

Star of Africa Stern von Afrika (October 1914)

The outbreak of the First World War one hundred years ago led to a widely spread patriotic enthusiasm that also found its echo in the press. How did react the already at that time varied mission press? The large content of our mikado-library of historic mission journals enables a highlight sight towards the mission movement of that time.

The Journal published in 1914 for the 43rd time by the Jesuits "The Catholic Missions" ("Die katholischen Missionen") took position for the first time in November 1914 under the headline of "World War and World Mission". The whole article sounds moreover pensive; you do not feel a lot of War Enthusiasm or chauvinistic patriotism. Already after three month of War the incredibly high "blood tax" is complained: "Hundred thousands are lying in the military hospitals or the torn to pieces bodies are in uncounted mass graves. There is hardly any family in the country that is not kneeing in front of new graveyards mourning the passing of father or sons."

The negative consequences of the War towards the missions are seen very concretely, too.

The unnamed author is talking about the cooperation of the missionaries of different nations that was up to then peaceful in the different mission areas and he is asking "Will it last? We hope so. But if you know the excited force of an overheated patriotism it is not impossible that only at some points the fraternally relation will be destroyed and the holy ties will be loosened."

The Journal published by the association of preparation for faith in Lyon (France) called "The Catholic Missions" ("Les Missions catholiques") wrote in the edition of January 1915 under the headline "The War and the Catholic Missions": "Catholicism has no home". But it is restricted a little bit more: "But the Catholics have one, and the Catholic missionaries have one cult on their own, which is intensified because of the good memories and the long absences."

The author is worried about negative consequences for the missions because the most active countries in terms of mission, namely France and Belgium, are the most affected ones by the War. However, for the future, after the end of this "Deluge of Blood", "you can hope for a better world, a world where patriotism is not leading to arrogance and greed". You can hope for a France, that will think more Christian and more faithful about it's mission and also for a German Nation, "liberated by the Lutheran hegemony", which means liberated from the protestant Prussia.

The European countries are prevented in their mission activities because of the war. North-America is going to fill this hole; this is the conclusion of many Journals. In "The Catholic Missions" this was claimed without any valuation, whereas in the first edition of the "Journal for Missiology" ("Zeitschrift für Missionswissenschaft") in 1915, Archabbot Norbert Weber O.S.B. (1870-1956), St. Ottilien, pointed out that "America will use this favorable moment of the present situation and will strengthen his political and economic interests in East Asia through more sustainable promotion of the missions." 

In many commentaries the problem of the credibility was stated as the Christian missionary countries in Europe are fighting against each other on an unprecedented scale. "In a large part of Africa the war […] strongly struggled the authority of white men. The indigenous people, which so far had only a few possibilities to make out national differences between white men, must now see how the Europeans fight against each other and that in a way […] they had never seen an analogue of bitterness and bloodshed before.", told Archabbot Norbert Weber O.S.B.

And in "Star of Africa" ("Stern von Afrika"), published from the German Province of the Palatines, it is said in November 1914: "Missionaries of the different nations will without a doubt be […] obliged to fight against each other and will thus give a lie to the doctrines of faith and of peace and love among people." As a cause, missionaries will be missing in the communities and it will be shown, "if without their master they stay loyal to the truth and the Good News or if the awful example of unchristian strife between the Christian forces will undermine their esteem for the Holy Belief." The German mission orders had the problem that because of the war happenings they have no more contact to the missionaries. That is what happened to the Palatines in Cameroun: "No boat, no letter is bringing us information, no exhausted belief messenger came back and no help is expected for our missionaries from German regions".

In the October edition of the "Star of Africa" the basic question if promotion of mission in times of war is legitimated arises: "For some it might be surprising that the "Star of Africa" is appearing in those times and might ask for interest for the Sacred Work of Faith Preparation". The author, who is not named personally, concludes that you should "stop ruining the mission help wherever it is possible and you should guide the existing parts through this hard period of time." Because of restrictions and material worries in times of war "not every hand may give charity for the missionairy". But nobody is hindered to pray, this is what the missions need the most in such difficult times. 

The protestant "General Mission Journal" ("Allgemeine Missions-Zeitschrift") has been writing in the January edition of 1915 about the attitude towards mission in times of Begin of War that "the mission community focused back quickly to their obligation of mission in spite of the agitating war news and they did make their mission donations even in these times of need." There was a big disillusionment and worry about the international mission movement. In the same mission article the protestant mission researcher Julius Richter (1862-1940) has described the consequences of the War towards the big enthusiasm of mission, which started in the Protestant Word in 1910 with the World Mission Conference in Edinburgh. Everywhere the missionary atmosphere of change could be felt and now "this horrible World war did disturb this concept in depth." With the Conference of 1910 the protestant missionising countries stepped out of the shadow of Great-Britain, which in Europe, tells Richter, holds undisputed since the middle of the 19th century "the leading position of the protestant mission". Richter further wrote in the very language of that time: "And now the frivolous English declaration of war has cut by a rough hand the solid bonds between the German and English Christianity.

These few highlights give a first insight, how the reactions to the outbreak 100 years ago have been in the confessional missionary press. Many of the authors spoke in the patriotic language of that time. Nevertheless you do not feel much about War enthusiasm, you rather do feel the worries about the mission movenments and about what has been built up in the mission areas during the last decades.  

Further literature concerning the First World War might be found in our mikado-Library here. There, we have e a lot more Journals that the ones we have cited here. If you want to research more about mission history, you would be very welcome in our library. 

50 years MWI

Since 50 years the MWI accompanied, together with his partners, younger Churches in Africa and Asia on their way into the future. We support their leaders during their education and we share the vision of a common future.


Prof. Dr. Harald Suermann, Direktor des MWI
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