Fifty years before the birth of Christ, the Chinese Empire expelled the Huns, who turned to the West. The Huns conquered and scattered nations along the way. The scattered nations in turn conquered other nations.
In 475 the Roman Empire of the West fell before the invading nations. The entire Western world was composed of new nations. The leaders of the Church defended the people and strove to convert the invading barbarians.
In 452, as the Huns drew close to Rome, Pope Leo I went to meet Attila, the king of the Huns, and persuaded him not to invade Rome. Again in 455 Pope Leo went to meet Genseric, the leader of the Vandals, and convinced him to not burn Rome and to spare the lives of the people.
The Church sent missionaries to work among the new nations, and established churches and schools in the midst of the new people.
Even before the fall of the Roman Empire, St. Patrick (387-493) was already working tirelessly for the conversion of the Irish. He landed at Wicklow in 433, and laboured among the Irish for 60 years. On Easter Sunday in 433, St. Patrick preached to King Leoghaire and told him about heaven, a place more beautiful than the Irish lakes and hills. St. Patrick showed the people a shamrock: one stem with three leaves, and explained the mystery of the Trinity. St. Patrick built up a native clergy and established monasteries. Later, missionaries were sent forth from these monasteries to different parts of Europe to evangelize and to establish new monasteries and schools.
Among the English, St. Gregory the Great (540-604) became a Benedictine monk at the age of 34 and became Pope in 590. He selected 40 Benedictine monks and placed them under the leadership of a monk named Augustine, who became the first Archbishop of Canterbury. Within 50 years of the coming of the missionaries, the English had become Catholics.
Among the French, King Clovis was influenced by his Christian wife St. Clotilda, because in the battle with the Allemanni, Clovis had called on the God of Clotilda and had gained victory. Clovis was baptized by St. Remigius in 496. The conversion and victory of Clovis made France a united Catholic kingdom.
The monks from what is now Ireland, England, and Scotland evangelized the pagan tribes of central Europe in what is now Belgium, Holland, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. The middle and northern parts of Germany were converted by St. Boniface. The Germans were great lovers of nature and practised nature worship. They held a great oak tree as sacred and called it the Tree of Thor. St. Boniface cut down the oak tree with an ax and out of it built the first Christian church. When nothing happened to St. Boniface, the faith of the pagans in Thor was shaken, and many people were converted to the Catholic faith.
St. Ansgar (died 865), a Benedictine monk from the Abbey of Corbie, evangelized Denmark and Sweden and baptized the King of Denmark in 826. He was the first Archbishop in Hamburg and Bremen and was the papal legate for the Scandinavian missions. St. Cyril (+869) and St. Methodius (+885) were brothers. In 863 they were sent as missionaries among the Slavs. St. Cyril became a monk in Rome and died there. St. Methodius was made Archbishop of the Slavs and received permission to use the Slavonic language in the liturgy. Both Sts. Cyril and Methodius translated the Gospels into Slavonic.
“The ultimate purpose of mission is none other than to make men share in the communion between the Father and the Son in their Spirit of love” (Pope John Paul II).