The Gospel of Matthew concludes with Jesus commissioning his disciples: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28: 19-20)
With this mandate, the first apostles set off and travelled to different parts of the known world. Peter forged pathways in Antioch and became the first bishop of Antioch, and according to tradition, made a port of call to Corinth, before heading to Rome, where he was martyred at the Circus of Nero in A.D. 64. His extensive missionary journeys also took him eastwards, to Syria, Lydda, Joppe, Caesarea, and the provinces of Cappadocia, Pontus, and Asia (Kirsch, 1911).
Andrew preached the Gospel in Asia Minor and Scythia along the Black Sea. He is traditionally attributed to having founded the See of Byzantium in A.D. 38, which eventually developed into the Patriarchate of Constantinople and was eventually martyred at Patras (Attwater & John, 1993)
In A.D. 44, James the Greater was martyred in Jerusalem by Herod, but after his death, his body was transferred to Spain, where his body now resides at Santiago de Compostela, his tomb being the final leg of the El Camino pilgrimage (Camerlynck, 1910).
Philip ministered to Greek communities surrounding the regions of now Southwestern Turkey and was eventually crucified in the Hierapolis (Kirsh, 1911b).
Bartholomew undertook missionary journeys to India, Ethiopia, Mesopotamia, Parthia, and Lycaonia. Together with Jude Thaddeus (Judas Thaddeus, the faithful Judas), Bartholomew bought the Gospel message to Armenia in the first century A.D.. He was martyred at Azerbaijan through the flaying alive of his skin. (Attwater & John, 1993).
Jude (or Judas Thaddeus cf. John 14:22, “Judas, not the Iscariot, said to him, “Master, [then] what happened that you will reveal yourself to us and not to the world?”) brought the Good News to Judea, Samaria, Idumaea, Syria, Mesopotamia, Libya, Beirut, and Edessa. He was martyred around A.D. 65 in Beirut, Lebanon (Noegel & Wheeler, 2003; Camerlynck 1910b)
Matthew was instrumental in evangelising to the Jews and bringing the Gospel to Persia, Macedonia, and Syria. He was martyred in Ethiopia upon order of the Ethiopian king, while he celebrated Mass at the altar, although sources are unclear as to the means to which was martyred (St. Jerome, 2000; Bock, 2002; Jacquier, 1911).
Thomas arrived in India in the year A.D. 52 and preached to the Hindus and the Jews of Southern India. His missionary path is said to have taken him through the Middle East. Thomas was martyred by a local ruler and his bones were laid in a tomb in Mylapore. In the 3rd century, most of his bones were removed from India to be transferred to Edessa, before they were shifted once again to the Italian town of Ortona. Today, Thomas Christians in India, are still using a unique cross design that date back to 2,000 years ago and Southern India still keeps alive the liturgical Syriac language, a dialect of Aramaic used by Jesus and Thomas (de Guise, 2018).
James the Lesser, remained in Jerusalem and became the Bishop of the Church of Jerusalem. In A.D. 44, Peter had made a miraculous escape from prison and he desired that this news be carried to James (Cf. Acts 12:17). He was stoned to death by the Jewish authorities in A. D. 62 (Camerlynck, 1910c; Kosloski, n.d.).
Simon the Zealot brought the Gospel to Samaria, along the Black Sea, Egypt, Northern Africa, and even as afar as Britain. He was sawed into pieces at his martyrdom at Iberia (Löffler, 1912).
Matthias, who was to replace Judas Iscariot, the traitor, first preached the Gospel in Judea, before ministering to the barbarians and cannibals in the heart of Ethiopia. Tradition holds that he met his death at Sebastopolis. He was stoned and then beheaded for his Faith (Jacquier, 1911b).
John made inroads into Asia Minor and founded a number of churches there. He was brought to Rome via the order of Emperor Dometian, who had him cast into a cauldron of boiling oil only to emerge miraculously unscathed. He was then exiled to Patmos, Ephesus where he died around A.D. 100 from old age (Catholic News Agency, n.d.).
What was the driving force that impelled these ordinary men with their own weaknesses and shortcomings too many to count, to leave everything that they had ever known, even the safety and assurance of their homeland, so as to share with the world the amazing gift of Christ? It was not doctrine, nor formula that made these men go, oh this is a great dogma, I want to tell the world all about it. It was a personal encounter and a relationship with Jesus that moved them and propelled them into mission.
In their heartfelt testimonies and sharing as empowered by the Holy Spirit, the first apostles bore the fruits of massive evangelisation and encounter. Thousands were converted within the span of hours or days. They had encountered something good, and they could not wait to share this good thing with others. Conversion creates this catalyst. There is a movement from the interior to the exterior, and this movement leads to proclamation and action. When we really come to know Christ, our lives are forever changed, and the people around us can sense and see this change, so much so that they would begin to ask, what is this person having, I want some of that, and in that way, we become light that will draw all nations to Christ who is the true light.
For hundreds of years, the driving force behind the Church’s mission was pedantic – this is the way things had always been done. This is the legislation. This is the rite and ritual. To become Catholic, you would need to know the ten commandments. To become Catholic, these are the sacraments. To do this is a sin, when you do this, you are condemned. Do this instead. Get involved with ministry. Set up a soup kitchen, set up a school, set up a hospital. The reality is this: The Church is facing a crisis of mission today, because for too long, the Church had been focused on the externals. It knew how to do things for sure, but it was not so good at leading people to the heartspace where Jesus was and is. In fact, it was at a loss at even where to begin.
What do we do with the young person, or old person who is questioning about a particular teaching or tenant of the Faith? Well, the CCC. states this. This document states that. This is wrong. Fullstop.
What do we do with the poor person who comes seeking for help at the Church – I have just come out of prison, I am looking for a job to pay my bills and my debts, and to provide for my family. I walked for three hours here to this church because I heard I could get help – Oh where is your parish boundary? You belong to this district, you should speak to the priest there instead; my father just died, I tried calling so many parishes, but they kept directing me somewhere else.
What do we do with the person who does not sit squarely with what society deems as acceptable? The divorcee, the homosexual, the jailbird, the addict, the school drop-out, the casual prostitute, the thief? Oh, there is this programme that you can sign up for. It is quite good.
Does it come at any surprise then that we are losing people to the other religions, other denominations, the new age and occult, to disaffiliation, to secularism? Where there appears to be a greater degree of welcome, belonging, acceptance, and some semblance of hospitality and love there rather than here?
John 4: 26 -29:
Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking with you.”
At that moment his disciples returned, and were amazed that he was talking with a woman, but still no one said, “What are you looking for?” or “Why are you talking with her?”
The woman left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people,
“Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Messiah?”
When we truly encounter Jesus, it is impossible for us to keep it to ourselves. We would want the world to know.
By the Grace of God,
Brian Bartholomew Tan
Attwater, D. and John, C. R. (1993). The Penguin Dictionary of Saints. New York: Penguin Books
Bock, D. L. (2002). Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods. Baker Academic.
Camerlynck, A. (1910). St. James the Greater. The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved October 27, 2021 from http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08279b.htm
Camerlynck, A. (1910b). Epistle of St. Jude. The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved October 27, 2021 from http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08542b.htm
Camerlynck, A. (1910c). St. James the Less. The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved October 27, 2021 from http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08280a.htm
Catholic News Agency. (n.d.). St. John the Apostle. Catholic News Agency. Retrieved October 27, 2021 from https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/saint/st-john-the-apostle-671
De Guise, L. (2018). The Little-known story of how St. Thomas the Apostle brought Christianity to India. Aleteia. Retrieved October 27, 2021 from https://aleteia.org/2018/05/18/the-little-known-story-of-how-st-thomas-the-apostle-brought-christianity-to-india/
Jacquier, E. (1911). St. Matthew. In Herbermann, C. (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company
Jacquier, J.E. (1911b). St. Matthias. The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved October 27, 2021 from http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10066a.htm
Kirsch, J.P. (1911). St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles. The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved October 27, 2021 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11744a.htm
Kirsch, J.P. (1911b). St. Philip the Apostle. The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved October 27, 2021 from http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11799a.htm
Kosloski, P. (n.d.) Whatever happened to the twelve apostles? Aleteia. Retrieved October 27, 2021 from https://aleteia.org/2017/07/21/whatever-happened-to-the-twelve-apostles/
Löffler, K. (1912). St. Simon the Apostle. The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved October 27, 2021 from http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13796b.htm
Noegel, S. B.& Wheeler, B. M. (2003). Historical Dictionary of Prophets in Islam and Judaism. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press (Roman & Littlefield).
Saint Jerome (2000). Halton, T. P. (ed.). On Illustrious Men (The Fathers of the Church, Volume 100). CUA Press.