It has been my privilege during the past twenty-seven years to present the message in a number of the Latin-American countries to those of Roman Catholic belief. The full message can be strongly and successfully presented if the approach is tactful and kind. When the Latin mind and the Catholic customs are understood, we find many points of contact and avenues of successful approach. Many of the world's most sincere people are to be found among this body of Christians. Often they surpass those who belong to the Protestant churches in faith, reverence, and loyalty.
Because of prejudice and priestly control over the people, I prefer little direct preparatory work before an effort, except colporteur or radio work. Any general visitation or tract distribution is liable to open the battle too soon. Once the full weight of the opposition begins through the confessional, the pulpit, and other means, only a few brave ones will dare come to the hall.
Because of the lack of Biblical background, most literature and missionary endeavor goes over the heads of the people and only arouses opposition, unless it is very tactfully directed by someone able to explain correctly and present it. However, if we can take them by surprise before a warning is sounded, once they attend and enjoy the service, they generally continue, at least for several nights, until the full power of the priestly barrage begins to be felt. By then many sincere ones are ready to brave the storm.
As in other countries, the hall should be centrally located, easy of access, and as beautifully arranged as possible. But it should not be right on the public square or thoroughfare where many people pass directly in front of the entrance. As there exists great fear of criticism by priests and friends, it is preferable that the entrance be only dimly lighted, and that a screen be placed inside the doors and windows, so that the interior will not be seen from the street.
The people in these countries are not accustomed to congregational singing. However, they have a great reverence for, and interest in, sacred pictures, so projection of such, especially pictures of Christ, appeals to them. A good projector and selected pictures are essential to success among Catholics. With the hall darkened for projecting, they are less afraid to enter the place of meeting. We do not sing from hymnbooks but use illustrated songs with simple music, projected on the screen.
Instead of the ordinary small Bible, I have a very large one, which weighs about ten pounds and is beautifully bound, with a golden cross embossed on both outer covers and the name in gold Sagrada Biblia (sacred Bible). It is about seventy-five years old and is the most highly recommended Catholic authorized version by Felix Amat. The frontispiece is a large picture of a former pope, with his statement and seal that this is an authorized Bible. I stand this beautiful Bible upright on the pulpit, and while the songs are on the screen, another projector throws a beam of light on this Bible. In this way all who enter are directed toward the Bible, and the name and embossed cross assure them that it is a Catholic Bible.
During the first few nights the Bible is bound - to the pulpit with a heavy chain and several padlocks. My first subject is "An Important Message From the Chained Book." They are bidden, "Come, see and examine this old Book, which was chained in an old European monastery." Since the Bible is a forbidden book to Catholics, and such a Bible is used only by priests, this creates an interest at once.
Before the sermon the first evening, pictures are projected of Mary and the birth of Jesus, and I emphasize in my explanation that the virgin Mary was chosen by God Himself to bring forth His Son Jesus, and that she was called blessed. "Blessed art thou among women," Luke i :28. Then I have them stand for a song and at its close, briefly remind them that all those with Christian mothers had doubtless been taught by her to say a prayer to Jesus or the blessed virgin.
I never say, "Let us pray," as that conveys a different idea, smacking of Protestantism. I say, "Let us all reverently bow our heads while I say a prayer to Jesus."
After the prayer I begin my talk by ceremoniously unlocking and unchaining the Bible. As I open it I turn to the papal seals and picture of the pope, and assure them that this is the real Holy Sacred Bible to which all Christians of all creeds must give heed. Never call it merely "the Bible," but always say, "Holy or Sacred Bible," as they have been taught to consider the Bible almost too sacred even to handle. Hold it up before them often for their admiration, handle it reverently, and frequently assure them that it is the authorized Bible, open for their inspection and unchained in this church.
My sermons for the first nights refer to present-day events as interpreted by this Divine Book of oracles, hidden for many centuries and now opened just as the prophecies are being fulfilled. Frequent reference is made to Christ, Mary, the apostles, Christ's passion, His promised return, then the plan of salvation, origin of sin, story of Satan, followed by the law and the Sabbath. The state of the dead and prophecies of the Papacy are left until near the end of the series.
The large authorized Catholic Bible is used throughout the series, or at least until baptismal classes begin. This version has more appeal, and most of our doctrines are made more plain and direct than in the ordinary Spanish version. Such texts as the following are very direct in this Spanish version by Felix Amat:
Hebrews 4:9: "There remaineth the keeping of the Sabbath for the true people of God."
Corinthians 7:19: "That which is important for Jews and for Gentiles is the observance of the commandments of the Lord."
Revelation 13:18: "The letters of his name make six hundred sixty six."
The fourth commandment is plainer than in the Protestant version.
The footnotes on Daniel 9 give a very good explanation of the seventy weeks, and in different footnotes the explanation of Babylon is that it represents Rome, which will be the site of the reign of the antichrist in the last century. The footnotes of Romans 14 explain that the days and meats do not refer to the moral laws, but to the ceremonial days and meats. In many places this Bible differentiates clearly between the moral and ceremonial laws.
There are many points of contact with Catholic beliefs, and these should be capitalized and preserved even after people become Adventists. Catholics pray often, long, and fervently. They are more faithful in attending service than Protestants, be the hour early or late. Many attend six o'clock mass almost every morning of the year. Good Catholics make good Adventists, but it is almost impossible for those who have lost faith or have been given a wrong or easy theology by modern Protestant teaching, to develop into strong Christians. There are thousands of jewels in the rough south of the Rio Grande who will make up the jewels of His crown and will be among the saints who finish this work and enter with Jesus into His kingdom.