Baptisms More Than Double in Austria; Refugees Converting Despite Muslim Threats

The Austrian Catholic Church reported that its adult baptisms more than doubled during 2016, largely due to the influx of refugees choosing to convert to Christianity, despite threats of attacks from other Muslims.

Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, who talked about the development, said that it was a "great and moving day for the Church of Vienna."

"That they want to follow Christ and live in his fellowship is also a call to us – which we have the happiness and privilege of growing up in faith from childhood, but may have forgotten how precious this is," he said, according to Die Presse.

Breitbart News, which provided a translation of the German-language report, said that converts, largely from Afghanistan and Iran, sometimes have to wait a full year before they can be baptized, due to the growing number of requests.

Baptism ceremonies in Vienna have been closed to the public, however, over fears that the new converts could face attacks from Muslims — even their own family members — angered that they have chosen to change their religion.

Catholic clergy across Europe have expressed different attitudes toward refugees, despite Pope Francis' welcoming tone. An Italian archbishop warned earlier this year that Islam is rising in dangerous levels in Europe.

Monsignor Carlo Liberati, bishop emeritus of Pompeii, contended in January that giving out too much financial aid to refugees in Italy creates a "beggars' network."

He also warned that the rise of atheism in Europe, along with the acceptance of moral decadence that "goes against God," is leaving room for the dramatic rise of Islam in Italy and other places.

"In 10 years we will all be Muslims because of our stupidity," he stated.

Other Christians have said that they will not stop welcoming refugees. Rudiger and Michaela Renken, two Germans helping refugees settle with the help of churches, said that it is important to reach out and show people a new way of life.

"We have started a language school, and some church members have already invited some refugees to their homes," Rudiger Breman told The Christian Chronicle in Athens. "Relationships are growing."

The Renkens said that they came to a conference of Christians there "to understand how to make the next step and introduce [the refugees] to Christ."

The report also acknowledged that life is not easy for new converts to Christianity in Europe, with people attacked by their own Muslim family members and threatened with death. Reggy Hiller from Austria revealed that inviting refugees to Bible studies sometimes still results in the migrants asking for baptisms.

"We continue ahead," Hiller said, "not dismayed by the terror of evil." He quoted the words of the apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 4:10: "That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe."