Buhlmann, Walbert

Catholic Church (capuchin)

Walbert Bühlmann was a Swiss Capuchin missionary, missiologist, and theologian. Bühlmann earned his doctorate at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, writing a thesis on “Christian Terminology as a Missionary Problem in the Bantu Languages.” He worked as a missionary in Tanzania (1950-1953), taught missiology at Fribourg, and served for many years in Rome as the secretary general of the Capuchin missions. Since 1983 he has resided in the Capuchin friary in Arth, Switzerland. His influence has come mainly from his writings. His most important book is The Coming of the Third Church (1976), in which he predicted that by the year 2000, some 70 percent of all Catholics would be living in the Southern Hemisphere. Drawing on the teachings of Vatican Council II, the theology of Karl Rahner, and the vitality of local churches in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, Bühlmann argued that the missionary dynamism of the church must be rooted in a greater respect for cultural pluralism within the church, a commitment to dialogue with the great non-Christian religious traditions, and an effective advocacy for “integral liberation.” His subsequent works have continued to draw upon these themes. Thus he has emerged as a strong critic of Eurocentrism and administrative centralization within the church, as well as a vigorous advocate of the inclusiveness of salvation offered by Christ.

Bühlmann has also contributed to the renewal of the Franciscan missionary tradition through his careful study of the missionary experience of St. Francis of Assisi and Chapter 16 of the Franciscan Rule of 1221. In this tradition he discerns the enduring importance of fraternal life as a form of Christian witness, the challenge of solidarity with the poor, and the attractiveness of Francis of Assisi as focus of interreligious dialogue.

William E. McConville, OFM


Walbert Bühlmann, Courage, Church (1978). The Missions on Trial (1979), All Have the Same God (1980; 1988), The Chosen Peoples (1982), Build Up My Church: Franciscan Inspirations for and from the Third World (1984), The Church of the Future (1986), “My Pilgrimage in Mission,” IBMR 10 (1986): 104-105, Dreaming about the Church: Acts of the Apostles of the Twentieth Century (1987), and With Eyes to See: Church and World in the Third Millennium (1990). James Joseph Ferguson. “Salvation and the Mission of the Church: A Comparative Study of the Writings of André Seumois and Walbert Buehlmann” (Ph.D. diss., Catholic Univ. of America, 1983).

This article is reproduced, with permission, from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, copyright © 1998, by Gerald H. Anderson, W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.