Missionary cooperation under Propaganda Fide
The Sacred Congregation ‘de Propaganda Fide’ was changed to the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples or ‘De Propaganda Fide’ by the apostolic constitution Regimini Ecclesiae Universae of 1967, and later, simply to the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, by the Apostolic Constitution Pastor bonus of 1988. With the reform introduced by the apostolic constitution Evangelium Predicate from 2022 it is called the Dicastery for Evangelization — Section for First Evangelization and New Particular Churches.
The Pontifical Mission Societies (PMS) constitute the main means of animation and missionary cooperation in the universal Church. The apostolic constitution Evangelium Predicate, in art. 67 §1 says: “the Pontifical Mission Societies are entrusted to the Section for First Evangelization and New Particular Churches”.
There are four Pontifical Mission Societies: the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, the Society of Saint Peter the Apostle, the Society of the Holy Childhood and the Missionary Union. Although autonomous and independent of each other, these Societies depend directly on the Missionary Dicastery.
The Pontifical Mission Societies were born of individuals, some of whom were lay faithful; with a deep missionary zeal, these individuals have come together to cooperate in the missionary activity of the Church. Henceforth, these Missionary Societies are the official organs of the universal Church in the field of missionary cooperation and support the various needs arising from the missions.
Pope Pius XI has rightly been called the Pope of the Missions. The 300th anniversary of the founding of Faithful Propaganda (1622-1922) took place during his pontificate with great importance for the missionary Congregation. On this occasion, the pope published the Motu proprio ‘Romanorum Pontificum’ of considerable missionary importance which, in addition to conferring the title “pontifical”, defined the structures, tasks and duties of the three Pontifical Mission Societies: Propagation of the Faith, Saint Peter Apostle and Holy Childhood1.
The Pontifical Missionary Society for the Propagation of the Faith, the first of these Societies, is the result of the many initiatives and ideals promoted in matters of missions. Such associations of the faithful already existed in France, especially after the French Revolution. Some of them were inspired by the apostolate of the missionaries of the Paris Foreign Missions Society (MEP), asking for prayer, good works and offerings for the salvation of the pagans.
Of all these mission aid movements, that of Bl. Marie Pauline Jaricot of Lyons (1799-1862) deserves special mention. Jaricot’s desire to associate the workers with his charitable and missionary action led to the founding of the Association for the Propagation of the Faith2.
Following a request for material assistance from the American missions, Jaricot and his family met for the first time in Lyon on May 3, 1822 and decided to found a Catholic association; it was to be universal in scope, not limited to one country or continent, under the name of “Association for the Propagation of the Faith”.
The universal dimension of the founding of this Society deserves special mention. This charismatic origin appears clearly from the beginnings of the Society when a young seminarian said to the leaders of the various groups gathered in Lyon on May 3, 1822: “We are Catholics and we must found something Catholic, that is to say something universal. We must not help this or that mission but all the missions of the world. 3.
The Association was declared a Pontifical Society by Pope Pius XI on May 3, 1922 in order to ensure its greater efficiency and universal character. The headquarters of the Society was transferred to the headquarters of Propaganda in Rome where it became an organic part of the Missionary Congregation and therefore, the official organization of universal missionary cooperation.
Pope Pius XI considered this Society as a principal work of all other missionary enterprises because it provided the material support indispensable to the multiple necessities of present and future missions. The Pontifical Mission Society for the Propagation of the Faith has the specific aim of raising funds throughout the world and promoting prayer for the missions4. World Mission Sunday (better known simply as “Mission Sunday”), in this regard, was instituted on April 14, 1926.
The Pontifical Society of the Holy Childhood was founded on May 19, 1843 by Bishop Charles Auguste Marie de Forbin Janson of Nancy, France, as an association of Christian children for the salvation of children in China and in d ‘other countries. The work included fundraising from Catholic children to help needy Chinese children and was officially recognized by the Holy See on July 18, 1846. Soon the idea of this society was expanded to include the Christian education of children, not only from China, but from all over the mission.
The purpose of the Society was to encourage children to offer their prayers, offerings, and the fruits of their sacrifices as a means of helping missionaries protect and give Christian education to children in mission territories.
The Pontifical Missionary Society of Saint Peter the Apostle for the native clergy has the particular aim of helping to train the native clergy in the mission territories. It had its beginnings in 1889 in the diocese of Caen, France, where Stephanie Bigard and her daughter Jeanne came into contact with the missionaries and their needs. In particular, through the missionaries belonging to the Société des Missions Etrangères de Paris (MEP), they became aware of the importance of promoting the local clergy in the missions.
The main purpose of the Society was to provide spiritual and material assistance for the training of local clergy in mission countries, especially for the construction and maintenance of seminaries. The Society received the approval of Pope Leo XIII in 1899, placing it under the protection of the Apostle Saint Peter. The seat of the Society was transferred to Rome in 1920. It was closely linked to the Society for the Propagation of the Faith.
The Pontifical Missionary Union was founded in 1916, in Italy, by Fr. Paul Manna, PIME. The Society was supported in the initial phase by Bishop Guido Maria Conforti of the Diocese of Parma, who was also the founder of the St. Francis Xavier Missionary Institute. Pope Pius XII conferred the title “pontifical” on October 28, 1956.
The purpose of this Missionary Union is to coordinate the efforts of the clergy and religious to arouse the interest of the faithful for the missions and to promote the works of missionary cooperation. It strives to instill in the faithful a universal missionary spirit and is thus described as the soul of all other missionary societies. Although originally founded as an association of priests (Clergy Union), its scope was widened on July 14, 1949 to include religious brothers and sisters.
The Pontifical Missionary Union differs from the other three Societies in that it does not collect funds and is not involved in material assistance.
From a doctrinal point of view, the desire for missionary cooperation stems from the fact that the Church on earth is, by her very nature, missionary5. The mission of the Church consists in announcing the Good News of Salvation. Moreover, as members of the Church, the mission belongs to each and everyone, by virtue of their baptismal dignity6.
The Second Vatican Council established that these Societies should occupy a central place in missionary cooperation: “It is right that these works occupy the first place, because they are a means by which Catholics are imbued from childhood with a vision truly universal and missionary and also a means of promoting effective fundraising for all missions, according to the needs of each”7.
Likewise, the new Code of Canon Law in Can. 781 echoes the teaching of the Council: “Because the whole Church is by nature missionary and the work of evangelization must be considered a fundamental duty of the people of God, all the faithful of Christ must be aware of responsibility to play their part in missionary activity”.
Again, in Can. 791, 2°, the role of the Pontifical Mission Societies is recommended to promote missionary cooperation at the diocesan level: “A priest must be appointed to effectively promote efforts in favor of the missions, in particular the Pontifical Mission Societies”.
The “solidarity fund” promoted by these Societies is part of their missionary cooperation and materially helps the progressive autonomy of the Churches in the mission territories. The solidarity fund promoted by the Societies again underlines their main objective, namely support for evangelization.
As ecclesial institutions, these Societies are entrusted to the direction of the Missionary Department, which has the competence to see to their coordination for their greater efficiency and their true universality as an official organism of missionary cooperation.
The four Societies form an institution with four branches that share the same main objective; namely, to promote the missionary spirit among the People of God by raising and deepening their missionary awareness.
* Head of Dicastery Office for Evangelization
1 Cf. SAAXIV (1922) 321-330.
2 On the life and missionary work of Marie Pauline Jaricot, cf. J. Gadille, “Pauline Jaricot: apostle and mystic”, Omnis Terra 300 (September-October 1999) 328-330.
To learn more about Jaricot’s apostolic commitments and spirituality, cf. J. Gadille, “Marie-Pauline Jaricot, pioneer figure of the lay missionary”, Part I, Omnis Terra 314 (February 2001) 76-82; Part II, Omnis Terra 315 (March 2001) 116-126.
3 Cf. G. Colzani, “The Pontifical Mission Societies: doctrinal foundations of their updating”, Omnis Terra 349 (July-August 2004) 286.
4 Cf. romanorum pontificum, SAAXIX (1922), 321-330.
5 HER, 2; CIC (1983), can. 781.
6 Cf. CIC (1983), can. 211.
7 Cf. HER38.
Mons. Camille Johnpillai*