The Sacred Congregation ‘de Propaganda Fide’ was changed into Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples or ‘De Propaganda Fide’ by the apostolic constitution Regimini Ecclesiae Universae of 1967, and later, simply to Congregation for Evangelisation of Peoples, by the apostolic constitution Pastor Bonus of 1988. With the reform introduced by the apostolic constitution Praedicate Evangelium of 2022 it is called the Dicastery for Evangelisation — Section for first evangelisation and new particular churches.
The Pontifical Mission Societies (PMS) constitute the principal means for missionary animation and cooperation in the Universal Church. The apostolic constitution Praedicate Evangelium, in art. 67 §1 says: “the Pontifical Mission Societies are entrusted to the Section for first evangelisation and new particular churches”.
There are four Pontifical Mission Societies: the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, the Society of St. 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 had originated from individuals, some of whom were lay faithful; imbued with profound missionary zeal, these individuals came together to cooperate in the missionary activity of the Church. Now these Mission Societies are the official organs of the Universal Church in the area of missionary cooperation and sustain 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 Propaganda Fide (1622-1922) took place during his pontificate with great significance for the missionary Congregation. On that occasion the Pope issued the Motu proprio ‘Romanorum Pontificum’ of considerable missionary importance which, besides conferring the title ‘pontifical’, outlined the structures, tasks and duties of the three Pontifical Mission Societies: Propagation of the Faith, St. Peter the Apostle and Holy Childhood1.
The Pontifical Mission Society for the Propagation of the Faith, the first among these Societies, was a result of the many initiatives and ideals promoted in relation to missions. Such associations of faithful were already in existence in France, especially after the French Revolution. Some of these were inspired by the apostolate of the missionaries of the Foreign Mission Society of Paris (MEP), asking for prayer, good works and offerings for the salvation of pagans.
Of all those mission-aid movements, that of Bl. Mary Pauline Jaricot of Lyon (1799-1862) deserves special mention. Jaricot’s desire to associate the workers with her charitable and missionary action gave rise to the founding of the Association for the Propagation of the Faith2.
Following a request for material assistance from the American missions, Jaricot and her close associates first met in Lyon on May 3, 1822 and decided to found a Catholic association; it was to be universal in its outreach, without being limited only to a certain country or a continent, under the name ‘Association for the Propagation of the Faith’.
The universal dimension for the foundation of this Society deserves special mention. This charismatic origin was clearly seen from the very beginning of the Society when a young seminarian said to leaders of different groups gathered in Lyon on May 3, 1822: “We are Catholics and we must found something Catholic, that is, something universal. We should not help this or that mission but all the missions in the world.” 3.
The Association was declared a Pontifical Society by Pope Pius XI on May 3, 1922 with a view to ensuring its greater effectiveness and universal character. The Society’s headquarters were transferred to the headquarters of Propaganda in Rome where it became an organic part of the missionary Congregation and thus, the official organisation of universal missionary cooperation.
Pope Pius XI considered this Society as a principal work of all other missionary undertakings because it provided the much-needed material support to the multiple necessities of present and future missions. The Pontifical Mission Society for the Propagation of the Faith has the specific purpose of collecting funds throughout the world and of promoting prayers 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, in France, as an association of Christian children for the salvation of children in China and other countries. The work included collecting funds from Catholic children in order to help the Chinese children in need and was officially recognised 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 the entire mission world.
The purpose of the Society was to encourage children to offer their prayers, their offerings and the fruits of their sacrifices as a means of helping missionaries to protect and give a Christian education to children in mission territories.
The Pontifical Mission Society of St. Peter the Apostle for Native Clergy has the special purpose of helping in the formation of native clergy in mission territories. It had its beginnings in 1889 in the Diocese of Caen, in France, where Stephanie Bigard and her daughter Jeanne came into contact with missionaries and their needs. In particular, through the missionaries belonging to the Foreign Mission Society of Paris (MEP), they became aware of the importance of promoting the local clergy in the missions.
The principal purpose of the Society was to provide spiritual and material assistance for the formation of local clergy in the mission countries, especially for the building and maintenance of seminaries. The Society received the approval of Pope Leo XIII in 1899, placing it under the protection of St. Peter the Apostle. The headquarters of the Society were transferred to Rome in 1920. It is 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 stage 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 in arousing the interest of the faithful in the missions and to promote works of missionary cooperation. It strives to inculcate in the faithful a universal missionary spirit and so, is described as the soul of all the other Mission Societies. Though founded originally as an Association of Priests (Union of Clergy), its scope was enlarged on July 14, 1949, to include religious brothers and sisters.
The Pontifical Missionary Union differs from the other three Societies in the sense that it does not collect funds or involve itself in giving material assistance.
From a doctrinal point of view, the desire for missionary cooperation stems from the fact that the Church on earth is, by its very nature, missionary5. The mission of the Church consists in the proclamation of the Good News of Salvation. Moreover, as members of the Church, the mission belongs to each and every member, in 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 should be given first place, because they are a means by which Catholics are imbued from infancy with a truly universal and missionary outlook and also a means for promoting an effective collection of funds for all the 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 of its nature missionary and the work of evangelisation is to be considered a fundamental duty of the people of God, all Christ’s faithful must be conscious of the responsibility to play their part in missionary activity”.
Again, in Can. 791, 2°, the role of the Pontifical Mission Societies is recommended to foster missionary cooperation at the diocesan level: “A priest is to be appointed to promote effectively endeavours on behalf of the missions, especially the Pontifical Missionary Works”.
The ‘solidarity fund’ promoted by these Societies forms part of their missionary cooperation and helps materially for the progressive autonomy of the churches in the mission territories. The solidarity fund promoted by the Societies again underscores their main objective, namely, the support of evangelisation.
As ecclesial institutions, these Societies are entrusted to the direction of the missionary Dicastery, which has the competence to oversee their coordination for their greater effectiveness and true universality as the official organization for missionary cooperation.
The four Societies form one institution with four branches who share the same primary objective; namely, to promote the missionary spirit among the People of God by arousing and deepening their missionary awareness.
* Office Head Dicastery for Evangelisation
1 Cf. AAS, XIV (1922) 321-330.
2 On the life and missionary works of Mary Pauline Jaricot, cf. J. Gadille, “Pauline Jaricot: Apostle and Mystic”, Omnis Terra 300 (September-October 1999) 328-330.
For more on Jaricot’s apostolic commitments and spirituality, cf. J. Gadille, “Marie-Pauline Jaricot, pioneer figure of the missionary laity”, 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 aggiornamento”, Omnis Terra 349 (July-August 2004) 286.
4 Cf. Romanorum Pontificum, AAS, XIX (1922), 321-330.
5 AG, 2; CIC (1983), can. 781.
6 Cf. CIC (1983), can. 211.
7 Cf. AG, 38.
Mons. Camillus Johnpillai*