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from issue no. 07/08 - 2005

The great net of the missions

The Congregation of Propaganda Fide originated in the XVII century to direct and coordinate all the missionary activity of the Church. This is how it functions and what it concerns itself with today

The Congregation of Propaganda Fide

The Congregation of Propaganda Fide

The Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of peoples is popularly known as the “ red pope”. It is not by chance. From its foundation, which goes back to 1622, Propaganda Fide has such a vast area of competence and such financial resources that the Roman populace immediately identified it historically as one of the most important and influential institutions of the Roman Curia and the Catholic Church. And it was in a certain sense natural that the title of pope be given to the head of this institution, of “ red pope” precisely, to distinguish him both from the true pope and indeed also from the “black pope”, a title reserved for the head of the Jesuits.
The Congregation of Propaganda Fide originated in the XVII century to direct and coordinate all the missionary activity of the Church, seeking to make it independent of the suffocating control of what were at the time the Catholic colonies, particularly Spain and Portugal. And it still has this task today. According to the apostolic constitution Pastor Bonus of 1988, the responsibility of this department is always that of «directing and coordinating throughout the world the work of evangelization of peoples itself and missionary cooperation».
Propaganda is therefore the Vatican department that has jurisdiction over all the territories in which the ecclesiastical structures are not yet at such a level as to allow the creation of a diocese, and where therefore the territory is subdivided into apostolic vicariates, apostolic prefectures or missions sui juris. Not only. The countries where the Christian presence is more recent and less rooted fall under its jurisdiction also. And that includes all of Asia, with the exception of the Philippines, all of Africa except for Egypt and Tunisia, and all of Oceania except for Australia. Propaganda Fide also occupies itself with the most impassable territories of Canada and the United States, such as Alaska, the Antilles and even some areas of old Europe, such as Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Albania.
According to the last data available, 1081 ecclesiastical districts of the Catholic Church – a little less than 40% of the total – depend on Propaganda. This means to say that the procedures for the nomination of bishops or superiors are directed by Propaganda itself. Of these 1081 districts, then, 153 are situated in the so called area of silence which is especially in China (142) and then in Cambodia, North Korea and Laos. More than sixty Episcopal Conferences also refer to the Congregation.
But the activity of the Congregation is not limited only to the nominations of over a thousand people in charge of ecclesiastical districts. About 85 thousand priests involved in the so-called missio ad gentes, 52 thousand belonging to the diocesan clergy and 33 thousand religious come under its umbrella. To these must be added 28 thousand religious who are not priests, 450 thousand nuns and a million 650 thousand catechists. Propaganda Fide also looks after, in the territories within its own competence, the spiritual and academic formation of candidates for the priesthood in 280 major diocesan seminaries and in 110 minor seminaries for a total of 65 thousand major seminarians and 85 thousand minor seminarians, to whom it also guarantees an economic subsidy. Further the male and female religious who are in the territories of competence and all the members of the societies of apostolic life, such as the PIME (Pontifical Institute of Foreign Missions) priests, the Pallotines or the White Fathers also depend on Propaganda.
Congregation of Propaganda Fide: Jurisdiction: 1081 ecclesiastical districts and 62 Episcopal Conferences in mission territories depend on Propaganda Fide, as well as the societies of apostolic life set up in favor of the missions (Lazarists, Pime, Pallotines, White Fathers…) Urbanian Pontifical University: with faculties of Theology, Philosophy, Canon Law, Missiology: 1300 students and 110 teachers; Monsignor Giuseppe Cavalletto from Piedmont is rector since 2003. Urban College of Propaganda Fide: it receives the seminarians sent by bishops from the mission territories to study in Rome. The Colleges of “Saint Peter Apostle” and “Saint Paul Apostle” for priests, the “Paul VI Foyer” for nuns, and the Asiatic Cultural Center “John Paul II” for priests and seminarians coming from China and Vietnam all depend on Propaganda Fide as well. Pontifical missionary works: they animate the missionary spirit in all of the world dioceses. They constitute a single organization, divided into four branches: the Institution for the Propagation of the Faith; the Institution of Saint Peter Apostle; the Institution for Holy Infancy; the Missionary Union.
Equally imposing are the figures concerning social assistance activities. As well as constructing an innumerable quantity of church-chapels especially for the small Catholic communities spread throughout rural areas or in the more impassable areas, Propaganda sustains educational activities (42 thousand schools); health activities (1,600 hospitals, over six thousand dispensaries, 780 leper hospitals); charitable and social activities (12 thousand initiatives registered).
With regard to charitable and social works, it must be added that these are destined not only for Catholics but also and, in some cases, above all, for non-Catholics and non-Christians. In past years, then, the Congregation is taking initiatives for the assistance of Aids victims, especially in Africa, where, in some countries, because of this illness, whose diffusion has increased twenty times in recent years, three persons die every five minutes. The same applies in the case of malaria, cholera, diabetes, meningitis and the risk of blindness caused by onchocerciasis, that afflicts at least 71 million Africans.
There is also a series of important academic and formative institutions in Rome associated with Propaganda, beginning with the Pontifical Urbaniana University, which is the only exclusively missionary university in the world, with about 1,300 students and 110 professors. There are also the Pontifical Colleges of Saints Peter and Paul, two institutes for 350 priests coming from mission countries to pursue higher studies; the Pontifical Urban College, for the formation of 140 seminarians from the missionary countries; the “ Mater Ecclesiae” College, for the formation of catechists; the Paul VI Foyer for the formation of 80 female religious; the International Center for Missionary Animation, for the animation of the mission ad gentes. Of particular interest also is the “ John Paul II” Asiatic Cultural Center, which hosts 45 students coming, for now, from Vietnam and China. The students coming from the former Celestial Empire belong, in fact, without distinction both to the official and clandestine communities of the Chinese Catholic Church; it has, among other things, to do with a concrete modality of rapprochement between two realities that often have considerable difficulties of understanding in the homeland.
For all of this series of activities the necessity of having substantial financial resources at one’s disposal is obvious. It is not by chance therefore that, since its foundation, Propaganda Fide was endowed with a notable patrimony and complete financial autonomy by the popes. In the past – from 1632 until 1908 -, there existed a specific Congregation for the Economy, under cardinal’s direction, to look after these “monetary” aspects. Up to now Propaganda Fide is the only Roman department to be financially independent (all the others must refer to the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See) and it is also the only one to have two archbishop secretaries, one of whom is particularly responsible for following the so to say material aspects. Thus the African archbishop Robert Sarah helps the cardinal prefect Crescenzio Sepe with the pastoral activity and the Polish Pallotine archbishop Henryk Hoser, assistant secretary, with the economic-financial activity. Whereas the head of office monsignor Francesco di Muzio coordinates the real administrative work, done completely by laity.
As regards promotion and the coordination of the collection of subsidies to be assigned and divided according to the necessities of places, Propaganda avails especially of the Pontifical missionary works however. This has to do with pious associations of the faithful dating from the 19th and the early 20th centuries with the purpose of assisting the missions through material and spiritual means. They constitute a single organization, divided into four branches (the Institution for the Propagation of the Faith, founded in Lyons by Paolina Maria Jaricot in 1822, the Institution of Saint Peter Apostle, begun in Caen in 1899, the Institution for Holy Infancy, founded in 1843 by the bishop of Nancy Charles de Forbin-Janson, and the Missionary Union, founded by Blessed Paolo Manna in 1916). These Pontifical missionary works are attended to in particular by the assistant secretary, Archbishop Hoser, and, from the administrative point of view, by don Silvano Rossi.
A last chapter in the multiform activities of Propaganda concerns the area ofpublishing and mass media. For almost three centuries, from 1626 to 1909, the Congregation had its own “ Polyglot Printing Works”, that produced in multiple characters and languages innumerable publications of scriptural texts and liturgical works and which was then incorporated into the Vatican Printing Works. At present Propaganda is the only department to have its own press agency. This is Fides, directed by professor Luca De Mata, which also has a rich internet site (www.fides.org) in seven languages, including Chinese. With the beginning of the pontificate of Benedict XVI, Fides, launched a new monthly supplement that «gathers, reorganizes and proposes in an in depth key, what is published daily about the magisterium of the Holy Father». The seventh edition of the Guide to the Catholic missions was published instead at the beginning of this year. It contains over 1,500 pages and is a useful complement to the more famous Pontifical Yearbook; it supplies an ample series of historical allusions and of updated data on all of the ecclesiastical districts dependent on Propaganda. In this case too it represents a type of unique publication in the panorama of the publications of the Roman Curia. This also makes the Congregation hosted in the historical palazzo of the same name that faces on to Piazza di Spagna unique.

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