CHAPTER V: THE ORGANIZATION OF MISSIONARY ACTIVITY
This number of Ad Gentes shows us what role the Council Fathers wanted the Vatican Congregation for the Missions to play. Although they say that “the responsibility of preaching the Gospel throughout the whole world falls primarily on the body of bishops” who “should pay special attention to missionary activity which is the greatest and holiest duty of the Church,” they understood that the bishops as a body could not carry out the daily administration and direction of the missions. Some Vatican office had to do that.
The natural choice for this responsibility was the Roman congregation now called the Congregation for the Evangelization of People or Propagation of the Faith, which at that time had the name Propaganda Fide. The beginnings of that congregation go back to St. Pius V who in 1568 set up a committee of cardinals to take care of the missions in the East Indies, to keep in contact with the members of the Byzantine Rite in Italy and to administer what was left of the Church in the Protestant regions of Europe. Pope Gregory XV reorganized the committee in 1622 to prepare and send missionaries of the Holy See to Portuguese and Spanish colonies. Even before the Council, this congregation was in charge of most persons and affairs of the Church in mission lands. Now it was to be the only Roman congregation “competent for all missions and mission activity.”
The Council Fathers laid out a vast program for the Congregation. It should promote missionary vocations and spirituality, as well as zeal and prayer for the missions. “It should raise up missionaries and distribute them.” “It should draw up an organized plan of action and issue directives and principles for the work of evangelization.” Another one of its jobs is “to encourage and coordinate the effective collection of funds, which will be distributed according to need and utility” in the missions. This last job it does very well. The funds collected on World Mission Sunday in October are distributed by the national Propagation of the Faith directors at a meeting in Rome every year.
In addition to all of these jobs, it is also supposed to work with the Secretariat for the Promotion of Christian Unity in finding ways to “fraternal cooperation and harmonious relations with the missionary undertakings of other Christian communities.”
Although the Council Fathers wanted the Congregation to administer the missions of the Church, they did not want it to be the sole contributor of ideas and initiatives in this field. They decreed that “selected representatives of all those who are engaged in missionary work should have an active part in the direction of this Congregation and also a deliberative vote.” They had in mind “bishops from all over the world,” “heads of institutes and pontifical agencies,” “institutes of nuns, regional missionary undertakings and lay organizations, especially those which are international.” They also wanted “a permanent body of consulters and experts attached to this congregation to make scientifically based proposals for missionary work and cooperation.”
That congregation is trying its best to carry out all these duties. Let us pray for its officials and consultors.