XII has published a new Encyclical Letter, the twentieth of his pontificate. It is called Evangelii Praecones, and concerns the recent development and present condition of the Foreign Missions. Dated June 2nd, the feast of Sant' Eugenio, the Holy Father's patronal saint, the text became public when it was printed in the Osservatore Romano last Sunday, June 17th.
The Holy Father begins by saying that "the messengers of the Gospel who work in far-flung fields, 'that the word of the Lord may run its course triumphantly'," are particularly in his mind in this year which marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Encyclical Rerum Ecclesiae of Pius XI, and that his mind is filled with joy when he considers the excellent progress made by the missions during that period. "In these turbulent and dangerous times, while many peoples are torn by antagonisms, it seems to Us eminently opportune to recommend the same cause with a new ardour, because the missionaries are the harbingers of human and Christian good for all, of that fraternal solidarity which is not shackled either by the frontiers of nations or by differences of race."
Then the Holy Father gives figures to show how the missions have grown in the quarter of a century since Rerum Ecclesiae. In 1926 there were some four hundred missionary territories ; today there are some six hundred. The faithful in the mission-fields were then some fifteen millions ; now they are some twenty-eight millions ; while the missionary and native clergy have increased from about 14,800 to more than 26,800. In 1926 the missions were all entrusted to foreign missionaries ; today, in the short space of twenty-five years, eighty-eight have passed to the native clergy, and in many places the Hierarchy has been established, with native Bishops and clergy, so that "there is offered a still more telling argument to show that the religion of Christ is truly Catholic, and that in no part of the earth is it a stranger." In Pakistan and in some parts of Africa, for example, the Hierarchy has been canonically established. Three Plenary Councils of great importance have been held, the first in Indo-China in 1934, the second in Australia in 1937, and the third in India in 1950. There have been great increases in the numbers of the minor seminaries, and of the seminarians in the Major Seminaries, the latter from 1,770 in 1926 to 4,300 today. Many regional seminaries also have been founded. In Rome the Mission Institute has been established by the Urban College, and teaching institutes of missionology have been founded in Rome and elsewhere, while in Rome the Collegio di San Pietro has been opened for the formation of the native clergy. Two new Universities have been founded ; colleges for higher studies in the mission-fields have increased from 1,600 to more than five thousand, and there have been great increases in the numbers of primary and secondary schools, hospitals, leper colonies and dispensaries. The Missionary Union of the Clergy has grown greatly in the quartercentury ; the Fides news agency has been established ; the missionary Press has greatly increased ; and there have been many Missionary Congresses, among which the Holy Father mentions especially that held in Rome during the Holy Year of 1950 and the Eucharistic Congress held earlier this year at Kumasi, on the Gold Coast. The Holy Father recalls that he himself has inaugurated a special day each year for prayer and offerings for the Pontifical Work of the Holy Childhood. Nor must it be forgotten that in this quarter-century five new Apostolic Delegations have been set up in territories subject to the Congregation de Propaganda Fide, while other territories have been brought within the competence of Apostolic Nuncios and Internuncios ; and the Holy Father goes on to pay tribute to the valuable work of these representatives of the Holy See, who, with their frequent visitings and their presence at episcopal conferences, have helped to make the experience of each Bishop available to all and to concert plans for the apostolate. "Greater consideration on the part of the civil authorities and the non-Catholics within the boundaries of the Christian religion is another advantage of this fraternal union of faith and works." The Holy Father recalls the experience of the Holy Year, when so many came from the far corners of the mission-fields to ask his blessing ; and he goes on, after quoting Matt. 9, xxxvii-xviii : "We know well, with profound consolation, that at the present time the number of those is growing who are called by the divine will to spread the Good News in the world. Much, however, remains to be done, and much yet remains to ask of God, with suppliant prayers." The Encyclical continues :
"These providential developments of the missionary cause are evident not only in the sacrifices and the burdens of the sowers of the divine word, but also in the cruel martyrdom that is heroically suffered. Indeed, the most cruel persecutions have not been lacking, in the course of these years, in certain nations, which have inflicted them on the new-born Church ; and in our own days also, in certain parts of the Far East, there are Christians who on this account have made the earth crimson with their blood. We have learned, in fact, that not a few of them, simply because they were and are all strongly attached to their Faith, as Sisters, Missionaries, native priests and also some Bishops, have been expelled from their residences and driven from their homes, and now either languish as exiles in poverty or find themselves in prisons and concentration camps, or even have been barbarously done to death.
"Our mind is filled with the greatest sadness when We think of the sufferings, the tribulations, the deaths of these chosen sons ; and not only do We watch them with a paternal solicitude but We also reverence them with a fatherly veneration. We know well that the sublime missionary vocation often brings with it also the dignity of martyrdom. Jesus Christ, the first martyr, said : 'They will persecute you, just as they have persecuted me' (Jno. 15, xx) ; 'In the world you will find only tribulation ; but take courage, I have overcome the world' (Jno. 16, xxxiii) ; 'A grain of wheat must fall into the ground and die, or else it remains nothing more than a grain of wheat ; but if it dies, then it yields rich fruit' (Jno. 12, xxiv-xxv).
"The heralds and the propagators of the truth and of the Christian life who meet death far from their country in the exercise of their high mission are the sowers of that which, in due course, by the grace of God, will bear the most abundant fruit. For this reason St. Paul the Apostle declared : 'We are confident even over our afflictions' (Rom., 5, iii) ; and St. Cyprian, Bishop and martyr, thus consoled and exhorted the Christians of his own time : 'The Lord wishes us to rejoice and exult in persecutions, because when there are persecutions the crowns of faith are given, the soldiers of God are tested, the heavens are opened to the martyrs. For we have not given soldiers their name that they may think only of peace and withhold and refuse service, since the Lord, the master of humility and forebearance and suffering, was himself the first to walk in that very army, that he might first himself do what he taught others to do, and that might first himself endure for us what he exhorted us to endure' (St. Cyprian, Epist. 56 ; Migne, P.L., 4, 351 A.)
"Those missionaries who are working today in the most distant regions are devoted to a task not dissimilar to that of the primitive Church. They are almost in the same conditions in which the first Christians found themselves in Rome, when the Princes of the Apostles, Peter and Paul, were carrying the truth of the Gospel into the heart of the Roman Empire. Whoever reflects how the growing Church was not burdened with any human wealth, but was beset by dangers, afflictions and persecutions, cannot but be filled with great admiration, seeing how this small army victoriously overcame a power than which perhaps a greater had never existed. What happened then will without doubt happen again. Just as the young David, trusting in the divine assistance rather than in his sling, laid low the giant Goliath, clad in armour of steel, so also the divine society which Christ founded will not be overcome by any earthly power, but will overcome all persecutions with a serene bearing."
The Holy Father pays tribute to the fortitude of the missionary Church in the face of such persecutions and in the face of all efforts to separate the faithful from the Catholic Church and the Apostolic See. He says that, while remembering that those who "are sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death" are "an immense multitude," an immense work and a great number of missionaries are still required. He quotes Jno. 10, xvi, "there will be one fold and one shepherd," and goes on : "There are shepherds, as you well know, Venerable Brethren, who seek to lead the sheep away from this one fold, from this one haven of salvation ; and it is known how such a danger is always becoming more grave. Yet, considering, before God, that immense multitude which is as yet unaware of the truth of the Gospel, and considering to what a grave danger so many are exposed, either through the spread of atheist-materialism or through a certain doctrine which usurps the Christian name and actually is infected by the errors and the doctrines of Communism, We are filled with an urgent anxiety to advance everywhere and with all energies the works of the apostolate, and We make Our own that exhortation given to Us by the holy prophet, 'Cry aloud, never ceasing, raise thy voice like a trumpet-call.' (Is., 58, i).
"We commend to God with suppliant prayers in a special manner the Missions which are working in Latin America, knowing by what perils and snares they are threatened, more or less openly, by the anti-Catholic sects."
The Holy Father then outlines the qualities needed in a man who devotes his life to the foreign missions : " . . . He must indeed consider as a second country and must love with befitting love that region in which he works to carry the light of the Gospel, and, therefore, he must seek no terrestrial rewards, whether they would accrue to his country or to his religious Institute, but only the salvation of souls, He must certainly love his own Congregation with great affection, but with still greater ardour must he love the Church, mindful that nothing can help his Congregation which conflicts with the good of the Church. . ." Missionary priests need an exhaustive training, and must always remember that a native Hierarchy is the firmest foundation on which the Church can be built. The Holy Father quotes his letter to Cardinal Fumasoni-Biondi, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation de Propaganda Fide, of August 9th, 1950, and the Encyclicals Maximum Illud and Rerum Ecclesiae of Pius XI on the foundations of missionary work, and especially the latter Encyclical on the importance of developing a native clergy. One passage cited at length from Rerum Ecclesiae envisages the possibility that wars or the desire for political independence might prejudice the position of foreign clergy in missionary territories, making a native clergy all the more important ; and the Holy Father continues :
"We are filled with a profound sorrow, however, in the knowledge that those things which Our immediate predecessor wrote with almost prophetic insight have today become a reality in many regions of the Far East.
"There, indeed, most flourishing missions, already 'white with the promise of harvest' (cf. Jno., 4, xxxv), groan today in the most dire tribulations. Would that it was permitted to Us to hope that the peoples of Korea and China, renowned for their innate nobility and gentleness of nature no less than for the splendour. of their ancient civilization, might be liberated as speedily as possible not only from the turbulent contentions and clashes of war, but also from that pernicious doctrine which seeks only terrestrial things and renounces the celestial. May they be willing to appreciate justly the charity and the Christian virtue of the foreign missionaries and the native clergy who, at the price of sacrifices and of their very lives, if need be, seek nothing else but the true good of the people.
"We must thank the Lord without ceasing that in those two nations there has already been formed a numerous local clergy, beloved by the population, and that not a few dioceses of those peoples have been entrusted to native Bishops. If it has been possible to go so far, this must be ascribed to the credit of the foreign missionaries.
"In this connection, We judge it opportune to suggest certain norms which it may help to bear in mind during the passage of a foreign mission to the local clergy. It is not necessary for those religious Institutes which have the merit of having sown the field of the Lord by their own efforts to abandon it completely when, however rich the harvest, the Sacred Congregation de Propaganda Fide deems it expedient to send them to other scenes of labour. They will do a useful service notwithstanding if they will remain to collaborate with the new local Bishop. Just as, indeed, in the other dioceses of the Catholic world Religious assist the Ordinaries of the place, so also in the missions the foreign Religious will be valued auxiliaries, who will not tire in fighting the battles of the Lord, and in such a manner they will realize the words of the Divine Master addressed to the' Apostle near the well of Sichar : 'The wages paid to him who reaps this harvest, the crop he gathers in, is eternal life, in which sower and reaper are to rejoice together.' (Jno. 4, xxxvi)."
(To be concluded)