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Celebrating 400 years of Propaganda Fide

Gerard Gough

TODAY, on the solemnity of the Epiphany of Our Lord, some 400 years ago, Pope Gregory XV (above) founded the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (Propaganda Fide) as the main way in which to promote the reunification of Christians and spread the faith throughout the world.

The new congregation was made up of 13 Cardinals, two Prelates and a Secretary, Francesco Ingoli, who met for the first session on January 14 at the home of the first Prefect, Antonio Sauli. Among the immediate decisions taken was to write a letter to the Apostolic Nuncios to communicate the news of the new congregation and to ask them to send a report on the situation of religion in their territories in order to spread the appropriate means for the dissemination of faith.

Three Cardinals, Bandini, Millini and Ubaldini, were entrusted with the task of preparing the Bull for the Canonical erection of the Congregation and on June 22, 1622, Pope Gregory XV published the Bull Inscrutabili divinae Providentiae arcano, in which—starting from the salvation of the world operated by God through the sacrifice of His only Son—he affirmed that it was 'a duty that we place in all our means, all our efforts, to bring souls to Christ.'

The task of the new congregation was, therefore, to attend to the missionary activity of the Church, in the old and in the new world, with eminently spiritual purposes, abandoning the harmful missionary practice followed until then by the colonial patronages of the European powers and overcoming the particularistic tendencies of the missionary action of religious orders. The congregation was also trusted with the decision-making power necessary to ensure speed and effectiveness in the great evangelising commitment.

Five years later, in 1627, Pope Urban VIII founded the Urban College of Propaganda Fide for the formation of the secular clergy for missions, and the Polyglot Printing House, to print documents and texts in the different languages of the peoples.

Over the last 400 years, various interventions by the Magisterium have further defined the tasks and organisation of the Missionary Dicastery—today better know as the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples—while staying true to its fundamental objectives but adapting them to the evolution of the situation.

Pope St John Paul II's Apostolic Constitution, Pastor bonus, confirmed the general principle of jurisdiction, enunciated by the Second Vatican Council, which states: "It pertains to the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples to direct and coordinate throughout the world the actual work of spreading the Gospel as well as missionary cooperation."

Among the main objectives of the Missionary Dicastery are: to ensure an adequate distribution of missionaries; care for the formation of secular clergy and Catechists; and entrusting the evangelisation of mission territories to institutes, religious societies or particular churches.

According to recent statistics, published on World Mission Sunday on October 24, 2021, there are, today, 1117 ecclesiastical circumscriptions dependent on the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, with most most of them located in Africa (517) and Asia (483), followed by America (71) and Oceania (46). The term ecclesiastical circumscriptions includes Archdioceses, Dioceses, Territorial Abbeys, Apostolic Vicariates, Apostolic Prefectures, Missions sui juris, Territorial Prelatures, Apostolic Administrations, Military Ordinariates. Why not like our Facebook page: and follow us on Twitter: @Missio_Scotland and Instagram: missioscotland


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