On the 50th Anniversary of Fidei Donum

Author: Pope Benedict XVI

On the 50th Anniversary of Fidei Donum

Pope Benedict XVI

We are all 'missionaries', proclaiming Jesus Christ

On Saturday morning 5 May, in the Vatican's Clementine Hall, the Holy Father met those taking part in the Meeting of the Superior Council of the Pontifical Mission Societies and in the World Congress of "Fidei donum" Missionaries, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Pius XII's Encyclical Letter, Fidei Donum. The following is a translation of the Pope's Address for the occasion, given in Italian.

Your Eminence,
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am particularly pleased to meet you after the solemn Eucharistic Celebration at which Cardinal Ivan Dias, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, presided. In the first place, I address my cordial thoughts to him and thank him for his words to me on your behalf.

I extend my greeting to the Secretary and collaborators of the Missionary Dicastery, to the Prelates and priests present, to the men and women religious and to all who have taken part in the Congress held in the past few days to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Encyclical Letter Fidei Donum of the Servant of God Pope Pius XII.

Fifty years have passed since this venerable Predecessor of mine, facing the evolution of the times and looking out onto the scene of history of new peoples and nations, realized with farsighted pastoral wisdom that unheard of and providential horizons and missionary openings for the proclamation of the Gospel in Africa were unfolding.

Indeed, Pius XII was looking especially to Africa when, with prophetic intuition, he thought of that new missionary "subject" which takes its name "Fidei donum" from the first words of the Encyclical.

He was intending to encourage another type of missionary cooperation — parallel to the traditional forms — among the so-called "ancient" Christian Communities and those born lately or which are coming into being in recently-evangelized territories. He asked the "ancient" Churches to send several priests to help the "young" Churches, whose growth was promising, to collaborate with the local Ordinaries for a specific period.

Kindling the spirit of mission

This is what Pope Pacelli wrote: "As we direct our thoughts, on the one hand, to the countless multitudes of our sons who have a share in the blessings of divine faith, especially in countries that have long since become Christian, and on the other hand, as we consider the far more numerous throngs of those who are still waiting for the day of salvation to be announced to them, we are filled with a great desire to exhort you again and again, Venerable Brethren, to support with zealous interest the most holy cause of bringing the Church of God to all the world. May it come to pass that our admonitions will arouse a keener interest in the missionary apostolate among your priests and through them set the hearts of the faithful on fire!" (n. 4).

Consequently, the purpose that inspired the venerable Pontiff was twofold: on the one hand, to kindle a renewed missionary "flame" in every member of the Christian people, and on the other, to encourage a more aware collaboration between the Dioceses of ancient tradition and the regions of first evangelization.

In the course of these five decades, Pius XII's invitation has been reaffirmed on several occasions by all my Predecessors, and thanks to the impetus provided by the Second Vatican Council, the number of fidei donum priests has continued to multiply. They depart with religious and lay volunteers, bound for a mission in Africa and in other parts of the world, sometimes costing their Dioceses many sacrifices.

I would like here to express my special thanks to these brothers and sisters, some of whom poured out their blood in order to disseminate the Gospel.

The mission experience, as you well know, leaves an indelible mark on those who carry it out and at the same time helps to foster that ecclesial communion which makes all the baptized see themselves as members of the one Church, the Mystical Body of Christ.

During these decades, contacts and missionary exchanges have intensified, partly because of the development and increase in the means of communication, so that the Church has come into contact with practically every civilization and culture.

Moreover, the exchange of gifts between Ecclesial Communities of ancient and recent foundation has been a reciprocal enrichment and has fostered an increased awareness that we are all "missionaries", that is, we are all involved, albeit in different ways, in proclaiming and bearing witness to the Gospel.

Challenge of too few priests

While we thank the Lord for today's missionary commitment, we cannot fail to perceive at the same time the difficulties which are occurring in this context today. Among them, I limit myself to stressing the dwindling numbers and the ageing of the clergy in Dioceses that once sent missionaries to distant regions.

In the context of a widespread vocations crisis, this is undoubtedly a challenge to be faced. The Congress organized by the Pontifical Missionary Union to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Fidei Donum has made possible an attentive analysis of this situation which the Church is living today.

Although we cannot ignore the problems and shadows, nevertheless we must raise our gaze confidently to the future, giving a renewed and more authentic identity to "Fidei donum" missionaries in a world context which has undeniably changed in comparison with the 1950s.

If there are many challenges to evangelization in this age of ours, there are also many signs of hope in every part of the world that witness to an encouraging missionary vitality among the Christian people.

Above all, may people never forget that before leaving his disciples and ascending into Heaven, in sending them out to proclaim his Gospel in every corner of the world, the Lord assured them, "Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Mt 28:20).

Dear brothers and sisters, this certainty must never abandon us. The Lord of the harvest will not let us lack workers for his harvest if we ask him for them with trust and persistence, in prayer and in docile listening to his words and teachings.

In this regard, I would like to take up the invitation which Pius XII addressed to the faithful of that time: "Especially in this our time on which the future growth of the Church in many areas is perhaps dependent", he wrote in his Encyclical, "let many Masses be offered for the sacred missions.... This is in accordance with the prayers of Our Lord, who loves his Church and wishes her to flourish and enlarge her borders throughout the whole world" (n. 52).

I make my own this same exhortation, convinced that in coming to meet our ceaseless requests the Lord will continue to bless the Church's missionary commitment with abundant apostolic fruits.

I commend this hope to Mary, Mother and Queen of the Apostles, while I cordially impart a special Apostolic Blessing to you who are present here and to all the world's missionaries.


The Church's missionary commitment: prayer, aid, people

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Servant of God Pope Plus XII's Encyclical Letter, Fidei Donum, published on 21 April 1957, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Secretary of State, sent the following Letter to Cardinal Ivan Dias, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. The following is a translation of the Cardinal's Letter, which was written in Italian, dated 21 April and published on Saturday, 5 May [2007].

Your Eminence,

Today, 21 April, is the 50th anniversary of the Encyclical Letter Fidei Donum of Pope Pius XII, of venerable memory (cf. AAS XLIX 1957, 225-248). With this Document, the Supreme Pontiff intended to focus the gaze of the Church's Pastors on Africa at a time when the Continent was opening to the life of the modern world, in the years of what may have been the gravest upheaval in its millennial history (cf. Fidei Donum, n. 7).

In Chapter III, addressing the threefold missionary commitment of the Church (prayer, material aid and sending people), Pius XII mentioned among other things a new type of missionary cooperation that was different from the traditional forms.

He wrote: "Another form of assistance, which is more burdensome, has been undertaken by some Bishops who, despite the difficulties attendant upon so doing, have permitted this or that priest of the Diocese to go and spend some time in working for the Bishops in Africa.

"This procedure has the exceptional result of allowing the wise and well-planned establishment of specialized forms of the priestly ministry, such as taking charge of teaching the secular and sacred sciences for which the local clergy have not been trained.

"We are happy to encourage these timely and fruitful undertakings. If this course of action is taken with due preparation, very important advantages will accrue to the Catholic Church in present-day Africa, which has its full measure of both difficulties and hopes" (Fidei Donum, nn. 73, 74).

A new type of missionary

A new missionary "subject" was born from the Supreme Pontiff's appeal for the missions in Africa and took its name, "Fidei donum", precisely from the Encyclical.

The Papal Document sowed a seed that fell on fertile ground and sprouted, thanks to the deep ecclesiological and missiological reflection of the Second Vatican Council and to the post-conciliar missionary magisterium.

Consequently, certain essential elements have already been established, both in theory and in practice, that contribute to defining the identity and configuration of fidei donum missionaries.

These elements can be formulated as follows: the Church is missionary by nature; the universal Church is expressed and subsists in the particular Churches; the particular Churches have been missionary since their creation; they are responsible for evangelization in solido and in communion with all the other Churches.

Since then, 50 years have passed, during which the particular Churches — those founded long ago, then the younger ones — have continued to send priests and lay people to other Churches for the missio ad gentes, for the new evangelization or simply to meet the poorer Churches' need for personnel and means.

Such a practice could, with time, become the norm of missionary co-responsibility. Through this cooperation, in fact, the entire Church becomes effectively missionary since the missio ad gentes is considered a task and responsibility of all the particular Churches.

On the occasion of this important anniversary and after the repeated requests of the National Directors of the Pontifical Mission Societies, the Pontifical Missionary Union organized a Congress in Rome with two principal aims: first of all, to review the ground covered, providing a critical analysis of the bright spots and shadows that have marked it; secondly, to help give a renewed and more genuine identity to "Fidei donum" missionaries in the light of the information that comes from experience, from the Pope's Magisterium and from the documents of the Bishops' Conferences.

Rethinking communion, mission

In particular, it is appropriate to rethink the Church's communion and co-responsibility for mission, as well as the methodological implications such as the need for common planning, the integration of "Fidei donum" missionaries with specific tasks and roles, their reinsertion into their Churches of origin, the mutual exchange of people, means and apostolic methodologies, formation courses for missionaries, the need to set up national missionary formation centres for those who are to be sent, and coordination centres to respond adequately to the requests for personnel and means.

A further objective is to enable the young Churches, which for the time being have to rely on the aid of the missionary institutes, to send out their own "Fidei donum" missionaries.

The Holy Father welcomed this initiative and views it with trust, in the hope that it may help to relaunch the missionary commitment promoted 50 years ago by Pope Pius XII with his Encyclical Fidei Donum.

To this end, the Pope assures you from this moment of his special remembrance in prayer so that the Congress may achieve its goals; and as he expresses his deep gratitude to you, Your Most Reverend Eminence, to your collaborators and to all who have promoted and organized it, he very willingly imparts a special Apostolic Blessing to them as well as to the National Directors of the Pontifical Mission Societies, the officials of the Bishops' Conferences and all "Fidei donum" missionaries.

I am pleased to take this opportunity to confirm to you, Your Eminence, that I remain with deep respect,

Yours devotedly in the Lord,

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone
Secretary of State

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
16 May 2007, page 22

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