When Pope John Paul II discusses “The Primary Responsibility of the Pontifical Mission Societies,” what does he mean? What are these bodies? Basically, the groups that oversee the pope’s initiatives in mission areas. There are four main ones.
The leading role in this work of promotion belongs to the Pontifical Mission Societies, as I have often pointed out in my Messages for World Mission Day. The four Societies – Propagation of the Faith, St. Peter the Apostle, Holy Childhood and the Missionary Union – have the common purpose of fostering a universal missionary spirit among the People of God. The Missionary Union has as its immediate and specific purpose the promotion of missionary consciousness and formation among priests and men and women religious, who in turn will provide this consciousness and formation within the Christian communities. In addition, the Missionary Union seeks to promote the other Societies, of which it is the “soul,”(Cf. Apostolic Epistle Graves et Increscentes (1966)) “This must be our motto: All the churches united for the conversion of the whole world.”(P Manna, Le nostre “Chiese” e la propagazione del vangelo, Trentola Ducenta, 1952 2, p. 35)
Their work permits ordinary First World Catholics to be exposed to the mission and goals of evangelization ad gentes, as Pope John Paul II has put it:
Because they are under the auspices of the Pope and of the College of Bishops, these Societies, also within the boundaries of the particular churches, rightly have “the first place. . . since they are the means by which Catholics from their very infancy are imbued with a genuinely universal and missionary spirit; they are also the means which ensure an effective collection of resources for the good of all the missions, in accordance with the needs of each one.”(Ad Gentes 38) Another purpose of the Missionary Societies is the fostering of lifelong vocations ad gentes, in both the older and younger churches. I earnestly recommend that their promotional work be increasingly directed to this goal.
How they fit with the curia and bishops, briefly:
In their activities, these Societies depend at the worldwide level on the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples; at the local level they depend on the Episcopal Conferences and the bishops of individual churches, in collaboration with existing promotional centers. They bring to the Catholic world that spirit of universality and of service to the Church’s mission, without which authentic cooperation does not exist.
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