12. True to the teaching and example of her divine Founder, who cited the preaching of the Gospel to the poor as a sign of His mission, (Cf. Luke 7:22) the Church has never failed to foster the human progress of the nations to which she brings faith in Christ. Besides erecting sacred edifices, her missionaries have also promoted construction of hospitals, sanitariums, schools and universities. By teaching the native population how to take full advantage of natural resources, the missionaries often protected them from the greed of foreigners.
It is important to remember this work extends far into the past, at the very beginning of the history of Christianity. Early Christians taught the supposedly “civilized” citizens of empires, as well as the classes they trampled underfoot. More recently, the Church has sadly sided with the rich and powerful. Pope Paul VI admits as much:
We would certainly admit that this work was sometimes far from perfect, since it was the work of men. The missionaries sometimes intermingled the thought patterns and behavior patterns of their native land with the authentic message of Christ. Yet, for all this, they did protect and promote indigenous institutions; and many of them pioneered in promoting the country’s material and cultural progress.
The weakest witness might be cited at the end of the Tridentine Era, where despite a worldwide reach in institutions of healing and education, the Church of 1570-1962 was far slower to realize the native potential as did the evangelizers of the early Church. By the fifth century, Christianity had its Doctors. Are such figures to be found among the natives peoples of sub-Saharan Africa, the Americas, Asia, or beyond?
We need only mention the efforts of Pere Charles de Foucauld: he compiled a valuable dictionary of the Tuareg language, and his charity won him the title, “everyone’s brother.” So We deem it fitting to praise those oft forgotten pioneers who were motivated by love for Christ, just as We honor their imitators and successors who today continue to put themselves at the generous and unselfish service of those to whom they preach the Gospel.
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The image is of Lady Justice at the Central Criminal Court of London.