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Rerum Ecclesiae- Pope Pius XI - The Papal Library

by Catherine Frakas 17 Mar 2021

Rerum Ecclesiae Encyclical of Pope Pius XI on Catholic Missions February 8, 1926 To Our Venerable Brethren the Patriarchs, Primates, Archbishops, Bishops, and other Ordinaries in Peace and Communion with the Apostolic See. In reviewing attentively the history of the Church, one cannot fail to notice how, from the first ages of Christianity, the especial care and solicitude of the Roman Pontiffs have been directed to the end that they, undeterred by difficulties and obstacles, might spread the light of the Gospel and the benefits of Christian culture and civilization to the peoples who sat in darkness and in the shadow of death. The Church has no other reason for existence than, by developing the Kingdom of Christ on earth, to make mankind participate in the effects of His saving Redemption. Whoever, by Divine Commission, takes the place on earth of Jesus Christ, becomes thereby the Chief Shepherd who, far from being able to rest content with simply guiding and protecting the Lord's Flock which has beer; confided to him to rule, fails in his special duty and obligations if he does not strive by might and main to win over and to join to Christ all who are still without the Fold. 2. It is a well-known fact that Our Predecessors fulfilled at all times the Divine Commission wherewith they were charged of teaching and baptizing all nations, that the priests sent by them (many of whom the Church publicly venerates because of the holiness of their lives or because they so courageously suffered martyrdom) zealously strove with varying results to enlighten by the Faith first Europe, and, later on, even unknown lands, and this almost immediately after their discovery. We say with varying results, for it sometimes happened that the missionaries after laboring with little or no effect were either put to death or driven out of the country. As a result, the field which they had begun to cultivate, at times a mere wilderness but at other times already converted by them into a veritable garden of roses, when left to itself was once again overrun with thorns and briars. In spite of all this, it is a great consolation to see how in recent years the Congregations which are devoted to foreign missionary work have actually redoubled their labors and have gained such memorable fruits from their work, and how the faithful, on their part, have so generously responded to this increased missionary effort with a great increase in the amount of alms given for such holy purposes. There is no doubt that this renewed activity was greatly promoted by the Apostolic Letter of November 30, 1919, entitled, On the Propagation of the Catholic Faith Throughout the World, which Our Predecessor of happy memory directed to the episcopate of the whole world. In this letter, while the Pontiff on the one hand stimulated the diligence and zeal of all the bishops in the work of obtaining help for the missions, he did not fail to point out, and very wisely, to Apostolic Vicars and Prefects, the obstacles to be avoided and the methods to be followed by their clergy in order to render more fruitful the exercise of the sacred apostolate. 3. As for Ourselves, Venerable Brothers, you well know that, from the beginning of Our Pontificate, We determined to leave nothing undone which might, by means of apostolic preachers, extend farther and farther the light of the Gospel and make easy for heathen nations the way unto salvation. It seems to Us that two special objectives ought to be aimed at in all missionary work, both of which are not only timely but necessary and closely connected with each other; namely, that a much larger number than heretofore of missionaries, well trained in the different fields of knowledge, be sent into the vast regions which are still deprived of the civilizing influence of the Christian religion; and secondly, that the faithful be brought to understand with what zeal, constancy in prayer, and with what generosity they too must co-operate in a work which is so holy and fruitful. This is precisely the object We had in mind when We commanded that the Vatican Missionary Exhibition be held. We thank God that many young hearts (a fact which has been called to Our attention) at the sight of these proofs of divine grace and of the nobility and greatness of the missionaries, received there the first call to the missionary life. So unbounded, too, was the admiration for the missionaries on the part of those who visited the Exhibition that We have every reason to believe that it will not be without lasting fruits for religion. That the weighty lessons which this Exhibition in its silent eloquence preached may not be forgotten, We ordered, as you perhaps know already, that a permanent museum be established wherein there may be conserved and shown to the public the more noteworthy objects exhibited at the Vatican Missionary Exhibition. This Museum will be established in our Palace of the Lateran on the very spot where, after peace had been restored to the Church, so many apostolic men celebrated for holiness of life and zeal for religion were sent forth, century after century, by Our Predecessors into regions already white for the harvest. 4. It will also come about that all the officers in the mission army, and the privates too, if We may so speak, who shall visit this Museum, after having compared the conditions of their respective missions and their methods of work, will draw from it inspiration for even better and larger projects. The faithful who visit the Museum will, We believe, experience the self-same feelings as did those who attended the original Vatican Exhibition. Meanwhile, in order that the interest of the faithful in the missions, which has been aroused already, may be even further developed We make a special appeal for your assistance in this task, Venerable Brothers. If your assistance may rightly be employed in any undertaking, certainly the dignity of your station in life, to say nothing of your filial affection for Us, will impel you to tender such aid particularly in this work and that with all zeal and diligence. For Our part, so long as Divine Providence shall preserve Our life, this duty of Our Apostolic office will always be a special obligation to us, for when We ponder over the fact that the pagans number, even in our day, almost a billion, We have no rest in our spirit (II Cor. vii, 5) and seem to hear sounding in Our ears the words, Cry, cease not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet. (Isaias lviii, 1) 5. There is no need to insist how foreign it is to the virtue of charity, which embraces both God and men, for the members of Christ's Church not to think of those unfortunate souls who live in error outside the Fold. Surely the obligation of charity, which binds us to God, demands not only that we strive to increase by every means within our power the number of those who adore Him in spirit and in truth (John iv, 24) but also that we try to bring under the rule of the gentle Christ as many other men as possible in order that the profit in his blood (Psalms xxix, 10) may be the more and more fruitful and that we may make ourselves the more acceptable to Him to Whom nothing can possibly be more pleasing than that men should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. (I Timothy ii, 4) 6. Since Jesus Christ has proclaimed that the special sign of discipleship with Him is that we one for another (John xiii, 35; xv, 12) can we give a mark of greater love for our neighbors than to assist them in putting behind themselves the darkness of error by instructing them in the true faith of Christ? As a matter of fact, this type of charity surpasses all other kinds of good works inspired by love just as the mind surpasses the body, heaven surpasses earth, eternity surpasses time. Every one that acts thus, inspired by love and according to the full measure of his ability, demonstrates that he esteems the gift of faith in the manner that one should esteem it. Moreover, he manifests his gratitude toward the goodness of God by thus sharing this same great gift, precious above every other gift, with the poor pagans. He also shares with them, at the same time, all the other graces which are intimately connected with the virtue of faith. If none of the faithful is exempt from the obligation of charity, can the clergy who, by their truly marvelous election and holy vocation, participate in the very priesthood and apostolate of Jesus Christ, claim such exemption? Or can you, Venerable Brothers, you who possess the plenitude of the priesthood and are, each in his own diocese, the divinely constituted pastors of the clergy and Christian people, claim to be exempt from the same law of love? We read that Christ commanded not only Peter, whose chair We occupy, but all the Apostles whose successors you are: Go ye into the whole world, and preach the gospel to every creature. (Mark xvi, 15) It evidently follows from this that the responsibility for spreading the faith falls upon Us, but on condition that you share with Us the burden and assist Us as much as your own pastoral duties permit. Therefore, Venerable Brothers, do not look upon compliance with this Our paternal exhortation, as an irksome duty, for you must know that God Himself shall one day ask of us a strict accounting of this tremendous obligation which He has laid upon Us. 7. In the first place, both in sermons and by your writings, strive to have introduced and gradually to extend the pious custom of praying the Lord of the harvest, that he send forth laborers into his harvest (Matt. ix, 38) and of asking for the heathen the light of the Holy Spirit and the grace of God. We say that these prayers should become habitual for it is evident that prayers said in this manner cannot but have more efficacy before the seat of Divine Mercy than prayers said but once or only occasionally. Even though the missionaries labor most zealously, though they work and toil and go so far as to lay down their very lives in order to bring to the pagans a knowledge of the Catholic religion, though they employ every means known to human ingenuity and spare themselves in nothing, all this will avail them nothing, all their efforts will go for naught, if God by His grace does not touch the hearts of the heathen in order to soften and attract them to Himself. 8. Everyone can pray, of this fact there can be no question. Everyone, therefore, has at hand and can make use of this all-important help, this daily nourishment of the missions. For these reasons you will act according to Our desires and will also do something in keeping with the religious spirit and feelings of the faithful, if you order that special prayers for the missions and for the conversion of the heathen to the true Faith be added, for example, to the Rosary of the Blessed Virgin or to the other prayers which are customarily recited both in the parish and other churches. It would be well, Venerable Brothers, to make a special point of inviting and encouraging children and the religious orders of women to take up this holy practice. We are particularly desirous that in all institutions, orphan asylums, parochial schools, colleges, and convents of Sisters there should daily arise to heaven the prayer that the Divine Mercy may descend upon so many unhappy beings, inhabitants of the densely populated pagan countries. Can the Heavenly Father refuse anything to the innocent and chaste who ask it of Him? On the other hand, such a pious practice leads to the hope that these children, who have been trained to pray for the conversion of the heathen from the first moment when the flower of charity begins to bud in their young and tender hearts, may, with the help of God, themselves receive a vocation for the apostolate, a vocation which if it is nurtured with care may perhaps in time supply capable workers for the mission field. 9. At this point, Venerable Brothers, We wish to touch upon in passing a matter which is worthy of your most serious thought. All are acquainted, no doubt, with the grave damage which was done to the propagation of the faith as a result of the late War. Missionaries recalled to their own countries fell in the terrible conflict. Other missionaries were compelled to leave the field of their activities with the result that missionary work suffered greatly thereby. These damages and losses to the missions have to be made good if we hope to bring them back to the state in which they were before the War and to insure their further progress. 10. Moreover, when we stop to consider the vast territory which remains as yet unopened to the blessings of Christian culture, the immense number of those who are still deprived of the fruits of the Redemption, or the obstacles and difficulties which beset and impede the best efforts of the missionary, it is absolutely necessary that the bishops and faithful work together in order that the number of the ambassadors of Christ be increased and multiplied. If there should be in your dioceses, any young men, seminarians, or priests who seem called by God to this sublime apostolate, far from putting obstacles in their way, you should encourage them both by your favor and authority in their leanings and desires. Though you are surely permitted in regard to these vocations to try the spirits if they be of God (I John iv, 1) still if you are convinced that their holy resolution springs from and is fostered by the Spirit of God, then neither scarcity of priests, nor any special need of your own diocese ought to discourage you or keep you from giving your consent to the vocation of anyone, since your own faithful have at hand, if We may use the phrase, the means to salvation, and are less further removed from them than the heathens, especially those who are still savages or are only semicivilized. If, therefore, the occasion should arise, suffer patiently for the love of Christ and of souls, the loss of one of your clergy, if indeed it can rightly be called as loss. 11. If you deprive yourself of a co-laborer and sharer of your toils, the Divine Founder of the Church will surely supply every such deficiency by showering more abundant blessings on your diocese and by bringing into existence more and more new vocations to the sacred ministry. 12. In order that this particular work may be joined intimately to the other duties of your pastoral office, see to it that the Missionary Union of the Clergy be established in your diocese, and if this has already been done, encourage the organization by your counsels, your exhortations, and your authority to renewed activity. This Union, founded providentially eight years ago by Our immediate Predecessor, has been enriched by numerous indulgences and put under the special jurisdiction of the Sacred Congregation of the Propaganda. In these last years it has spread through many dioceses of the Catholic world. We Ourselves have bestowed upon the Union, and this more than once, testimonials of Our pontifical well-wishes. Great is the number of priests, as well as ecclesiastical students, who belong to the Missionary Union and who pray, each according to his particular state in life, especially at the Holy sacrifice of the Mass, and encourage likewise others to pray, that the gift of faith be bestowed upon the almost limitless number of pagans. On every possible occasion they preach to the people about the apostolate which is carried on among the heathen. They also see to it that at certain specified times conferences, which are of great and lasting value, are held on mission work. They distribute mission literature and wherever they discover some one who gives indications of possessing a vocation to the missionary life, they assist him in obtaining the preparation necessary for such work. They encourage and promote, too, in every possible way, each within the limits of his own diocese, both the work of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith and its two allied and subsidiary activities. 13. You are assuredly aware, Venerable Brothers, of the large amounts of money which the Missionary Union of the Clergy has already collected to help these good works, and what wonderful prospects they have in the future of collecting even more, due to the increased generosity of the faithful from year to year. Some of you have been patrons and sponsors of the Missionary Union in your dioceses. It is Our supreme desire that from now on it will be impossible to point to a cleric who is not literally burning with love for the missions. 14. All Christian people should assist, and generously, the work of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, the principal mission organization of the Church. With due regard for the very pious woman who was its foundress, and the City of Lyons, its seat, We have transferred to Rome the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. We have also reorganized it, conferred upon it, as it were, Roman citizenship, and given it charge of meeting all the present needs of the missions, as well as those that will arise in the future. How many and how great these needs, how poor the great majority of missionaries was assuredly made plain by the Vatican Missionary Exhibition, despite the fact that many wh

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