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PMS General Secretaries

Secretary General - Pontifical Missionary Union: Rev. Fr. Vito Del Prete, pime


1. Objective – Role
I believe that the best description of the PMS was given to us by Paul VI in his message for World Mission Sunday 1974: «The universal objective of these Works encourages them to use any means that seem effective for educating the People of God to an authentic universal missionary spirit, for promoting missionary vocations, in their many varieties, for developing charity permanently in its dual spiritual and material aspect, always under the banner of the most authentic Catholicism».It echoes what had already been affirmed by the Council: «It is right that these works (PMS) should be given first place, because they are the means by which Catholics are imbued from infancy with a truly universal and missionary outlook and also a means for promoting an effective collection of funds for all the missions, according to the needs of each» (Ad Gentes, 38)

We can almost imagine them as a single tree, which is divided into three branches.
1. The Society for the Propagation of the Faith
2. The Society of the Holy Childhood
3. The Society of St. Peter the Apostle
4. Finally the Pontifical Missionary Union is born.

Each Society embraces one sector of Christianity and, within the common purposes and objectives, it aims to promote the missionary conscience and joint responsibility of those to whom it is addressed in a specific task of evangelization or of aid to sister Churches.

The Propagation of the Faith, the first to be established, aims to help all the missions (the world’s missionaries) that proclaim the Gospel: with prayer, sacrifice and the collection of funds, necessary to maintain and to continue the work of missionaries.

The Society of St. Peter the Apostle: its aim is to support the formation of the local clergy with prayer, sacrifice and offerings.

The Society of the Holy Childhood is addressed to children so that with their prayers, offerings and sacrifices they may help children of non-Christian countries.

Finally, to complete the three Societies, the Pontifical Missionary Union is born for the missionary animation and formation of the clergy, men and women religious and seminarians. Paul VI defined it as the soul of the other Pontifical Societies, since it proposes to form and stimulate the missionary conscience of priests and men and women religious, who must educate and promote a missionary spirit among the Christian communities entrusted to them. Today the Pontifical Missionary Union has also been entrusted with the International Centre for Missionary Animation (CIAM), the instrument for missionary formation and animation.

The common aims of the PMS are simple, and can be summarised in two objectives:
1. «to imbue in Catholics from infancy a truly universal and missionary outlook» (Pontifical Missionary Societies, Statutes, S.C. Prop. Fide 1980, 1,2).

2. «to promote an effective collection of funds for all the missions, according to the needs of each (ibid.), creating and fostering a central, pontifical fund of solidarity in order to sustain, with circumspection and equanimity, a programme of universal and permanent aid to young Churches, especially the poorest» (ibid. 1,3).

The associative form is fundamental for the Pontifical Mission Societies, which is expressed also through a sign that commits baptised persons to give their best for the Church’s universal mission, and which obliges every particular Church not only to celebrate World Mission Sunday and promote all animation initiatives but also to send «each year an appropriate financial contribution for the missions to the Holy See». (2)

May we speak of Infants as missionaries? Or: can we form children to become missionary oriented? Are we not manipulating them? But, how can we think of children in missionary way, when there is a global exploitation and abuse on them? These are questions that everyone poses. In a world, in which human maturity is psychologically delayed, is it right to speak in such terms?

Let us mention of the motives of its foundation.
1. Foundation

Towards the middle of 1800 after a missionary visit first to the Indies and then to the United States of America and Canada, the bishop of the diocese of Nancy, Auguste de Forbin-Janson takes to heart the struggle against infanticide, practised systematically in some countries. He seeks aid so that children will not only be assured of baptism, but so that they will also be accepted and welcomed in kindergartens, dispensaries and schools without discrimination. The bishop is aware that children themselves can do something by helping one another and, after his meeting with Jaricot, in 1842, he sees his intuition confirmed: «Save children through children». In 1846 Mgr. Pecci, the future Pope Leo XIII, as Apostolic Nuncio in Brussels, did his best to ensure that the institution would grow also in Belgium.

Founded officially in 1843 the Society soon assumed a parochial nature with an ecclesiastic director and lay counsellors. In 1846 the publication of the Annales de la Saint-Enfance began.

2. Objectives
Concretely, the Pontifical Society of Missionary Childhood proposes to:
• Help educators to progressively awaken in children a universal missionary conscience.
• Help children to develop their missionary protagonism.
• Move children to share their faith and material means, especially with the children of the neediest regions and Churches.
• Promote missionary vocations.
• To be integrated into the overall pastoral program of Christian education, to which it will contribute its missionary projection.

In order to achieve its objectives, Missionary Childhood lends two services to children: the first and principal one is missionary education; the second is missionary cooperation with the neediest children and the missions of the whole world.

Therefore, the Pontifical Society of Missionary Childhood or Holy Childhood, which is a Society of the universal Church and of the local Churches, is animating and forming children (up to 14 years of age) from a missionary viewpoint and their educators so that they will live in ecclesial missionary communion and carry out their local mission and their missionary cooperation with universal evangelization, especially of children.

Educators, parents, catechists, young people, religious sisters and priests can participate in this Society as animators of Missionary Childhood. The animators help and guide the children while letting them take on their own responsibilities and accompanying them in carrying out everything that they themselves must do.

This missionary service is carried out through the protagonist role of the children themselves. Jesus himself is the one who has given them a very important mission in the Church and in the world. They themselves have to carry it out by evangelizing themselves and evangelizing. The children are certainly receivers of missionary pastoral care; however, first of all they are its protagonists. For this reason, missionary pastoral care will always have to be "with" the children.

Through missionary animation, formation, communion and cooperation, Missionary Childhood helps each child to be a missionary in his/her family, school, community and for the whole world.

There was a meeting – symposium on Holy Childhood at the Archdiocesan Retreat House, Tewatta, Ragama, Sri-Lanka from 3-6 February 2000, in order to discern God’s will for us in the new millennium on the matter concerning the missionary animation of children in Asia.

We praise and thank God for the precious gift of our children, and we wish to acknowledge and affirm their great potential as missionaries of Jesus in Asia. It is our firm belief that the children ought to become the architects of mission in this vast continent today and in the future. It is an affirmation, which projects itself with hope in the Lord into the new millennium.

We have prayerfully reflected about the call of the Lord to evangelize and to transform society, the challenge of sin and suffering visible all around us and the great capacity and zeal the young ones possess for a missionary commitment today.

That the Office of Evangelization takes up as its own responsibility the promotion of necessary awareness within the FABC and the individual Bishops’ Conferences about the indispensable role of children in the work of evangelization.

That the General Secretariat in its communications and personal dealings with individual Bishops encourages their participation in the missionary animation and formation of children.

The FABC recognizes and assigns a role to the children in the work of evangelization. Surely when they speak of children, they mean youth (the young ones). And they are right. Half of the immense population of the Asian Continent is under 18. The future of the world, especially of the Asian Continent and of India is theirs.

Education and formation of the young ones are the most important elements for the future of this society, and for the Christian community, whose mission is to be a sign of communion of nations, cultures, religions. It means that children of Asia must be imbued with the universal and fraternal spirit, though which they can contribute to establish a society which lives in Harmony and in unity.

Pontifical Missionary Societies are very practical. They try to read the signs of times, and accordingly program their activity. Childhood is not my specific area of interest. But I dare to propose some guidelines for future action in India and Asia.

First of all, in many Asian countries and I suppose also in India a large part of the young ones are not recognized in their basic human rights to education and to health system. Often they are spoiled and compelled to do adult’s work. There is gender discrimination, and consequently all sorts of injustice and oppression.

The Holy Childhood has this mission to accomplish: make our youth aware of the dignity of every human being, irrespective of the sex, culture and religion, and to help out to create a society in which every man and woman be respected in his/her personhood. They must be instruments of an alternative society. We need for that well-formed and prepared educators, catechists, and a good pastoral planning.

They must be educated to give up their life for others. Self – giving, taking care for others, is a must for our times, in which individualism, exploitation, economic liberalism, and an absurd egoism make human beings indifferent and insensible to others, especially for those who are considered the straw of society, like poor, criminals, …the weakest chains of society. It is a matter of Christian vocation. Holy Childhood should be the source of vocation.

They must be formed to care for the minorities and weaker sections of society, protect their rights and work for their uplift.

They must be imbued with evangelizing passion, aware that the Incarnate Word of God is the sign and the reality of the integral liberation and universal salvation.

All this corresponds to the global field of evangelization in India. India tomorrow will be what our youth want it to be.