TO CARDINAL IVAN DIAS, PREFECT OF THE
CONGREGATION FOR THE EVANGELIZATION OF PEOPLES
ON THE 50th ANNIVERSARY
OF THE ENCYCLICAL LETTER FIDEI DONUM
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 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.
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