by Mgr JOHN COO NAN
A Roman Congregation, such as the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, is really like a government department looking after some particular concern of the Church. The Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith was started in 1622 by Pope Gregory XV to co-ordinate and control the work of the missionary societies, which were expanding rapidly.
The fruit of this co-operation between the missionary societies, concerned with particular territories, and Propaganda, concerned with the overall strategy, is summed up by the Protestant writer, Mr Torn Beetham, in his book Christianity and the New Africa. "It (the Catholic Church) was helped. in its strategy by the overall responsibility retained by the Propaganda Fide without at the same time losing the singleness of direction provided by the individual missionary orders."
Pius XI took over and linked with Propaganda Fide three different works for the missions which are also concerned with the overall missionary activity of the Church and not with particular missionary societies. These are the Association for the Propagation of the Faith (A.P.E.), the Society of St Peter Apostle for Native Clergy (S.P.A.), and the Society for the Holy Childhood. fhe A.P.F. exists in over 70 countries, and, through its prayers and its central fund, provides every bishop of the 884 missionary dioceses with an annualtrant to run his diocese, besides helping with special projects concerned with both evangelisation and development.
Pius X1 established Mission Sunday for general prayer and support of the missions with special reference to the work of the A.P.F. The S.P.A. is concerned with the establishment of a native clergy in all the mission-lands, operating also through a central fund, while the Holy Childhood exists to provide children here with the opportunity to help children in the missions.
The general position of the mission-lands today is that, on the one hand, the number of missionaries is declining and, on the other, thanks to the mis sionaries' work, "the missions" are developing into "the young Churches with their own bishops, some clergy of their own, and the missionaries still there, and very necessary, but playing a different role. In this situation, the work of the A.P.F. becomes daily more relevant. The central fund of the A.P.F. is able to give support to all the missionary
dioceses so that none is neglected. When, for whatever reason, missionaries have to leave a territory, the financial support which the presence or the missionaries ensured often ceases, as far as the local Church is concerned.
In sudh cases, fne 'local bishops often have to rely simply on the central A.P.F. fund for the outside support they need. This is especially true of support for work of pure evangelisation and for the formation of a native clergy.
The young Churches want to grow towards self-support and self-propagation. They are helped both de facto and psychologically to do so by being able to draw from the A.P.F. central fund, to which they themselves have contributed. National Directors of the A.P.F. have recently been appointed in the mission lands themselves.
It is the task of these directors to make the country mission-minded and to support the missions with prayer and money. The young Churches are thus, through the A.P.F., contributing to the missions and so helping themselves as far as they can. In this way, their independence is strengthened because, while they accept with gratitude what they receive from the central fund, they can accept it without strings or any overtones of colonialism.
In this, they are following in the footsteps of England which, before the hierarchy was established, contributed to the central fund of the A.P.F. while receiving grants from it.
All this means that the relationship between the young Churches and ourselves is one of partnership. This partnership is concretely expressed in the A.P.F. by the central fund, to which all contribute according to their means and from which all receive according to their needs, as far as the latter is possible, since the needs are great and growing.
But when it comes to needs, we need the young Churches as much as they need us. The Church here needs the vitality which can only come from contact and exchange with young Churches developing in different cultural situations. We will only understand the true nature of the universality of the Church when we see the teaching of Christ expressed in many different cultures, at once truly local and completely Catholic.
Mission today is partnership and exchange. For us it means the Church in England helping the Church overseas in a way which respects their autonomy and receives, in return, the support of their prayers and the spur of their example. This partnership builds up our Faith and Hope and our understanding of the Church and its teachings, as we see it developing in.different cultural settings, each of which can reveal some new aspect of Christ's teaching to us. Without the missions, we might die of parochialism.
Mgr Coonan is National Director of the Pontifical Mission Aid Societies.