Evangelii Praecones

Extracts from the Encyclical of Pius XII on the Missions, June 2, 1951

With a view of promoting still more effectively the work of evangelization by our missionaries and to prevent one drop of their sweat and blood from being shed in vain, We should like here to explain briefly the principles and norms that must guide the zeal and activity of Catholic missionaries.

First of all, it is to be observed that the person who had been called by God to evangelize distant non-Christian lands, has received a very great and sublime vocation. He consecrates his life to God in order to spread His Kingdom to the farthest ends of the earth. He does not seek what is his, but what is Christ’s. He can apply to himself in a special way those beautiful sayings of St. Paul: “For Christ...we are ambassadors.” [II Cor. 5:20] “Though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh”(II Cor. 10:3). “To the weak I became weak that I might gain the weak” (I Cor. 9:22). He must, therefore, consider the country he is going to evangelize as a second fatherland and love it with due charity. Furthermore, let him not seek any earthly advantage for his own country or religious institute, but rather what may help towards the salvation of souls. Certainly, he should dearly love his fatherland and his Order, but the Church should be loved with a still more ardent devotion. And let him remember that nothing will be to the advantage of his own Order that is detrimental to the good of the Church.

Moreover, it is necessary that those who are called to this kind of apostolate should not only get the spiritual and intellectual training that befits ecclesiastical students before going out on the mission field, but should learn in addition those subjects which will be most useful to them when they come to preach the Gospel in foreign lands. Hence they should be given a sound knowledge of languages, especially of those which they will require at some future date. Besides, they should be sufficiently instructed in the sciences of medicine, agriculture, ethnography, history, geography, etc.

We are profoundly grieved as We behold these conditions which Our immediate predecessor described with almost prophetic vision verified in many parts of the Far East. There what were most flourishing missions ripe for the harvest, are now, alas, reduced to the direst straits. Would that it were permitted Us to hope that the peoples of Korea and China, who are naturally cultured and honorable and have been renowned from early times for their high standard of civilization, may as soon as possible be freed not only from turbulent factions and wars, but from the inimical doctrine which seeks only the things of earth and scorns the things of Heaven; and, moreover that they may appraise rightly the Christian charity and virtue of foreign missionaries and native priests who strive only to promote the genuine good of the people by their labors and if necessary, by the sacrifice of their lives.

We desire to address and exhort in this Encyclical Letter not only missionary priests but also those laymen who “with a great heart and a willing mind” (II Mach. 1:3) collaborate with the missionaries in the ranks of Catholic Action.

It can certainly be claimed that the lay cooperation which we today call Catholic action, has existed since the foundation of the Church. Indeed the Apostles and other preachers of the Gospel received no little help from it and the Christian religion thereby made great advances. In this respect Apollo, Lydia, Aquila, Priscilla and Philemon are mentioned by the Apostle of the Gentiles. We have also these words of his to the Philippians: “Yes, and I ask thee, who sharest the yoke so loyally, to take part with them; they have worked for the Gospel at my side, as much as Clement and those other fellow laborers of mine, whose names are recorded in the book of life” (Phil. 4:3).

The same conditions which prevailed in the early days of the Church are still to be found in many areas which have been evangelized by missionaries; or at least their peoples suffer disadvantages which had to be left to a future generation to face and remedy. For that reason, it is imperative that the laity should in great numbers enter the serried ranks of Catholic action, and thus cooperate generously, earnestly and diligently with the hierarchy in promoting the apostolate. The work of catechists is assuredly necessary and we wish to give them due praise; yet no less necessary is the industry and skill of those who out of pure charity are ready to help gratuitously the ministers of God in the performance of their duties.

Another end remains to be achieved; and We desire that all should fully understand it. The Church from the beginning down to our own time has always followed this wise practice: let not the Gospel on being introduced into any new land destroy or extinguish whatever its people possess that is naturally good, just or beautiful. For the Church, when she calls people to a higher culture and a better way of life, under the inspiration of the Christian religion, does not act like one who recklessly cuts down and uproots a thriving forest. No, she grafts a good scion upon the wild stock that it may bear a crop of more delicious fruit.

Although owing to Adam’s fall, human nature is tainted with original sin, yet it has in itself something that is naturally Christian; and this, if illumined by divine delight and nourished by God’s grace, can eventually be changed into true and supernatural virtue.

This is the reason why the Catholic Church has neither scorned nor rejected the pagan philosophies. Instead, after freeing them from error and all contamination, she has perfected and completed them by Christian revelation. So likewise the Church has graciously made her own the native art and culture which in some countries is so highly developed. She has carefully encouraged them and has brought them to a point of aesthetic perfection that of themselves they probably would never have attained. By no means has she repressed native customs and traditions but has given them a certain religious significance; she has even transformed their feast days and made them serve to commemorate the martyrs and to celebrate mysteries of the Faith...

And in the discourse which We gave in 1944 to the directors of the Pontifical Missionary Society, We said: “The herald of the Gospel and messenger of Christ is an apostle. His office does not demand that he transplant European civilization and culture, and no other, to foreign soil, there to take root and propagate itself. His task in dealing with these peoples, who sometimes boast of a very old and highly developed culture of their own, is to teach and form them so that they are ready to accept willingly and in a practical manner the principles of Christian life and morality; principles, I might add, that fit into any culture, provided it be good and sound, and which give that culture greater force in safeguarding human dignity and in gaining human happiness. Catholic inhabitants of missionary countries, although they are first of all citizens of the Kingdom of God and members of His great family, do not for all that cease to be citizens of their earthly fatherland.”

We should not like to conclude this Encyclical Letter without addressing Ourselves earnestly to the clergy and all the faithful to express to them particularly Our warm gratitude. We understand that this year also there is a great increase in the generous help and support given by Our children to the missions. Your charity can certainly be employed in no better cause since it is thus destined to propagate the Kingdom of Christ and to bring salvation to so many still outside the Fold. It is the Lord Himself Who “gave...to everyone of them commandment concerning his neighbor”(Ecclus. 17:12).

In this connection the warning which We gave in Our Letter to Our beloved son Peter Cardinal Fumasoni Biondi, Prefect of the S. Congregation of Propaganda Fide, on August 9, 1950, We should like to inculcate once again in view of the new danger that now threatens: “Let all the faithful...continue in their determination to support the missions, multiplying their activities on their behalf, ceaselessly praying fervently to God for them, aiding missionaries and providing for their needs as far as they can. The Church is the mystical Body of Christ, in which ‘if one part is suffering, all the rest suffer with it’ (I Cor. 12:26). Hence, since many of these members today are being tortured and maltreated, it is the sacred duty of the faithful to be united with them in a sincere and deep sympathy. In some parts of the missions, the scourge of war has mercilessly razed to the ground churches and mission stations, schools and hospitals. To restore these losses and to reconstruct so many buildings, the whole Catholic world, which has proved its special care for and love of the missions, will generously furnish the necessary help.”

Venerable Brethren, you are well aware that almost the whole human race is today allowing itself to be driven into two opposing camps, for Christ or against Christ. The human race is involved today in a supreme crisis, which will issue in its salvation by Christ, or in its dire destruction. The preachers of the Gospel are using their talents and energy to extend the Kingdom of Christ; but there are other preachers who, since they profess materialism and reject all hope of eternal happiness, are trying to drag men down to an abject condition.

With all the more reason, then, does the Catholic Church, most loving mother of all men, call on all her children to be zealous in helping these intrepid missionaries by their offerings, by prayer and by fostering missionary vocations. In motherly fashion she compels them to wear the livery of tender compassion, and to take part, if not in the actual apostolate, at least by zealous cooperation, and not allow the wish of the most loving Heart of Jesus to remain unrealized, who “came to seek and to save what was lost” (Lk. 19:10). If they help in any way to bring the light and consolations of the Faith to one hearth, let them understand that a Divine force has been thus released, which will keep on growing in momentum throughout the ages. If they help even one candidate for the priesthood, they will fully share in all the future Masses and in all the fruits of sanctity and apostolic works that will be his. Indeed, all the faithful make up one and the same immense family who, as members of the Church militant, suffering and triumphant, share their benefits with one another. There seems to be nothing more apt than the dogma of the “Communion of Saints” for bringing home to the people the utility and importance of the missions.