The Vatican

Propaganda Fide turns 400 years old and takes the name of Dicastery for Evangelization

The Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples has been transformed into the Dicastery for Evangelization. This is what Pope Francis has wanted in the reform of the Roman Curia contained in his Apostolic Constitution Praedicate Evangelium enacted on March 19, 2006, which came into force on the Solemnity of Pentecost.

Stefano Grossi Gondi-June 25, 2022-Reading time: 4 minutes

The headquarters of the Dicastery for Evangelization, designed by Borromini, is located in the Spanish Steps in Rome.

The new Dicastery merges the former Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization. It is a new evolution, following the reform carried out by Paul VI and the intervention of John Paul II. The famous institution known as Propaganda Fide has played an important role in the history of the Church throughout the centuries.

A bit of history

It was on January 6, 1622 when Pope Gregory XV founded this Congregation as the coordinating body of the Holy See for all the initiatives that were being carried out in the different continents to proclaim the Gospel and structure the presence of the Church through new missions and dioceses, which then took the form of prefectures and apostolic vicariates. The Pope assigned him a twofold purpose. On the one hand, to promote the reunification of Christians and, on the other, to spread the faith among non-Christians. Especially in those countries and continents that, through explorations and discoveries, had come into contact with Europe and the Catholic Church.

Propaganda Fide since its beginnings, has carried out the task of supporting missionary activity throughout the world. Its foundation constituted an important moment for the Church, which came to deepen its awareness of its inalienable vocation to proclaim Christ, the Savior of the world. It therefore had to direct, stimulate and organize all the forces at its disposal so that this saving proclamation might reach all peoples.

From then until today, from a beautiful palace in the Spanish Steps, designed by Borromini, the activities of the missionaries are coordinated. A formidable network, active in every corner of the planet, provides a continuous flow of information to the Vatican.

An open door to the world

In 1627, Pope Urban VIII founded the Collegio Urbano de Propaganda Fide. The objective was to train the secular clergy for the missions. It also had the Polyglot Printing Press, to print documents and texts in the different languages of the people.

Propaganda Fide has canonical jurisdiction over all territories in which the ecclesiastical structures are still at a level that does not permit the creation of a diocese. Or when a territory is divided into apostolic vicariates, apostolic prefectures or missions sui iuris. In addition, there are also countries where the Christian presence is more recent and less deeply rooted. For example, practically all of Asia, with the exception of the Philippines; Africa, with the exception of Egypt and Tunisia; and Oceania, with the exception of Australia. Alaska, the West Indies and even parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Albania are also dependent on the Christian faith. Propaganda Fide.

Propaganda Fide in detail

According to the most recent statistics, there are 1,117 ecclesiastical circumscriptions that continue to depend on the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. The majority of these are in Africa (517) and Asia (483), followed by America (71) and Oceania (46). By ecclesiastical circumscriptions are understood archdioceses, dioceses, apostolic vicariates, apostolic prefectures and missions in the jurisdictional area.

From the Headquarters of Propaganda Fide It is responsible for the practices for the appointment of bishops and more than sixty Episcopal Conferences. It is endowed with its own budget, has a very important real estate patrimony that allows it to maintain universities, humanitarian activities and health facilities in different parts of the world. The cardinal who presides over it has always been called the Red Potato.

The present of Propaganda Fide

At the present time, the Apostolic Constitution of the Apostolic Constitution Praedicate Evangelium marks an important milestone in the pontificate of Pope Francis. It is the concretization of a process of reform, intended to affirm that the most important task of the Church is evangelization. The missionary dimension becomes an important part of the service structures of the Roman Curia. Structures that, even if they change their name, their partially operative profile and residual competencies, must necessarily be more missionary.

Of all the Congregations, which have now become Dicasteries or even Curial Institutions, it is not by chance that the Dicastery for Evangelization occupies the first place. It precisely marks the perspective with which this reform is being carried out.

The evangelizing mission of the Church in recent centuries is inextricably linked to the action of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith; 400 years after its foundation, it remains the point of reference for the entire pontifical missionary system.

Pontifical Mission Societies

The scope of action of the Pontifical Mission Societies, even though they have arisen in different nations in different historical and geographical contexts, has the purpose of sustaining the missionary responsibility together with the charitable dimension, in order to extend the sense of mission to the whole Church.

The Second Vatican Council taught that the principal initiatives by which the spreaders of the Gospel, going throughout the world, carry out the task of preaching the Gospel and establishing the Church in the midst of unevangelized peoples, are called missions.

In the new Constitution, the Section for First Evangelization and New Particular Churches responds to this by adding the need to promote cooperation and the exchange of experiences among the new Particular Churches and to awaken missionary vocations.

The Pope's presidency

Another fundamental aspect of the new Constitution is that the Dicastery for Evangelization is the only one presided over directly by the Roman Pontiff.

The historical titles attributed to the Pope are: Vicar of Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Metropolitan Archbishop of the Roman Province, Sovereign of the Vatican City State, Servant of the Servants of God. It is not expressly stated in the Constitution that the Pope also assumes the title of prefect, but it can be inferred in relation to the other Dicasteries. The fact of being at the head of them underlines the centrality of the Dicastery for Evangelization. And at the same time it gives the Pope a task that until now has never been the competence of a pontiff.

The Dicastery for Evangelization, it can be read in numbers 53 and 54 of the Praedicate Evangeliumis at the service of the work of evangelization so that Christ, the light of the Gentiles, may be known and witnessed to in word and deed and that his Mystical Body, which is the Church, may be built up". The Dicastery is competent for "the fundamental questions of evangelization in the world and for the establishment, accompaniment and support of the new particular Churches, without prejudice to the competence of the Dicastery for the Oriental Churches".

The Congregation erects and divides missionary circumscriptions in its territories according to need; presides over the government of the missions; examines questions and reports sent by Ordinaries, Nuncios and Episcopal Conferences; supervises the Christian life of the faithful, the discipline of the clergy, charitable associations and Catholic Action; oversees the direction of Catholic schools and seminaries. 

The current Prefect of the Congregation, appointed on December 8, 2019 by Pope Francis, is Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, a Filipino national.

The authorStefano Grossi Gondi

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