ENCYCLICAL OF POPE JOHN XXIII On November 28, 1959
9. This exhortation of Benedict XV, which was repeated by Our predecessors Pius XI and Pius XII, with the help of God’s divine Providence has had visible and copious results. We want you to join Us in rendering thanks to God for the fact that a numerous and elect legion of bishops and priests has arisen in the Mission territories, Our brethren and beloved sons, who fill Our heart with great expectations. If We cast even a cursory glance on the ecclesiastical situation in the areas which are entrusted to the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, with the exception of those at present under persecution, We note that the first bishop of east Asian origins was consecrated in 1923, and the first vicars apostolic of African negro descent were named in 1939. By 1959, We count 68 Asian and 25 African bishops. The remaining native clergy grew in number from 919 in 1918 to 5553 in 1957 in Asia, and during the same period in Africa from 90 in 1918 to 1811 in 1957. With such an admirable increase in the numbers of the clergy did the Lord of the harvest desire to reward adequately the labors and merits of those who zealously did mission work, either individually or in cooperation with many others, responding with a generous heart to the repeated exhortations of this Apostolic See.
10. It was, therefore, with good reason that Our predecessor Pius XII was able to affirm with satisfaction: “Once upon a time it seemed as though the life of the Church used to prosper and blossom chiefly in the regions of ancient Europe, whence it would flow, like a majestic river, through the remaining areas which, to use the Greek term, were considered almost the periphery of the world; today, however, the life of the Church is shared, as though by a mutual irradiation of energies, among all individual members of the Mystical Body of Christ. Not a few countries on other continents have long since outgrown the missionary stage, and are now governed by an ecclesiastical hierarchy of their own, have their own ecclesiastical organization, and are liberally offering to other Church communities those very gifts, spiritual and material, which they formerly used to receive.”
11. We wish especially to exhort the bishops and clergy of the new Christian communities to pray to God, and to conduct themselves in such a way that the priestly gift they are enjoying may grow in spiritual fruitfulness; in their talks with the people, as often as feasible they should praise the dignity, the beauty, and the merits of the priesthood, and, by so doing, they will induce all those whom God has chosen for this exalted honor to respond to the call with an open and generous heart. They should also cause the faithful entrusted to their care to pray to God for this cause, in unity of spirit with the whole Church, which, in response to the Divine Redeemer’s exhortations, prays “the Lord of the Harvest to send forth laborers into his harvest,” especially at the present time, when “the harvest indeed is great, but the laborers are few.”
12. However, Christian communities to which missionaries still devote their zeal, although already governed by their own hierarchy, are still in need of the work of missionaries from other countries, either because of the vastness of the territory, or the increasing number of converts, or the multitude of those who have not yet benefited from the doctrine of the Gospel. To such missionaries, no doubt, apply these words of Our immediate predecessor: “These cannot be considered foreigners, for all Catholic priests who truly answer their vocation feel themselves native sons wherever they work, in order that the Kingdom of God may flourish and develop.” Let them therefore work united by the bond of that loving, brotherly, and sincere charity which mirrors the love they must feel toward the Divine Redeemer and His Church; and, in prompt and filial obedience to their Bishops, whom “the Holy Spirit placed . . . to rule the Church of God,” they must be “of one heart and one soul,” grateful to each other for the mutual cooperation and help; indeed, if they act in this manner, it should be apparent to everyone’s eyes that they are the disciples of Him Who, in His own and most distinctive “new” commandments, exhorted all to a mutual and always increasing love.
13. Our predecessor Benedict XV, in his Apostolic Letter Maximum illud, especially exhorted Catholic mission authorities to mold and shape the minds and souls of the clergy selected from the local population, and to do so in such a way that their formation and education would turn out “perfect and complete in every respect.” “In fact,” he wrote, “a native priest, having a place of birth, character, mentality, and emotional make-up in common with his countrymen, is in a privileged position for sowing the seeds of the Faith in their hearts: indeed, he knows much better than a stranger the ways of persuasion with them.”
14. Regarding the requirements of a perfect priestly formation and education, it is necessary that seminarians be induced, tactfully but firmly, to espouse those virtues which are the prime qualification of the priestly calling, “that is, the duty to achieve personal sanctification.” The newly-ordained native clergy of those countries must enter into pious competition with the clergy of those old dioceses which have long been producing priests in their midst who were such mirrors of virtue that they are proposed as examples to the clergy of the whole Church. In fact, it is through sanctity that priests can and must be the light of the world and the salt of the earth. In other words, they can, especially by their sanctity, show their own countrymen and the whole world the beauty and the supernatural power of the Gospel; they can teach all men that a perfect Christian life is a goal toward which all of God’s children must strive, struggling and persevering with all their strength, regardless of their place of birth, their walk of life, or the degree of civilization they enjoy.
15. Furthermore, Our fatherly soul harbors the happy hope that everywhere the local clergy will be able to select from among its ranks just and holy men capable of governing, forming, and educating their own seminarians. That is the reason why We are already instructing the bishops and the mission authorities to choose without hesitation from among the local clergy those priests who, for their exceptional virtue and wise actions, qualify as teachers in the local seminaries and are able to lead their students to sanctity.
16. Furthermore, Venerable Brethren, as you well know, the Church has prescribed at all times that priests must prepare for their calling by means of a solid intellectual and spiritual education. Indeed, no one will doubt, especially in our time, that young people of all races and from all parts of the world are capable of absorbing such an education; this fact has already been clearly demonstrated. Without doubt, the formation to be given to this clergy must take into account the circumstances which obtain in different areas and nations. This extremely wise norm applies to all students for the priesthood; it is advisable that young seminarians never be “educated in places too far removed from human society,” because “once they step out into the world, they will have problems in dealing both with simple people and with intellectuals; this will often cause them to assume the wrong attitude toward the Christian population, or to regard the formation they received as a bad one.” Indeed, it is necessary that youths not only conform to the ideal of priestly spiritual perfection in everything, but also that they “gradually and prudently penetrate the mentality and feelings of the people” — of the people, We repeat, whom they must enlighten with the truth of the Gospel and lead to perfection of life, with the help of God’s grace. Therefore, it is necessary that seminary superiors conform to this plan of training and education while yet welcoming those material and technical facilities which the genius of mankind has made the patrimony, as it were, of every civilization in order to insure an easier and better life and to preserve the bodily health and safety of mankind.
17. The formation of the local clergy, as Our same predecessor, Benedict XV, wrote, must enable them in compliance with the first requirement of their divine calling, “to assume rightly the rule of their people” — to lead their people, by the influence of their teaching and their ministry, along the path to eternal salvation. To this end, We highly recommend that everyone, whether local or foreign, who contributes to the formation in question, do his conscientious best to develop in these students a sense of the importance and difficulty of their mission, and a capability for wisely and discreetly using the freedom allowed to them. This should be done so that they may be in a position to assume, quickly and progressively, all the functions, even the most important ones, pertaining to their calling, not only in harmonious cooperation with the foreign clergy, but also on an equal footing with them. Indeed, this is the touchstone of the effectiveness of their formation, and will be the best reward for the efforts of all those who contributed to it.
18. Indeed, in considering all the elements pertaining not only to the right intellectual and spiritual formation of the students for the priesthood but also the needs and to the special mentality and emotional make-up of their own people, this Apostolic See has always recommended, both to the foreign and to the local clergy, that they should study the discipline of missiology. Our predecessor Benedict XV established chairs of this discipline in the Pontifical Urban Athenaeum of the Propagation of the Faith; and Our immediate predecessor, Pius XII, remarked with satisfaction on the founding of the Institute of Missiology in the same university; “not a few faculties and chairs of missiology,” he said, “have been established in Rome and in other places.” Therefore, in the curricula of the seminaries of mission countries, there will be no lack of studies pertaining to the various missiological disciplines, nor of technical training in all the practical skills which are considered useful for the future work of the clergy in those countries. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that their training not only conform to the best ecclesiastical traditions of a solid and undiluted education, but also that it open up and sharpen the minds of the seminarians in such a way as to enable each individual to evaluate correctly his own and his country’s particular kind of culture, especially as it pertains to philosophical and theological teachings and their relation to the Christian religion.
19. “The Catholic Church,” stated Our same predecessor, “has never fostered an attitude of contempt or outright rejection of pagan teachings but, rather, has completed and perfected them with Christian doctrine, after purifying them from all dross of error. So, too, the Church, to a certain extent, consecrated native art and culture . . ., as well as the special customs and traditional institutions of the people . . .; she has even transformed their feast days, leaving unchanged their methods of computation and their form, but dedicating them to the memory of the martyrs and to the celebration of the sacred Mysteries.” We Ourselves have already expressed Our thoughts on this matter as follows: “Wherever artistic and philosophical values exist which are capable of enriching the culture of the human race, the Church fosters and supports these labors of the spirit. On the other hand, the Church, as you know, does not identified itself with any one culture, not even with European and Western civilization, although the history of the Church is closely intertwined with it; for the mission entrusted to the Church pertains chiefly to other matters, that is, to matters which are concerned with religion and the eternal salvation of men. The Church, however, which is so full of youthful vigor and is constantly renewed by the breath of the Holy Spirit, is willing, at all times, to recognize, welcome, and even assimilate anything that redounds to the honor of the human mind and heart, whether or not it originates in parts of the world washed by the Mediterranean Sea, which, from the beginning of time, had been destined by God’s Providence to be the cradle of the Church.”
20. If native priests are well instructed in these practical matters and serious disciplines, and if they overcome difficulties and are equipped to take the right course of action, they will be able, under guidance of their bishops, to make highly valuable contributions. In particular, they will find a more sympathetic audience among the educated citizens of their own countries and will be able to attract them to the Christian truth, in the manner of the famous missionary, Matthew Ricci. This will happen especially in those countries which possess an ancient and highly developed civilization of their own. Indeed, local priests are entrusted with the mission of “bringing every mind into captivity to the obedience of Christ,” as Paul, that incomparable missionary and apostle of the people, affirmed; thus, they will also be “held in great honor by the members of the intellectual elite of their country.”
21. Therefore, making use of their judgment and cooperation, bishops will take care to establish, at opportune moments, study centers to meet the needs of one or more regions in order to make basic doctrine known and understood. In these, both foreign and local priests can employ their learning and experience to benefit the particular countries in which they were born or in which they have chosen to spread the Christian truth. In this connection, We should also like to quote the teaching of Our immediate predecessor Pius XII, expressed in these words: there must be promoted “the publication and dissemination of Catholic books of every description”; and care must be taken to advance “the use of modem means of communication in spreading Christian doctrine. No one can ignore the importance of gaining the good will of native peoples and making them favorable to Catholicism.” Certainly, all methods cannot be employed in all places; all opportunities must be taken, however, to fulfill different needs, whenever they arise, even though, sometimes, “one sows, another reaps.”
22. To propagate the truth of Jesus Christ is the truest function of the Church. Indeed, “it is the solemn duty of the Church to impart to . . . peoples, so far as possible, the outstanding blessings of her life and her teaching, from which a new social order should be derived, based on Christian principles.” Therefore, in mission territories, the Church takes the most generous measures to encourage social welfare projects, to support welfare work for the poor, and to assist Christian communities and the peoples concerned. Care must be taken, however, not to clutter and obstruct the apostolic work of the missions with an excessive quantity of secular projects. Economic assistance must be limited to necessary undertakings which can be easily maintained and utilized, and to projects whose organization and administration can be easily transferred to the lay men and women of the particular nation, thus allowing the missionaries to devote themselves to their task of propagating the faith, and to other pursuits aimed directly at personal sanctification and eternal salvation.
23. If it is true, as We said, that in order for the apostolate to bear abundant fruits, the most important requirement the native priests must meet is that they should know, and carefully evaluate, everything connected with the institutions peculiar to their countries, what Our predecessor said of the whole world will remain even truer: “the prospects and plans of the Church, which embrace the whole world, will be the prospects and plans of their daily Christian lives.” To this end, the native clergy not only will be bound to know the affairs and developments of the universal Church, but must also be guided by, and filled with, that charity which embraces all the faithful. This is the reason why St.John Chrysostom said of Christian liturgical celebrations: “When we approach the altar, we pray, above all, for the whole universe and the common good” and St. Augustine uttered a beautiful sentence: “Extend your charity to the whole world, if you want to love Christ, because the members of Christ’s body cover the whole world.”
24. Indeed, it was in this spirit that Our predecessor Benedict XV, in order to preserve the integrity of the concept of Catholic unity, which must inspire all missionary work, sternly warned of a danger which he did not hesitate to define in these words, and which must be avoided by missionaries in their thoughts, lest it jeopardize the effectiveness of their actions: “It would be a sad thing if any missionary should appear to be so oblivious of his dignity as to think of his country on earth rather than of his fatherland in heaven, and be excessively concerned with increasing the power and the glory of his own nation above all other nations. Such conduct would greatly impair the cause of the apostolate, and would cut the sinews of charity in his heart, while lowering his prestige in the eyes of the public.”
25. This danger, in different ways and forms, could arise again in our time, especially since several countries already enlightened by the light of the Gospel have been aroused to seek freedom and self-government. The acquisition of political freedom can sometimes be accompanied by disorders and excesses which are detrimental to the common good and are the opposite of the spirit of Christian charity.
26. We feel perfectly confident, however, that the native clergy is animated by lofty purposes and sentiments which conform to the general principles of the Christian religion and entirely correspond with the teachings of the Catholic Church, which embraces all men with the same love; We are also certain that they contribute their share to the real interests of their own nations. In this connection, Our Predecessor very aptly uttered the following words of warning: “The Catholic Church is not a stranger among any people or nation.” No Christian community anywhere will ever achieve unity with the Universal Church, from which emanates the supernatural life of Jesus Christ, if the local clergy and population succumb’ to the influence of a particularist spirit, if they arouse enmity in other nations, and if they are misled and perturbed by an ultra-nationalism which can destroy the spirit of universal Charitythat charity upon which the Church of God is built and is called “Catholic.”
27. Our predecessor Benedict XV, as We mentioned above, stressed particularly the necessity of a scholarly, intensive, and adequate formation of the native clergy, which must be equal to current circumstances. Undoubtedly he was aware of another need, equally important: the need to educate and indoctrinate the laity of each nation in such a way that they will not only be worthy of their Christian calling in their private lives, but will also engage in active apostolic work. Our immediate predecessor Pius XII dealt with the subject well and significantly and recommended again and again that today this cause be attended to with great fervor and be carried out to the greatest degree and as soon as possible.