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Catholic Missions

Short general survey of the missionary activity of the Catholic Church at the present day

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Missions , CATHOLIC.—The history of Catholic missions would necessarily begin with the missionary labors of Christ, and would cover a very considerable portion of the history of the Catholic Church. The principal chapters of this history will be found elsewhere in THE CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA, in the articles devoted to the various countries, provinces, dioceses, vicariates, religious orders, and congregations, notable missionaries, etc. The present article will be confined to a short general survey of the missionary activity of the Catholic Church at the present day. The subject, as thus limited, may conveniently be considered under the following heads: I. Organization of Catholic Missions; II. Receipts and Expenditure; III. Utility and Object of Mission Statistics; IV. Statistics.

I. ORGANIZATION.—The main direction of the Catholic missions is vested in the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda under the supreme jurisdiction of which stand most of the missions of the Catholic world (see Sacred Congregation of Propaganda). This congregation determines the ecclesiastical rank of each mission (prefecture, vicariate, diocese), assigning to it a superior according to this rank, and undertakes the duty of supplying missionaries wherever their services are necessary. For the training of Catholic missionaries numerous secular seminaries have been instituted; the most important are: the Urban (so called after its founder, Urban VIII), English, Irish, Scotch, American, and Canadian Colleges at Rome; Pontifical Seminary of Kandy; Leonine Seminary of Athens; the seminaries at Milan, Lyons, and Paris (this last is the headquarters of the famous Society of Foreign Missions); Josephinum College, Columbus, Ohio, U.S.A.; American College, Louvain; English Colleges at Valladolid and Lisbon; Scotch College at Valladolid; Irish College, Paris; All Hallows, Dublin; St. Joseph‘s Seminary, Mill Hill, London; St. Joseph‘s, Rozendaal, Holland; St. Joseph‘s, Brixin, Tyrol; General College of Pulo Pinang. The religious orders—Benedictines, Dominicans, Franciscans, Jesuits, Augustinians, etc.—which continue with unabated zeal to labor for the propagation of the Gospel, are assisted by a series of new orders and congregations. It will be sufficient to cite here the names of the societies most widely engaged in foreign missions, and to refer the reader to the special articles for particulars: Congregation of the Holy Ghost and the Immaculate Heart of Mary; Congregation of the Mission (Lazarists); Oblates of Mary Immaculate; Society of Mary; Oratorians and Oblates of St. Francis de Sales; Redemptorists; Paulists; Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary; Priests of the Foreign Missions (Missions Etrangeres). For a fuller list see “Missiones Catholicae”, 853-8.

Among the colleges of the regular orders specially devoted to the training of missionaries may be mentioned: the College of St. Fidelis (Capuchin), College of St. Anthony (Franciscan), College of St. Isidore (Irish Franciscan), and the College of the Irish Augustinians, at Rome; Seminary of Scheut, near Brussels (Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary); the colleges of the Society of African Missionaries (White Fathers); the Veronese Institute and the colleges of the Society of the Divine Word.

II. RECEIPTS AND EXPENDITURE—Of late years the support formerly lent by various European states to missionary enterprises has been considerably diminished, and the missions are today largely dependent for their support on the voluntary contributions of the faithful. For the collection of these offerings missionary societies have been founded in the different Catholic countries. The most important of these societies are: the Society of Foreign Missions (Missions Etrangeres), founded at Paris, 1820; Society for the Propagation of the Faith, founded at Lyons, 1822; Leopoldinische Stiftung, founded at Vienna, 1829; Bavarian Ludwig-Missionsverein (1839); Society of the Holy Childhood (Paris, 1843); Society of the Holy Land (1895). To arrive at even an approximate estimate of the total sum contributed by Catholics towards their foreign missions is impossible. To regard the sums collected by a few of the leading missionary societies as the total Catholic contribution towards the missions, and to take such total as indicative of Catholic interest in the propagation of the Gospel (as is too commonly done today by some controversialists), is manifestly indefensible. Not only are no statistics of receipts available for many of the missionary societies, but no estimate can be made of the great sums expended by all the religious orders and congregations (which are in turn practically dependent on voluntary contributions) on the preparation of their members for missionary labors and on the missions themselves.

Again, the numberless contributions made directly to the missions, offerings given to non-missionary orders or secular priests to be forwarded to the heads of certain missions, legacies and similar gifts, never appear in the statistics of receipts furnished by the collecting societies. So important a portion of the total amount do these contributions form that Baumgarten (“Die kathol. Kirche u. ihre Diener in Wort u. Bild”, III, Munich, 1903, p. 399) declares that we must multiply the sum collected by the missionary societies by four or five to arrive approximately at the sum contributed towards Catholic missions. Those who contrast the apparent totals of the sums contributed by Catholics and Protestants towards their respective missions thus fail to take into account all the data for the comparison. Krose (op. cit. in bibliography, p. 38) quotes the case of two similarly situated states of about the same size, Catholic Belgium and Protestant Holland, whose respective contributions towards foreign missions were 1,019,474 (only the sum collected by a few of the leading missionary societies) and 701,000 francs. The same writer points out (loc. cit.) that, even accepting the known Catholic contributions as the total, and accepting the Protestant total at the figure given by their own statisticians, the German Catholics contributed 15 pfennig per capita towards their missions, and the German Protestants 12 pfennig, although the latter are, as a class, the wealthier. This last circumstance, indeed, merits special attention, if we would not accept a single large donation of a millionaire as indicative of more widespread missionary zeal than a thousand humble subscriptions of the poor. The astonishing success of the Catholic missions during the nineteenth century, although most of the property of the missionary orders was confiscated or secularized, was entirely due to the extraordinary zeal and self-sacrifice of the Catholic missionaries in the face of innumerable difficulties. Regular contributions to the missionary societies and the centralization of the missions fund are highly desirable: men are, as a rule, ready to subscribe freely to conspicuously successful missions, while the less prosperous, in which the missionaries have to face perhaps greater obstacles and disappointments, receive but faint support.

III. UTILITY AND OBJECT OF MISSION STATISTICS.—Scientifically compiled statistics render self-deception impossible, preventing us from being unduly elated or disheartened by isolated successes or reverses. They tend, also, to lessen the heated controversies which, unfortunately, too frequently center around the Christian missions. The duty of supplying the public with accurate and complete statistics rests with the missionaries themselves. A report of comparative failure does not prejudice their cause: the more numerous the difficulties with which they have to contend, the more conspicuous is their self-sacrifice. As, however, statistics now receive the attention of all denominations, words of explanation should be added concerning local difficulties, and in cases where a non-Catholic might be misled. Thus, e.g., a non-Catholic might not know that a Catholic priest may not, in general, baptize a pagan child without its parents’ consent, nor an adult without proper instruction.

The object of mission statistics is to supply the reader with such information as will enable him to judge how far the work of the mission has been successful. The special points on which exact information is most desirable may be grouped under four heads: (I) Number of Christians; (2) Personnel of the Mission; (3) Mission Establishments; (4) Administrative Statistics.

(I) Number of Christians.—In recording the number of Christians, a distinction should always be drawn between converted heathens and Christian settlers. While, in most missionary countries, the latter class may constitute so small a proportion of the totals as to be negligible, there are many countries in which the number is sufficiently large to create a false idea of the progress of the mission, if this distinction be not observed in the statistics. A distinction between Christians and catechumens is equally necessary, and under the former head none but the baptized should ever be included. By catechumens are to be understood only such heathens as are actually being instructed for baptism: as they constitute the harvest of the mission, they should never be excluded (as is now too often the case) from the statistics.

(2) Personnel of the Mission.—The statistics concerning the personnel of the mission should state how many are priests, the term missionary being used exclusively of such. How many of the missionaries are natives should also be indicated, since this information reveals the progress made towards the ideal of all missionary work, the establishment of a native priesthood. Besides the number of missionaries, exact information should be given concerning the male and female auxiliaries, who are engaged as catechists, as teachers, or to care for the sick; likewise concerning all the lay brothers and sisters (not, however, mere servants) who are employed directly or indirectly in the work of evangelization.

(3) Mission Establishments.—In this category may be classed the mission-stations, churches, chapels, schools of every kind, hospitals, and charitable establishments. Chief stations are most simply distinguished from substations by confining the former term to stations which have at least one resident missionary, and the latter to stations where Divine service is periodically or constantly held by a non-resident missionary. To attempt to restrict the term chief station to centers of unusual missionary activity must lead to great uncertainty, as it would be hope-less to expect that any uniform dividing-line could be universally observed. Again, the name substation should never be applied to places where instruction alone is given: the number of such might easily assume proportions which would almost necessarily lead to misapprehension of the exact position of Christianity in the country. Outposts, such as those here indicated, should (if given) be kept separate from the stations. The schools and educational establishments possess a peculiar interest, since in many lands the task of reclaiming adults of a low cultural level, whose minds are obsessed with superstitions and brutalized by crime, is a well-nigh impossible one. The statistics should always distinguish between male and female, elementary and secondary, Catholic and non-Catholic pupils, and also between ordinary pupils and orphans. It is also advisable to specify the teaching staff (European and native) and the number of pupils receiving instruction in handicrafts and agriculture. A seminary, if such exists, should receive special mention, since it has an important bearing on the formation of a native priesthood. Other institutions may be given under one head, as in many cases one building serves for various purposes.

(4) Administrative Statistics.—The figures dealing with the actual ministry of the missionaries are of course the surest indication of the progress of Christianity. In giving the number of baptisms, adults should always be distinguished from children, the number baptized in articulo mortis being given in both cases. The number of Easter and of devotional communions (given separately) are of special importance as indicating approximately the number of Christians who have reached the use of reason and the fervor of religious life. Such concrete figures give a better idea of the spirituality of the newly-converted than long dissertations on their zeal. Naturally, explanations of local conditions must accompany the figures, which might otherwise lead to misconception.

ever, the word mission is confined to the work of bringing pagans into the Church. In view of this difference in the use of the term mission, our statistics will contain a statement of the present condition of (I) the Catholic missions in lands prevailingly or exclusively pagan, and (2) the Catholic missions in lands which have been won to Christianity since the Reformation. As the negroes of the United States are admitted into the statistics of Protestant missions, the inclusion of this second class is necessary to supply a uniform basis of comparison between Catholic and non-Catholic missionary activity.

IV. STATISTICS OF THE CATHOLIC MISSIONS.—In dealing with mission statistics, it is a matter of the utmost importance to make clear from the first in what precise sense the word mission is to be understood. In canon law the term signifies all districts which are subject to the Congregation of Propaganda, and it might thus include territories (e.g., until November, 1908, England and the United States) with which the idea of mission is never associated in ordinary speech. We also find two clearly defined meanings commonly assigned to the word by popular usage. By missionary activity is often understood all efforts directed towards the propagation of the Faith, whether among heathens or among non-Catholics; more usually, however, the word mission is confined to the work of bringing pagans into the Church. In view of this difference in the use of the term mission, our statistics will contain a statement of the present condition of (I) the Catholic missions in lands prevailingly or exclusively pagan, and (2) the Catholic missions in lands which have been won to Christianity since the Reformation. As the negroes of the United States are admitted into the statistics of Protestant missions, the inclusion of this second class is necessary to supply a uniform basis of comparison between Catholic and non-Catholic missionary activity.

With reference to the accompanying table it may be stated that the imperfect state of the figures available and considerations of space render it impossible to include all the particulars above advocated. An asterisk denotes that the returns are incomplete. No figures have been given where returns for a very small percentage of the missions are available. For fuller information the reader is referred to the works cited in the bibliography and to the articles on the various countries in THE CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA.


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