History of the Church: Later Modern Times - Notre Dame

The Propagation of the Faith

[Illustration] from Church - Later Modern Times by Notre Dame

Standing on the threshold of the twentieth century, the Church beheld vast fields white for the harvest, where already labourers not a few toiled in the noonday heat. Never before had there been such an extension of missionary work, never so efficient an organization of the forces at command, never so glad a response on the part of those outside the fold.

The establishment of Propaganda early in the seventeenth century had been followed by the foundation of congregations and societies devoted to the preaching of the Gospel in heathen lands. A new feature was the participation of religious women in the evangelization of their own sex, a work hitherto left almost untouched, owing to the difficulties encountered by the missionaries in dealing with it.

It was, again, a woman, Pauline Marie Jaricot, who in 1822 initiated at Lyons the now world-wide Society for the Propagation of the Faith, by which missionaries in heathen countries are aided financially and in other ways in the prosecution of their labours. In an encyclical, dated 1904, Pope Pius X. commended this society in the following terms: "If the messengers of Catholic doctrine are able to reach out to the most distant lands and the most barbarous peoples, it is to the Society for the Propagation of the Faith that the credit must be given."

The facilities afforded to travellers by the steamship and the locomotive made an immense difference both in the time taken to reach distant countries and in the risk attendant upon slow journeys. Each new invention is pressed into the service of the apostolate, not excepting the motor-car and the aeroplane; whilst photography, by its accurate representations of heathen lands and their inhabitants, demonstrates to Christians at home the necessity for their collaboration.

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the missionary and religious bodies, in spite of persecution in Europe, had quietly prepared the way for this great expansion. To the already existing orders, such as Benedictines, Franciscans, Dominicans, Augustinians, and Jesuits, new congregations of men and women were added, many of them founded for the express purpose of carrying the Gospel to the untold millions of souls still lying in darkness and in the shadow of death. Among them were the Fathers of the Holy Ghost, founded in the eighteenth century; the Society of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, or the Picpus Fathers (1805), one of whose most distinguished sons was Father Damien, the apostle of the lepers; the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (1816); the Marist Fathers (1816); the Lazarist Fathers (1824); the Salesians, founded by Don Bosco, 1855; St. Joseph's Society of Mill Hill, founded in 1866 by Cardinal Vaughan; the White Fathers (1868); and many others.

"We are now so familiar," says a missionary writer, "with the great amount of good done by Sisters in the foreign missions that we are apt to forget the recent origin of this part of the work. A few nuns were working in India at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The first Sisters of Charity went to Australia in 1840 and to China in 1844. It is since that time that religious congregations of women have spread all over the foreign missions. To-day they are a most important factor in the conversion of natives, and there are over eighteen thousand Sisters on the foreign missions. We are witnessing only the beginnings of this new development, and we may expect even greater things for the future."

Missionary countries are under the jurisdiction either of the Congregation of Propaganda or of the Congregation of Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs. By a decree of Pope Pius X. in 1908 it was ordained that such jurisdiction should in future extend only to countries where there is no established hierarchy. One of the immediate results of this decree was, therefore, that Great Britain, Holland, Luxemburg, Canada, and the United States became independent of Propaganda. The first three of these are but recovering from their former defection; the last two are young and vigorous, having sprung, within the memory of man, into their present proud position in the Church.

Taking the continents in the same order as in the chapter on the rise of foreign missions, we find that the preaching of the Gospel met with peculiar difficulties in Africa. These difficulties were greatly increased by the persecution of the religious orders in Portugal and by the suppression of the Society of Jesus. Christianity languished until the middle of the nineteenth century, when new apostles, taking advantage of the embers of faith still smouldering in the districts once evangelized by the Spaniards and Portuguese, resumed the interrupted work.

Religious of many orders, both men and women, soon obtained a firm hold on the Dark Continent, which, by the end of the nineteenth century, was mapped out into fields giving already a steady harvest to the Church. The Vicariate Apostolic of the Upper Nile, with Uganda; the Prefecture Apostolic of the Zambesi Mission; the numerous Catholic missions in the Congo territory, contain thousands of native converts and catechumens. In no part of the world is the assistance given by the Society for the Propagation of the Faith of greater value or more fruitful in results than among these African races.

Asia still presents the spectacle of hundreds of millions of unhappy souls sunk in the depths of infidelity. In spite of the zealous labours of missionaries, their numbers are too small to make a perceptible impression on the vast masses given over to Buddhism, Mohammedanism, and all the forms of Polytheism.

Persecution has teased in both China and Japan, but it has been succeeded by an indifference and a scepticism perhaps more fatal to the progress of the faith. This state of things is the result of the adoption of Western ideas of civilization, and it is impossible to say whether, from the struggle between old and new customs, the cause of God will emerge victorious.

A similar religious situation may be met with among the native inhabitants of India, though here, of course, the Catholic faith has far deeper roots. Centuries of European rule have made Christianity familiar; and the missionaries, working unceasingly, have covered the vast peninsula with a network of Catholic influence, powerful indeed, but hampered by lack of funds and still more of hands. The European missionaries belong naturally to the religious orders, but they are ably seconded by a native secular clergy.

Australia, though known to exist, found no place in the pages of Church history until the nineteenth century. The first British settlement there was made in the year 1788, and its purpose was the punishment of criminals by transportation. Among the convicts in this and succeeding arrivals were many Catholics, especially political prisoners from Ireland. The story of how they kept the faith alive until such time as, freed from their bonds, they were enabled to set up a church and maintain a clergy of their own, is of thrilling interest.

The discovery of gold in 1881 brought a new element into the population, and the subsequent disuse of transportation removed the slur of the convict system. Since that time Catholicism has been on the increase, and Australia, though still subject to the Roman Congregation of Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs, is one of the most flourishing portions of the Catholic Church. The third Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal Moran, distinguished as a prelate, a statesman, and a writer, was a powerful agent in the advance made by Australia from his appointment in 1884 to his death in 1911.

South and Central America, sometimes called "Latin America," because peopled by descendants of Spaniards and Portuguese, have gone through many vicissitudes, but have never wavered in their faith. The suppression of the Jesuits in 1773 was a terrible blow to the Church in these countries. It was followed by the utter destruction of the magnificent Reductions of Paraguay, among other calamities which extended throughout the latter eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Only now are these evils beginning to be repaired in Peru, Chile, Brazil, the Argentine Republic, and other states, in which Catholics may hope to see a great renovation.

Canada somewhat resembles the Catholic countries of South America in the fact that its original French population, reinforced by large numbers of Irish settlers, possessed the faith from the beginning and kept it through all changes of government. The native Indian tribes have never lacked devoted missionaries to follow in the footsteps of the pioneers who gave their lives to bring the good tidings of Christianity among them. There are at present some fifty thousand Catholic Canadian Indians, but this forms only one-half of the native population, so that much missionary work remains yet to be done.

Until the year 1783 the British Colonies in North America were under the jurisdiction of the Vicar Apostolic of the London district. By the political severance of the federated states from Great Britain the religious connection was broken. It was therefore necessary to make arrangements with Rome for supplying the spiritual needs of the Catholics in the newly constituted republic. In reply to a petition addressed to Pope Pius VI. by the clergy of Maryland, the Church in the United States was organized in 1784 by a degree of Propaganda placing the missions under a "Superior." This proving insufficient, another petition, in 1788, obtained the establishment of the See of Baltimore, under the illustrious Bishop Carroll, who in 1808 became its first Archbishop, with four suffragans.

Free from the yoke of the iniquitous English penal laws, and rejoicing in newly found liberty, Catholicism spread in an ever-advancing tide over the United States, proving itself indisputably the only stable religion. When, in 1912, Pope Pius X. raised the number of American Cardinals to three, the Catholic population had attained, at the lowest estimate, the number of fourteen millions.

Missions are flourishing, not only, as in Canada, among the native Indians, but also among non-Catholics of all denominations. Not the least important factor in the spread of religion is the modern conception of the travelling "mission-car," by which the most abandoned spots are brought into touch with the blessings of Mass and the Sacraments, When we consider this wonderful expansion of the Church in the United States it may well seem to us incredible that only a hundred years ago the tiny seed from which this great tree has grown counted for so little in the history of the universal Church.

"The Propagation of the Faith" is but the modern title of a work which has gone on since our Lord said to His Apostles: "Go ye, therefore, teach all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." Multitudes of non-Catholic Christians, and countless millions of those still plunged in "the old superstition of the Gentiles," cry out from their darkness for the light which our holy mother, the Church, alone can give them. Every Catholic is therefore called to be an apostle, at least by example and by prayer, for to each our Divine Lord has said: "Let your light so shine before men that, seeing your good works, they may glorify your Father who is in heaven."

But from a chosen few Christ expects greater things—no less than the entire sacrifice of themselves and all that is dear to them—that they may be the better able to devote themselves to the salvation of souls. Of these He was thinking when He said: "Pray ye, therefore, the Lord of the harvest that He send labourers into His harvest." Happy are the Catholic youths and maidens to whom this vocation comes, and who, leaving all things, follow Him.

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