400 years of Propaganda Fide: a look back
By Joseph Tulloch
It is four hundred years since Pope Gregory XV founded the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, formerly known as the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, or simply the Propaganda Fide.
This was the office responsible for the Vatican’s missionary activity, and it remained in place until earlier this year when, as part of Pope Francis’ reform of the Roman Curia, it was subsumed into the new Dicastery for Evangelization.
To mark its 400-year anniversary, a three-day conference is being held in the Pontifical Urban University in Rome, starting on Wednesday, 16 November.
Msgr. Cammillus Johnpillai, Head of Office of the Dicastery for Evangelization, gave an overview of the history of the Congregation in an address to journalists at the Holy See Press Conference on Tuesday.
The Sri Lankan priest stressed above all the continuous development of the office over its 400-year history.
The Congregation was originally founded to bring the Church’s missionary activity under the direct control of the Pope, he said. Previously, this had been administered by the rulers of Spain and Portugal.
Since then, he stressed, it has undergone a huge variety of changes.
In particular, Msgr. Johnpillai stressed the development it underwent under Msgr. Francesco Ingoli, the first secretary of the Congregation, as well as the impact of the Second Vatican Council, whose teaching on the missionary nature of the Church was “among the most important contributions to the promotion of the Church's missionary activity.”
In 1967, the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith was renamed as the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.
In 2022, with the release of Pope Francis’ new constitution for the Roman Curia, Praedicate Evangelium, its activities were subsumed by the new Dicastery for Evangelization.
The conference in Rome will feature twenty-four speakers from nine countries and five continents.
Fr. Bernard Ardura, O. Praem, President of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Science, said that the presenters had been chosen to ensure both “chronological” and “geographical” diversity.
“Chronological” diversity, he said, meant choosing experts with varied enough expertise to cover all the periods of Propaganda Fide’s history, while “geographical” diversity was a question of selecting speakers from all parts of the world.
Some of these presenters will be scholars, Fr Ardura said, while others will be missionaries.
“When the documents are published,” he added, referring to records of each of the speaker’s contributions, “we should have a handbook of sorts of the history of these four centuries.”