The following decree is the attempt of the delegates of the 31st General Congregation to explain the nature and reaffirm the purpose of Jesuit missionary work within the context of the Second Vatican Council. It attributes to Ignatius and his companions the reason why Jesuits have the “task of announcing the Gospel that God in His providence called, along with other heralds of the Gospel.” The decree also lists five means for Jesuits to “achieve fully the genuine goal of mission activity” as well as directives to ensure that the “missionary character of the whole Society” is made “evident in its works.”
For more from the 31st General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, please consult this page.
1. From the “fountain of love” which is God the Father, mankind has been freely created and graciously called to form a community of sons in the Son; for by the mission of the Son, God “determined to intervene in human history in a way both new and definitive.”
The only-begotten Son has been sent by the Father to save what was lost, and through the Holy Spirit, to unite men who were redeemed by Him into one Mystical Body which is the Church.
As the Son was sent by the Father, He in turn sent the apostles as heralds of saving charity, giving them this solemn command: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…and behold, I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the world.”
Heeding the mandate of Christ, the Church “continues unceasingly to send heralds of the Gospel until such time as the infant churches are fully established and can themselves carry on the work of evangelizing.” Thus, “the specific purpose of this missionary activity is evangelization and the planting of the Church among those peoples and groups where she has not yet taken root.”
2. It was for this task of announcing the Gospel that God in His providence called, along with other heralds of the Gospel, our holy Father Ignatius and his companions. God set their hearts on fire with a zeal which made them desire at first to go to Jerusalem to help nonbelievers. And when this project proved impossible, this same zeal urged them to offer themselves without reservation to the Vicar of Christ so that he might show them what part of the Lord’s vineyard stood most in need of their labors.
And so the new-born Society, by this commitment to Christ’s Vicar, was established as an apostolic order for work “among believers and nonbelievers” and was made an intimate sharer in the mission mandate of the entire Church.
As part of the pilgrim Church, therefore, the Society has embraced as strongly as it can the Church’s universal mission, and is so alive with this missionary spirit that it necessarily communicates to its members a zeal for souls great enough to make both the defense of the faith and its propagation one and the same vocation. The Formula of the Institute approved by Julius III described this quite aptly: “Whoever wishes to fight under the banner of the cross in our Society…should seriously consider himself part of the Society established chiefly for this, that it especially labor for the defense and propagation of the faith….”
3. The 31st General Congregation keeps before its eyes those serious words of the Second Vatican Council: “The present historical situation is leading humanity into a new stage. As the salt of the earth and the light of the world, the Church is summoned with special urgency to save and renew every creature.” It is also aware of the large segment of mankind that is not yet Christian. Accordingly, this Congregation establishes that the following means be earnestly employed in order that Jesuits may better respond to their own mission calling and to the desires of the Church.
4. Jesuits should be convinced that activity aimed at spreading the Church among those groups and peoples where it is not yet fully established is not a work reserved merely for some Jesuits who may have received a kind of second vocation. Rather, all Jesuits, with the same zeal and for the same basic reason, should strive to respond to this mission vocation with largeness of spirit. Every Jesuit, therefore, and not only those who so petition, may be sent to the missions by reason of his vocation to the Society. Those of the Society, moreover, who were born in mission lands ought to be clearly aware of their serious responsibility for planting the Church with deep roots in their own countries. But even these men should be prepared to undertake mission service among other peoples.
Superiors, however, ought to select for the missions those who are men of solid virtue, who are clearly flexible, and who are capable not only of learning languages, but also of fitting into a new culture. Among those chosen there should be some who have the intellectual capacity to become outstanding in the intellectual apostolate, and in scientific, cultural and religious research.
5. All Jesuits dedicated to missionary activity, according to the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, should try to walk “the same road which Christ walked: a road of poverty and obedience, of service and self-sacrifice to the death, from which death He came forth a victor by His resurrection. For thus did all the apostles walk in hope.”
In order that the Society may respond more fully both to the contemporary needs of the Church and to its own essential vocation, every effort should be made to increase the proportion of members in mission work. It is especially desirable that this increase in the missionary activity of the Society develop out of the fostering of vocations in mission lands themselves. Superiors must be convinced, therefore, that this formation of members who come from the newly established churches themselves is the most important contribution to mission work that the Society can make.
6. In order to achieve fully the genuine goal of mission activity, Jesuits engaged in this work should be aware of the following:
a. It is according to the spirit of the Second Vatican Council that “the young churches, rooted in Christ and built upon the foundation of the apostles, take to themselves in a wonderful exchange all the riches of the nations which were given to Christ as an inheritance.” All Jesuits, therefore, who work among other peoples, should not only treat individual persons with charity, and the positive elements of their religions with reverence, but in everything which does not run counter to Christian faith and sensibility, they should highly esteem the culture, customs and traditions of these peoples.
b. The principal means for the work of planting the Church, and the one recommended above all others, is the preaching of the Gospel. But where the direct preaching of the Gospel is for the time being impossible, Jesuits must strive in every other method they use “to bear witness to Christ by charity and by works of mercy.”
c. The work of education “by means of different kinds of schools, which should be considered not only as an outstanding means for forming and developing Christian youth, but also as a service of supreme value to men, especially in the developing nations,” should be ranked very high. Education can, in this way, become an excellent form of preaching whereby all the human values found in the culture of those people who are not yet Christian are embraced, raised up, and offered to God the Father through the Church.
For the same reason, students who leave their native land to study abroad and who are very often in need of spiritual assistance should receive brotherly care and attention. Young people of this kind—and others too, whether they be workers or members of other classes—should be helped to fit into the social and Catholic life of the people among whom they dwell. In areas, therefore, where foreigners such as these are found, it recommended that provincials be ready and willing to assign some Jesuits to this kind of work.
d. Although no type of ministry is foreign to the Society, nevertheless, those works should be chosen first which are more urgent or more universal. Among these, special mention ought to be made of cooperation in the formation of diocesan clergy, cooperation in the formation of religious men and women, the formation of the laity for the apostolate, the use of communications media, the social apostolate, ecumenical work, by which the reason for scandal arising from the division among Christians is removed, and dialogue with non-Christian religions.
e. “For building up of the body of Christ,” cooperation with bishops is important, as is collaboration in a fraternal spirit with both diocesan and religious clergy, and participation in conferences of religious.
7. All Jesuits applied to the missions should be thoroughly prepared and sent as soon as possible, although the proper time will depend on the qualities of individuals and the conditions of the regions.
This preparation, for those who are assigned abroad or for those who come from the young churches themselves, should include, according to the needs of each one, a sufficient knowledge of the language, history, culture and religion of the people. All of these are to be kept in mind throughout their entire formation, but especially during the time of philosophy and theology.
Moreover, all Jesuits the world over should be sufficiently instructed in the theology of the missions and should try to nourish their zeal for souls by means of constant communication from the missions.
8. The missionary character of the whole Society should make itself evident in its works. For this reason:
1° a. Provinces should consider the mission works that are entrusted to them as an integral part of the province, on the same level as the other works of the province. They should help these mission works with money and men, and with a greater enthusiasm where the needs are more pressing. This applies as well to those areas that have already been erected as independent vice-provinces and provinces.
b. After assuming office, provincials should visit the mission works that are under their care in order to acquaint themselves with their needs, and they are to be liberal in extending help to these missions.
c. It is recommended that in provinces responsible for mission works there be a father who is knowledgeable in mission affairs and has the missions as his particular responsibility. He will furnish needed advice to the provincial and to the consultors in planning the apostolic works of the province.
2° Let Jesuits diligently promote the work of the missions among all the faithful, and foster missionary vocations.
3° It is very important that knowledge of the missions be more and more widely circulated by mission periodicals or even other types of periodicals.
4° Each Jesuit, according to his own ability, should help to encourage and fulfill the aspirations of those lay people who wish to be of service to the developing nations. The Society throughout the world has the opportunity to instill Christian inspiration into the social and economic endeavors undertaken by various other institutions for the good of those nations.
5° For better information, coordination, and cooperation among Jesuits and for the benefit of those engaged in mission service, the Mission Secretariat should be enlarged.
9. The 31st General Congregation desires that the Society for its part offer itself to the service of the Church in its worldwide mission, so that “the splendor of God which brightens the face of Jesus Christ may shine upon all men through the Holy Spirit.”
Original Source (English translation):
Jesuit Life & Mission Today: The Decrees & Accompanying Documents of the 31st–35th General Congregations of the Society of Jesus, ed. John W. Padberg. St. Louis, Mo.: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 2009, General Congregation 31, Decree 24, “Mission Service,” pg. 153–157 [414–442].