The figure of the child has always had an irresistible and undeniable influence on everyone's heart: his/her simplicity, beauty and sparkling vitality seems a refection of God's life. Also Jesus Christ, who with his birth in the stable at Bethlehem and his infancy in Egypt and Nazareth knew that state of loving bliss, was particularly fond of children. "Let the children come to me, and not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God" (Lk 18: 16).
The focal point of this Society is the particular role that "children" have in the proclamation of the Kingdom. In fact they are particularly suited to accepting it and living the riches of its beauty, joy and love. Then in the Christian language "smallness" it a fascinating spiritual category that reflects God's holiness. Devotion to the Child Jesus is. perceived as man's obedient abandonment to the Father's will and it is classified in states of life as "spiritual childhood".
The great missionary movement, which was born in France in the 19th Century, could not but involve the essential needs of the most fragile and weakest part of humanity: CHILDREN. Letters from Missionaries, especially from Sisters, spoke of children suppressed at birth because they were not wanted on account of their sex (girls), their physical or psychic defects (handicapped) or simply because it was impossible to feed them in the great general poverty. The urgent and generous help of everyone was needed to save these creatures destined for death!
The help comes from a great bishop, Charles August Marie de Forbin-Janson, born on 3 November 1785. Entering the seminary of St Sulpicius at an early age his desire and hope was for a missionary life. But this is not to be because Providence decrees that he become a seminary rector and vicar general in Chambery. He realizes his missionary dream by becoming a preacher for priests and offering the people "missions". Travels and knowledge of peoples, normally associated with missionaries, also become his direct experience when in 1817 he makes a long journey to preach in the Middle East, visiting Egypt, Palestine, Syria and Turkey.
Consecrated Bishop of Nancy in 1824, with his missionary zeal he clashes with the anticlerical authorities of the time and in 1833 is obliged to follow the same road as many missionaries, the road of exile. He explains his great desire to be a missionary in China to Gregory XVI. But his dream come to nothing, so he accepts the invitation to go to preach in the United States and Canada. He spends his last years in Germany and dies at Marseilles on 3 November 1844.
The strong missionary tension of this great Bishop found its outlet in devotion to the Child Jesus, which he never ceased to spread. Mindful of the atrocities that were being perpetrated against children, particularly in the heathen world of the age, Mgr. de ForbinJanson gave a missionary approach to this devotion. In fact the name itself "Missionary Childhood" expresses his desire to place the Association under the protection of the Child Jesus. For quite a long time many individuals and groups had drawn their inspiration from this spirit, but the date that of officially marks the beginning of the Society of the Holy Childhood is 19 May 1843.
Mgr. De Forbin-Janson's intuition was to create a movement of Christian children to help pagan children to find the Lord and save them from death. Its purpose was to save them above all through baptism and to educate them in a Christian manner: all this was to be the fruit of an apostolic and solidary charity, namely, of a genuinely missionary spirit and not only a social action.
The Work found favour with individuals and institutions with greater involvement in children's education. Thus it developed rapidly in Europe and North America and in its establishment it enjoyed the full support of the Church and the favour of Pope Leo XIII, who promoted it with the Encyclical Sancta Del Civitas (3 December 1880). On 3 May 1922 Pius XI conferred upon it the title <> (HCA).
- The HCA addresses itself to children and adolescents in order to awaken their missionary awareness and to support, with a qualified and explicit pedagogy, their openness to charity and Christian solidarity. "I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to little children" (Lk. 10:22).
- Knowing and experiencing in "Jesus' school" evidence of a joyful life with Jesus their Brother, they pray for all children throughout the world and try to help them to know and love him. "Let the children come to me, do not hinder them. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it" (Mt. 10:1415). - Children love children.
- Through a pedagogical-catechetical programme, parishes, schools and families are involved in the formation of their children who work as active subjects of their education. They are gradually led to open their minds to the world's dimensions and to open their hearts to giving what they have in excess for needy children.Children help children.
- The HCA proposes that, for love of Jesus and in order to imitate him, children should make the ideal of their life the call to Mission that saves children by making them children of God in order to become complete persons. - Children become missionaries and make other children missionaries.
Recognized by the Church for its service to Mission, the POF has not only the title "Pontifical", but also "Episcopal". It is part of the Universal Church that co-ordinates missionary activity throughout the world, but it is also part of the Local Church that has the right and duty to "make disciples of all nations" (Mt. 28:19). In fact for all the Pontifical Missionary Societies it is profoundly true that: "although they are the Pope's Works, they are also the Works of the entire Episcopate and of the whole People of God" (Paul VI, Message WMS 1968).
- Special devotion to the Child Jesus, the brother of all children in the world.
- More frequent reception of the Blessed Sacrament so that they may be in sincere communion with Jesus and with all children throughout the world.
- A Hail Mary a day to the Mother of Jesus for all children who suffer and are in need of help.
- Enrolment as a member of Missionary Childhood in order to bring the Gospel to others.
- Preparation with prayer and song to announce the Birth of the Child Jesus as "Choristers of the Star".
- Celebration of the World Day of Missionary Childhood: (6 January).
- A specific programme for the preparation of leaders and animators of the HCA and the sensitization of Bishops of the 110 nations where the Society is present.
- The offering of a penny a week or their own savings for poor children in the world.
- Participation at activities in aid of children to allow them to be born and to prevent them from being exploited for economic or sexual purposes and so that people will be fully open to accepting emigrant or refugee children.
- The collection and distribution of funds allocated for educations and social projects to Missionary Childhood throughout the world.
- Participation at traditional manifestations, as "Choristers of the Star" or planned by various Groups, to collect funds to be allocated for the living expenses and education of poor children.