Having had just emerged from the persecution of the French Revolution, the Church in France was still suffering under the encroaching oppression of State power and was divided because of the ambiguous doctrines of the Gallican heresy. During the reign of Napoleon (1804-1815), the glorious Missions Etrangeres of Paris (MEP) could only send two missionaries to the Far East. It was in those circumstances that the gift of the Spirit descended upon a young woman from Lyons, Pauline Marie Jaricot, born of a wealthy family on 22 July 1799. Pauline has a happy childhood, with all the comforts of a family that had become rich at the beginning of the industrial revolution. As a teenager she has plenty of money and is proud of her beauty, her jewels and her expensive clothes that make her the toast of society gatherings. At the age of 17 Pauline hears a sermon of her parish priest that makes a deep impression on her and she sees the transience of her existence and the vanity of her aspirations: a disappointing and infinite vanity that she abandons forever!
On Christmas night 1816 Pauline makes a vow of chastity and discovers her raison d être in devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and in reparation for the offences committed against the Sacred Heart of Jesus, also insulted by the excesses of the recent Revolution. A group of young girls working in her father's factory gather around her and form a Spiritual Association called simply <>. In 1818, along the lines suggested by a MEP booklet, this group also assumes the dimension of prayer and missionary animation, with an optional offering of one centime a week "to cooperate in the spread of the Gospel". For Pauline this represents the orientation of her entire existence towards Mission. Encouraged also by the example of her brother Phileas, who has decided to become a missionary, she combines spiritual outreach perfectly with concrete actions.
In her mind she outlines the simplest and most effective way of helping and praying for missionaries: those who pray together for the Missions, also help them together. So she starts a group activity with ten people, each of whom undertake to find another ten people who will pray for the missions and give one centime a week for this purpose. The idea inflames hearts and the project spreads rapidly: on 20 October 1820 there are already more than 500 members enrolled in what would later be called the Association for the Propagation of the Faith, whose official foundation is on 3 May 1822. In 1826 the Association spreads to Europe, it begins its Annals which publish letters from missionaries and it maintains a close relationship with the Congregation de Propaganda Fide. To confirm its missionary spirit and its service to the universal Church, on 3 May 1922 with the Motu Proprio Romanorum Pontificum Pius XI declares the Society for the Propagation of the Faith "Pontificat" (POF).
The POF has as its aims:
- To maintain in the Church the Spirit of Pentecost, which opened the apostles to the far ends of the earth and made them "missionaries" (envoys): it is the "Catholic" or universal spirit that belongs to the very nature of the Church.
- To live the universal mission of redemption in union with Christ in his Church as the foundation of a common apostolic responsibility: "As the Father has sent me, even so I send you" (Jn 20:21).
- To participate in the proclamation of the Gospel with the example of one's own life and with the contribution of one's own professional and productive human potentialities, also presented in monetary offerings.
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).
- A Contribution to the "Universal Fund of Solidarity" for the evangelization of the world, with a monthly offering and particularly with an offering on World Mission Sunday (WMS).
- Participation in the spread of the Church in the World through the financing of religious, social and educational works of Churches in Mission Lands. Particularly important is the support offered for the formation of Catechists and lay Leaders of new Mission Communities.
- Solidarity with the poor and abandoned of every race and nation in order to combat, with them, hunger, the scourge of AIDS, violence... and support them in their deplorable living conditions. "Truly I say unto you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me" (Mt. 25 :40).
- Promote universal brotherhood, showing concern for the oppressed, refugees, emigrants and participating in ecclesial and civic activities that promote justice and peace in the world, with a just and solidary development.