Let us ask God to give the Company this spirit, this heart, this heart which will make us go everywhere, this heart of the Son of God, the heart of Our Lord, the heart of Our Lord, the heart of Our Lord which will dispose us to go as he went and as he would have gone if his eternal wisdom had judged it fitting to labor for the conversion of those poor nations (SV XI, 291).
The following of Christ, the Evangelizer of the Poor (C 1) is the driving force behind our Vincentian missionary vocation. Encounters with the most abandoned in places like Folleville and Châtillon changed St. Vincent’s understanding of the gospels and led him to an ever deepening relationship with Christ the Missionary of the Father. With the aid of figures like Pierre de Bérulle, Francis de Sales and André Duval, he gradually discerned where the Spirit was leading him in life, and little by little he recognized his vocation was to participate in Jesus’ mission to evangelize and serve the poor.
The first members of the Congregation shared Vincent’s insight into the gospel. Inspired by his example and sensing how deeply his charism resonated in their own lives, they gathered around our founder to live out the vocation of following Jesus as evangelizers of the poor. Vincent told them: In this vocation we live in conformity with Our Lord Jesus Christ who, it seems, when he came to this world, chose as his principal task that of assisting and caring for the poor (SV XI, 108).
While the basic charism of the Congregation of the Mission was clear from the first days of its foundation, the structures and ministries which flowed from Vincent’s original inspiration developed only slowly. Events, urgent needs and pressing requests constantly challenged the first Vincentians to broaden their understanding of how to live their vocation. The pioneer group of missionaries expressed the charism by preaching popular missions in the countryside. Within a few years they had assumed the work of forming the clergy. Gradually, missionaries went out beyond the borders of France to support the local Churches in Italy, Ireland, Scotland and Poland, as well as to small groups of enslaved Christians in North Africa. In 1648 Vincent, recognizing that the missions ad gentes were another, very important way to live our missionary vocation, sent the first of six groups to Madagascar.
Vincent frequently reflected on these developments in his conferences and letters, where we can note a growing appreciation for the place of foreign missions in the life of the Company. How happy the situation of a missionary whose only limit for his mission is the inhabitable world. Why restrict ourselves to one place and impose limits on ourselves in one parish if our vocation is the
whole circumference of the globe? On another occasion he remarks: What does the word missionary mean? It means one who is sent, sent by God. God has said to you: Go out to the whole world to preach the Gospel to every creature (SV XII, 27). To a group of missionaries being sent to Madagascar, he states:
According to the rules of our institute, we are obliged to attend to the salvation of souls anywhere that God calls us, above all, in places where there is a greater need and where workers for the Gospel are lacking and, knowing that in the Indies, especially in the islands of Madagascar … there is a great lack of workers and the harvest is great …we destine and send you to these people on the said islands and other parts of the Indies so that, according to the function of our Institute, you can devote yourselves to the salvation of souls with all your strength and with the help of God’s grace (SV XIII, 314).
In a moment of enthusiasm, Vincent expressed to Charles Nacquart his profound appreciation for the foreign missions: There is nothing on earth I would like better, if it were allowed me, than to go as your companion in place of Fr. Gondrée (SV III, 285). Towards the end of his life, in December 1658, he made a passionate plea to maintain the ministries that had developed in the Congregation, especially the foreign missions. He defended them by pointing out that they responded to our basic call to evangelize the poor. He warned against those who would seek to curtail or abandon difficult missions because of distance, lack of personnel, or loss of missionary spirit. There will be men who coddle themselves, men who have a narrow outlook, who confine their views and designs to a limited sphere within which they shut themselves up as in a tiny circle and are unwilling to leave it (SV XII, 92).
Over the centuries the Congregation of the Mission has sought to be faithful to the legacy that St. Vincent has left us in the foreign missions. Responding to requests from local Churches and the Congregation for the
1Strictly speaking, the missions ad gentes are missions in areas where the Gospel has never been preached. There is, however, a tendency to talk about all missions in foreign countries as ad gentes. This second, less technical meaning will often be used in this document.
Propagation of the Faith, missionaries went out to Asia, Oceania, Africa and the Americas. Inspired by the Vincentian charism, famous confreres, like Sts. Justin de Jacobis, John Gabriel Perboyre and Francis Regis Clet, and many other lesser known missionaries gave their lives to preaching the Gospel in new cultures. The same Vincentian missionary charism lives on in the members of the Congregation of the Mission at the beginning of the 21st century. This Ratio Missionum seeks to offer guidelines for those serving in our foreign missions in light of the many changes that have occurred in the Church and the world in recent years.