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Peter’s Pence: Evangelizing with your credit card


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Aymeric Pourbaix - published on 07/05/17

Last weekend, you probably had the chance to give to a unique charity effort. If you didn't help out, it's not too late.

The Peter’s Pence collection is taken up across the globe around the time of the June 29 Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul. Most dioceses in the United States had the collection last weekend.

The proceeds from this collection are placed in the hands of the pope, and he’s able to use it for the needs he sees most pressing, from his vantage point as the leader of the Universal Church.

The origins of this particular collection are interesting:

According to tradition, it dates back to the 8th century. Some say Anglo-Saxon kingdoms wanted to show their loyalty to the papacy by sending an annual tribute. Another version of the story claims its origins go back to the late 8th century, when  King Offa of Mercia decided to give the Holy See an annual gift as a way of showing his remorse for the murder of Saint Ethelbert of Wessex. Either way, the “denarius Sancti Petri” (“St. Peter’s Pence,” pence being an old English word for pennies or coins) ceased to exist in 1534, after the schism with the Church of England.

At the time of the Italian unification (1860-1871) this tradition resurfaced, as an initiative coming from the English, Belgian, French and Austrian faithful. The finances of the Holy See relied heavily on revenues from the Papal States, but the occupation by the troops of Garibaldi forced the Vatican to turn to other means. The Apostolic Nuncios succeeded in collecting donations in the Catholic countries of Europe, to avoid going bankrupt.

Seeing the extent of the gifts that came to him, Pius IX decided to institutionalize this source of income, with his encyclical Sæpe Venerabilis, in 1871. These funds were then managed by a director of the Holy See.

Pius X decided to merge the patrimonial administration and that of finance within a single institution.

John Paul II would be the first pope to publicly announce the amount of collected money during this special collection day: donations of 30 million Italian lire were received in the year 1981. It was 240 million lire in 1992, more than 51 million dollars in 2004 and, finally, 71 million euros for the year 2013.

In order to make things easier for those willing to contribute, internet payment options were created in 2003.

In November 2016, Pope Francis requested the activation of a new website devoted to Peter’s Pence, with its own Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles.

A tremendous variety of causes have benefited from the Peter’s Pence collection.

Thanks to these donations in recent years, for example, the sisters of the Sacred Heart have been able to build a school for the deaf and mute in Rwanda, while in the Archdiocese of Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan, young people are receiving scholarships that will enable them to rebuild their country. Food will also be distributed in Ethiopia thanks to these donations.

Read more:
Crisis in Ethiopia: Drought persists, and nutrition suffers

By uniting in this way with the pope and the pontifical works, Catholics manifest concretely the Church’s charitable mission. This is why, for John Paul II, St. Peter’s Pence was not a simple gift but “a true participation in evangelization.”

If you missed the chance to put your donation in the basket last Sunday, you can still participate in this evangelization here.

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