With the experience of two centuries, the Pontifical Mission Societies have the networks necessary to bring help where it's needed.
Official statistics don’t reveal it because of a lack of testing, but the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is sowing disease and death in countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America as well as in Europe and North America, even though little attention is paid to them.
In many of these countries, the charitable, educational, and spiritual mission of the Catholic Church has suffered a severe blow. What is worse, confinement prevents the collection of donations that make this indispensable work possible.
To respond concretely to the dramatic needs of the local Churches in these regions, Pope Francis has instituted an Emergency Fund for COVID-19 through the Pontifical Mission Societies (PMS).
The Pontifical Mission Societies are the Holy Father’s official channel of support for more than 1,110 dioceses, mostly in Asia, Africa, Oceania and part of the Amazon region.
In this interview, Archbishop Giampietro Dal Toso, world president of the Pontifical Mission Societies, explains that the effectiveness of missionary work in these countries during these truly dramatic moments will depend in large part on the response of the world’s faithful to this appeal by Pope Francis.
Aleteia: Why has Pope Francis decided to create an emergency fund for COVID-19?
Archbishop Giampietro Dal Toso: I believe that this initiative is very much in keeping with the spirit of the pontificate and the person of Pope Francis, as well as with the long tradition of the Church: the Church has never retreated in the face of the grave tragedies that have afflicted humanity. Where human beings suffer, the Church is spiritually and materially present, for she knows that in every person who suffers, the suffering Christ is present.
The Church has never retreated in the face of the grave tragedies that have afflicted humanity.
I’d like to emphasize that it’s not just a question of showing human solidarity: I’ve been very impressed by the example of those priests who, insofar as they have been allowed to, have accompanied in the final moments of their life so many people who have died from the pandemic, who would otherwise have died alone.
Moreover, the offering of one’s own suffering and prayer is part of the work of evangelization: from their very beginnings, the Pontifical Mission Societies have given Christian value to the offerings of the gift of self in prayer and suffering.
All this helps us to understand how this pandemic is a real challenge for the Church, for her very mission of proclaiming the Gospel and witnessing to the faith. Our initiative, therefore, is in keeping with that great tradition of the Church: we could not retreat, particularly because we know that many mission territories—that is, the poorest countries—would’ve suffered dramatically, and not only in the short term.
Why did the pope choose to create this fund with the Pontifical Mission Societies?
Archbishop Dal Toso: The Pontifical Mission Societies were created in the 19th century (three of the four Societies were founded in France) to support the Church’s missionary activity. In the last two centuries, the great work of evangelization in the new continents would not have been possible without the material and spiritual support of the Pontifical Mission Societies.
We need only think of the immense effort made to build and manage so many seminaries in mission territories, which have made it possible for priestly vocations to flourish; or of the help offered to various dioceses so that they can have what they need in order to live. We know that the consequences of the crisis will be particularly serious in mission territories. And all this calls out to our responsibility, our charism, which consists in supporting the local Churches and religious communities in those territories.
What are the first responses of support you’ve received?
Archbishop Dal Toso: First of all, I would like to thank all those who have already contributed and are contributing to the Fund. In particular, some of the local directorates of the Pontifical Missionary Works have already taken action, and an Episcopal Conference has reacted immediately by offering concrete help. We’ve also received support from individuals and institutions. But it’s still too early to have an idea about the amount of money available, partly because in many cases it’s not possible to take up collections, as we cannot celebrate Mass with the people.
What projects will this Fund finance?
Archbishop Dal Toso: From the beginning, it’s been clear that the fund will be dedicated to projects that are in line with the charism of the Pontifical Mission Societies—that is, pastoral projects of institutions of the Church supporting evangelization. For example: in many cases, bishops are no longer able to ensure the basic needs of their priests and seminarians, who live solely from the Sunday collection, which is impossible at present because of the rules of confinement.
We’ve also intervened to help dioceses in their immediate relief work in favor of families, children, and elderly people in the parishes and communities present in their territory, as they’ve been left without resources. Many of these children used to receive their only meal of the day at schools which are now closed because of COVID-19, and which receive help from the Pontifical Work of Missionary Children.
Many children used to receive their only meal of their day at schools which are now closed because of COVID-19.
Have you received testimonies from missionaries who have impressed you in a particular way in these days of pandemic?
Archbishop Dal Toso: I have been very impressed by the situation in South Africa, where the Church—that is, the dioceses, the parishes, the religious communities, and the laity—have given themselves to respond to the food crisis, which has increased dramatically with the confinement imposed by the pandemic. It’s a very serious situation, which is not often talked about.
How can the person reading this article collaborate with this appeal by the Pope?
Archbishop Dal Toso: Following the spirit of the Pontifical Missionary Works, I would say that the first contribution is prayer. In fact, in these past few months we’ve witnessed a great movement of prayer, because we know that there are needs that can only be faced and overcome by entrusting ourselves to God, who is a good Father: He is the Creator, and we are His creatures.
We have opened an account to receive contributions to this Fund at the banking institute of the Holy See, the IOR:
VA31001000000040286004 in Euros and
VA04001000000040286005 in US dollars.
Both accounts are in the name of Administration of Pontifical Missionary Works.
It is also possible to make a donation online through the administration of the Pontifical Missionary Works in your own country:
ENGLAND AND WALES: https://missio.org.uk/
NEW ZEALAND: https://missio.nz/
In the Pontifical Mission Societies’ two centuries of history, we’ve been able to do much, thanks to the contributions of missionary charity of many people: I am sure that on this occasion too these contributions will not be lacking.
You can receive more information about the Emergency Fund for Covid-19 through the Pontifical Mission Societies by writing to the presidency: firstname.lastname@example.org