Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, the prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, made that point today at the Vatican press office when presenting the Pope's message for 2004 World Mission Sunday. The message, entitled "Eucharist and Mission," marks the event that will be observed Oct. 24.
During the press conference, Cardinal Sepe gave details on the Church's present missionary commitment in the world, 17.2% of whose 6.2 billion people are Catholic.
The ecclesiastical circumscriptions (archdioceses, dioceses, vicariates, apostolic prefectures, etc.) entrusted to the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples number 1,081, to which must be added 153 of the "zone of silence," such as China and Cambodia. All this represents 40% of the universal Church, the cardinal explained.
On Dec. 31, Cardinal Sepe's dicastery reported that "a variety of persons (bishops, priests, men and women religious, catechists and laymen) work at the service of this missionary world." There are more than 85,000 priests, 450,00 women religious, and 1.65 million catechists who work in mission lands.
"Although these forces might seem notable and although we see a continuous increase of vocations to the religious and priestly life, they are still insufficient given the needs that arise in mission countries," the cardinal said.
In his message, John Paul II appealed to the faithful to support the Pontifical Mission Societies "spiritually and materially," and thanked the latter for the valuable "service rendered to the new evangelization and the mission 'ad gentes' [to the nations]."
The following are the works supported by the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples: 280 interdiocesan major seminaries for 65,000 major seminarians; 110 minor seminaries for 85,000 minor seminarians; 42,000 schools; 1,600 hospitals; 6,000 medical clinics; 780 leprosariums; and 12,000 charitable and social endeavors.
"These socio-charitable works are not only for the benefit of Catholics but also, and in some cases above all, for non-Catholics and non-Christians," the cardinal noted.
An example of this is the Catholic presence in India. Catholics make up 6.9% of the population, while Catholic charitable works represent 27% of those existing in the country.
"The same can be said of Catholic schools in some Arab countries: The great majority of students that attend them are of the Islamic religion," Cardinal Sepe added.
Moreover, "in the last few years initiatives are being undertaken to assist AIDS patients, especially in Africa, where in some countries the illness has increased twentyfold in recent years," the cardinal noted.
Cardinal Sepe concluded by pointing out that "the Church's assistance to peoples in mission lands" is "addressed to all peoples, regardless of their religious faith, culture, language or political system."