The word charism comes from the Greek word "charis" (grace); in theology it means a free gift of God, a grace for the benefit of the Church given to a person or to a group of persons (as is the case of PIME). PIME was founded in 1850 by Msgr. Angelo Ramazzottti. It was taken by the bishops of Lombardy as their own means of sending to the missions those diocesan priests and laymen who had the charism of the "mission ad gentes" (to the non-Christians). This happened at a time when the Church was moved by a great missionary spirit. PIME was the first missionary institute in Italy. At the inspiration of Blessed Pope Pius IX, it began in Saronno (Milan) as the Lombard Seminary for the Foreign Missions. It has remained faithful to its origin, which was confirmed and reinforced by the new name that it took in 1926 according to the wishes of Pope Pius XI: The Pontifical Institute for the Foreign Missions. In the first article of the present Constitutions of PIME it states: "Out of all the vast range of missionary activities described in 'Ad Gentes', PIME chooses and designates as its priority the commitment to announce the Gospel to non-Christians." In the next paragraph it further states: "The Institute shall lend its collaboration to help the growth of the young Churches, and especially to promote their actual participation in the work of evangelization of non-Christians within their own territory as well as outside of it."
These two articles already give a good description of PIME's charism, which is particularly relevant in the Church after the Second Vatican Council when there is a crisis of faith and Christian life in a number of countries, which leads the body of the Church (dioceses, parishes, seminaries, religious orders, and lay associations) to withdraw within themselves in defense of the faith even though Pope John Paul II wrote in his encyclical Redemptoris Missio "... missionary activity renews the Church, revitalizes faith and Christian identity, and offers fresh enthusiasm and new incentive. Faiths is strengthened when it is given to others! It is in commitment to the Church's universal mission that the new evangelization of Christian peoples will find inspiration and support" (No. 2). An exclusively missionary institute such as PIME by its presence and activity is a reminder of the duty of the local church to put into practice this principle.
These are the fundamental characteristics that specify the original charism of PIME.
It is an exclusively missionary institute – in other words it has no other purpose than the mission "ad gentes" (to the non-Christians) for the proclamation of Christ to peoples and to those cultural areas where Christ is unknown; its goal is then that of establishing the Church where it does not yet exist. Throughout its history PIME has until today always been under the authority of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (Propaganda Fide), which sends PIME to those bishops which request its presence (it does not choose where to go according to its own convenience). Over a period of 155 years, it has founded 9 dioceses in India, 3 in Bangladesh, 5 in Burma, 1 in Hong Kong, 8 within China, 2 in the Brazilian Amazon area, and 2 in southern Brazil: 1 in Mato Grosso and 1 in Paranà. It has also collaborated in the founding of other dioceses in other parts of the non-Christian world (also in Africa). The very specific nature of the missionary charism meant that from the very beginning, the institute had the concern to have a field of work that was "a virgin territory for the proclamation of the Gospel where Christ ... is still unmentioned." As a matter of fact, the institute went to the islands of Oceania "among people who were the most distant and abandoned." Today PIME places itself at the service of the local churches. In each of these it gives priority in its work to the proclamation of the Gospel to non-Christian groups. 2000 years after Christ, this charism is a reminder to the world-wide Church, of the duty of living in a concrete way, the "first proclamation of Christ" with a concern for the many people who have not yet heard anyone speak of the Messiah, especially in the continent of Asia where 60% of the human race lives and the Catholics are around 3% of the population (2% if you exclude the Philippines). In fact, the Pope wrote in Redemptoris Missio (no. 37) that "especially in Asia ... there are vast areas that have not been evangelized: whole peoples and cultural areas of great importance in a number of nations have not yet been reached by the proclamation of the Gospel and the presence of the local church." PIME still insists today that for all its history, the continent of Asia has always been and still is its choice of preference (though not in an exclusive way).
PIME is a "Community of Apostolic life" according to the Code of Canon Law (1983). It accepts those who wish to give their entire lives to the missions in the communities of the institute as priests or as consecrated laymen. Today PIME still maintains its diocesan character, especially in the mission churches, even if as an institute it has developed in an autonomous way from the founding dioceses in its evolution from the Lombard Seminary to the Pontifical Institute. One sign of this diocesan nature is that, for example, local bishops in the missions often send their priests to practice their priestly ministry with the priests of PIME, who by their way of life and method of apostolate are seen as "diocesan clergy." Another important sign is that since PIME was born to found the Church, when PIME has finished its task and has given over everything to the hands of the local church, it leaves all and goes somewhere else to found other churches, keeping nothing in the former mission -- whether parishes or pastoral works. The Institute does not exist for itself: it is there to serve the young local churches and make them missionary.
The institute is a community in the sense that it is a true community of priests and laymen who live and work together. In the first expedition to Oceania from the very beginning in 1852, the "Lombard Seminary for the Foreign Missions" was conceived of as a "community of apostles" united in the same vocation and linked by a common membership. It is a fact that they were the first diocesan priests that went to the missions while yet remaining diocesan (a century before the encyclical "Fidei Donum" of Pius XII in 1957!), but they did not scatter and live in isolation: they were missionaries that lived and worked in community. Thus, someone who decides to enter PIME knows that he is not just choosing a free course of preparation for the missions, a free trip and insurance in case of a return home due to force of circumstances, or for health reasons, or for old age. Rather he is entering to be part of a community, and thus he takes on in a certain sense the responsibility for all the confreres who have made the same decision that he has.
In fact, it already was international, but with many limits. It could, for example, take on members in countries where there was a Christian majority but not in those where the Christians were a minority (so as to favor the growth of local clergy). At Tagaytay in the Philippines (1989), after consultations and debates that had already lasted half a century, the following article was approved as number 10 of the constitution: "PIME is an international missionary Institute which lends itself to the service of communion between the local churches for the evangelization of the non-Christians. Thus, it welcomes and forms missionaries from different nations so that members of different nationalities can work together in the very same tasks of evangelization.
In the general assembly of 1989, PIME became an international institute. In fact, it already was international, but with many limits. It could, for example, take on members in countries where there was a Christian majority but not in those where the Christians were a minority (so as to favor the growth of local clergy). At Tagaytay in the Philippines (1989), after consultations and debates that had already lasted half a century, the following article was approved as number 10 of the constitution: "PIME is an international missionary Institute which lends itself to the service of communion between the local churches for the evangelization of the non-Christians. Thus, it welcomes and forms missionaries from different nations so that members of different nationalities can work together in the very same tasks of evangelization.