PIME (The Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions) came into being on July 30, 1850, at Saronno (Milan). It came forth from the great heart of Pius IX, who gave a vigorous push for the "foreign missions." In spite of the enormous difficulties of his pontificate, Pius IX desired that an institute of secular clergy and laymen similar to the model of the "Foreign Missions" of Paris come to birth in Italy. The latter society was the right arm of Propaganda Fide in Asia. In 1847, the Pope informed the Archbishop of Milan, Archbishop Romilli that an Italian missionary seminary should be created in the Lombard region.
The proposal fell on fertile ground. The birth of the "Propagation of the Faith" in Lyons (1822) and its initiatives and popular magazines had already set the hearts of the young clergy of the Milanese jurisdiction on fire. Father Angelo Ramazzotti, the superior of the Oblates of Rho, had felt a strong love for the missions from the time of his boyhood, and he had encouraged some young clerics and priests to aspire to the mission apostolate by sending them to religious congregations and orders. He offered himself to Archbishop Romilli and began the "Lombard Seminary for the Foreign Missions" in his father's house in Saronno together with the first five Milanese priests and two laymen. (In 1851, it was moved to Milan.)
The "Mission Seminary" had its "baptism" by the bishops' conference of the Lombard region. The bishops signed the act of foundation on December 1, 1850. The Cardinal emeritus of Milan, Cardinal Martini, has said that the text "expresses the theology of the local Church and its missionary nature in terms which anticipate Vatican II. As a matter of fact, those bishops stated that they were not "held back by the fear of losing some subject from the needs of the diocese." On the contrary, "the spread of the universal Church is the concern of every individual church, and every diocese is in some way responsible to provide its contingent in the apostolic army for this purpose." Thus it happened that they began their "Provincial Seminary" for the missions with the hope that "also in other places, especially where the clergy is abundant, the bishops will open up for their young ecclesiastics in a favourable way this career ... and form such provincial institutes for the testing, formation, and assistance to those aspiring to the foreign missions."
It was a modest beginning, but there was a great spirit of giving to the "most distant and abandoned peoples." It is a fact that the first seven missionaries chose to go to two small islands (Rook and Woodlark) in Oceania. These had been given up by the Marist missionaries; the people were living in the stone age. The new missionaries had to withdraw from the mission after three years and two deaths; one of them was the martyr John Mazzucconi, who was beatified in 1984. The charism of going to the farthest frontiers of Christianity has remained as a precious heritage from the time of the foundation, and it has been evident many times when missions that had been either abandoned or refused by others were then accepted from the Holy See.
The Lombard Seminary for the foreign missions was born in order to send diocesan priests and laymen to the missions, hence it is at the beginning of the modern missionary movement in the Italian church, which has advanced by various means: the diffusion of the Work of the Propagation of the Faith and the Holy Infancy, the foundation of the Missionary Union of the Clergy (1916), the involvement of bishops, priests and seminaries in the mission to the non-Christians, the model and encouragement for the foundation of other missionary institutes, the birth of the first Italian mission magazine ("Le Missioni Cattoliche" in 1872, which today is "Mondo e Missione").
As the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, PIME was born at the will of another Pope, Pius XI. In 1926 he united the Lombard Seminary for the Foreign Missions with the Pontifical Seminary of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul for the Foreign Missions. It was founded in Rome in 1871 by Msgr. Pietro Avanzini with characteristics similar to those of the Milan group. It had been approved by Pope Pius IX in 1874. It had sent members to China, Mexico, Australia, Sudan, Egypt, and also the United States in the service of local churches. From the very beginning, the two mission seminaries had the goal of sending diocesan priests to the missions (the Lombard seminary was sending laymen as well) but without making them religious ("Fidei Donum" priests --one century earlier!). The sole purpose was the first proclamation of the Gospel and foundation of local churches in regions entrusted to them by Propaganda Fide: the mission "ad gentes" (to the non-Christians). In 1936 PIME gave birth to "The Missionaries of the Immaculate" which today number 800 sisters and work in the five continents together with missionary priests and brothers. Recent years have given birth to "Missionary lay women" who are consecrated for life as well as "Alp" (Lay Association PIME); they are men and women who commit themselves for a few years for specific projects in the missions.
In 155 years, PIME has founded 40 dioceses, especially in Asia but also in other continents. The number of missionaries was always limited, composed of priests and laymen who were consecrated for life. They were never more than 700; today they are less than 500. Presently they work in 17 countries besides Italy, including one in Oceania, three in the Americas, three in Africa. It is a fascinating adventure of faith and is told in a book by Piero Gheddo: PIME: 150 anni di missione (EMI 2000, p. 462). The origins of the institute are described by Domeico Colombo in PIME: Documenti di Fondazione (EMI, 2000, pp. 462).
The institute has given the Church 18 martyrs, 1,700 missionaries, 70 bishops or apostolic prefects and apostolic vicars. It has a saint, Alberico Crescitelli, who was martyred in China (1863-1900) as well as two Blesseds: Giovanni Mazzucconi, martyred in Oceania (1826-1855) and Paulo Manna (1872-1952), the founder of the Pontifical Missionary Union of the Clergy and Religious. At present, there are eight causes for canonization going on: specifically those of PIME's founder, Archbishop Angelo Ramazzotti (1800-1861), the Patriarch of Venice, as well as two missionaries to Burma: Fr. Clemente Vismara (1897-1988) and brother Felice Tantardini (1898-1991). There is also the cause of Fr. Carlo Salerio (1827-1870), who was a missionary in Oceania and the founder of the Sisters of Reparation. Another cause is that of two martyrs in Burma: Fr. Alfredo Cremonesi (1902-1953) and Fr. Mario Vergara (1910-1950). Last of all, there is Doctor Marcello Candia (1916-1983) a lay missionary from Milan who worked with the PIME missionaries in the Amazon region. On March 9, 1958, the then Patriarch of Venice (who became Pope John XXIII a few months later) described PIME as "the most outstanding missionary creation in Italy during the last century" (in a discourse given for the transfer of the remains of Archbishop Angelo Ramazzotti for burial in San Francisco Church on Via Monterosa in Milan).
The historical evolution of the "Lombard Seminary for the Foreign Missions" went through two substantial changes in respect to its beginnings. The first was the change -- already mentioned -- from the Lombard Seminary to the Pontifical Institute. This change was according to the Pope's wishes but it was also required by the times themselves; The Code of Canon Law (1917) applied very strict rules regarding incardination of the clergy and left no space for sending diocesan clergy to the missions: the Institute had to incardinate its own missionaries, thus removing them from their dioceses of origin.
Most important, however, was the fact that the successors of the Lombard bishops who had signed the act of foundation in 1850 had gradually lost interest in the "mission seminary" and were sending few and fewer vocations and refusing to take back in their own dioceses those who had returned from the missions. This had obliged the Lombard Seminary to create a structure in Italy. First there was an Apostolic house at Monza in 1911 (61 years after the foundation itself), then there were other seminaries at various levels and centers of missionary and vocational animation, as well as a rest house for those who had returned from the missions (at Lecco). In 1951 the general direction was moved to Rome and was more highly structured than in the past. The one who especially promoted this development was Father Paulo Manna (a former missionary in Burma); he was also the superior general from 1924 to 1934, and the founder (in 1916) of the Missionary Union of the Clergy (today it is part of the Pontifical Missionary Works).
The second big change was internationalization: a policy that was brought about gradually in the 1950's and completed at the general assembly at Tagaytay in the Philippines in 1989. This opened the doors of PIME to non-Italian members without any limits. It was a courageous change, though not always peaceful, due to the debate within the Institute among those who would have liked to remain faithful to tradition and those who thought that the changes in the world (globalization) and in the young churches pushed forward the cause of internationalization.
In the past, the Institute had never had a policy of expending in other lands (unlike what normally happens in religious congregations), however neither was this change excluded by some fundamental principle. According to the rules of 1886 (confirmed by the Constitutions of 1925) the "Mission Seminary for the Foreign Missions" could accept both European priests and "indigenous priests formed in the mission." However, as a matter of fact, until recent years, PIME only concerned itself with the formation of Italian candidates and the founding of churches in new territories it had evangelized without founding the Institute itself in those places.
The situation has changed gradually in the last 40-50 years. The young churches have matured and in turn have become missionary, moreover, they have more vocations than the churches of ancient Christianity. On August 31, 1969, at Kampala in Uganda, Pope Paul VI proclaimed. "You Africans are now missionaries for yourselves." At the time it seemed to be an spontaneous slogan, but it turned out to be a prophetic indication: many years have passed and now no one doubts any more that in the Church the missionary initiative is passing from the ancient churches to the young ones.
Pope John Paul II was quite aware of this; in the encyclical Redemptoris Missio (on the twenty-fifth anniversary of Ad Gentes in 1990), he stressed several times the missionary responsibility of the young churches. He went so far as to say: "Today, you are the hope of our Church which is 2000 years old; since you are young in the faith, you should be like the first Christians and radiate enthusiasm and courage ..." (R.M., 90).
Today there are more and more requests to the missionary institutes to expand their missionary charism to the young churches which they established and to train and send forth missionaries from these churches which often lack the necessary personnel for their pastoral needs in caring for the Christians. However, these churches have realized the truth of the words of Pope John Paul II in Redemptoris Missio (n. 2): "Faith is made stronger by passing it on!" Thus, these churches aim to make their Christians into missionaries. This is why they need the charism of missionary institutes. PIME was born to found new churches, but also to make them missionary. It is from this standpoint that PIME has helped in the birth of local missionary institutes which are under the authority of the bishops' conferences in Brazil, Thailand, India, the Philippines and Myanmar.
PIME's transformation to internationalization also occurred at the invitation of local bishops in the missions. Today PIME has two seminaries in Italy, one in the United States, one in Brazil, one in the Philippines, and four in India (where we have founded ten dioceses over the last 150 years). PIME has also accepted as seminarians, candidates from Japan, China, Papua New Guinea, Vietnam, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Argentina, Mexico, Cameroon, Guinea Bissau, and the Ivory Coast. In the young churches where we are working, the Institute provides the pastoral care that the bishops request and provides an orientation for the local church for the mission to the non-Christians This is done above all by example: we are present on the frontiers of the Church in China, Cambodia, among the tribal peoples of India and Bangladesh, in the south of the Philippines, in Papua New Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, the Amazon region, and Mexico. Today PIME is giving a positive response to the request of local bishops also in the missionary animation of the churches where we are working (magazines, animation centers, missionary seminaries). As a pontifical institute with the sole purpose of missionary work to the non-Christians, PIME strongly feels the responsibility of contributing according to its original charism to the demands of the Church in the third millennium: becoming the People of God which is entirely missionary.