In this short article, Fr. Raymond Rossignol the Superior General of the MEP Society, briefly describes the history and aim of the society and its relevance in a world that has changed tremendously since it was formed in 1658.
The Paris Foreign Missions Society is not unknown to the old students and friends of College General. In the 17th century, its main founders, Bishop Pallu and Bishop Lambert de la Motte, were sent to Asia by Pope Alexander VII. They were given detailed instructions to promote evangelization in the vast territories stretching from Thailand to China. They were also requested to be specially attentive to the necessity of finding local candidates to the diocesan priesthood. That is why one of their first tasks was to open a seminary in Thailand.
In the course of time, the MEP missionaries were able to open new mission centers and organised Christian communities in many countries extending from India till Korea and Japan. Three centuries later, there were more than one hundred dioceses founded by the MEP Fathers in collaboration with local Christians and clergy.
This entailed much work and many risky ventures. About 200 MEP missionaries suffered violent deaths. Among the 23 martyrs that has been beatified, 20 were recently canonized by Pope John Paul II. But martyrdom is not the only type of ordeal that should be recorded. Aprt from the daily sufferings, struggles and frustrations, there were also expulsions. In the second half of the 20th century, hundreds of MEP missionaries were expelled from China, Burma, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and North Korea.
Of course gradually many happy changes took place in the churches in Asia. Today, barring Cambodia where the Church is gradually recovering from a tragic persecution, the MEP Society is no longer entrusted with territorial responsibilities. The welfare of Christian communities as well as missionary work now comes under the responsibility of the local Churches. Still, we do not consider that our tasks are over simply because, as Pope John Paul II said, "missionary activity is only beginning".
In our last General Assembly, we tried to spell out our role as missionaries in the present situation:
"Far from regretting the 'loss of our territories', we rejoice to have seen the Churches of Asia and of the Indian Ocean grow and come of age. We are not nostalgic for the former relationship of 'mother and daughter' and 'master and disciple'. We want to respect the fact that the Asian Churches have taken on responsibility for themselves. We have only one desire, that is to serve the Mission in and with the local churches ....
We thank them for welcoming us and enriching us with their new riches. We rejoice to see them carry the task of Mission and we pray that they may be faithful to this grace that gives them full stature. We ask them to see in us, not the survivors of a glorious past, but the witnesses of 'elsewhere', signs of communion with other Churches...."
During the same General Assembly, we decided to reverse our policy regarding
the admission of candidates from countries we were working into our Society.
It was because we did not want to deprive the local Churches of candidates
to the diocesan priesthood that we had refrained until then from taking
them in. We may now welcome them. However, "it is not a question of 'recruiting',
of serving ourselves from the the 'reservoirs' of abundant vocation in
certain countries. It is a question rather of offering the services of
our Society for the missionary development of the local Churches if they
so desire, only when they desire it and when they ask for it."