Pauline Jaricot’s Asia
The beatification in Lyon of the foundress of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith is an opportunity to rediscover the roots of this association serving the mission and the proclamation of the Gospel in China and the rest of Asia. Blessed Jaricot promoted prayer for Christians in China and knowledge about their communities. Today Asian Churches are no longer just recipients of support but also provide it to the mission on other continents.
Milan (AsiaNews) – On Sunday, 22 May, French laywoman Pauline Jaricot (1799-1862), foundress of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, the most important association supporting the missions of the Catholic Church, was proclaimed blessed in Lyon.
On this occasion it is good to note how much of the life of this extraordinary woman and this association’s origins are linked to the proclamation of the Gospel in China and throughout Asia, this according to a recent article published by the France-Asia Research Institute (IRFA[*]), which is supported by the Missions Etrangères de Paris (Foreign Missions of Paris, MEP).
Her story also helps us view as a providential sign the closeness between the date of her beatification and 24 May, which, by will of Pope Benedict XVI, has been for some years the Day of Prayer for Christians in China, something that Pauline lived throughout her life.
IRFA describes the difficult context in which the Society for the Propagation of the Faith saw the light of day. As France was gripped by revolutionary fever at the end of the 18th century, the Missions Etrangères de Paris (founded in 1658) found itself in the most difficult predicament of its history.
With the leaders of the seminary on rue de Bac forced into exile, recruiting new missionaries had become impossible. Sea links with Asia were interrupted for almost 10 years. Supporting the 48 Fathers still on mission in Asia with both financial and human resources had become an almost impossible task.
The French missionary institute had lost all sources of income and no did even own any more the buildings on rue de Bac. Its former director, Father Denis Chaumont, was in exile in London where he tried to raise funds among English Catholics and French emigrants.
In 1794 he published his own paper entitled Address to Charitable Souls in London in favour of the Missions to the idolatrous peoples of China, Cochinchina, Tonkin. And, inspired by the idea of small donations of one penny a week in favour of the missions he had seen practiced by some Protestant communities in England, he proposed from its pages that every person of good will make a donation for MEP missionaries in Asia according to their means, however small.
To this end, he cited words he had read in an Anabaptist temple: “The world is made up of atoms and the sea of drops of water: thus, the smallest contributions together will produce a sum that will provide the means to spread the Gospel.” Fr Chaumont took this idea with him to France, when he finally had the opportunity to return to Paris in 1814.
Relying on parishes and the good will of lay people and priests, he imagined a network of associations called sociétés auxiliaires (auxiliary societies), whose members would commit themselves to reciting the prayer of Saint Francis Xavier for the missions every day and who, within their possibilities, would support them financially as well.
At this time, Pauline Jaricot, a young woman from the rich bourgeoisie of Lyon, tried with all her heart to make Christ known in her circles and at the ends of the world. In 1817 she founded the Réparatrices du cœur de Jésus méconnu et méprisé (Repair women of the misunderstood and despised heart of Jesus), an informal association of pious and devout women who contributed to missionary work through their offerings and prayers.
Particularly sensitive to the cause of the missions in Asia, Pauline had certainly heard of Fr Chaumont's association. In fact, her brother, Philéas, had entered the Seminary of Saint-Sulpice in 1820 in order to become a missionary in China (which he was unable to do for health reasons).
He often went to rue de Bac where a friend of his from Lyon, Jean-Louis Taberd, was preparing to leave for India, and so was able to tell Pauline about the efforts made by the Missions Etrangères de Paris to raise money to clothe and feed each missionary. He also told her that “with 150 francs a year, one could feed a catechist in China, and that each catechist could baptise up to 2,500 children".
From those stories Pauline Jaricot realised that to really increase support for missionaries in Asia the movement had to be better organised and have a more efficient structure. And so, what became the Society for the Propagation of the Faith took hold among Catholic circles in Lyon.
By 1821, the finances of the Paris seminary already included several donations made by Abbot Philéas Jaricot, and the association had a thousand members. The other decisive contribution was Pauline's passion for the missionaries’ stories from Asia that her brother Philéas passed on to her.
Eventually, she began to distribute copies of the Nouvelles lettres édifiantes des missions de la Chine et des Indes orientales (New Edifying Letters from the Missions of China and the East Indies), which included the letters received from MEP Fathers printed by the Paris seminary.
Pauline Jaricot, who used them to raise awareness of that venture, put together what would become the three pillars of the work of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, namely prayer, almsgiving and the press.
Soon a real journal was created, the Bulletin des Annales de la Propagation de la Foi (Bulletin of the Annals of the Propagation of the Faith) with a circulation 10,000 starting in 1825.
Linked to the passion of this young, 19th century lay woman for the spread of the Gospel in China and across Asia, this seed became the basis for the Society for the Propagation of the Faith in support of missions throughout the world.
By will of Pope Pius XI, the Society was granted Pontifical status with its headquarters transferred to Rome within the Pontifical Mission Societies, which also includes the Holy Childhood Association, the Society of St Peter the Apostle for the support of seminaries in missions, and the Missionary Union of Priests and Religious.
Such a network operates worldwide through national bodies established by each country’s Bishops' Conference. At present, Asian Christians are not only the recipients of support but also contributors who help the missions of the Catholic Church around the world.
[*] Institut de recherche France-Asie.