Congregation of the Mission
In order that he might better respond to a wide variety of needs, St. Vincent brought together as many people as he could, rich and poor, humble and powerful, and used every means to inspire in them a sensitivity to the poor, who are the privileged image of Christ. He moved them to help the poor directly and indirectly (Constitutions of the Congregation of the Mission, Introduction, p.19).
The purpose of the Congregation of the Mission is to follow Christ evangelizing the poor. This purpose is achieved when, faithful to St. Vincent, the members individually and collectively: (1) make every effort to put on the spirit of Christ himself (Common Rules I:3) in order to acquire a holiness appropriate to their vocation (Common Rules XII:13); (2) work at evangelizing the poor, especially the more abandoned; (3) help the clergy and laity in their formation and lead them to a fuller participation in the evangelization of the poor (Constitutions, #1).
From the time of its founder, the members of the Congregation of the Mission recognized that they had been called by God to continue the mission of evangelizing those persons who are poor.
Acknowledging the concerns of the Asian bishops, John Paul II told them that if the Church “is to fulfill its providential destiny, evangelization as the joyful, patient, and progressive preaching of the saving death and resurrection of Jesus Christ must be your absolute priority.” Those words hold true for all of us (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, #110).
Furthermore, all the members of the Congregation can say as Jesus himself said: I must proclaim the Good News of the kingdom of God (Luke 4:43).
The official name of this group of brothers and priests is the Congregation of the Mission (CM). The members are also referred to as the Lazarists because its origin can be traced to the time that the members resided at the Priory of Saint Lazare. In many English-speaking countries, the members are called Vincentians, while in Spain, the members are known as Paules and in Latin American, known as Vicentinos.
The motto of the Congregation is: Evangelizare pauperibus misit me, that is, he has sent me to proclaim the Good News to the poor (Luke 4:8). April 17th, 1625 marked the official establishment of the Congregation since it was then that the de Gondi’s and Vincent signed a contract that provided financial resources that sustained the mission of the Congregation.
The specific purpose of the Congregation, as indicated in its official name, is to preach missions to the poor, especially to the poor living in the rural areas who at the time of Vincent, were abandoned by the Church. Vincent soon realized that the fruit of the popular missions would quickly vanish unless there were good priests who would continue that work. Therefore, Vincent engaged in seminary work, first, through the retreats for the ordinands, then with the Tuesday conferences and ministry in diocesan seminaries. When Vincent died in 1660, the community that Vincent had envisioned, had become a reality. Between the years 1625 and 1654, twenty-six local houses were opened (nineteen in France, two in Italy, two in Barbary and one in Poland).
As a result of the French Revolution, the country was devastated, and this led to the establishment of the Congregation in the Middle East and the Far East, as well as in the Americas and Asia (significant at that time was the establishment of Congregation in China).
At the beginning of the Third Millennium the Congregation was composed of 39 provinces and 5 vice-provinces.
From the time of its establishment until the XVIII century the Congregation experienced an uninterrupted development. The Vincentian missionaries who numbered 25 in 1632 had grown to 770 at the beginning of the French Revolution in 1792 (508 priests and 262 brothers … there were also at that time 220 seminarists).
As a result of the decree that suppressed the religious orders in France, the members of the Congregation were scattered. Twenty-four confreres were murdered or died on the barricades. In 1804 Napoleon reestablished the Congregation and seventy confreres gathered together and committed themselves to a common life.
In 1809 the Congregation was once against suppressed and it was not until 1816 that it was definitively reestablished. During the XIX century there was an increase in numbers which allowed the Congregation to open new missions in France: parishes, major seminaries. This increase in numbers also permitted the Congregation to send missionaries to Asia (especially China), the Middle East and South America.
In the XX century the separation of Church and State in France produced a certain stagnation. In France, the Congregation was recognized as a Church institution and remained active throughout the world. In the post-war period, the French missionaries began to minister in Cameroon.
Present state of the Congregation
The Congregation of the Mission is a “Society of Apostolic Life” governed by the decrees of the General Assembly which is held every six years and also governed by the Superior General who resides in Rome and is supported by a Vicar-General and four assistants. Provincial Assemblies are held every three years. The Constitutions and Statutes of the Congregation were approved by the Holy See in 1984.
The Congregation is composed of priests and brothers, consecrated by vows to the mission of evangelizing the poor. Vincent encouraged his followers to cultivate the practice of five characteristic virtues: humility, simplicity, meekness, mortification and zeal. Those virtues are interior attitudes and are indispensable when referring to the mission of proclaiming the Gospel.
The primary work of the Congregation is popular missions and lay formation. These missions might be short-term (3 to 5 weeks) or long term (six to ten years). Confreres are also involved in parish administration and higher education.