VATICAN CITY, JAN. 8, 2004 (Zenit.org).- After a century and a half, the Pontifical Missionary Society of Holy Childhood is still helping children extend a helping hand to millions of their contemporaries worldwide.
The group, which is under the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, was founded in Paris by Bishop Charles de Forbin Janson of Nancy, in May 1843.
“Moved by the sufferings of some Chinese children, who were abandoned, unbaptized and without anything,” the bishop began by creating a movement that also included “French children who prayed for Chinese children and then committed himself to help them financially,” Father Patrick Byrne, secretary-general of Missionary Childhood, told Vatican Radio this week.
“Today we have a strong presence of Missionary Childhood in almost all the countries of the world, and we administer a large fund for projects similar to the first one,” he said. “Deep down, however, there is always the commitment to evangelize the children who still don’t know Christ.”
According to data issued by the pontifical group, of the world’s 800 million children, 250 million are considered “slaves” and some 12 million suffer and die from illnesses and malnutrition each year.
Some 18,000 children die daily from hunger alone, while AIDS has left 14 million orphans. At least 300,000 are child-soldiers and some 20 million have been displaced by bellicose conflicts.
In this context, the purpose of the World Day of Missionary Childhood, observed last Tuesday, the feast of Epiphany, is to awaken in children a universal missionary conscience, and material and spiritual communion with other youngsters, especially those of the poorest areas and Churches.
Active in 115 countries, Missionary Childhood in 2002 allocated $13 million in aid to finance 2,667 projects worldwide, especially in Africa and Asia.
“In Germany, for example, on the occasion of the day of Kings, there is a great fund-raising campaign for the children of the world,” Father Byrne said. “Half a million children mobilize from all parishes. They go from house to house singing carols and asking for financial and spiritual help for needy children.”