This is the story of the Pact of the Catacombs for a Church of the Poor and its long forgotten counterpart, the Pietralata Message, for a worker Church.

The story begins with a proposal by Brazilian Archbishop Helder Camara to hold two Eucharistic celebrations towards the end of the Fourth Session of Vatican II in October or November 1965.

Camara explained the proposal in a letter to his Brazilian colleagues:

(It will be) a concelebration in Cardijn’s cardinal’s church involving twenty bishops from around the world (the difficulty will be to select them). All others will also be invited. A Mass specially dedicated to workers. Delegations from neighbouring countries will come. Workers from Rome will come. In the midst of the Mass, we will take a solemn oath, more concrete and binding than that of Cardijn. The minimum that we will promise will be to renounce our purple habits and the title of Excellency… After the mass, we will have coffee in confraternity with the working class.

Another concelebration (will be held) at St Mary’s at Trastevere, one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Rome… Twenty bishops from the whole world (again, the difficulty will be to choose them), perhaps around Cardinal Lercaro or Patriarch Maximos IV, who is the protector of the Group of the Poor, which is a little suspect in the eyes of the Holy Office. We will invite poor people from the neighbourhood…

Helder Camara, Lettres conciliaires, II, 802.

As it turned out, the two masses did take place on successive evenings on 16 and 17 November 1965, just prior to the promulgation of the Decree on Lay Apostolate, Apostolicam Actuositatem, on 18 November.

The original order of the masses, however, was reversed. The Mass for a Poor and Servant Church was held first, not at Trastevere, but in the Domitilla Catacombs. It was there that the document later to become known as the Pact of the Catacombs was adopted by the bishops present.

The Mass for Workers took place the following evening at Cardijn’s cardinal’s parish church of St Michael Archangel in the working class Rome suburb of Pietralata. There, the gathered bishops adopted a second document, the Pietralata Message.

Much has been written about the Pact of the Catacombs yet little is known of the Pietralata Message.

This website presents them both pairing them again in the way that Helder Camara had originally intended and hoped.

Stefan Gigacz

St Michael Archangel Church, Pietralata – Cardijn’s parish as a cardinal
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