Progressio (organization)

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Progressio (1940 - 2017) was an international development charity that enables poor communities to solve their own problems through support from skilled workers. The organisation attempted to influence decision-makers, secular and religious alike, to support liberation movements and to guard against human rights abuses.[1] It also lobbied legislators to change policies that keep people poor. It was formerly known as The Catholic Institute for International Relations and the Sword of the Spirit.

On 14 September 2016, Progressio announced that, due to funding issues, it was shutting down operations,[2] it closed in March 2017.


Cardinal Hinsley founded Sword of the Spirit in August 1940. The organization was later known as the Catholic Institute of International Relations (CIIR) and then became Progressio. This has been credited as "Probably Hinsley's most memorable act".[3]

Their long-term goal was to put into effect Christian social teachings as an alternative to totalitarianism and extremism of all ideologies. In the short term, its goal was to promote awareness and acceptance of the five Peace Points proposed by Pius XII soon after his election in 1939; the defence of small nations, the right to life, disarmament, some new kind of League of Nations, and a plea for the moral principles of justice and love.[4]

Although founded by the cardinal, the movement was intended to be a lay organization. The first vice-president was Christopher Dawson, but practical organization was in the hands of Richard O'Sullivan K.C., Barbara Ward, and Professor A. C. F. Beales of London University and his wife, Freda.[5]

The aims behind the movement were set out in a letter to The Times (December 21, 1941) signed jointly by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York (Cosmo Gordon Lang and William Temple), by Cardinal Hinsley, and by the Moderator of the Free Churches (W. H. Armstrong). Hinsley hoped to make the movement ecumenical, organizing two interdenominational mass meetings in London in May 1941,[6] but in the course of 1941 the Vatican insisted that Catholic and Protestant social movements be segregated,[7] and a parallel movement under the name Religion and Life was inaugurated for non-Catholics.[8]

In 1965 the name Catholic Institute for International Relations (CIIR) was adopted.[9] At the beginning of 1967 Mildred Mary Nevile, who had been working at CIIR since 1958, became the secretary-general of the CIIR and she proposed change. She championed the idea that they would concentrate on the development required to end poverty in the world. Causes it had previously championed such as anti-racism and world peace could be left to other organisations. She believed that the institution had to show solidarity with the countries that they were working with to encourage their participation.[10]

The organisation was active in South America in the late 1970s. South America was an early focus for the institution. They knew about the terrible condition in the tin mines in Bolivia and they were able to use this to persuade the UK government to not give the mines a grant and knowing the conditions in El Salvador they managed to prevent the sale of arms to those in power there.[10] In Africa they were able to quietly channel funds to anti-apartheid groups including funds supplied by the Swedish government.

In 1985 Nevile became an MBE for her work. She decided her priorities lay elsewhere and she left the CIIR and went on to take a degree at Leeds University.[10]

On 1 January 2006, CIIR changed its name to Progressio.[11]

Progressio development workers had a minimum of two years' work experience, and often with a background in training — formal or informal.[12]

Throughout its history, the organisation attempted to influence decision-makers, secular and religious alike, to support liberation movements and to guard against human rights abuses.[1]

In March 2009, it had around 90 development workers in post coming from 30 different countries. Progressio had a sister organisation, Progressio Ireland, which operated out of Dublin and worked in tandem with Progressio on its global projects.


  1. ^ a b "AIM25 text-only browsing: Institute of Commonwealth Studies: Catholic Institute for International Relations". Retrieved 5 June 2019.
  2. ^ [1] McEnery, Martin. Progressio to close after 75 years. Progressio
  3. ^ Richard F. Costigan, review of Westminster, Whitehall and the Vatican: The Role of Cardinal Hinsley, 1935-1943 by Thomas Moloney, in Church History 55:3 (1986), p. 396.
  4. ^ Sister Margherita Marchione, "Pope of Peace: Pius XII's Coronation Anniversary", National Catholic Register, March 8–14, 2009.
  5. ^ Christina Scott, A Historian and His World: A Life of Christopher Dawson (New Brunswick and London, 1992), 137-147.
  6. ^ "Religion: Unity in Britain", Time Magazine, May 19, 1941.
  7. ^ Magdalen Goffin, The Watkin Path: An Approach to Belief. The Life of E. I. Watkin (Sussex Academic Press, 2006), 215
  8. ^ Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, s.v. "Sword of the Spirit"
  9. ^ Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, s.v. "Sword of the Spirit".
  10. ^ a b c "Mildred Nevile: Campaigner who fought tirelessly for the world's poor". The Independent. 18 September 2012. Retrieved 24 June 2020.
  11. ^ History page on organization website Archived 7 October 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ entry[permanent dead link] in the City of London Family and Young People's Service Directory.

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