It is the second so-called "super dicastery" called for by Pope Francis in an effort to simplify the workings of the various departments in the Vatican. Dicasteries help the Pope organize and govern various social and administrative aspects of the Church.
Pope Francis signed the apostolic letter on August 17. Headed by African cardinal Peter Turkson, the new department will address "issues regarding migrants, those in need, the sick, the excluded and marginalized, the imprisoned and the unemployed, as well as victims of armed conflict, natural disasters, and all forms of slavery and torture."
As of January 1, 2017, it will replace four currently existing departments, including the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, and the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers.
The Gang of Nine, the Holy Father's close group of cardinal-advisors, recommended in June that he establish the super-dicastery. Among the Holy Father's advisors are German cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the German Catholic Bishops' Conference during the largest decline in German Catholicism since the Protestant revolt of the 16th century.
The first super-dicastery was announced in October 2015 and is designated the Dicastery for Family, Laity and Life and is headed by American bishop Kevin Ferrell. It will begin functioning on September 1.