May the joy of the Easter celebration of the Lord fill your hearts and energize your missionary commitment. These days, we are accompanied by the reading of the Acts of the Apostles, which shows us the path of the first Christian community, characterized by hearing the Word of God, the memory of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus in the service of ” the breaking of bread “, the communion of hearts and possessions both within the community and to those most in need, the missionary outreach through the proclamation of the Gospel and persecution. In the Book of Revelations, which we are reading in the liturgy of the hours, reveals to us however that, beyond the persecutions, we await the joyful meeting with the risen Lord, victor over death, and the experience of an unwavering fraternity in this “new city” in which the love of the Father makes all things new.
Over the past few months we have been touched by the pain of thousands of people who have suffered devastating losses due to earthquakes in Haiti and Chile. Many of them had to mourn the death of their loved ones and many more looked on, helpless, as the fruits of many years of hard work were utterly destroyed. Our brothers from Haiti, the Antilles and Chile personally lived through this suffering and have known what it’s like to be close to those who have suffered most from the consequences of these earthquakes. Their testimony has invited us all, in different ways, to express our solidarity with the situation of those affected by these disasters. I thank you all for the generous support you have offered.
The Church is going through a difficult time. It is vital to take on board, with humility, what we know to be true in the criticisms levelled at the management structure and reinforce everything that contributes to increasing our credibility in the world today. In this Year of the Priest, particularly hurtful are the accusations which reveal a remarkable lack of consistency in some of those called to serve the Christian community in this ministry. It should become a time of deep cleansing. It is a call from the Lord to adhere more radically to the Gospel and allow it to be the only guide in our lives.
In the congregation we are witnessing an important period of adoption of the General Chapter, which invites us to let the fire of the love of God be the only thing that inspires our lives and our apostolate. Each Province, Delegation and community must let themselves be challenged by the provisions of the chapter document and see how they can translate them into concrete commitments in their own reality.
In recent months we have had to mourn the death of the Major Superior of the Delegation of Canada, Fr. Yvon Lafontaine, and his Vicar , Fr Yves Gauthier. The testimony of faith and hope that they left us in the last months of their lives, when their cancers had progressed relentlessly, are like an invitation to live our missionary vocation with generosity. We join with the Delegation of Canada during this time of grief.
As usual, I comment on some of the highlights of the intensive Council meetings which General Government held from 9th- 25th March.
In recent months there have been numerous Provincial Chapters and Independent Delegation Triennial Assemblies. The document produced by the General Chapter has been, of course, at the forefront of their attention. Some have been Chapters in Provinces with a long history and others in young Organisms. The circumstances were varied, but the question was always the same: how to be true missionaries in the different ecclesial and cultural contexts in which we live. I highlight some issues that have appeared repeatedly in almost all the Chapters and Assemblies.
The need to care for the means of spiritual growth and the time required to ensure that the experience of God really touches every dimension of our lives. Without a strong spiritual base it will be difficult to achieve the degree of credibility that is demanded of the evangeliser and religious community.
The urgent need to embody more strongly in our lives the ideal of missionary brotherhood that makes our communities the proclamation of the newness of the kingdom. In all of the Chapters we have heard complaints about a growing individualism and the desire to deepen community relationships beyond just a peaceful, even pleasant, coexistence, creating space to share the Word and the experience of faith, and reinforcing a sense of co- responsibility in the missionary projects.
Creativity in pastoral action. We cannot get bogged down in ways that are no longer able to arouse, in people today, those questions that help open their hearts to God and to our brothers, and fail to guide people to a true experience of God. There has been talk of an apostolic initiative which harmoniously integrates the dimensions that must characterize any Claretian ministry: the constant reference to the Word of God, dialogue with society and religions, the commitment to peace, justice and the integrity of Creation; the vocational dimension that awakens in people a personal inclination towards Christ and the Kingdom; creativity in the search for language-forms understandable to people today and in the use of new technologies.
We have talked about the revision of positions and Organisms. It seems, however, that to thoroughly address the issue of the revision of positions still produces a feeling of dread . It is a dimension that must be present also in the new Organisms. It has been vital that these Organisms know how to create balance in the development of more stable pastoral structures with plans to assimilate and promote itinerant missionary work. The formation of missionaries is another issue that has appeared frequently, but there has been an insistence that those with specialist training have to give attention to provincial and congregational projects and not just personal projects.
The issue of vocations and formation has been addressed in each of the Chapters. They have underlined the commitment of each and every one to vocation s. Basically it is an indicator of the enthusiasm everyone has for their own Claretian missionary vocation. With regard to formation, without forgetting the importance of good academic preparation, all Chapter documents stress the need to give priority to the assimilation of the fundamental values of our identity as Claretian Missionaries. The preparation of formators and their availability for this service are issues that recur in the resolutions of each Chapter.
The Chapters have taken on board the suggestions of the General Chapter on the economy, emphasising not only the attitude and behaviour that reflect the values of transparency, austerity and solidarity which are fundamental in the field of economics within the Claretian community, but also the need to take steps towards greater coordination of economic management and to the creation of new sources of funding for educational and apostolic projects.
I extend my welcome to the new teams of government that have been elected in the Chapters or those who have been appointed to the Independent Delegations and thank them all for their willingness to accept this form of service to their brothers. They know they will have the support of the General Government.
During Council meetings we have examined the processes of congregational reorganization which are in progress, and approved some of the timetables. The delegations of Peru and Bolivia will join together forming a new Province in July this year. In the United States it is anticipated that a single Province will be created in December this year. The new Province that will be made up of Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela should be set up in July 2011. The four Organisms in the south of Latin America (Argentina-Uruguay, Chile, Paraguay and Humahuaca) are working to determine the next steps in the process. In each of these places they are doing everything necessary to ensure that the reorganization will be an occasion of true missionary renewal. The definition of the new mission project for the area, which is the core around which the new Major Organism has been established, has proven to be a very important task in this process of reorganization. The openness of each Claretian in these Organisms and their ability to look towards the future have been key elements in these processes. Of equal importance has been the work of the governments of the Provinces and Delegations involved. We are trying to create the conditions to continue contributing, in a relevant way, our missionary charism to the churches located in our Provinces and Delegations.
We also decided to establish the new Korean Independent Delegation which we intend to inaugurate on the 24th of June this year. To our brothers in Korea, we send our best wishes in their work so that the story which is just beginning to unfold will be a true missionary story.
Unfortunately, there has recently been no shortage of requests from those who have decided to leave the congregation or the priesthood. Others have requested secularization so as to join the diocesan clergy. There are several reasons which have been put forward in their requests, but in most of them one can detect a process that begins with the gradual withdrawal from the personal and community dynamics defined by the Constitutions for growth in missionary vocation. Other values surface of greater appeal which lead members to leave the community, which had initially been the environment where the Lord intended them to live out their vocation. In the case of requests for secularization, the desire for total economic independence inevitably plays an important role. All this makes us think about the need for greater emphasis on the internalization of the fundamental values of religious life in the process of formation.
In the area of spirituality, we approve the key points of the Centre of Claretian Spirituality’s plan for this sexennium in the various aspects of its work: research on Fr. Founder, the nurturing of Claretian spirituality in the Congregation, care of groups visiting Claretian places, and the courses and workshops that are developed in Vic, and the dissemination of materials to increase awareness of St Anthony M. Claret. The CESC team has been formed for the first three of these six years, with Frs. Jesudoss, its director, Jesus M. Palacios, Anthony Ejikeme and Carlos Sanchez. Fr Severiano Blanco will provide temporary support and it is expected that Fr Jesus Bermejo will join the team after returning from Cuba where, for over two years, he has been researching this period in the life of Fr Founder and providing invaluable support in the community of Santiago de Cuba.
Another issue that has occupied our attention has been the organization of the initiative “The Forge project in our daily life” that the General Chapter has decided to be promoted in the Congregation for the period of this sexennium. The Prefecture of Spirituality will disseminate it. A team made up of Claretians from different cultural areas of the Congregation has already developed the support materials that will guide us in the first year of the initiative. The entire project is expected to last for four years, which will encompass the four core principles of the spiritual and apostolic experience of P. Founder: Quid prodest, Patris mei, Spiritus Domini y Charitas. Through them, the journey of charismatic renewal, which the initiative has as its objective, is delineated. Each stage will be published as one of nine booklets that will guide us throughout the year. The Prefecture of Spirituality will give a detailed presentation on the initiative and how to carry it out. This will be an opportunity to deepen our experience of our missionary vocation from which we all should take maximum advantage. I urge everyone to accept the project as a gift that the Lord gives us and to create the necessary time during our daily routines to follow it.
We also remember some jubilee dates that can help us to live our vocational experience with more enthusiasm and appreciate the spiritual heritage we have inherited. On 13th June this year, during the Year of the Priest, we celebrate 175 years since the priestly ordination of Fr Founder. Some Claretians will meet up in Solsona to commemorate this event. Others will join them from different parts of the world. In 2011 we will commemorate the 150th anniversary of the day when Fr Founder received the Eucharistic Grace. To celebrate this we are planning on organizing, in Segovia, Spain, a workshop on the Eucharistic dimension of Claretian spirituality, thus completing the Life-Eucharist initiative. Finally, throughout 2011 we will commemorate the 75th anniversary of the martyrdom of many of our brothers who were killed during the Spanish Civil War of 1936 and, especially, that of the Blessed Martyrs of Barbastro. All this will help us grow in our desire to follow Jesus and to sacrifice everything for the Kingdom.
The Prefect of Formation presented the programme for developing the “Heart of Mary School” for formators, to be held in Vic from 6th April- 26th June this year. On this occasion there will be 20 formators taking part. The General Government invites all the Provinces and Delegations to send to the school those who are working in the area of formation or who will to do so in the future. The school will offer good specific preparation for Claretians involved in formation and is, moreover, a great opportunity for dialogue amongst formators of different cultural areas of the Congregation. I emphasize what I have stated on other occasions: it must be remembered that this is a course for formators and not a programme of renewal. For this latter objective we will continue to schedule some workshops that we have called “Encounter with Claret.”
The Prefect of Apostolate presented us with the findings of the planning meeting of the Prefecture, together with those responsible for the Secretariats of Justice and Peace, Pastoral vocation and the Procurator of Missions, which took place in Madrid last February. It included Claretians from different parts of the Congregation. The project of the Prefecture will be presented to the Meeting of General Government with Major Superiors. In the coming months, the Prefect will organize, through Conferences, meetings with Provincial Prefects to specify, in each area, congregational priorities in the area of ministry for the sexennium.
The review and approval of balance sheets and budgets of the General Government and Provinces and Delegations took up an important part of our time. I want to thank the General Economic Council for their efforts in the two weeks prior to the meeting of the General Government. Their report, as always, helped us enormously in our work. The crisis in the global economy has also been felt in the Congregation and this has made us unable to respond with the generosity that we would like to all the requests that have come our way. The General Government continues in its efforts to find a better way of using its capital resources in Rome, to effectively meet the growing needs of formation and mission in different parts of the Congregation. I thank all the Organisms for their generous contribution to the needs of the worldwide Congregation and ask those who benefit from this aid the utmost care in controlling their own budgets. The General Government must meet the construction costs of some centres of formation in areas where the Congregation is newly established, with all the costs involved. A request for assistance has gone to some Provinces and Delegations, and they have responded generously. The support of programmes and facilities of formation are the most important investments we can make for the future.
The Prefecture for Economy will hold a meeting with the Economes of the Provinces and Delegations in September 2011. Necessary information will be sent in due course.
From 5th-12th May, in Lagos (Nigeria), there will be a meeting with all the Major Superiors of Africa and some representatives of the Missions that are established on the continent. There will be five members of the General Government present. One of the priorities we have set for this sexennium is the consolidation of the Congregation in Africa and a new organization to facilitate the achievement of this objective. Next year we want to organize a meeting with all the Major Superiors of Europe because we feel an urgent need to reconsider our congregational presence in Europe, and to look for organizational structures and pastoral strategies best suited to the new situation we are experiencing there.
From 8th-18th September, in Colmenar Viejo, we will have the Meeting of the General Government with all Major Superiors which, as already foreseen in the Action Plan of General Government, aims to “agree on the most important actions of Government during the period and the criteria with which they will be carried out” (Plan of Action, no. 18). I entrust this Meeting to your prayers.
May the Lord bless your lives and your missionary work.
Josep M. Abella, cmf. Superior General