Commemorating Adversities that Opened Unexpected Horizons: 150 Years of a Revolutionary Storm that Transformed the Congregation

Sep 1, 2018 | Anniversaries, Congregation

On September 18, 1868, the so-called Glorious Revolution broke out. On the 30th of the same month, Fr. Claret left for exile in France with Isabel II and his royal entourage; and the Congregation lived its first martyr experience with the death of Fr. Francisco Crusats. All the Claretian communities, except Huesca, were evicted and the missionaries sought refuge where they could. On October 18, the government suppressed, among others, our Institute at a civilian level. Meanwhile, Father José Xifré, threatened with death and hidden, tried to govern a dispersed Congregation touched by discouragement and despair. As we celebrate the 150th anniversary of these events, let us turn our attention to this memorable page of our history to discover the spirit with which our brothers faced each other and tried to overcome the difficulties.

It had not been 20 years since the foundation and everything seemed to be fine at our Institute: civil approval received in 1859; Rome gave its Decretum Laudis in 1860; it had achieved the desired pontifical approval of its Constitutions ad decennium per modum experimenti, in 1865. Since 1862 the doors were opened to students; the communities reached half a dozen: Vic, Gracia (Barcelona), Segovia, Huesca, Jaca and La Selva del Campo; and the number of the missionaries increased considerably, to the point of reaching almost a hundred. In addition, the proximity of the Founder, who in 1857 had returned from Cuba, was a great incentive. Everything seemed to go smoothly.

Certainly the Congregation had gone through a severe crisis during the so-called Progressive Biennium of 1854-1856. Although the Spanish political situation seemed to have subsided in the following years, deep down there was a lot of instability. In August 1857, a few months after arriving from Cuba, Fr. Claret sensed the danger of an uprising. After telling Fr. Antonio Barjau that he continue to be the archbishop of Santiago, he told him: “I fear a great revolution before long …” (EC, I, 1390). On June 22, 1866, Claret experienced very closely the popular fury in the uprising of the Barracks of San Gil. While the insurgents barricaded themselves in front of the Hospital de Montserrat, where Fr. Claret lived, he took refuge in the chapel of the Virgin of the chapel, he thought they were going to enter after him. For that reason, he prepared himself spiritually, as he told Fr. Xifré: “I offered my life to the Lord and I was always very calm” (EC, II, 1016).

Pius IX granted to Isabel II the honor of the Rose of Gold and Fr. Claret was the pontifical delegate for the awarding. With this gesture that reflected the good understanding between the Church and the liberal State began the year 1868. However, the most radical sectors of liberalism and, above all, the revolutionary forces that sought the fall of the Monarchy, were forging a final blow . On September 18, General Juan Prim ignited the fuse of the revolution in Cádiz, which spread throughout the Peninsula. On the 28th of that same month, the monarchical army was definitively defeated in the battle of Alcolea and the so-called Democratic Sexennium was inaugurated. Two days later, the Queen, who was taking baths in San Sebastian, had to flee to France. Father Claret, as the confessor to the queen, accompanied her. They spent a little over a month in Pau and then settled in Paris. On March 30 of the following year, our Founder was freed from his position and was able to move to Rome to participate in the preparation of the Vatican Council I.

The effects of the revolution in the Claretian communities were immediate. The communities of Vic and Segovia were evicted by the provincial revolutionary parties. The bishop of Jaca, frightened by the turmoil of the political environment, came forward and unilaterally suppressed the community of that city. The missionaries of the community of Gracia, seeing the danger of the revolutionary mobs that roamed the streets, decided to disperse to save their lives. The community of Huesca, thanks to the mettle of Fr. Hilario Brossosa and the popularity that the missionaries had gained, remained firm amid the excesses of the revolution in that region.

The most tragic event was the assault on the community of La Selva del Campo on September 30. The majority of missionaries managed to hide, but Fathers Reixach and Crusats decided to open the door of the convent to calm the arrival of Reus. Although the first missionary managed to escape and hide in the temple, the executioners took Father Francisco Crusats, and, after beating him and humiliating him, they gave him two shots and a knifed him in the neck. The news of this violent death reached the ears of the rest of the missionaries and produced great consternation. On the other hand, the Founder, who was in Pau, experienced this situation with greater spiritual depth. This was reflected in his letter addressed to Fr. General on October 7: “Let us give thanks to God: the Lord and his Blessed Mother have already deigned to accept the first fruits of the martyrs. I very much wanted to be the first martyr of the Congregation, but I have not been worthy, another has won my hand. I congratulate the Martyr and Saint Crusats, and I congratulate S. Reixach for the luck he has had in being wounded, and I also give a thousand compliments to all those of the Congregation for the joy he has of being persecuted. Tell them on my part to have courage and confidence in the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Storms or hurricanes do not last forever; tranquility comes after it … “(EC, II, 1297-1298).

On October 18, the new government decreed the civil suppression of the Congregation, as well as that of several others that had managed to reestablish themselves in Spain after the exclaustration of the religious in 1835. Many missionaries considered that this blow was deadly for the Congregation. The atmosphere of discouragement increased. A few days before, Fr. Xifré wrote to the Founder explaining the situation and how he himself was taking refuge in different towns surrounding Vic because the revolutionaries had threatened him with death. Father Claret, from his refuge in Pau, wrote him again on October 18, saying: “It seems very good to me that you have retired and hidden in order to avoid further displeasure; and so from your corner you can give the dispositions that you consider convenient with respect to others. As much as possible, in the different places where they are, make sure that they live two by two Priests with one or two Brothers that make them their meals; that they live as if they were in the Mission House, keeping the Rules and recollections; that they are engaged in confessing, animating, and consoling the faithful; that they exhort them to pray and have frequent sacraments “(EC, II, 1304-1305).

Faced with the fears of some who believed that the Congregation no longer had a future, Father Founder then said: “Tell them on my behalf that they have faith and trust in Jesus and in Mary. For my part, thanks be to God, am very contented and cheerful, and still happy. I consider that God is so wise, so good and powerful, that even from bad things he brings out goods, that I hope that the Congregation will still get a great good out of these tribulations “(EC, II, 1305).

Father Claret offered his missionaries a simile taken from the Gospel that reflected very well the reality that the Congregation was living, which requires a deeper understanding and interpret it from the keys of faith and hope. He ends the aforementioned letter written on the feast of St. Luke, saying: “Well have you seen that in St. Luke (which we celebrate today) the Laborer sows in his field; the wheat grows nicely and grows in such a way that the whole field looks like a green carpet; but oh my God! Frigid weather comes, winds from north so strong and frost so intense, that burn the leaves of wheat and as if all this were not enough, a heavy snow falls that it completely covers the field; the fool is frightened, but the Laborer trusts that the snow will melt, that the cold will calm down and the good weather will come; and then you will know that all these annoyances have served to cast the wheat deeper roots and grown sprouts. Courage, then … “(EC, II, 1304-1306).

In fact, it was. At the beginning of November, Fr. Xifré was crossing the Pyrenees in search of a safe place to reopen the novitiate and welcome the missionaries scattered throughout the Peninsula. From the town of Prades, and later Thuir, the Congregation regrouped, taking deeper roots and even crossing the seas, thus unexpectedly expanding its universal mission.

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