One hundred years of the Claretians in Colombia: 1909-2009

Feb 15, 2009 | Brothers, Claretian Family, Community Life

100 years at the service of the poor
Colombia. The Community of the Claretian Missionaries celebrates the first centenary of their presence in Colombia; the activities begin in Quibdó next Friday, February 13. The Creation of the Claretian University Foundation is the central fact of the centenary.

Between Friday, February 13 through February 17, the opening of the centenary of the Community of Claretians in Colombia will take place. The first missionaries from Spain arrived in Chocó on February 13, 1909. Now Fr. Agustín Monroy, Provincial Superior of Occidental Colombia made the announcement; he indicated that the activities begin in Quibdó with the presence of the Apostolic Nuncio, Mons. Aldo Cavalli and of the General Superior of the Claretians, Father Josep M. Abella, from Rome.

During the year 2009, the jubilee will extend to other regions of the country where they carry out their mission: Riosucio, Atrato Medio, Medellín, Cali, Pereira, Manizales, Cartagena, Barranquilla, Valledupar, Tierradentro (Cor), Sincelejo, La Estrella, Tumaco, Bogotá, Bosa, Chía, Sasaima, Neiva, Pie de Cuesta, Cúcuta and Medellín del Ariari, among others.

Defenders of the impoverished communities

Father Agustín stated that “since 1909 the Claretians assumed in Colombia a commitment that, together with preaching, is centred on the transformation and realization of works full of faith and hope throughout the length and breadth of the national territory.” The missionaries identified with the people and culture of Chocó were engineers, architects, anthropologists, educators, theologians, biblicists, investigators, poets, designers, film makers, musicians, composers, writers and even pilots, all dedicated to service, unafraid of the inclement and unhealthy weather, violence and even death. The difficult socio-economic conditions suffered in these lands by blacks, indians and peasants strengthened their missionary option for Life, for the oppressed, the basic organizations, the defence of the territory and the liberating and inculturated church, respectful of the identity and the customs of the natives.

Culture, education and social organization

At the end of the decade of the 80s and beginning of the 90s, the missionaries headed the difficult fight for the recognition of the ethnic rights and the collective titling of indigenous and Afro-descendants, a work that nourished the National Constitution of 1991. But the escalation of the armed conflict has been deteriorating and causing hundreds of dead persons, disappeared and thousands of displaced, from whom the land was taken for the extraction of wood, planting of oil palms, extensive cattle, mining and execution of great projects of infrastructure and national parks.
Jointly with the Diocese of Quibdó and basic organizations, the Claretians demanded that the national government fulfil the 70 Law or Law of Black Communities and the indigenous legislation, and obtained that about one million hectares were collectively titled in favour of the Afro-Atrateño communities, and more than a million were legalized in indigenous securities.

Their cultural work is directed toward the assessment of uses and customs, investigation, realization of architectural works, creation of popular schools of dance, theatre and music; literary, musical, film and pictorial productions; creation of the Mama Ú Cultural Centre, of the Cultural Encounters in the Atrato and the Youth Art Festival, the Organization of the Embera, Wounaan and Tule, OREWA town councils, and the Integral Peasant Association of the Atrato, ACIA.

To foster education, in the midst of the war the missionaries promoted in 1997, from Riosucio, the Claret Rural Itinerant School, with four educative centres. This experience was repeated and adapted to the Middle Atrato through the ICEMA or Etno-educative Centres, from which tens of secondary school graduates have come out as of today. In this model it is not the students who displace themselves to the school; it is the school that reaches to the various corners of the forest. But the interest to educate was not exhausted with the school solution. The Camino Biblical Centre, established for the religious formation, was changed into a higher educative project, the Claretian University Foundation, FUCLA, whose central office is in Quibdó; with the theme “truth will make you free,” it offers to the most defenceless towns of the country the opportunity to advance in programs of Anthropology, Social Word, Theology, Religious Education and Art and Culture Education.

Diverse and fruitful work

Quibdó is a testimony of the fruitful management of the Claretian Missionaries in Colombia: buildings like the Municipal Palace, School Barrio, Carrasquilla School, old hospital and Episcopal Palace, all of them work of Vicente Galicia; the cathedral, of Pedro Grau. The defence of the indigenous cause of the martyr Modesto Arnáus; the foundation of the towns Bahía Solano, by Francisco Onetti and Balboa by the pilot missionary Alcides Fernández; wide study of the Embera language and culture of Constancio Pinto; books and films of Ángel Canals and the artistic contribution of Isaac Rodríguez, formator of famous musicians such as Alexis Lozano, Nino Caicedo and Jairo Varela, are some of the many realizations in Chocó.

“Following the purpose of our founder, the Spanish missionary archbishop Saint Anthony Mary Claret, his missionaries expect that forces pool together in the country, that people renounce political and corrupt selfishness and that the conscience and responsibility of the community may be awakened in terms of justice, fairness, solidarity and integrity of men and women, indigenous, black and mestizos,” Father Agustín Monroy ended.


Missionaries and lay persons coming from the whole country will arrive in Quibdó to start a wide programming that will begin on Friday 13 with the reception of the missionary excursion that evokes the arrival of the expedition that in 1909 travelled through the waters of the Atrato until they reached Quibdó. In the programme a few things will stand out: the sessions of the Provincial Assembly of the Community, the blessing of the Auditorium and the Library, a mass animated by Afro-Chocoans, the launching of projects and proposals, conferences, expositions, dances, music, choirs, recitals, documentaries and various social encounters.

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