It is going to be five years in a few months since we celebrated the XXV General Chapter in August- September 2015. I am sure that the invitation of the Chapter to undertake the three transformative processes in our Congregation is bearing fruits in our life and mission. This year 2020 marks several important events in the Congregation: The 150 years of the arrival of the Claretians in the “new vine” that Claret fondly called in the same year that the Lord called him to the Father; 125 years of the arrival of Claretians in Brazil, 75 years of Claretian presence in Philippines, 50 years of Claretian presence in Cameroun and in India. Meaningful commemoration of these events in this Claretian year is a good prelude to the next General Chapter that we hope to celebrate in 2021.
We stepped into this sexennium with the new impulse brought to the Church by the pontificate of Pope Francis and our reflections were greatly influenced by his two magnificent documents Evangelii Gaudium and Laudato si. The invitation of the Pope to the Claretians to adore, walk forth and accompany charted a way of being missionaries today centered in the Lord and going forth in mission accompanying the people of God.
Significant events in the Church after the Chapter
We walked in the spirit of the Chapter and continued to enrich our life and mission from the ongoing teachings of the Pope and the events taking place in the Church. I like to recall some of the significant events and teachings that we have had in the Church after the last Chapter:
- Synod of Family (2015), the celebration of the Year of Mercy (2016), Synod of youth (2018) and the synod of Amazonia (2019).
- Important documents such as Amoris Laetitia (2016), Veritatis Gaudium (2018), Gaudete Exsultate (2018) and Christus Vivit (2019).
In the past years, the Church has lived through difficult and challenging situations as well as many graceful moments. Pope’s encounters with Other Churches and religions were significant:
- Joint prayer meeting with Lutheran Archbishop Antje Jackelen of Sweden in 2016 to kick start the 500th anniversary of reformation;
- Joint ventures of mutual respect and fraternity with the Orthodox Church (with the Coptic Pope H.H. Pope Tawadros II in Egypt in 2017;
- Several encounters with Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby and the joint effort of mediation of peace in South Sudan and the projected joint visit to South Sudan 2020;
- visit to Egypt and UAE and his dialogue with Muslims especially his visit to the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed al-Tayeb in Cairo in 2017. Meeting with the Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayyeb and the joint declaration of fraternity in Dubai in 2019
The various events cited here focussed on authentic Christian life and renewal within the Church as well as welcoming and fraternal relationships with others to create a better and fraternal human society.
A wound that has been festering in the Church and the society is the scandal of sexual abuse, especially of minors. This country, Chile, itself has witnessed some painful moments from the wounds in the
body of the Church related to sexual abuse of minors by Church personnel. The visit of the pontiff to Chile in 2018 and the subsequent events paradoxically has helped the Church to address the issue honestly and courageously. The meeting of Presidents of Bishop’s Conferences, heads of Vatican Dicasterios and some Superiors General of Religious Congregations in Rome in February 2019 affirmed the resolve of the Church to create a safe environment for children in the Church and to promote a culture of responsibility, accountability, and transparency at all levels of functioning in the Church. As a Congregation, we too are committed to creating such a culture that requires the missionaries irrespective of their roles in the Congregation to assume responsibility for what they do, give an account of their actions to those who owe it, and to be transparent in all matters. I think we need to grow more in this regard.
We have been also observing reforms in the Roman Curia which has been on the agenda of the pontificate of Pope Francis. It seems to be taking place in its own pace with the creation of the secretariats of the economy and of communications. Reform is a continuous process in the Church as well as in the Congregation. A significant event is the abolition of pontifical secrecy to become a more transparent Church when it comes to important issues that affect society. I recall these events because, as part of the Church with a prophetic charisma, we, as missionaries, should be in the vanguard of the transformation that the Spirit brings about in the Church in every epoch.
The Synod of the youth in 2018 and the world youth day in Panama in 2019 have given attention to the youth in the Church as both agents and recipients of the proclamation of the Gospel. It has boosted our initiatives in youth ministry all over the Congregation to some extent.
Another significant event that called attention to the plight of the people at the margins of the society and the wounded planet was the Synod of Amazon and the invitation to have our eyes on those on the margins. It invited us to look at our own presence among the vulnerable population on the planet and our commitment to the care of creation.
However, in recent times, the political and economic world scenario has deteriorated in many parts of the world which have eroded confidence in democratic processes. More money flows to the purchase of arms to threaten or kill fellow humans in the name of national security than to meet millennium development goals in the world. Many countries in America especially Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina, Chile have very troubled socio-political situations. The middle East has been fuming with war and terrorist movements in the past several years and now the US-Iran situation has created a very uncertain situation in the world. Africa, by and large, seems to be neglected and Boko Haram and other radical groups, unbridled corruption and sectarian conflicts have led to mass migrations and massive displacement of people causing untold suffering. In Asia, democratically elected despotic governments of some countries show an iron fist in dealing with social issues. The global economic recession and growing unemployment are deepening the chasm of inequality in society pushing more and more people into the margins. We are experiencing the effects of global warming and climate change each year in front of our eyes as well as from world news.
In the midst of these precarious socio-political and economic scenario in the world, we are a small group of missionaries with our own limitations have a mission to fulfill in the Church and in the world. It is the mission of Jesus in the world. Reading through the documents of the Chapters, I am touched by the concerns addressed by the XVIII General Chapter of 1973. It addressed some of the similar concerns in a much more radical way. The question of vocations (entrance and perseverance) was the central focus and the solutions proposed were witnessing communities, participative government and convincing commitment to the people at the margins. Through the subsequent chapters, the Congregation continued the renewal process by being fully present in the journey of the Church and her renewal programs of II Vatican Council.
After more than 50 years, we are yet in another moment of history with many changes that paradoxically open up missionary opportunities. Perhaps, the hallmark of our times is the integral vision and networking which expresses the need of humans to go beyond the exploitative ego-systems and strive for an ecosystem in the spirit of the Kingdom of God which Jesus preached. We have chosen to be in Chile to join our brothers in America to commemorate the 150 years of the arrival of missionaries in America and the inauguration of the 150th Anniversary of the death of our Founder as an auspicious moment to begin our preparation for the XXVI General Chapter.
The change of epoch that we are going through today calls for serious discernment of our mission as missionaries in the world today. The XXV Chapter invited us to “explore new methods and ways of organizing our general and provincial chapters in its different phases (preparation, implementation, and evaluation)” (MS 72.3). We are collectively responsible for the life and mission of the Congregation and hence all need to be involved in seeking together what the Lord is asking of us in our times and respond with the “Fiat” of our heavenly Mother. We shall learn from the audacity of our Founder how to live our missionary vocation in creative fidelity in our times.
Speaking of the General Chapter, I would say that the very preparation is as important as the celebration and the implementation phase of the Chapter. In all three phases, we need to be collaborators of the Spirit who guides the Church and the Congregation. I invite you to keep in your mind the image of the compass that Claret used so that we do not get distracted by secondary concerns. We shall keep one point fixed in the Lord and his word and the other on the reality of the world. We need to attune our capacity for listening which presupposes silence of the heart to listen to the Lord and the cry of the people. Dialogue that flows from listening and sharing from the heart builds communion of life and impel missionary commitment through prayer, fraternity, and service. Let us learn and practice them together in the whole chapter event. Discernment is the art that is most needed in living according to the Spirit as St. Paul tells the Romans (chapter 8).
Let us ask ourselves:
- During the past years of our life and mission, what has been becoming clearer about the reality of our Congregation at the universal level and in each of the Major Organisms?
- Where is the Spirit inviting us to go?
- What should be the main focus during the preparatory stage of the
Let us explore them together in prayer, dialogue, and honest sharing.
I commend our meeting to the heart of Mary who walks with her sons as she did with Jesus and illumines our way forward with her guidance and intercession. We shall honor the beautiful life lived by our founder for proclaiming the Gospel by our own joyful missionary commitment in our times.
Fr. Mathew Vattamattam CMF
Talagante, Chile, 13th January 2020.