Aug 20, 2015 | Congregation, General Chapters

Dear Brothers

Welcome to this Chapter community. Our brethren have entrusted us with the mission to discover what the Spirit is saying today to the Congregation and for this they have offered us the results of the discernment they have carried out during this past year in their communities. We have travelled this road together with them. We have shared through our community prayer and fraternal dialogue our concerns and how to respond to the challenges that we find in our own community and in the situations of the people to whom we have been sent; through this journey we have been gathering together the palpitations of the missionary heart of the Congregation which we now feel strongly within us. Let it be him who guides us on our Chapter journey and he who helps us to overcome all fear and reticence that appear when the fire of the heart is extinguished by the insinuation of other interests.

“The General Chapter – in obedience to the Spirit and in full fidelity to our missionary charism as sanctioned by the Church – is the highest authority of the Congregation devoted to watching over that charism for our brothers. It is also the greatest symbol of the whole Congregation’s communion of life and mission. It authentically represents the whole Congregation and collegially expresses the participation and concern of all its members in the life of the Congregation and its activity in the Church.” This is how the Constitutions present the Chapter to us. It is clear then that we are able to fulfil the mission given to us by our brothers only through a profound openness to the Spirit of the Lord and in full agreement with the charism which has been entrusted to us through the mediation of our Founder. With this attitude we begin our Chapter itinerary, placing ourselves under the watchful care of Mary, our Mother, and feeling in our heart that ardent love for God and his children that filled her heart.

We celebrate this XXV General Chapter when the Church is celebrating in thanksgiving the fiftieth anniversary of the conclusion of the II Vatican Ecumenical Council. The Council opened us up to a new understanding of the life of the Church and of her mission and of the consecrated life within her. We cannot forget the orientations of the Council nor the ecclesial path that subsequently has been deepening and translating them into concrete initiatives both for the life of the Church and for the development of her mission in today’s world. The Congregation has made a tremendous effort at renewal in this post-conciliar stage which we have to take up and move forward. The Chapter has to be very aware of this ecclesial and congregational path.

Also, the Chapter is taking place in this year in which we are commemorating the 150th anniversary of the definitive approval of the Congregation that took place on the 22nd December 1865 at an audience of Pope Pius IX with the sub-secretary of the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars, at that time responsible for these matters. The formal decree would arrive on the 27th January of the following year, 1866, together with the approval of the Constitutions ‘ad decennium’. For all of this the General Chapter of 1864 which asked Fr. Founder for a new redaction of the Constitutions was decisive. These are dates that help us feel part of a history that we have to continue writing with the same missionary generosity and commitment that characterized our beginnings. We must never forget the attitudes and virtues that accompanied our brothers in the first years of our history. Their trust in the Providence of the Lord and their missionary enthusiasm helped them to overcome obstacles and difficulties which, at times, frighten us too much today.

The Chapter is an exercise in discernment. It is not a forum for different groups to try to get their proposals approved, too often at the service just of their own interests. In the Chapter we sincerely and solely look for the will of God for our Congregation and for each one of us. Brothers, don’t forget this during the work of the Chapter. For this, it is so necessary to be clear what criteria must guide our discernment and which ought to be none other than the Word of God, the Magisterium of the Church regarding the consecrated life and our life project as expressed in the Constitutions. There we find the motivation for listening to the voice of the Spirit which comes to us from the multiple situations that mark the path of humanity at this time. There we also find the keys that must help us to concretise our response to these calls of the Spirit of the Lord. I sincerely confess to you that I have been negatively surprised to discover in some Assemblies or congregational forums in which I have been able to take part, or including in some of the contributions that have come in on the theme of the General Chapter, that there are preoccupations and interests that have nothing to do with all of this. We must be attentive so as not to fall into the temptation of power, of interests, in short, of ‘worldliness’, as the Pope uses to call it.


A Chapter, as we all well know and I have expressed several times, has two fundamental dimensions, remembrance and prophecy.

During these days we will make remembrance of the gifts with which the Lord has graced us during these past six years. The Government and Economic Reports that we are going to examine gather together something of this life which cannot simply be condensed into a few pages. The generosity of each of the brethren in their vocational response, the fraternity lived in the communities and their efforts in the work of evangelization or formation will be appearing in our Report, inviting us to give thanks. Our reservations and infidelities are going to force us once again to trust in the mercy of God and the generous pardon of one another.

During these years the Lord has blessed us abundantly. Exactly two years ago we experienced the joy of the beatification of some of our brothers who expressed by their martyrdom their heartfelt connection with Jesus and to the vocation they had received. The Martyrs of Sigüenza, Fernán Caballero and Tarragona – priests, brothers and missionaries in formation – are a powerful call for us all to live our consecration with enthusiasm and fidelity

The Congregation has received, thanks to the Lord of the harvest, a good number of vocations during these years and it has tried to form them according to the project of life which is laid out for us in the Constitutions. We have also treasured, with respect and gratitude, the testimony of those brothers who have departed from us, having finished their journey in this world, sure that today they continue to intercede for us. Their memory strengthens our commitment.

During these years we have favoured, both through appointments as well as by a better planning of the missionary projects and a greater participation in them by lay people, the consolidation of the missionary presences and apostolic activities that had been initiated during the previous sexenniums. Nevertheless we are able to celebrate with joy the beginning of new missions in Malaysia, South Africa and Chad as well as the continuity of our participation in the inter-congregational project in South Sudan. In other places we have continued looking for new responses to the missionary challenges that we come across.

The sexennium that we are closing has been an intense time of work concerning the congregational reorganisation that was asked for by the previous Chapter. In the Reports you will find plenty of information on this point. There you will also be able to read the evaluation made of these processes. Later I will refer particularly to this theme.

On reading the Reports you will discover these and many other aspects of the life of the Congregation which I am not going to mention now. You will also find some not so positive evaluations of some aspects of our life and plenty of questions that remain outstanding, waiting for a generous response on our part. A careful examination of the Congregation today is a fundamental demand to enable us to set out a serious and realistic programme for the future.

Our remembrance cannot be reduced just to the life of the Congregation or of the Church. The situation of our world has inexorably marked our life and the way we give testimony and proclaim the Gospel. I also referred to this in the Letter of Announcement of the Chapter. This happens at a special moment in history which we cannot ignore. The struggles, the hopes and the suffering of the people, above all those that are going through difficult moments in their history, cannot be absent from our remembrance. Without it our remembrance would not be missionary. The voice of God that comes to us through the vicissitudes of history will help us question ourselves about our attitudes and projects and will guide us in our discernment for the future.

The Chapter ought to place itself in this context if it wishes to be able to discern the call of the Spirit and to offer a prophetic word to its brethren because the Chapter is also a moment of prophecy. We would like to be able to pronounce, both for our brethren and for the many lay people with whom we share the mission, a prophetic word, capable of transmitting this life which comes from the Spirit of the Lord and which is able to generate new life in our communities, in the Church and in the world. So during these days, we ought to listen attentively to the Word of the Lord and meditate on it deeply in our hearts. The celebration of the Eucharist will lead us to a truly Eucharistic spirituality which will help us find the purpose of our own life through the giving of it so that all may have life in abundance. The moments of internalization and silent reflection during the Chapter are important. Let us dedicate the necessary time to personal prayer. We want the Spirit of the Lord to fill us so as to be able to harmonise with the heart of the Father, and of the Mother – as our Founder would say – and to discern how we must live and act to be signs of the Kingdom and, with its values, instruments of transformation in the world.

Allow me, in this opening moment of the Chapter, to share with you some thoughts and preoccupations that I consider important for our discernment. They are fruit of the reflection which has grown out of my experience during these years at the service of the Congregation.


Is the Congregation enjoying good health? Does the life of the Congregation respond to the dream that Fr. Founder had for it? Do we really live those priorities that were pointed out to us six years ago? Are we in harmony with the response that the Church hopes for from the consecrated life at this moment in history? What are the main challenges that we have to respond to as a Congregation?

Religious Life at the present moment

Before offering some avenues of response to these questions, allow me to share with you something of the reflection which the members of the General Government had in one of our get-togethers in which we asked ourselves about the future of the apostolic religious life and about the emphasis we consider necessary to place in our own lives, in our way of living fraternity and in our formation and apostolic projects to be able to continue contributing to the Church and the world the gift with which the Lord wishes to bless them through the charism of our Founder. I am gathering, just from my own sensibility, some echoes of that reflection that can help us to better analyse the situation of our own Congregation today and to discern the big orientations for the future.

  1. Above all, we should be capable of confronting the fundamental question on the meaning of the consecrated life today: Why do we need religious today? And, if we truly need them, what type of religious do we need? The answers may be many and articulated in different ways. But the fundamental response cannot be other than that which defines most deeply the identity of the religious life: the Church and the world continue needing people that are a ‘reminder’ of the way Jesus lived, that live the Gospel ‘sine glossa’. This is on top of the works and projects and also the particular charisms of each Institute. And this is only possible by a life inspired by a deep communion with God and his passionate love for his sons and daughters. The Church and the world do not need us as professionals in the parish, for preaching, for education or for social action. They need us above all as witnesses of the absolute primacy of God and of the dynamism that comes about when God occupies the centre of the heart of individuals and the communities formed by them. Without this it is not possible to think of a relevant religious life.
  1. The consecrated life should continuously question itself about its identity and on how to live it in each cultural context and in each moment of history. Having said that, in this process of discernment it must always keep some elements that are fundamental and, as such, non-negotiable:
  • the consecration to God in the following of Jesus through a life of chastity, poverty and obedience;
  • the commitment to live evangelical fraternity in the religious community and in openness to those who suffer experiences of exclusion in our world;
  • total and absolute availability for the mission through the charismatic service to which each community has been called.

These are facets that can be expressed in distinct ways in different places but that must always be present. In a culture that tends to minimise values, this constitutes a fundamental aspect.

  1. Another theme of great importance for the religious life today would be an improved definition derived from the complementarity of the distinct forms of Christian life in the Church. The consecrated life will find the way of expressing its contribution to the totality of the ecclesial community when it thinks in this way. In constructing a genuine harmony of the charisms and forms of life the specific contribution of each one takes on a special relevance.
  1. The future of the apostolic religious life is not going to be easy, above all for those Institutes and Congregations that sprang up in response to concrete situations at the time in history that saw them come to light. The question cannot be avoided: do our projects today continue being a valid evangelizing response? These Congregations, obviously ours as well, should face up to a process of reflection that leads them to properly identify the germ of prophecy that was in the response of the Founder or Foundress, other than the functionality that such a response can have in a particular moment. Starting from this prophetic perspective the new needs should be analysed and the response that comes from the charism of the Founder and the historic development that it has had should be discerned. It must not be forgotten that the experiences of the Spirit are not received just to conserve them, but rather to deepen and develop them, in docility to its always new and creative action (cf. CC 20). A very serious effort of reflection, imagination and discernment will be necessary. It is a question that presents different nuances in diverse social and cultural contexts but it obliges us to go deeper into the initial charismatic experience to assimilate what is its very nucleus and, in this way, be able to recreate it in a meaningful way at this moment in history so as to continue being the bearer of life and the proclamation of the Gospel.
  1. The relationship with the world has always been one of the leading threads that has marked the emergence of the various forms of consecrated life throughout history. Today the consecrated life feels called to look at the world in a new way and to build a ‘friendly relationship’ with it because it knows that it is the world ‘loved by God even to giving it his own Son’. It wants to build a ‘friendly relationship’ but, at the same time, be ‘very critical’ because in this world there are millions of people who do not see their dignity, as men and women profoundly ‘loved by God’, respected. This fact should be a determining factor in the selection of services and presences for the apostolic religious life. Both the apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” and the recent encyclical of Pope Francis offer us encouragement and precise guidelines in this regard.
  1. Another important aspect is the approach we make to the mission and the attention to the ‘signs of the times’, both in the sense of knowing to gather the calls that God makes to us through the reality and in the effort to convert ourselves in each place into signs of the presence of God in the midst of his people. I insist on being ‘signs of the presence of God’. God is already present; we are called to be credible signs of this presence. It is a fundamental aspect at the moment of planning our mission. We are too used to thinking that we have been sent to plant something that is ours, which we carry in our backpack and that has only been entrusted to us. Jesus, when he sent out his disciples told them, ‘the harvest is great but the workers are few. Pray, therefore, the owner of the harvest to send workers to his harvest’ (Lk. 10:2). The Father generously plants the seed in the hearts of all and in all cultures. Now it is a question of discovering this seed that is growing, of caring for it and to gather its fruit so that everyone can enjoy and share them. This makes us much more humble in missionary service. ‘To care for’ means helping it to grow and demands that it be made aware of the need to maintain the harmony that God has put into his creation and which is seen so frequently threatened and violated by the ambition to possess and by the egotism of those who want to control what was created to be shared by all. The proclamation of the Gospel stirs up in the heart of people a new awareness of thankfulness to God and of solidarity with the rest of humanity and with the creation that opens up the path to the experience of the Kingdom. ‘To care for’ also means to liberate the field from all that impedes the seed from growing and producing fruit; put another way, it means denouncing with great freedom and courage everything that is opposed to God’s plan and to unite our efforts with all those who seek to build a world that is closer to this plan. (cf. CC 46)
  1. When thinking about the mission of the consecrated life, as happens in thinking about the mission of the Church, we have to ask ourselves which person are we talking about. There are many anthropological and cultural questions that cannot be avoided if we expect a significant apostolic outcome. Together with this, we should always ask ourselves what God does our life and words speak of. It just remains to let ourselves be illuminated by Jesus in the search for the face and heart of the Abba that fills life with meaning and always opens new horizons of hope, who infinitely loves and gives the capacity to love. We cannot avoid asking if we project this image of God or, on the contrary, we distract the people with other questions that have nothing to do with the essential Gospel message. Jesus speaks of the ‘believers in spirit and in truth’, creating a marvellous space of liberty in living out the relationship with God, and he put the relationship with our brother as the only parameter to measure the authenticity of this relationship. Those consecrated are called to live it radically.
  1. An indispensable element of the reflection on the significance of the consecrated life is that of renewing the option for the poor and excluded and for justice in a credible way. Here is in play the credibility of our life and our apostolate. All of this is going to demand analysis, discernment and audacious decision making. Pope Francis insists on the theme of the ‘peripheries’, it may be as an hermeneutic key for interpreting the calls that God makes of us from the reality and from Scripture itself, it may be as a place to move to and share with those who live experiences of exclusion. The option for the poor and the excluded and for justice must be a crucial concept that touches all the dimensions of the life of a religious and of the Congregations and their work.
  1. And, finally, we must face up to the problem of relevance. On the one hand, the lack of relevance that our life seems to have in some environments, profoundly marked by secularisation, can dis-animate those who live there. On the other hand, in other places where there still exists a more religious cultural climate, we realise that the relevance of the consecrated life is frequently measured by the impact of the social service that is provided or by the spaces it occupies within the Church. The temptation for prestige and power – we return to the theme of ‘worldliness’ – is constantly waiting for us. Where do we look for relevance? It is a question that has to be made and responded to with great sincerity and courage. I believe that it could also prove to be disturbing.

The challenges for our Congregation

We now direct our sight more concretely to our Congregation. What challenges must we face up to as a priority to continue being, today and in the future, ‘Claretians’.

  1. Strengthen the missionary identity

It is this preoccupation that led us to indicate the theme of the Chapter: the mission. I have repeated it several times: the theme that was suggested for this Chapter was the mission and not just the apostolate. I repeat again what I wrote to you in the Circular Letter announcing the Chapter and what I insisted on in the Convocation Letter: ‘The mission is a concept much more profound and central to our life, that goes further than what we identify under the word ‘apostolate’. The mission is the nucleus of our vocation and so marks out our spirituality, guides the formation process, determines our style of community life that itself is called to be a proclamation of the Gospel, guides the organisation of the congregational economy and is concretely expressed in apostolic activities that try, in turn, to adapt to the characteristics of place and culture’. Yes, we are missionaries ‘Claretian missionaries’. And it is not enough to say it, it has to be lived. It is not enough to have the identity card that identifies us as Claretians, it is necessary to develop a personal and community style of life that truly shows what we are. It would be good to re-read No. 26 of the Directory that expresses well what we want to say by the word ‘missionary’.

Today the Congregation is much more plural in its composition. It is as a joyful fact for what it means for the enrichment of our cultural, spiritual and missionary patrimony. But at the same time it puts before us the challenge to deepen the living out of our identity in such a way that we are enabled to express it in different ways without betraying it and without breaking the communion that brings us together as a religious family.

We have made a great effort in this regard. We have organised courses, seminars, workshops and other initiatives that have allowed many Claretians to deepen their understanding of our charismatic patrimony. We have offered the possibility for many to go on pilgrimage to the places where our Congregation was born with carefully arranged programmes. It is not meant for tourism or a sort of course on Claretian archaeology. It is meant for understanding more profoundly the origins of our Institute: what was the vision of the world of those who felt called, together with Fr. Claret, to begin this path, what aspects of the social and ecclesial reality had an impact on them and what was the response that they felt called to give? It is here where the real charismatic characteristics are discovered. They felt called to put themselves on the path in an encounter with the people to proclaim the Word of God and, in this way, respond to the urgent need to rebuild, based on the values found in the Gospel, the fabric of a society in profound change. And they felt called to carry it out as a ‘missionary community’. They resigned their parishes and their stable positions not because they were not valid instruments for the pastoral care of the people but because they discovered a superior urgency and a call from the Spirit that impelled them to respond, through itinerancy, to the needs of the people. This is a charismatic trait that is convenient to know and assimilate. It is not concerned with imitating the forms or with doing the same things that they did in very different times and circumstances. But it is necessary to be faithful to these features because they mark the horizon that ought to characterise our life and our contribution to the mission of the Church.

I feel we have need to deepen our missionary identity. After more than 160 years of history the temptation to stay put awaits us. We are in danger of losing the missionary mysticism and that vision that permits us to discover the most pressing challenges today for a missionary Congregation and to seek those forms of life and apostolate that truly respond to them. Again, I am uneasy at seeing some Claretians, and including some Organisms, where there is found a certain clericalism, so frequently denounced by Pope Francis, and a desire to create securities. At times we fight to place ourselves in Dioceses where there are an abundance of pastoral agents – often simply doing the same as the others – and we are not capable of moving to where the missionary urgency is pressing. I know that it is necessary to have some solid base to be able to attend in itinerancy to other urgencies, but I have the impression that, at times, the balance falls in favour of establishment. Let us not be afraid of leaving. But this is impossible without a profound missionary spirituality. Let us allow the missionary call to always guide our options.

A year and a half ago we finished ‘The Forge in our daily Life’. It has been a gift offered to all Claretians who have wanted to use it. The path that was set out has been guiding us, above all, by the hand of the Word of God, in a process that we could call a charismatic re-initiation that I hope gives abundant fruit. It would be good to evaluate how it has been followed in each Province and Delegation.

Again, and I have said this several times, I find the need to promote a deeper understanding of the Founder and of our charismatic patrimony. I observe in not just a few Claretians a preoccupying lack of interest in this regard. We have made a great effort to facilitate access to this documentation in various languages, but I am aware that, including among Claretians with responsibilities of government and formation, there exists a great gap in this area. Understanding better the Founder and the congregational history, especially the congregational path of renovation in the post-conciliar years, is going to help us to appreciate more our missionary identity and to encounter forms for expressing it creatively today. Pope Francis tells us in his apostolic letter at the beginning of the year of consecrated life: ‘Paying attention to one’s own history is indispensable for keeping alive the identity and strengthening the unity of the family and the sense of belonging for its members.’

We have wanted the Chapter to be centred on the theme of the mission because it is the nucleus of our identity. What characteristics ought we accentuate today so that this missionary identity continues marking our life, our communities, the formation, the apostolate, the organisation and the economy? I hope that we have the necessary wisdom to know how to centre ourselves in the essential and to leave to one side other questions that can be resolved in other ways. I am convinced that much is in play here for us.

  1. Living the joy of fraternity in the missionary community

Pope Francis tells us in his apostolic letter to religious: “Living the present with passion means becoming ‘experts in communion’, ‘witnesses and architects of the plan for unity’ which is the crowning point of human history in God’s design. In a polarized society, where different cultures experience difficulty in living alongside one another, where the powerless encounter oppression, where inequality abounds, we are called to offer a concrete model of community which, by acknowledging the dignity of each person and sharing our respective gifts, makes it possible to live as brothers and sisters”.

How beautiful it is to be with Claretians who live joyfully the gift of fraternity and contribute so that others can access the same experience! There are individuals who with their presence and their attitude know how to create that climate which invites everyone to live with joy the missionary vocation and take with genuine happiness the hardships that come with it. On the contrary, how sad it is to be with Claretians who simply ‘put up with’ community life and see the demands of the fraternal life as a limitation on their own plans. They are neither happy nor allow others to be so. Many are the details that reveal this attitude: persistent absences from community time, group manipulation that does so much damage and impedes a calm discernment and demonstrate a desire for power or other ambitions, the lack of transparency with respect to their own plans and including independence in the use of money that constitutes a genuine insult to those who put the fruit of their work or the donations they receive at the disposition of the community and its mission. The Congregation is our family and in the family you either share or it ceases to exist.

It is difficult for me to understand the ease with which permissions of exclaustration and secularizations are asked for. When the fraternal life has stopped being a value in the life of a religious he finds no difficulty in separating from the Institute. Everything is reduced to an evaluation of what is ‘more convenient for me’. It is something that reveals that, in fact, there has never existed a true sense of belonging. The Congregation was an instrument to achieve his own goal and once that was achieved is no longer of use.

The Synod on the New Evangelization asked of us religious that ‘we be witnesses of the humanizing force of the Gospel by means of our fraternal life’. Yes, the fraternal life is a joyful proclamation of the newness of the Kingdom. To feel part of this family, that is the Congregation, is to live an experience of grace. The community is a gift. It has to be welcomed with gratitude and looked after with care. All of this leads us to live concretely the relationship with the brothers with whom we share the life and mission in the local community, knowing to be happy for the gifts that each one puts at the service of the common project and being aware of our own limitations and egoisms that invite us continuously to ask for pardon and to pardon.

To feel part of the congregational family helps us to overcome whatever type of closed attitude that restricts the horizon to the limits of one’s own Province or Delegation and makes the full integration in the distinct Claretian groups that live and work in different parts of the world difficult. I have found myself with people who express strong resistance to being incardinated into other Organisms and who would prefer to locate communities of their Organism in places where the Congregation is already present with a well-articulated and dynamic project of life and mission and who are desirous of sharing it with other brothers who wish to join in it and enrich it with their contribution. This is matter that has to be looked at from a “missionary” perspective and that, obviously, is not correctly understood when considered along with other interests.

The community is the subject of the mission. And it is important that, in this Chapter, we know how to highlight this aspect which is so fundamental. The mission is taken on by us all and we live it in the communion of gifts and services. To take on the mission as a community presupposes a serious exercise of community prayer and dialogue to analyse, discern, make explicit the options and the manner to carry them out, evaluate and, above all, to feel united in that missionary zeal that calls us together in missionary community, the ‘same spirit’ that Fr. Founder discovered in the companions with whom he began the project of the Congregation (cf. Aut 489).

Brothers, let us open ourselves up to the experience of fraternity and know how to let it shape us into a true missionary community.

  1. Take care of formation

‘Take care of formation’, the Pope insisted to us the General Superiors in the meeting we had with him on 29th November 2013. He repeated several times that the ‘formation is a handcrafted task’. It certainly is and more so in a context of cultural globalization in which it seems that everything can be controlled from a distance and pre-fabricated. We have insisted a lot during these years on the personal accompaniment. This is the basis to help assimilate the fundamental values of the Claretian missionary life and to prepare for a mature and joyful community life.

I feel great admiration and gratitude for those formators who joyfully accept their important task and generously dedicate their time and their energies to it. It is not easy to accompany with respect and, at the same time, with thoroughness. A serious and deep relationship with another is always questioning for oneself. Thanks to the many formators who put the best of themselves at the service of their youngest brothers.

Our formation has to be missionary and in this Chapter we ought to consider what emphasis must be put on the formation process to prepare our formandi to take on the missionary options that we consider best express the Claretian charism today. The formation centres of the Congregation ought to be organized as ‘formation communities’, distinct from the models that are offered in other diocesan seminaries, in such a way that they educate missionaries in formation for dialogue and co-responsibility in the definition of the different aspects of community life and the pastoral project of the community.

I would like to underline two aspects that seem to me to be fundamental in the area of formation, be it either in the period of initial formation or in reference to a formation process that has to continue throughout life.

One of these is the dimension of ‘rupture’. It is necessary for this to happen during the formation process. At times I have the impression that we do not get to integrate this aspect sufficiently. I believe that it has to be insisted on much more during the year of novitiate. I have even come to think if, in the present circumstances, it would not be better to be thinking of a longer time for novitiate that would help both to experience this rupture and as a deeper internalisation of the fundamental values of the religious life and, more particularly, of the Claretian missionary life. It seems to me that it would be worthwhile to study this theme and check our experience with that of other Congregations similar to ours. To opt for the religious life supposes renouncing other values. And this has to be taken on profoundly and with joy. May be the academic program is too much decisive in the drafting of the formation plan. A good academic preparation is important but the fundamental is to create in the heart of the missionary in formation those convictions and attitudes that will make it possible that he lives the missionary life with joy.

The second aspect refers to the ‘continuity’ of the formation process throughout life. We have called it on-going formation or permanent formation. It is well explained in the General Plan of Formation. It is challenge that is always with us. I return to the talk of Pope Francis. ‘Wake up the world’, he told us. But to do this you have to be awake. He who walks asleep and distracted by life is not able to wake anybody. To care for the formation dimension supposes personal commitment and a community project. It does not mean collecting titles. When it is necessary some will be asked to do specialized studies. Here I am referring to that spiritual and intellectual attitude that helps to remain open to the new questioning that arises from the social and cultural situations of our world and commits one to a path of searching for significant responses for oneself and for those to whom we have been sent. It is a formation that should also have the Claretian charismatic dimension, as pointed out in another part of this reflection, both in the aspect of understanding as well as in joyfully living out the values that we have professed. All this will help create a ‘congregational and provincial culture’ that will contribute to energizing the missionary life and excite those being added to it on finishing their process of initial formation.

Connected to this formation dimension I want to refer to another fundamental aspect of our life: the vocation ministry. Is our community attractive? During these years there has been intensive work in vocation ministry. In the Government Report an evaluation is offered about this work. The great challenge continues to be the ‘vocation culture’. It is true that we have a good number of young men in the process of initial formation, but the vocation ministry continues to be a preoccupation. In some places the social and cultural ambient is making it difficult for young men to open their heart to the proposal of a Claretian vocation. But, including places where we have abundant vocations, we can verify that the majority do not come from our own centres but rather from vocational campaigns that are carried out in other places. I believe that a better closeness to young men is important and, in some places, a project for a more systematic ministry to children and youth. In any case, the fundamental question always comes to mind: are we genuinely enthusiastic about our own vocation, so excited that we feel the strong desire to propose it to others? Is our community attractive?

  1. A prophetic ministry

‘Live the gift of prophecy’ Pope Francis told us in the talk I have been referring to. And he continued warning: ‘don’t play at being prophets’. He was referring to the witness of life and apostolic action. To play at being prophets is just hypocrisy. Hypocrisy kills the message, generosity in the dedication and the coherency between the message and life gives credibility to the proclamation. The consecrated life has a prophetic dimension (cf. VC 84) and we are called to live it radically.

Our missionary projection has to make transparent this prophetic dimension. This must be a fundamental criterion at the time of discerning where and how to make ourselves present. The expression ‘the most urgent, opportune and effective’ is sometimes used too lightly. I ask myself, from what criteria, with what modalities, by what processes of discernment? The same expression that we find in the Constitutions ‘our Missionaries should use all possible means’ (cf. CC 48) has to be viewed as a permanent germ of prophecy that the Founder left us and not as an excuse to justify what each one wants. It obliges us to be always attentive to the signs of the times so that our word – which is also gesture, action, book, presence, etc. – has prophetic density. It demands being very open to the Word of God and to allow it to be the light which illuminates our reading of reality and the search for paths for communicating the Gospel. We are committed to a serious community process of discernment that allows us to define the programmes and apostolic structures that must give the operational channel for the missionary project. Thus we will avoid the dispersion that weakens the sense of congregational identity and serves to justify commitments that have nothing to do with the living of the Claretian missionary charism.

I believe that in our Congregation there is a deficit of discernment. I commented on it in the Circular Letter announcing the Chapter and I would like to repeat it again. I perceive an excessive dispersion in our apostolates that have been growing, with excessive frequency, without a sufficiently deep and calm discernment. At times it has simply been a multiplication of presences because a bishop has asked for it, especially in the case of the parishes, or because there has not been the ability to establish serious processes of reflection around the missionary projection of a particular Organism. But in order to carry out a proper discernment it is necessary to have clear criteria. I believe that the theme that has been proposed for this Chapter points precisely in this direction. What are the fundamental characteristics that should mark our missionary projection today in the area of the apostolate? The General Prefecture of the Apostolate has been developing a process of reflection during recent years which we ought to take into account in our Chapter dialogue.

Further, Pope Francis is inviting us to ‘go out’, to move out to what he calls the existential, social, geographic and cultural ‘peripheries’. The Synod on the New Evangelization said the same but in a different way. It asked from us religious availability to go to the frontiers of the mission, geographic, social and cultural frontiers. As missionaries we have a frontier vocation. What does this signify today, concretely, for our Congregation? We cannot feel the urgency of the peripheries if we are not permanently attentive to the reality. It does not mean leaping from one place to another. It means putting in place relevant projects that respond to the big questions that are posed from these peripheries. As Claretian Missionaries we are not called to offer primarily what we could call ‘religious services’, but rather to spark, by means of the proclamation of the Word and by the various apostolic projects we carry in our hands, the transformation that invites people to profound changes in their life and opens for them new horizons, that stimulate the Church to return to her evangelical roots and to live her vocation as the servant of humanity and that promotes in society those changes that can bring the history of humanity closer to the plan that God has for his children. This is a prophetic ministry. This is a missionary life capable of enthusing those who have felt the call to leave everything to follow Jesus. Along this path we Claretians Missionaries have to walk.

From here we have to indicate priorities and concrete actions in the different contexts in which we live and work. The pastoral activity of a Claretian should leave nobody indifferent, of necessity it has to be provocative and transforming. And let us be clear, this is costly because it is very demanding of ourselves. But it fills us with the joy that the disciples expressed on returning to Jesus after having being sent and that moved Jesus to bless the Father because the proclaimed Word changed lives and reality. (cf. Lk. 10: 17 – 21)

An organization that help missionary dynamism

During this sexennium we have employed much energy in the processes of congregational reorganization. In the Reports you will find the data and the evaluations. We have done it in obedience to the mandate of the last General Chapter which insisted on this theme, repeated in all the recent Chapters. I wish to thank everyone for their collaboration in the realization of these projects. Without this collaboration it would have been impossible to put them into practice.

In the creation of the new Major Organisms, whether it be by the brake-up of those Organisms to which they belonged up to that moment or by the union of some already existing, importance has been given to the definition of the ‘Project of Life and Mission’ of the new Province or Delegation. The processes of reorganization have been lived in different ways in the various cases, but they have always promoted the participation of all those interested. For the Provinces and Delegations involved it has opened up new missionary horizons. Many have lived it with great generosity and availability, with healthy optimism. Nevertheless, we cannot deny that in some cases it has given rise to preoccupation and resistance in some members of the Major Organisms involved in the reorganization. Some Claretians have demonstrated their discontent or opposition to the said changes, mostly in a positive way that has helped to deepen the reflection and dialogue, others with a closed attitude that has caused disquiet and frustration in the other members of the Province or Delegation that participated in the process. We state that without a profound congregational awareness and a truly missionary vision of our life, it is very difficult to make advances in these processes, above all when it is dealing with uniting existing Major Organisms to form a new Province.

There still remain some projects pending for the next sexennium: the constitution of some Independent Delegations as Provinces and the creation of some new Independent Delegations. This has been worked on for some years. The process of congregational reorganisation in Europe, which is more complicated as it involves all the Claretian Organisms on that continent, now has an agreed proposal that the present General Government will hand over to the new Government to make the appropriate decisions.

Now is the time to consolidate the new Organisms and even to appointing or incardinating into them, whenever necessary, some Claretians from other areas of the Congregation. It is a delicate moment as still some weigh up the advantages and disadvantages that it seems the reorganization has meant for the old Organisms that they belonged to. It is time to consolidate the new awareness of Province. A great effort has been made to articulate well the Claretian presences in the new Provinces and in the different countries that form them. I believe that this process must be respected and the criteria that have guided it which, at the end of the day, is what is stated in our legislation.

Another aspect that has been worked on is the organization of the economy of the Congregation. There has been good congregational collaboration in this regard. Some Provinces and Delegations have reached a notable level of capacity for self-financing or even have arrived at achieving it. All of this is the fruit of work and cooperation. The Economic Report, and the comments of the pre-Chapter commission that has examined it, is going to help us analyse this aspect of the congregational life.

On this topic of the economy I wish to underline the need for transparency. I confess to you that, at times, I am surprised by the attitude and conduct of some, only a few thank God, who have created their own economic resources in the shadow of the commitments they took on with their religious profession. We have tried, together with the Major Superiors, to exercise vigilance over this topic but, in the end, it is an area that remains to the conscience of each one who has made the vow of poverty before God and before the Christian community.


Pope Francis concludes his apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” with a chapter entitled ‘Spirit-filled Evangelizers’. The Pope tells us, ‘Jesus wants evangelizers who proclaim the good news not only with words, but above all by a life transfigured by God’s presence’ (EG 259). Without a profound spirituality our life and our apostolic work will not be capable of communicating the Gospel. We have to recover a truly missionary mysticism: to allow God to empower us, to nurture friendship with Jesus and allow ourselves be guided by the Spirit. ‘Aspire to holiness: this is in synthesis the programme of the whole of the consecrated life’, Vita Consecrata tells us in number 93.

In the previous Chapter we wanted to underline this aspect in a special way. We said that without reviving the fire of love we cannot live the missionary vocation with joy and generosity. After six years, how do we feel this fire in our hearts? The itinerary that ‘The Forge in our Daily Life’ proposed to us, has it helped us in this? We had already said this in that phrase that tried to sum up the International Congress on the consecrated life celebrated in Rome in 2004, ‘Passion for Christ, passion for humanity’. The Son of the Heart of Mary is a man on fire with love. How many times have we repeated and meditated on this?

I told you in the Circular Letter ‘Missionaries’ and I want to remind you again: ‘We know that the experience of the love of God – a profound experience of the love of God, I may add – enables us to embrace one another as brothers, and creation itself as a gift to share. If we were able to look at reality with the same compassion as Jesus, a compassion that also filled the heart of Claret, the overpowering desire to do something would be born in us. We shouldn’t be concerned about holding positions of power or prestige, because we should only be interested in approaching those who seek a gesture of love amidst the experiences of exclusion they are suffering. We would not feel threatened by anything or anyone because our hearts would be filled with the peace of someone who knows he is loved by the Father and sent by Jesus, who promised to be with His disciples at all times. We would not be afraid to give testimony of our faith because we would know that it is the best service we can offer our brethren. We would not back down in our efforts to create a world that is closer to God’s plan for his children because we would be carried along by the certainty of the Father’s promise which feeds our missionary commitment: a new world ‘in which righteousness will prevail’. The only thing that would disturb us would be seeing the situation of so many people who, for various reasons, never had the experience of being so deeply loved, and we would feel urgently called to be a sign of the Heart of the Father, in the specific context in which we each live. Our memory of the Founder puts us in a missionary dimension. Our spirituality is missionary, and our response to the call to holiness comes through our missionary commitment. Let us drink from the well where the living water springs, the only water that can quench our thirst, and makes of our lives an offering of abundant fruit for all’.

Hopefully our lives and our works are capable of proclaiming the goodness of the Father and the certainty that he is going to fulfil his promise of salvation, as Mary did in her Magnificat. This is to be Missionaries, sons of the Heart of Mary. Brothers, take care of spirituality, let us listen again to the call to holiness.


Let us prepare ourselves then to begin our Chapter itinerary. We, the 82 Chapter members, are gathered together participating under various titles: ex-officio, elected or designated. The General Chapter was announced with the circular letter of the Superior General on 16 July 2014. From that moment the preparation began which, thanks be to God, has gone according to the prescribed programme and developed normally through its various phases. With the circular letter of 19 March 2015 the Superior General officially convoked the Chapter after the conclusion of the election period for the delegates and the designation of 6 Chapter members by the General Government. During this time various people and commissions have been involved in the preparation for the Chapter, as well as the General Government. To all of these, our most grateful thanks.

During the past week a commission composed of three Chapter members and three experts have met in the General Curia to carry out a detailed analysis of the Economic Report. This meeting has been undertaken in order to examine the Report over a longer period of time and with easier access to all the necessary documentation. Their findings will be given to all the Chapter members together with the Report. We hope that it will be an important contribution in evaluating the state of the economy of the Congregation and for identifying the most important challenges in this area. To the members of the commission also go our gratitude for their work.

With the celebration of the Chapter the work of the General Government, elected in the previous Chapter, is concluded. I wish to share with you all that the work we have been able to accomplish as a team has been a very positive experience. Forming community has helped us to know ourselves better and has facilitated the dialogue among us. I wish to thank all the members of the team for their generous dedication to the mission that was entrusted to them. It is our wish that the work we have carried out has been positive for the Congregation. We would like to give thanks for the fraternity with which we have always been received and the collaboration we have found with the governments of the Provinces and Delegations on all the visits and projects during the sexennium. I am sure that both myself personally as Superior General and the government have committed errors and have not always known how to respond properly to the needs that have arisen in different parts of the Congregation. We ask pardon for this as well as for all the times that our words or attitude have hurt people or we have lacked charity or sensitivity in certain situations. In this, nothing remains but to entrust ourselves to your kindness.

The General Government has been able to carry out its task thanks to the generous and faithful collaboration of Claretians who have worked in the Curia or have taken on the responsibility to animate a particular area of the life of the Congregation. Their names are mentioned in the Report. Without them it would not have been possible to develop the Action Plan over these 6 years. To all, a very sincere thanks.

I know that if we have been able to do anything good it has been because we have always been supported by the prayers of our brethren. I would like to express, in a special way, my gratitude to our sick brothers and the members living in special care communities because I know very well that each day they have prayed for the Superior General and his Council. The formation communities have also prayed for that. Thanks to all. We feel very close to you. You know that the experience and wisdom of the former and the youthful aspirations of the latter are an important treasure for the whole Congregation.

There are many people who are going to feel close to us during these days. Firstly, our brothers of the Congregation but also the members of the Claretian family and the many lay people, religious and priests who have promised us their prayers for the success of the Chapter.

I don’t want to conclude this opening reflection without directing a glance at Mary. She always accompanies us as an icon of the total confidence in the love of the Father. She listened to the Word, she kept it in her heart and she put her whole life at its service. From this Heart, fertilised by the Word, was born the Magnificat, the song of the prophet. With Mary, I would want us all to know how to acknowledge the marvels that God works in the little ones and that, starting from our own experience of the transforming power of the Word and the Spirit, we would dare to proclaim our faith in the plan of God “who casts the mighty from their thrones and raises the lowly, who fills the starving with good things and sends the rich away empty.” May she help us to renew our commitment to live exclusively in the service of this plan. In this way we will get to be true followers of Claret and of the many brothers who have gone before us in the beautiful task of announcing the gospel to all peoples.

I declare officially inaugurated the XXV General Chapter of our Congregation. Let us begin our Chapter journey “in nomine Domini”

Rome, August 24, 2015


Josep M. Abella Batlle, cmf.

Superior General

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