7. Leadership and Organization of the Community

“Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” – John 13:12b-15.

“Superiors should reflect both the charity with which God loves the brothers and respect for the human person and so lead the other members to cooperate with active and responsible obedience, even in virtue of the vow, in carrying out their assigned duties and in undertaking new ones.” – Constitutions, 94b.


Felices Los Limpios DeIn his reflection on “authority of Our major superiors and their consultors” Fr. Mathew Vattamattam CMF, our General Superior, reminded that “we are called to discern and act ‘according to God’s heart’ and animate the respective organism, accompanying persons, fostering missionary cooperation, promoting creativity and innovation according to the impulse of the Holy Spirit.” [1] Ours is not a leadership which vies on power and position to boost self-importance after the model of secular institutions, but rather imitate Christ, the Good Shepherd, who came to serve than to be served and “to give his life for the sheep.” [2] In the local level, this applies to the governing structure of the local community, with superior, consultor and econome forming the governing structure of the community. They animate the respective community with clear vision with a sense of mission based on our charismatic gift in the Church.

In our world and society –in macro, micro, and intermediate levels–leadership has become a contested theme. This trend is not much different within the church and religious congregations.

For this reason, leadership has become a favourite theme in the business and various other sectors. A plethora of leadership theories and models have been proposed. Although all of them are not proving to be successful, most or some have been effective because they are based on serious research and have been tested in real flesh-and-blood human organizations. This partly explains the impressive success and effectiveness of some companies in the business world.

Unfortunately, a very little research or soul-searching has gone into the way leadership is exercised within the church and religious life. Governance and modes of governance are taken for granted by those both in leadership positions and in other states. Not much substantial time and effort have been invested to learn from others as to how those effective theories and models could be adapted to ecclesial/religious contexts. This is not to claim that the way leadership is exercised within church and religious circles is wrong. The contention is this: the way leadership is exercised cannot be static. Leadership and governance styles have to evolve in keeping with what is evolving around us. What is core and integral to ecclesial and religious life has to be preserved; but it does not exclude the possibility of integrating what is proving to be effective in (secular) organizational settings.

How can we imagine leadership at this crossing place, as members of inter cultural community? Especially “not an era of change but a change of eras”.

We would like to offer some images and reflections to spark your imagination because we know that we do not just see images “but we see through images.”

How then might these images speak to you today as leaders?

Traditionally we have seen “Servant leadership” as the model that is spoken of when we reflect on leadership. But there are other images that could widen our imagination as we venture into the service of leadership in our communities.

  1. Widening the tent of our hearts.
  2. A Revolution of Tenderness.
  3. Hospitality to Strangers.
  4. Being present at the borderlands.
  5. Embracing
  6. Celebrating our cultural diversity.
  7. Engaging in web-watching and web-weaving.

1. Widening the tent of our hearts

The prophet Isaiah said: “Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes.” [3] This is a helpful image for us today because it speaks of both flexibility and rootedness, unbounded hospitality and secure identity. We are invited not to hold back, to stretch wide but at the same time to “strengthen our stakes,” by ensuring that what holds the tent in place goes down deep.

This verse invites us to make space in our hearts, for Christ and for those who live on the margins of life. In this time of rapid change and challenge, we need to ask ourselves again: Are we really grounded? “Is Jesus really our first and only love; as we promised that he would be when we professed our vows?” Have we embraced the vision and values that inspired our founder Claret and the cofounders? The Gospel was central to his/their life “a concrete expression of his (their) passionate love.”

Fr. General reminds those elected or assigned to leadership roles to take seriously the need to be grounded in prayer and consciously to practice the process of discernment.

How are we being challenged by the Gospel today in our living environments? How is our charism being stretched and enlarged today? Does it expand our minds and hearts into radical and sincere living? Do we have the passion of our founder for the Gospel, for the mission? Are we also close to the people, sharing their joys and sorrows, seeking to understand their needs?

The responses needed today are often not found in the big initiatives of the past but instead are like tiny mustard seeds – a word of hope, a listening heart, a compassionate presence, a healing glance. This mysticism of encounter happens everywhere – it is “far reaching, personal and outgoing.” Karl Rahner rightly predicted that the Christians of the 21st century will be mystics or they will not be Christians.

We have seen this mysticism in action in our communities at sick beds, on city streets with homeless people, on the borders with separated families, in refugee camps, in hospitals and parishes with people who are struggling– in fact wherever we are. While the needs of the world are complex and extensive, do we believe that it is the small, the hidden, and the unknown acts of kindness and love that will transform our world? It is the quality of our presence individually and in our community living, that matters above all, so that people can see the presence of God in us.

2. A Revolution of tenderness

Another image of leadership that is popular stems from the preaching and actions of our present Pope. Pope Francis speaks often about a revolution of tenderness reminding us that “God’s tenderness brings us to the understanding that “love is the meaning of life.” [4] We are called to pour the love we receive from the Lord back into the world –into our communities, the Church and wider society. Through this revolution of tenderness and love, the pope is proposing a humble way to move continents and mountains.

This is the Christian revolution that we are called to lead. It is a revolution in the true sense of the word – the return to the origin of the Gospel as a way forward, a revolution of mercy. In the business of proclaiming the Gospel to all, we should not forget that the Gospel has to be lived by us first in our communities. The role of the Superior is to see that this commandment of love is lived genuinely among us so that seeing us, others will come to believe in the risen Lord.

But in order to be capable of mercy we must quiet ourselves to listen to God’s word and to contemplate his mercy. Then we need to reach out with this merciful love first to ourselves as leaders –for we are often hard on ourselves– and then to become mercy to our brothers in the community.

3. Hospitality to strangers

The image of the tent reminds us of the story of Abraham and Sarah and their hospitality to the three strangers at Mamre. Abraham was sitting at the entrance to his tent. Jewish sources recount that the tent was probably open on four sides, therefore Abraham could see anyone approaching. He was probably not feeling his best self; it was the hottest part of the day and to complicate matters God was standing right in front of him and then there were these three strangers arriving. As leaders, doesn’t it sound familiar –everything happening at the same time!

We are told that when Abraham looked up, he saw the strangers and rushed out to greet them. He brought water to wash their feet and invited them to refresh themselves while he went to get them something to eat. He offered them food in abundance and then stood near them under the tree while they enjoyed the food. When the strangers asked Abraham where his wife Sarah was, he replied that she was in the tent. One of them said that he would return in a year’s time and that by that time Sarah would have a son. Sarah who was by now at the entrance to the tent, just laughed, she thought to herself that this was simply impossible since she was well beyond child-bearing age and Abraham too was old. When asked why she had laughed, she became afraid and denied that she had done so.

Yet we know the happy ending to this encounter at the tent in the desert –Sarah and Abraham received the gift of new life. The visitors, sent by God profoundly changed their life, creating a future of which they could never have dreamed. We notice that with the arrival of the strangers, Abraham appears to have ignored God, yet he did exactly what God would have wanted, because of his deep relationship with the living God.

This is part of Abraham and Sarah’s journey in faith. It can perhaps help us to reflect on the meaning of our life as religious today. We can ask ourselves as leaders of our communities: Is God standing before us? Because if he is not, there is a danger that the love which animates us could grow cold… and the “salt of faith” could lose its savor.

4. Being present to the Periphery

Another image that the Papacy of Francis has offered to the Church is the image of the Periphery. The XXV General Chapter took this call to go to the peripheries very seriously. This is not only of the geographical periphery but the existential peripheries that we live in.[5]

Today we form communities of members arriving through the four sides of our congregational tents –people of all ages who want a listening ear, those who are “searching for the ultimate meaning and definitive truth of their lives and of the world.”[6] They are not strangers to us. When they pass by or come to ask for sustenance or just for a moment touch our lives from afar, “What do we have to offer them?” “what is the nourishment that we can give?” “What is the unbounded generosity and (tender) love that is an essential part of our… community witness.”

“Borderlands – Periphery”[7] is a rich metaphor. It represents the multitude of places and opportunities where people from different cultures and contexts cross over to one another in order to learn and grow together. This happens through the building of relationships that gift one another and lead to mutual transformation. This is not merely about surviving side by side but it is a process of building deep connections, celebrating and appreciating difference, committing to collaborate together. This is the core of what our Superior General writes in his circular letter on Interculturality.

We must provide the practical things needed at that moment but we are called to give more –a radical prophetic witness, of having a global heart; “of being a pilgrim and prayer presence” ever watchful, “making intercession, firm in faith,” with God and with the world on their behalf.[8]

Leaders in our communities have to be present to the new life that is to be born in us, the transformation that is happening, unknown to us, in and through these multiple encounters. Have we like Sarah sometimes lapsed into a certain cynicism, thinking that giving birth to something new is impossible? Or like Abraham will we stay near our brothers, listening to their questions, engaging in conversation, feeling called to new responses. In dialogue we find the best ways for our lives.

Our communities, like the Church itself, is living through difficult times, “the heat of the day.” Far from becoming irrelevant it would seem that community life is perhaps “assuming a new and unexpected role” by showing how to accept and live “the difficulties of the present day with faith and even with joy.”

5. Embracing vulnerability

Our Congregation takes the process of transformation very seriously and has ventured into the reorganization of our structures. It points to a life cycle moving through the stages of birth, maturity, loss and diminishment, leading in some cases to conclusion. We are living the cycle of passion, death and resurrection at personal and organizational levels. This very process is a call to accept our vulnerability.

As community superiors we are faced with the same reality at the very local level. Sometimes, the question of how to continue the ministries assigned to a community or how long can we do this are raised. They are very real realities of our participation in the paschal mysteries. We have to acknowledge our past blindness and negligence especially where we failed to protect the most vulnerable among us through the issues of abuse of minors and vulnerable come up again and again.

This calls us to a deep humility that creates space for conversion and change. We are called to face the future with the same courage and conviction of our Founder, who started the Congregation with only five others, convinced that what matters is our presence among and our encounters with the people of today and their needs.

Pope Francis reminds us that “we are heirs to those who have gone before us and had the courage to dream.” [9] These dreams were often born in times of great social need with scarce resources. We have only to read our archives to connect with their founding experiences of vulnerability and fragility, of those who left the comfort zones with conviction of the Gospel vision for humanity.

Today we seem to be in this waiting time where we are being called to be patient, to allow time and space for the new to break through. Richard Rohr describes “liminal space” as “the crucial in-between time when everything actually happens and yet nothing appears to be happening.” It is the waiting time.

In this liminal space, our local superiors have to encourage and facilitate when they share their insights with one another and listen deeply as we share how we feel that God is calling us; such conversations can reveal the whispers of the Spirit.

It is through our own limitation and weaknesses as human beings that we are called to live as Christ lived. The profession of the evangelical counsel of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience is “a radical witness to the power of the Paschal Mystery” as we surrender everything to the one who offers eternal life. Can we have conversations about fragility and vulnerability? Do we believe that God is preparing the way for something new in our own lives? In the life of the world?

6. Celebrating our cultural diversity

Our Congregation has been blessed with so many years of experience as we moved from a monocultural context to the challenge of multiculturalism or interculturality. The foresight and vision of Fr. Peter Schweiger CMF and the successive Superiors General extended the tents of our Congregation to all corners of the earth, further than the world under Spanish influence. We can truly say and be thankful that our local communities have become “the labyrinth of cultures in religious life.”[10]

How then to exercise leadership amid this growing diversity both locally and globally? We need to ask ourselves a bigger question: How can we missionaries, as a congregation, as an institution with a purpose, with a charism, bring a positive contribution to the challenge of global intercultural living? How can we as leaders serve this larger purpose?”[11] The question certainly has its relevance in a world impacted by globalization growing to be a multicultural society.

Now is perhaps the time for us to demonstrate a new way of relating with the “other” in our communities, that embodies a hopeful perspective for future life in the world. We know that the only way forward for humanity is to transform the planet into a more open and inclusive place, based on the values of solidarity, justice and dialogue.

Fr. José Cristo Rey García Paredes CMF writes, “Our identity is planetary and global. We are citizens of the world… How are we to transform (this) vision into some deep and fundamental convictions, assumed by each and every one of the members who share the mission?”[12]

Our communities are nodal points of a much larger canvas of cultural, historical, and economical dynamics. With that global perspective we begin to realize that the “gifted diversity” within our local community and our connectivity across the world can make a significant contribution to Prophetic mission that we are called to.

Many times, in South Sudan the local people, Bishops and clergy – though very grateful for the many ways in which their needs were being met – repeatedly ask the religious living among them: “how do you from a community from so many different tribes living together?” This is why it is important to work together and with others in order to learn how to live interculturally, to confronting prejudice and racism and our ethnocentric attitudes and behaviors. A local superior has to be focused on such prophetic elements of our community living and foster them through regular community dynamics that will bring this joy of living in inter cultural community.

7. Engaging in web-watching and web-weaving

The Mennonite theologian and peace activist John Paul Lederach has much to teach us about processes of leadership in today’s world. He uses the term “moral imagination” to describe something “which calls people to go beyond things that are immediately apparent and visible.” [13] He describes moral imagination as “the capacity to give birth to something new.” [14] A person with moral imagination seeks to uncover possibilities not yet dreamed of. Reflecting on his work as a peace-maker, Lederach realized that the use of a “web approach” enabled the process of change in many difficult contexts. The lines, connections and knots which we see in a web provide insight into what Lederach calls “a relationship-centric approach.”[15]

The art of web-weaving means that we should look at relationships through “the lenses of social crossroads, connections and interdependence.” Webs of relationships create the social energy necessary to provide new purpose and direction. Leaders, Lederach says, need to learn the skills necessary for web-watching and web-weaving. They need to be able to identify social crossroads where connecting links can be established with others in order to strengthen society’s sense of interdependence.

Lederach presents a number of important concepts which can help us be part of leadership at the local level. He speaks about weaving webs, noticing turning points, being yeast and establishing platforms. These concepts have a Scriptural resonance. Turning points are those moments of conversion that turn people in another direction. They are moments, pregnant with new life which often arise from barren ground. Isaiah spoke of new life coming out of the dead tree. Here “new things come into existence, old things are reshaped and our ways of seeing, hearing, feeling, thinking and so forth are transformed.” [16] For Lederach, yeast is usually a small group of people who are in the right place at the right time. They create a pull in an organism or in a society. They are willing to risk; to step out and venture into unknown territory “without any guarantee of success or even safety.” [17]

Lederach sees risk as a vocation that involves a mysterious journey that allows imagination to rise up and “carry people towards a new, though mysterious and often unexpected shore.” [18] It means being able to embrace vulnerability and fear. Finally, for Lederach, platforms are relational places which keep groups of people in creative interaction.

XXV General Chapter extended these invitations to our members to form such global alliances for Justice, Peace, Protection of Environment. [19] We hope our communities will be such places and our superiors can do this service of allowing the new to sprout through our old traditions. [20]


Fr. General uses the metaphor of a symphony[21] when he writes about the leadership. If our Congregation is like an orchestra conducted by the Spirit of Christ, playing a piece of amazing grace, each of us has to play his part in the symphony in total attention to the conductor who leads the band.

Discernment is like each player tuning his instrument to the music in harmony with other players in total adhesion to the direction given by the Conductor. The whole group together creates the beautiful music that evokes a deep sense of harmony, joy and peace in everyone. Cacophony results when each one plays his own music without any reference to other players and the conductor.

The metaphors of web weaving and orchestra are powerful images of discernment for individuals and for community. As a Congregation we will be faithful to our mission in the Church only in the measure we listen individually and collectively to the Holy Spirit and go forth where the Spirit leads us. [22]


For Personal and Community Reflection

1. Every Claretian has a leadership role in the ambit of his ministry and responsibility (superior, econome, animator of youth, teacher, parish priest, etc.,) to animate and affirm others. What are the images of Jesus that inspire you in the exercise of authority and leadership in your ministry?

2. Lectio divina in community: John 10: 1-18 (or Ps 23)

3. What does “embracing vulnerability” mean for you in the context of your life? How do you live your vulnerability as an evangelical virtue?

4. Consider watching the Claretian movie “A Forbidden God” and share with your brothers what you learn about Claretian community and the exercise of authority among the missionaries as different from that of the persecutors.



[1] Claretian Missionaries, XXV General Chapter Declaration “Missionarii Sumus”. Rome, 2015. Number 72.

[2] Jn 10:11.

[3] Is 54:2.

[4] Francesca Merlo, “Pope on theology of tenderness: faith is the connection”. In Vatican News, Pope Francis meets participants at a conference titled “The theology of tenderness”, 13th September 2018. Available at: https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2018-09/pope-francis-theology-tenderness-conference-rome-audience.html – Access: 1/1/2020.

[5] MS 3, (EG 30).

[6] Benedict XVI, Apostolic Letter “Porta Fidei”. For the Induction of the Year of Faith. Rome, 2011, n. 13.

[7] Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium”. On the Proclamation of the Gospel in today’s World. Rome, 2013, n. 20-24; MS 19.

[8] CICLSAL, Keep Watch. A letter to Consecrated Men and Women Journeying in the Footsteps of God. Vatican, 2014.

[9] Pope Francis, “Homily on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. XXI World of Consecrated Life” (Vatican, 2017). In “The Holy See”, Francis, Homilies, 2017. Available at: http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/homilies/2017/documents/papa-francesco_2017 0202_omelia-vita-consacrata.html – Access: 1/1/2020.

[10] Marie Chin RSM, “Towards a New Understanding of Cultural Encounter in Our Communities” in Horizon, Winter 2003, 16.

[11] Mathew Vattamattam CMF, Circular Letter “My Spirit is for all the World. Called and sent as missionaries in an intercultural world.” Rome, 2019.

[12] José Cristo Rey García Paredes CMF, Another community is possible! Under the leadership of the Spirit”. Claretian Publications, Madrid, 2018.

[13] John Paul Lederach, Moral Imagination. The Art and Soul of Building Peace. Oxford University Press, New York, 2004.

[14] Ibid p. 27.

[15] Ibid p. 78.

[16] Mark Johnson, Moral Imagination. Implications of Cognitive Science for Ethics. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1993. P. 212.

[17] Íbid p. 39.

[18] Íbid p. 48.

[19] MS 67.

[20] Richard Rohr, Daily Meditation, Jan1, 2020.

[21] Mathew Vattamattam CMF, Claretian community: Walking forth in the Spirit of Christ. Rome, 2019.

[22] Ídem.