A little over 12 years ago, on October 25, 1992, we celebrated with great joy the beatification of our 51 brothers, the Martyrs of Barbastro.
That grace-filled moment positively affected the lives of many Claretians and had a profound impact on those who were in the process of initial formation at the time. Many young Claretians, motivated by the testimony of the Martyrs, wrote to Father General expressing their availability for the universal mission of the Congregation.
As a Congregation we wanted to respond to the grace of the beatification by committing ourselves to open a new mission in continental China. The following year the Claretian community of Taiwan was established as the first step in this direction. We are very near to realizing our dream of a stable presence in continental China.
But above all, the beatification of the Martyrs of Barbastro constituted a powerful call to a more radical following of Jesus and a more generous response to the service of the Kingdom. It also helped us to rediscover the gift of community as the place where our faith, which always wavers, is nurtured, grows and is made firm. Within the community, through the care and concern of our brothers, we experience in a new way the love of the Father who never abandons us, but rather teaches us to love and to forgive.
We know very well that the Congregation’s experience of martyrdom does not end with the 51 Martyrs of Barbastro. Many other brothers of ours have surrendered their lives to the Lord and to their brothers. Their deaths provide poignant testimony to their faith in the God of life. From Father Francesc Crusats to the last of our brothers assassinated for his fidelity to his mission, Claretians of different ages and nationalities have written the history of martyrdom of the Congregation. Together they form a very important part of our spiritual patrimony.
All of these Claretians—priests, brothers, students—are points of reference for us and evident signs of the dimension of martyrdom which always accompanies the missionary vocation.
1. Father Andrés Solá Molist
Pope John Paul II proposed to the community of the faithful that the Catalonian Claretian Missionary, Father Andrés Solá Molist, be considered a witness for the Gospel. Father Solá was assassinated on April 25, 1927 in the small village of San Joaquín, near the city of León, Mexico.
We do not have a detailed biography of Father Solá. In fact, there is not much that can be told about him. He was born on October 7, 1895, in the town of Taradell, near Vic, the birthplace of our Congregation. The preaching of some of the Claretians in his parish helped him discover his own missionary vocation. On August 15, 1914 he professed his vows in Cervera and was ordained to the priesthood on September 23, 1922 in Segovia. There is nothing especially outstanding in the reports submitted by those responsible for his formation. However, his death, years later, will reveal the firmness of his vocational choice and the radical nature of a missionary life lived in simplicity and total surrender.
Bound for the universal mission of the Congregation, he arrived in Mexico on August 23, 1923 where he finds his new country and, in the Mexicans, his new people. As a missionary, he loved the Mexican people and did not abandon them in the difficult moments of the religious persecution when his presence, together with theirs, was most necessary. He remained faithful to the end as he provided the pastoral service his people asked of him.
2. The context of martyrdom
Every act of martyrdom has its context: religious, social, political. The greatness of the martyr is precisely in remaining faithful to the values that Jesus presented in the Gospels, and to the vocation that the Lord has given him in order to live them and to place them at the service of others. To know that one is in the hands and the heart of the Father and to seek above all else the Kingdom and its Justice is what sustains the martyr in his testimony.
Obviously, the martyrdom of Father Solá has its own particular context. Throughout its history, the Church in Mexico has lived through difficult moments in its relationship with the State. The presidency of Plutarco Elías Calles (1924-1928) represented the reconstruction of the country after a period characterized by confrontations between armed movements and the return of legality; however, at the same time religious persecution intensified. President Elías Calles, strengthened by new orders clearly offensive to the right of religious liberty, wanted to apply the Constitution, including the articles considered to be anti-clerical such as the prohibition against the exercise of ministry by all foreign priests, the power given to each Governor to limit the number of priests allowed within his jurisdiction, etc. In response to the actions of the government, the Mexican Bishops issued a pastoral letter calling for the suspension of all worship as a form of protest against the submission of the Church to a State that does not recognize the reality of Catholicism. The people of Mexico felt as though their faith and their culture were under attack. Some groups of Catholics organized themselves into a multi-class resistance movement with great organizing capabilities. In the area known as “el Bajío” (especially in the states of Guanajuato and Jalisco where Catholicism was deeply rooted) many Catholics raised arms in order to defend their faith and their culture. In general, the priests did not sympathize with the armed movement. The vast majority of them abandoned their parishes and clandestinely exercised their ministry. The Government, however, continued to pursue them, expelling many foreign priests and executing approximately 90 others, mainly in el Bajío. In the city of León (Guanajuato), where Father Solá and his companions were martyred, 18 priests were executed. On March 19, 1927, near León, the “cristeros” (armed resistance groups opposed to the government), headed by immigrants from Galicia in Spain, derailed a train transporting gold pesos, and again on the 11th and the 24th of April there were train derailments in Laredo. Train derailments became one of the preferred forms of resistance of the cristero groups. Our martyrs were accused, in a mock trial, of having participated in the derailment of the train from Mexico City to Juárez City on the night of April 23-24. In a telegram from General Sánchez to General Amaro, the Minister of War, Sánchez affirms the following: “I have surprised three priests conspiring against the established authorities, and three curious onlookers, consequence of the conspiracy yesterday’s derailment.” In the telegram he asked for instructions. Amaro’s reply was rapid: “Execute the priests as a lesson to all of them in the area where this occurred; set the onlookers free.” Obviously our Martyrs had nothing to do with the train derailment. This charade was perpetrated as an excuse to justify the assassination of the three prisoners.
What is certain is that Father Trinidad Rangel, and the Claretian, Father Andrés Solá, were detained simply because they were priests. The layman, Leonardo Pérez, was detained because the soldiers thought he was a priest as well. This becomes very clear at the time of their arrest. Father Solá was arrested because a photograph was found on him which showed him dressed in liturgical garb and giving first communion to a little girl. We have received additional confirmation of this in the form of testimony concerning conversations that took place between Father Solá and the military personnel who guarded him during the brief period of confinement following his arrest.
This is the context, described in broad terms, within which the martyrdom of our brother took place. In order for us to discover the meaning that Father Solá’s martyrdom has for us today, it is necessary to reconstruct the events leading to it.
3. Our brother’s testimony of martyrdom
Due to the religious persecution, the Claretian community of León had to seek refuge among the families and friends of the community. Father Andrés Solá was assigned to this community where he assisted in providing for the sacramental needs of the Church and formed part of the preaching team responsible for popular missions. The community was conscious of the risks they were taking by continuing to exercise their ministry. The superiors of the community counseled Father Solá to be prudent, even while giving him the necessary freedom to choose whatever option he considered most opportune in light of the special circumstances in which he found himself. The tension between personal security and the demands of service to the people is always the most difficult part of discernment in these cases. Father Solá came to know and love the simple people he encountered in his ministry in the Church of León, either as a preacher of popular missions, or in the short time that he was in charge of a Parish at the request of the Bishop. The common people of Mexico touched his missionary heart and he felt great affection for them. The situation worsened and in the beginning of February, 1926, he sought refuge in the home of two sisters, Josefina and Jovita Alba. From their home he continued to exercise his ministry, combining his attention to those who participated in the celebrations or sought his counsel at the house where he took refuge, with the numerous visits he made to those persons who requested his presence in order to nourish their faith in those difficult moments.
He was fully aware of the risks involved in meeting his pastoral commitments. Various witnesses affirm that on several occasions he commented that even if he were to be arrested he was convinced that only the normal sanctions against foreign priests who continue to exercise their ministry would be applied, namely, expulsion from the country. It is possible that his condition as a foreigner might have provided him some assurances, but still he was aware that the possibility of martyrdom loomed over the path that he chose. He writes to Father Pau Aguadé, a classmate from the novitiate and a very close friend, on February 9, 1927: “I don’t remember if I ever said to you while we were at college that I had a great desire to be a martyr. Who knows if the Lord will ever grant me this grace! If so, may my blood be accepted for the triumph of the Catholic Church in Mexico.” There is not the least doubt that the idea of martyrdom ran through the mind of Father Solá more than once and that he incorporated the idea in his goals for the future. I imagine that it was a theme that permeated his spiritual itinerary during those months, and because of it, he was ready to face it concretely. The cry of the people, asking him to continue at their side to help them maintain their faith and their hope during those difficult moments, was stronger than his own fears and the repeated calls to be prudent—or to abandon his work—that surely he received from many.
Finally the time came for him to face that eventuality which he knew could come at any moment. They were arrested around noon on April 24 and taken to the Seminary which at times was used as a military command post. The environment in which they found themselves led them to believe that they had arrived at the end of their “Way of the Cross.” The military authorities were firm in their decision to kill them because they were priests. Neither of the three was surprised in the act of committing the “crime” of public worship. If they were condemned to death, it was only because of the fact that two of them were priests, Fathers Rangel and Solá, and the other, Mr. Pérez, because he was considered to be a priest. The expressions of rejection and hatred toward them as priests that they had to listen to from the lips of the military authorities did not leave them any doubt. The moment had arrived for them to accept their fate. Now they needed to call upon all of the spiritual resources they held in reserve, especially in their final moments of persecution.
Around eight o’clock in the evening they were made to board the train that would take them to the place of their martyrdom: the three martyrs and three young men, frequent participants in the group meetings that were held in the house where Father Solá had sought refuge. (Later these three young people would provide us with certain details concerning the road to martyrdom.) The train was detained in Lagos the whole night long, probably for fear of further assaults. It continued on its way in the morning and Father Solá and his companions understood that they were approaching the time of their final testimony. They all agreed to shout “Long live Christ the King!” if they were going to be killed. There was still one last change from the passenger train to a military train in which they were forced to board a freight car. The train stopped in the place where the derailment occurred on the night of April 23-24. The three were forced to disembark, and right there, about 60 meters from the tracks, they were shot at 8:45 a.m. on April 25, 1927. According to the testimony of several railroad workers who were in the area repairing the damage caused by the derailment two days before, Father Rangel and Mr. Pérez died immediately, but Father Andrés Solá survived another three hours. We rely on the testimony of Mr. Petronilo Flores, one of the railroad workers, who declared before the Tribunal in the process for beatification: “I did not know the martyrs in life; but I saw them after they had been shot. I spoke a few words to Father Solá who survived about three hours. They were executed and I heard the shots since I was only about 300 meters distance from them at a point very near to San Joaquín, at marker 492. It seems to me that they died with patience and good disposition and, above all, I affirm that Father Solá, during the three hours that he remained alive, repeated frequently these words: ‘My Jesus, my Jesus, I die for you.’ I myself heard him pronounce these words. In this manner he prepared himself to die. I pulled him out of the tar because he wasn’t able to, first, because of his wounds and, second, because of the stickiness of the tar. I did not see him die because I went to get him some water because he told me that he was very thirsty. The soldiers stripped him of his belongings shortly after shooting him.”
Other witnesses told us they remember seeing Father Solá as he lay dying. The testimony of one of them, which was given to Father Julián Collell shortly afterward, merits repetition: “Don’t forget,” said Father Solá to one of the persons who was at his side, “to notify my mother, in whatever way you can, that I have died; but tell her also that she has a son who is a martyr.” With his thoughts fixed on his mother, and surely on his brothers in the Congregation, as well as on the many other persons who helped him remain faithful in difficult times to his missionary commitment, Father Andrés Solá died around 12 noon at 31 years of age.
The railroad workers buried the three bodies where they died. On May 1, Mariano Pérez, the brother of the martyr, Leonardo Pérez, received permission to transfer the bodies to Lagos where they were received by many people who already considered them to be martyrs for the faith. Later the remains of Father Solá were transferred to León and placed in the Church of the Heart of Mary on January 26, 1943.
4. A memory that challenges us
In the apostolic exhortation “Vita Consecrata,” Pope John Paul II invites us “to gather the names and testimony of consecrated persons who might be inscribed in the Martyrology of the twentieth century” (VC 86). Martyrs are a precious inheritance for all religious families. They are symbols that remind us of the meaning of our lives, and the reason for our existence. “Consecrated to Christ and to the service of the Kingdom they have given witness to their faithfulness by following until the cross. The circumstances may be diverse and the situations varied, but there is only one cause of martyrdom: fidelity to the Lord and to his Gospel, because it is not the penalty that makes a martyr, but rather the cause.” (Caminar desde Cristo, n. 9)
What does the memory of our brother Andrés Solá Molist, a martyr for Christ, ask of us today? What does it tell us? Where does it ask us to direct our gaze? I will propose several brief points for reflection so that the concept of martyrdom, which is a gift from God, does not cease to bear fruit in us.
4.1. Reaffirm our option for Jesus and the Kingdom
Much is said today about fragility, culture “light”, fragmentation, lack of deep convictions, limited capacity to assume permanent commitments, etc. On the one hand, the cultural characteristics of our moment in history have surely accentuated these traits, that, on the other hand, have always accompanied the human condition. In the “world” of religious life we are surprised by the many forms of abandonment that indicate a lack of consistency for the options that should orient our life and are expressed by means of concrete commitments.
The memory of any of our brothers who has given up his life confessing his faith constitutes an urgent call to reaffirm our option for Jesus and the Kingdom. It invites us to open our lives to the powerful action of the Spirit of the Lord that “chooses the weak and makes them strong” (Preface of Martyrs). This does not imply that we should depend on our own efforts and strength, but rather on a renewed awareness of the conviction that fidelity is possible thanks to the power of the Holy Spirit working in us. This is a gift which must be protected. The option to remain faithful to the consecration to God and to the service of the people in the moment of persecution can not be improvised. To accept this moment with clarity and serenity reveals a deep experience of faith that has grown and matured as a result of ardent prayer, assiduous meditation on the Word, participation in the Eucharist, filial devotion to Mary, fraternal accompaniment in community, a life graciously shared with the Christian community and a generous commitment to the Kingdom. All of this requires that the Kingdom occupy the central part of our life plan with all else following secondary. The text from the Congress on Claretian spirituality reminds us: “It is our task to believe in the possibilities that the Spirit gives us and to allow ourselves to be moved by the Spirit in our personal lives. Spirituality, after all, must be linked with faith in Jesus, with trust in Him and His Spirit, with the love of friendship and gratitude, and from Him with our faithfulness to the Covenant” (Our Missionary Spirituality…)
The possibility of martyrdom is always present in the missionary vocation. It was in the life of the Founder and it has been in the history of our Congregation. Our Father Founder integrated this possibility into the definition of the missionary and he lived it himself in the distinct stages of his life. “Nothing daunts him: he delights in privations, welcomes work, embraces sacrifices, smiles at slander, rejoices in all the torments and sorrows he suffers, and glories in the cross of Jesus Christ. His only concern is how he may follow Christ and imitate him in praying, working, enduring and striving constantly and solely for the greater glory of God and the salvation of humankind” (CC 9). Father Andrés Solá, like all Claretians, carried these words engraved in his mind and in his heart. He knew them from memory and he meditated on them hundreds of times. However, they did not erase weakness from his life. Surely some of the privations weighed heavily on him. He felt weakness in the face of the sacrifices that were asked of him. He experienced fear as he thought of the many ways he could be tormented. The definition of a missionary is not the description of a few “strong men,” but rather of persons who know how to gaze upon the face of Jesus and allow his glance to penetrate their hearts. This ability to contemplate Jesus and to be in communion with his passion and with his love for each one of his brothers—beautifully expressed in the last phrase of the definition—is what makes it possible to live the demands expressed in the first part. The martyrs knew how to fix their sight on Jesus, allowing the Teacher to return the same glance of tenderness and mercy that transformed the heart of that Peter who denied knowing the Lord, and later was able to give up his life confessing his faith in Him. How many times had Father Solá meditated on these words? How many times had he asked Jesus for assistance? The gaze of Jesus prepared him for his final testimony; in it he discovered the tenderness of unconditional love and from it he received strength for his ultimate surrender.
To confess faith in Jesus even unto death is the fruit of a deep friendship with the Master, and this friendship is a gift that must be nurtured with care. I want to remind you of one of the priorities of this sexennium determined by the last General Chapter: “We accept as a priority the cultivation of our own vocation in faithfulness to our evangelical roots and charisms, as expressed in the Constitutions” (PTV 48). This is an invitation to cultivate a closer friendship with Jesus, because this friendship makes faithfulness possible. The Chapter also denounced the inconsistencies in our lives, including the vocational dissatisfaction in some Claretians. This concern, expressed by the Chapter, is the direct consequence of a progressive abandonment of the means, indicated in our Constitutions, for us to grow in friendship with Jesus and to celebrate his presence in our community. In these cases, the Kingdom of God is displaced to the margins of our lives and is converted into a burden rather than a joy. There is a need to make up for the void in one way or another, and many substitutes appear quite quickly: activism, personal projects that take place outside the community, the search for positions of prestige, the anxiety for personal well-being and extra benefits, etc. This is not the way to find happiness. Jesus already raised the warning: “No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other or be attentive to one and despise the other. You cannot give yourself to God and money” (Mt. 6:24). Our road to self-realization consists in building our lives around Jesus and responding to his invitation. This is the road that prepares us to give our lives each day, even to the point of martyrdom, if it becomes necessary.
It would please me for each of us to place ourselves before our brother Martyr and ask him to help us discover the source of the strength which sustained him on his road to martyrdom. I would like for us to share in a community meeting the importance we find for each of us in the testimony of Father Andrés Solá. I am sure that it will help us reaffirm our option for Jesus and for the Kingdom. This is precisely the greatest treasure that makes giving up everything worthwhile.
4.2. Availability for mission with all of its consequences
Father Andrés Solá was born in Catalonia and professed in the Congregation as a member of that Province. His superiors sent him to Mexico where he encountered a new people. He gave himself fully to them and he did not wish to abandon them in their moment of difficulty. These are two characteristics that have marked the lives of many Claretians in the history of the Congregation. The historical references would be too numerous to list. It is beautiful to hear Claretians from some countries speak with love and respect of the missionaries who were assigned to their countries from other areas. They fondly recall how these Claretians accompanied them in the task of creating in these places true missionary communities. It is also beautiful to hear the people speak with pride and emotion about “their missionaries” and how they dedicated themselves to the mission without sparing efforts or sacrifices. The common people always know how to read the signs of love and welcome the generosity of those who give of themselves. It moves me to hear how some missionaries who, after spending many years in their mission sites, and feeling incapable of abandoning them, still speak with enthusiasm for their “new people.” They truly love them and want to remain with them forever. They are “their” people and “their” family. This is the concrete experience of the hundred fold that Jesus promised to those who give up all for the sake of the Kingdom.
Father Solá was able to work only a few years in Mexico, but he lived his missionary life with intensity, first as a professor in the Claretian Seminary in Toluca and later in the ministry of preaching and as part of the pastoral team in our church in León. He prolonged his missionary service, even after he went into hiding, by comforting, with his presence and word, the Christian communities that could not celebrate their faith publicly. The people loved and respected him. After his martyrdom, his remains, along with those of his companions, were transferred from San Joaquín to León where they were received with great enthusiasm by those who were aware of his apostolic zeal.
Father Solá placed completely in God’s hands the life he had already offered to those he served throughout his ministry. With this he validated the offering he had made the day he left Barcelona for Mexico, saying his final and definitive goodbye to his family and his country. He lived his missionary commitment with generosity in spite of all the difficulties. The letters he writes to his family, especially his mother, express the deep feeling that united him to his family, and that, in Mexico, he would have lived in a diverse way as a missionary. His thought toward the end of his life was once again of his mother. He asked those who attended him as he lay dying to tell his dear mother that she had a martyr for a son.
The possibility of serving the Church and the Congregation in the universal mission continues to be on the horizon in the life of every Claretian. Many of our brothers are called to live their missionary vocations in places other than where they were born, matured in their faith and professed in the Congregation. This missionary availability should continue to distinguish the new generations of Claretians. The testimony of our brother Martyr cautions us of the need to accept the consequences of this option. The love for the people demands a generous surrender that translates into concrete attitudes and conduct in the life of the missionary: to know and to appreciate the language and the culture, to spare no sacrifice in completing the service that is asked, to be prepared to remain as long as the mission requires, to know how to remain faithful to the values through which we express our consecration, to place ourselves in the midst of the small and the excluded and to unite ourselves in their struggle for justice and the dignity of all persons, etc. It hurts me at times to find Claretians who have been sent to destinations outside of their own countries and/or cultures who, after a short time, want to return because they claim to have completed their mission or they begin to demand “compensation” for the time spent in the mission. The memory of Father Andrés Solá and many other missionaries can help us to discover the true missionary spirit that, in spite of our fragility and limitations, impels us to give up all and forever.
It would be beautiful if the beatification of our brother could awaken in all Claretians a new awareness of the call to collaborate in the mission of the Church wherever the needs of evangelization are most urgent.
4.3. In shared mission
Some years ago the concept “shared mission” gained acceptance in our approach to pastoral ministry, even though the understanding and practice of it varies among the Organisms of the Congregation. It is clear that putting “shared mission” into practice will enable us to discover new, more efficient ways to coordinate our pastoral teams. As a result, we can identify the consequences this has for our own personal and community growth. The last General Chapter already addressed this issue: “The term ‘shared mission,’ relatively new in the Church and among ourselves, arises from a radically communal understanding of mission and from the necessary interrelationship among all states of life and ministry in order to confront the challenges to evangelisation presented by our world. Our Father Founder intuited this in some way when he invited us to ‘do with others’ and not to consider ourselves self-sufficient.” (PTV 35) And after indicating that this will require a change of mentality, the Chapter proposed the following as one of the priorities for the sexennium: “Therefore, we choose as a priority that shared mission be our normal way of carrying out our mission and that we all, as Claretians, accept the consequences this has for our spirituality, vocation ministry, formation processes, community life, apostolic work and institutions of government and economy.” (PTV 37)
Today, the martyrs of San Joaquín—one Claretian priest, one diocesan priest and one layman—become for us a parable of this sharing that unites us all in the mission of giving witness for the Kingdom. They were in agreement in their total adherence to the Lord, sharing the same passion to serve their brothers and sisters by comforting them in the moment of persecution, and they helped each other remain faithful to the end. From three distinct forms of Christian life they followed Jesus and completed the only mission entrusted to the Church by the Lord.
We all have experience of how our faith grows when it is shared with the Christian community, of how our vocational response is purified when we allow ourselves to be questioned by those who live out their following of Jesus in other vocations, of how our missionary commitment is vigorized and its efficacy multiplied when it is carried out in the communion of charisms and ministries. Surely this was the experience of Father Andrés Solá and his companions, even though it was understood and lived from other ecclesiological assumptions. Today we count on new approaches in ministry to help us accept the way of shared mission. The testimony of the martyrs of San Joaquín will provide us with a new inspiration to continue down this path. We renew our commitment to advance in our understanding and practice of shared mission, especially with those who belong to the Claretian family, and share the same Claretian inspiration.
4.4. In the Year of the Eucharist
The Church has given us a special gift in that the beatification of Father Solá takes place during the Year of the Eucharist. One of the pastoral tasks that Father Solá carried out with great dedication during the time he was hiding, was to take the Eucharist to those faithful who were not able to assist at Mass because of the prohibition against public worship. The faithful felt it was necessary for them to receive the Eucharist since it was the source of the vitality of their faith, a link with the Christian community, and a powerful force for witness during that difficult time. In spite of the depression caused by the persecution, they were comforted, just as the disciples at Emmaus, in recognizing the presence of Jesus at the breaking of the bread. With prudence, and at the same time great courage, Father Solá walked the streets of León over and over again accompanying Jesus, present in the Eucharist, and accompanied by Jesus. The whole time he engaged in the kind of intimate conversation with Jesus that set his heart on fire and revived the hope that he needed in those difficult moments.
The persons who lived with him then have told us that Father Solá spent a lot of time before the Blessed Sacrament and organized frequent moments of prayer with the people. These moments of contemplation before our Lord, present in the mystery of the Eucharist, sustained his dedication to the people he served and prepared him for the final surrender of his life in martyrdom.
I am sure that the words of Father Founder, taken from those beautiful passages of the Autobiography that narrate his experience of the Eucharistic Mystery, echoed more than once in the mind and the heart of Father Solá: “On May 11, 1862, at 6:30 in the evening, while I was in the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament at the palace of Aranjuez, I offered myself to Jesus and Mary to preach, exhort, labor and suffer even death itself, and the Lord accepted my offering.” (Auto. 698) There is also the passage where he recounts how he was granted the grace of the conservation of the sacramental species. He felt called to live that profound moment of communion with Jesus and to be a witness for the Kingdom by confronting all of the evils of Spain (cf. Auto. 694). These and other Claretian memories must have inspired Father Solá’s life and missionary commitment in those difficult months.
The beatification of our brother will be a permanent reminder to us to live the Year of the Eucharist with intensity. The Eucharist is the sacrament that preserves among us that presence of the Lord that the disciples of Emmaus demanded. (cf. Mane nobiscum Domine
-MND- n. 19) It is necessary that the Lord continue to set our hearts on fire with his Word and that our community always feel accompanied by his presence in the breaking of the bread. There is where our communion is strengthened because we recognize ourselves as brothers gathered around the same table and sharing the same bread (cf. 1 Cor. 10, 17; MND 20, 21) The experience of the Eucharist transforms us into fearless apostles of the Jesus who gives life so that all may have life, and awakens in us true missionary zeal. (cf. MND 24, 25) The Eucharist, says Pope John Paul II, “is a project of solidarity for all of humanity” and a “great school of peace;” “the Christian who takes part in the Eucharist learns to become a promotor of communion, peace and solidarity in every situation.” (MND 27) In the Eucharist “we receive the impulse for a practical commitment to build a more just and fraternal society.” (MND 28) Here I wish to reiterate what was stated in the document from the Congress on Claretian Spirituality: “Gathered around the table of the Lord, who shares his life with his disciples, we feel the pain of exclusion of so many persons from that other table the Lord has prepared for all of his sons and daughters: the goods of Creation, the care of which has been entrusted to the human family. The Eucharist is a powerful call to collaborate in the transformation of the world according to God’s plan.” (Our Missionary Spirituality…, p. 49)
We welcome, as grace, the fact that the beatification of our brother will take place during this Year of the Eucharist. We will strive to turn the exhortations of the Holy Father into concrete actions. I am convinced this will help us be more daring in our attempts at fulfilling the priority indicated by the General Chapter for this sexennium: “Therefore we choose as a priority solidarity with the poor, the excluded and those whose right to life is threatened so that this impacts our personal and community lifestyle, in our apostolic mission and institutions.” (PTV 40) Our commitment for justice, peace and the integrity of creation should find greater importance in our spirituality and in our missionary projects.
Just as indicated in the General Chapter (cf. PTV 70.2), we should try to deepen the Eucharistic dimension of our charism. The General Government would like to propose the following process to assist every Claretian. I ask for your maximum cooperation.
5. We celebrate the beatification of our brother
“At the limits of the life of an authentic missionary always lies the possibility of martyrdom, the “limit case” of self-giving, of love, of confessing the faith and of proclaiming hope. Martyrdom is a gift. And it always must be recognized as such. It is a gift for the martyr and also for the Church and the Congregation. It is a paradoxical gift, but a real one. We can flee from it beforehand, if we escape danger, if we seek security, if we avoid any type of risk. Martyrdom on the horizon gives a distinctive coloration to the missionary life” (Our Missionary Spirituality…, p. 21)
If martyrdom is a gift then we are grateful for it and we celebrate it. Once more it is time to sing the Magnificat. With Mary, who accompanied her son, Andrés, with maternal love and affection at the moment he was asked to give the supreme testimony of his option for the Kingdom, and with our brother martyr we sing the Magnificat. God always looks upon the lowliness of his servants and continues to work great things in them. When the powerful wish to silence the voices of those who proclaim the marvels of the Lord, the community of believers is moved into action in favor of the construction of the Kingdom. When hatred gives rise to death, faith and forgiveness are converted into fountains of life and hope for many. They become instruments for the establishment of justice for all.
We are thrilled to be brothers of Father Andrés and we appreciate his testimony. It is a grace for us to be part of the same congregational community, sharing a plan for life that is capable of building up persons who are able to surrender everything for Jesus and the Kingdom. The commemoration of the martyrdom of our brother should help each one of us reinforce our Claretian identity. Let us welcome that book of life we call the Constitutions and conform our lives to it. In it we can find the way to strengthen our commitment for the Kingdom and to convert our communities into powerful signs of the same. Martyrdom speaks to us of faithfulness which is the fruit of grace at work in human fragility. “Fidelity” is a word that we should thoroughly study and apply to each moment of our life.
The Province of Mexico has been preparing for the celebration of the beatification of Father Solá. We have also created a general commission that will propose several concrete initiatives. I would like all of the Organisms of the Congregation to prepare to receive this gift of grace. Those who work in formation should look for ways to encourage the formation communities to learn as much as possible about the testimony of our brother martyr, and to celebrate his beatification with enthusiasm. The Church has placed Father Andrés Solá before the people of God as a model for Christian life. The exact date for the beatification has not been set, but on that day we will unite in prayer and thanksgiving. We are committed to keeping the memory of Father Solá alive among us.
I have been wondering how we could express our gratitude to the Lord and to our brother who left us his testimony of faithfulness until death. One way to respond is to approach vocation ministry with renewed determination. Father Solá lived his missionary life in two Organisms, Catalonia and Mexico, both of which are experiencing difficulty in attracting new vocations. The last General Chapter issued an urgent call to the entire Congregation to promote vocation ministry with renewed enthusiasm. The General Government has created a Secretariat of Vocation Ministry in order to animate this important ministry. We want to take advantage of this special moment of grace to renew our commitment to vocation ministry and to accept the many demands on our personnel that this entails. We should review our pastoral projects and activities to determine if sufficient importance is given to vocation ministry. We have to ask ourselves if we are willing to invite young men to consider the possibility of life as a Claretian missionary, and also if we are open to receive them in our own communities. We should not forget to revise the life of our communities in order to make them clear signs of fraternity and missionary activity. Our homes and communities should be appealing to those who are thinking of following Jesus in the consecrated life. In some places we will have to insist on careful vocational selection, knowing that it is not enough to want to be a priest in order to enter our community, but rather it is necessary to feel the call to missionary life and to be ready to accept the consequences. This is especially true in places where the formation teams need to be reinforced in order to provide adequate accompaniment for those preparing for Claretian missionary life. In other cultural contexts we have to remind ourselves that the Lord continues calling people to the religious life. For our part, we must make a strong effort to recognize the call and to accompany those who are called in their process of discernment. I ask all Organisms, in their next assembly or chapter, to discuss the theme of vocation ministry in order to identify concrete proposals to help us revise our attitudes and accept new commitments.
If we are generous in our vocational response and make a valiant effort to live the Claretian mission, mindful of the options that the Congregation has proposed at this moment, we will recover enthusiasm for our vocation and we will feel truly happy to belong to our community. This is the first necessary step in any approach to vocation ministry. May the memory of Blessed Andrés Solá help us in this regard.
I picture Father Founder as he wrote to Father Xifré upon receiving notice of the death of the first Claretian martyr, Father Francesc Crusats: “I just received your esteemed letter of the 2nd and 3rd, and I am fully informed. Let us give thanks to God now that the Lord and his Blessed Mother have deigned to accept the first of the martyrs. I had hoped to be the first martyr of the Congregation, but I was not worthy. Another has beaten me to it. I congratulate the Martyr and Saint Crusats and I congratulate Mr. Rexach, as well, for having had the luck of being injured. I also congratulate the entire Congregation for the blessing it has received in being persecuted. Tell them, for my part, not to be afraid and to trust in the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.” (Letter of Father Founder to Father Xifré, October 7, 1868)
Let us celebrate with joy the memory of our brother, and may our celebration encourage each of us to greater faithfulness.
Rome, March 28, 2005
Josep M. Abella, cmf