Dear Fr. Mathew and brothers gathered in Tanzania,
I greet you all with great joy and express, on behalf of the General Government, the great hope that your meeting awakens in us. When I began to prepare this letter all I could think was to write the word “THANKYOU” in capital letters. Yes, this is the feeling that I want to express to you with all my heart: thank you for your service to the Congregation through involvement in the formation of the younger Claretian generations; Thank you, also, for participating in this meeting which seeks to strengthen the Claretian training programme and facilitate the exercise of your responsibility as trainers.
As I said six years ago, when you met in Bangalore, and I repeat now: a meeting of prefects of formation is a very important Congregational Forum. To you have been entrusted the task of transmitting the Claretian missionary charism to future generations. On the other hand, it is you who work with the enthusiasm and dreams of the missionaries in training while also knowing their shortcomings and weaknesses. With them, you look to the future to create the conditions that allow us to continue to be for the Church and for the world the gift that Claret was for his own time. I hope and we expect a lot of your meeting. Be assured that that I accompanying you with my closeness and prayers.
At the beginning of your meeting, I would like to share you some aspects of my perception of the formation programs of the Congregation and the life of the formation centres. I am sure that during these days you will share your experiences and your difficulties. I hope that these reflections serve to guide the way.
- First of all I believe that we should give thanks to God because He continues to send vocations to our Congregation. The missionary charism of Claret continues to attract young people who, as they discover during the formation process, feel called to assume such as framework and orientation for their own life. We have the great responsibility of providing a serious and deep formation experience to those who come to our community. They are gifts that the Lord gives us. It does concern me, however, that the majority of the boys arriving at our training centres, particularly in areas where we have a greater number of vocations do not come from our own centers of Apostolate but from other places in which we are present through vocational promotion campaigns which are certainly important. This is a great challenge for all the claretians. It calls us to question our lifestyle and our Youth Ministry. Vocations for the Congregation should emerge also from our apostolic activities. Therefore, it is a great joy to see that there are places where our own centers are providing a greater number of vocations.
- I think the last General Chapter was very clear in pointing out that the priority in formation is the “the internalization of the fundamental values of our consecrated life” (HAC 63.1). I consider this to be the greatest challenge in formation. This asks us to move more and more towards a personalized formation, where personal accompaniment of the student becomes the key element of the training process. We must help the internalization of the values of the Claretian Missionary life which are found clearly stated in the constitutions that we profess. While the academic dimension of the formation process is important, as is also the pastoral dimension nothing is as important as the internalization of the fundamental values of the Claretian and religious life. This has to be the main criterion used in the assessment of the candidate’s vocational growth and of decisions about his fitness to continue or not in the Congregation.
- It is important to me to insist on lifestyle. It gives me great joy, during visits, to share in the life of formation centres for a few days when one can see in them a true enthusiasm for the Claretian missionary life. To be able to chat with young people who dream in of their future missionary life and are preparing with interest and enthusiasm to live this radically, is a joyful experience. On the other hand, is very sad to arrive in a formation centre and find young people who appear to be seeking a platform that will assure the realization of their own personal plans which have little to do with the project of the congregation or the community. Unfortunately they are in the wrong place and we must not hesitate to direct them to other places. When there is missionary enthusiasm and true love for the Congregation one can know how to assume with joy, for example, material deficiencies which may exist in the formation centres and the principal concerns of the candidates are never about the amount of money they receive, the days of vacation that that they are entitled to or the like. The one who has found the hidden treasure that is capable of fulfilling with feeling and hope their life making it a carrier of hope for others, has no difficulty in giving up everything else. We have to be lucid in analyzing the signs of vocational identity. True enthusiasm is expressed a thousand different ways in everyday life.
- Another important element in the formation process is to educate for missionary availability. Every year I get letters from those who have been approved for perpetual profession. In these, when they have been personally written by the one who is going to make perpetual profession (though some are limited to copying a model that has been given), one can discover the heart of the missionary in training. It is beautiful to see that the vast majority express their availability for mission which suggests they have understood the meaning of the Claretian vocation. We must continue to promote this fundamental feature of the missionary life, which with the ongoing reorganization of the Congregation will be increasingly required. To be able to assume, “being sent” wherever it is necessary, and the Ministry for which community needs me, is an expression of the inner freedom of one has really placed all in the hands of God. Within this missionary availability must be the desire to generously assume a missionary option for the poor and excluded, which should be demonstrated in their attitudes and concerns during the formation process.
- The missionary availability of which I speak is rooted in a deep spiritual life. This is another issue that should be strengthened in the formation process. Assiduous meditation on the Word of God cannot be missing from the personal project of the missionary in formation and needs to have its specific time in programming everyday life. I perceive a lack of personal prayer in many formation centres. I believe this is one of the themes where there is a need for a stronger and more regularly accompaniment of the missionaries in formation. The well prepared daily Eucharist, should be the space where our life assumes Easter traits of giving to God and ones brothers all that makes a true missionary. Fraternal life, with all its joys and dificulties, is the place where we can verify our commitment to those values that give real consistency to our community. It is beautiful to be with people who feel joyful in sharing their life with their brothers. Our spirituality is missionary and has to know how to integrate the disturbing questions that come from reality and the wonderful testimony of many individuals and groups that seek truth and justice, which, ultimately means, seeking God.
- Another theme that the chapter insisted on, is the preparation of formators. The General Government has continued offering the training on specifically Claretians aspects of the formation programme through the “Heart of Mary” school for formators. A good number of claretians have participated in this program, although I would like to insist that the major superiors send those who they intend to devote to formation. It is not simply a renewal course. On the other hand, the General Prefecture of Formation is developing a programme of formation for formators in different geographical areas of the Congregation. We will endeavour, insofar as possible, to reach all of them over the next year. In addition to this, I consider the personal interest of each formator to prepare and develop themselves in order to better develop this very important service. All formators should deepen their knowledge of Father Founder and the Congregation: its history, the documents of the General Chapters, the teaching of the General Superiors, the present Congregational situation, etc. To this end subsidies and interesting materials are offered both printed and on the webpages of the different prefectures. Know and take advantage of them.
- Another important issue in formation is the proper functioning of the formation team. First and foremost, a “formation team “must exist. This important task cannot be entrusted to just one person. Although it is obvious that a prefect or teacher is directly responsible for a group of candidates, we also need these are accompanied by a formation team that can guarentee the consistency of the formation programme as a good service to the students. Those who are professors of the Study Centres used by our candidates, must also feel involved in the formative task and ensure that their lifestyle expresses the values of religious and Claretian life that the Missionaries in formation are called to internalize. At the same time, it is essential that in the Province a “vocational culture” is maintained, which is principally expressed through the love of all for their vocation and the commitment to live it joyful and generously each day take care. This is the climate that enables the vocational growth of the missionaries in formation and their positive integration into the communities.
There are still many other comments to make, but I am sure that they will emerge during the meeting. I await with keen interest the conclusions of the meeting and the results of your reflections.
I am grateful to Fr. Mathew for the work which has prepared the meeting and to all those who are going to collaborate with your generous contribution. Thank you to the Claretian community of Tanzania and the province of Chennai for their availability to accommodate this Congregational Forum.
I place this meeting in the hands and in the heart of Mary, that she will guide and enlighten you.
A fraternal embrace,
Fr. Josep Maria Abella