-Fr. Gonzalo Fernandez cmf
The charismatic expression of our Fr. Founder: “My spirit is for the whole world” echoed in the Congregation from the very beginning. In 1870 the first expedition of Missionaries set off to Chile from their exile in the South of France. Fr. Mariano Avellana who formed part of the second expedition went to Chile in 1873. This young priest belonged to that group of the holy men (like Fr. Pablo Vallier and Brothers Pedro Marcer and Miguel Xancó) who laid solid foundations to the first major Organism of the Congregation
Mariano Avellana Lasierra was born in 1844, in of Almudévar, Spain, a small village located about 70 kms. away from Barbastro and 60 from Huesca. In 1858 he joined the diocesan seminary of Huesca and later in 1868 he was ordained a priest. In the last years of his studies, he came in contact with the Claretian Missionaries, who had founded a mission house in Huesca in 1864 and preached a mission in Almudévar
Mariano Avelliana was first appointed to the pastoral care of the benefice of the old church of St. Peter and the chaplaincy of a military centre. But his spirit was made for something greater and more universal. Thus in September 1870 he joined our Novitiate in Prades, France. Unfortunately he couldn’t meet personally Fr. Founder who, 50 kms away, in Fontfroide, was fighting against his last illness to which he would succumb a month later. The decision with which he embraced the new lifestyle was synthesised by him in his laconic expression: “either a saint or dead”. This was his motto throughout his lifetime. He professed as a Claretian Missionary in the hands of Fr. Xifré, on 29 September 1871.
After two years in Thuir, the new location of Claretians in France, Fr. Mariano Avellana was appointed to Chile, where he arrived on 11 September 1873. He would work there continuously for 31 years and was an exceptional witness of the first development of the Congregation outside Spain. He formed part of the communities of Santiago, La Serena, Valparaíso, Curicó and Coquimbo.
His apostolic ministry in Chile was indeed amazing. He preached over 540 popular missions, that used to last about two weeks and were exhausting. If we add to them many spiritual exercises, novenas, etc. his preachings would amount to 20,000. In addition to the ministry of the Word, he devoted himself to the marginalized of the Chilean society. In his beatification process, one witness affirmed, “hospitals and prisons were the main object of his occupation as priest and missionary”. Another added, “there was no hospital or prison in Chile that wasn’t visited by holy Fr. Avellana”.
“Imitating Jesus the Missionary and St. Claret, Fr. Avellana took very seriously that missionary program of “praying, working and suffering”. During many years, he got up at 3:30 in the morning to have more time for prayer. In the last stage of his life, he suffered a painful herpes. Besides this suffering, he used a big “cilicium” around his torso. It was discovered when he was carried to the hospital in his last illness.
Fr. Avellana spread the fragrance of holiness in the way he lived and preached. When he died, on 14 May 1904, the people of Chile had already taken him to be a saint. They called him “Holy Fr. Avellana”. John Paul II recognized officially the heroism of his virtues and granted him the title of Venerable on 23 October 1987. He will be beatified when the canonically required miracle occurs. Last 14 May, Fr General, Josep M. Abella, told to all Claretian Missioneries that his life “challenges us with the question on the radicalism of our commitment to God and the evangelization”.