Our Path of Post Conciliar Renewal

– Fr.Aquilino Bocos

aquilinoIt is at the invitation of Fr. General that I am undertaking an exercise in the corporate memory of the General Chapters held after the Council. I have in mind these words of Sören Kierkegaard who said that “life can only be understood backwards but must be lived forwards”.

I. THE COUNCIL, EVENT OF GRACE

We are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council. It was opened on 11 October 1962 by John XXIII. When asked for the objective he wanted to get from the Council, he opened the window toward St. Peter’s square and said: “The Council will do this: that a little fresh air will enter in the Church”. That happy day began the “aggiornamento”, “the new spring”, “New Pentecost”, for the Church as had been indicated by the good Pope on other occasions. The Church began a parable of renewal returning to “the pure and simple lines of the origins” in freedom and charity.

The Council was a very special visit from the Spirit to the Church and humanity. The Holy Spirit is the main protagonist of the Council and of the process of renewal in the Church. The effects of that momentous event remain in the wide horizons open for God’s people and the paths laid out for successive generations. With the Council the Church entered into dialogue with brethren of separated churches, with other religions and with the modern world. Its proposal to discern “the signs of the times” and remain faithful to its mission of evangelization, has gifted it with youth and vitality. The Council enlightens reflection on all of the sources of revelation, of the Christian tradition, of the questions of modern man and the change of the world. Therefore it continues to be decisive in its spiritual, doctrinal, social and cultural influence.

Perhaps these statements we can now make, 50 years after its closure, having experienced the euphoria of the new, and having come through many storms, confusion and not a little renunciation. The process of renewal obliged the adoption of another way to see, feel and commit oneself in the Christian life.

The Church and religious institutes, also our own, during these 50 years of the post-Conciliar period have walked between light and shadow. Behind a new language, such as: change, effective renewal, straight accommodation, Gospel, monitoring, dialogue, freedom, brotherhood, service, poor, layman, Ministry, etc, etc, there has been a new spirituality, a new relationship with the father, Jesus Christ and his holy spirit; new relationships between people and with creation. The successive challenges of secularization, unbelief of post-modernity, of dehumanization, of the culture of death…, have been constant. But they were not the last word. In fact, the dawn follows and a new song is still played (St. Augustine).

II. THE CONGREGATION ASSUMES THE RENEWAL PROCESS

A few months after the Council ended, Pope Paul VI issued the Motu Proprio ‘Ecclesiae Sanctae” (1966) in which he gave rules for promoting appropriate renewal of religious life and, in particular, the convening of ordinary or special General Chapters. Above all, the younger generation of claretians felt a concern and urgency for the convocation of a special chapter of renewal.

Among the various members of the Congregation, who were Conciliar Fathers, was Fr. General Pedro Schweiger, who had noticeable enthusiasm for making the congregation feel with the Church and promotion of the spirit of our holy founder. It wasn’t difficult to convene the special chapter in 1967. In 1965 the Congregation had 3.735 members, which by 1970 had dropped to 3.404.

On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Congregation (1949) and the canonization of Fr. Founder (1950) there had arisen a great interest in studying the figure and missionary spirit of San Antonio María Claret. This contributed to the creation of the Claretian Secretariat (1949) and the Centre of Claretian Studies (1954), established in the General House, Rome. Many of our brothers undertook doctoral thesis on the writings and activities of Fr. Claret. In 1959 his autobiography, selected letters, spiritual notes, retreat resolutions and lights and graces were published. The Studia Claretiana started in 1963. At the time of the celebration of the special chapter, the Congregation has centers of higher studies where there were people prepared in Sacred Scripture, theology, law, education and Government.[1] The Congregation was opening itself to Asia: Japan and the Philippines and, very soon, India.

The special chapter was enabling a solid basis and the opening of a secure channel for postconciliar renewal[2] . We can repeat what Bernardo de Chartres said: “we are like dwarfs perched on the shoulders of giants. We see more and farther than our predecessors, not because we have keener vision or greater height, but because we are lifted up and borne aloft on their gigantic stature “.

III. THE MILESTONES OF OUR RENEWAL PROCESS

General Chapters are, above all, acts of community life and can only be well understood in continuity of life. They are links in an unbroken chain, points of reference and indication to face the future. Looking at them as a whole provides a progressive and harmonious development of the missionary charism of the Congregation. Also themes of communion, review and constant missionary re-launch, can be highlighted in them. They are always an act of thanksgiving, reconciliation and commitment to the Mission of what may be most urgent, opportune and effective.

Already in the first chapter of renewal, the Holy Spirit is recognized as the protagonist in the life and mission of the Fr. Founder and of the Congregation. And in all the declarations there is evidence of the presence of Mary in the Chapters as Mother of the Congregation. In her heart the missionaries are formed.

Since the special Chapter, the language in which the Chapters have expressed themselves is dynamic. They speak of progress, process, programme, itinerary, stages, phases. It is also contextualized: they take into account the different historical, social, cultural, religious, ecclesial and congregational contexts. We all know that it is not the words that save us, but the person of Jesus, but the words reveal the sensitivity to challenges and the way we position ourselves in the surrounding reality (L.Wittgenstein). Therefore, there is no reason to underestimate the following language: renewal, revitalization, reform, review of positions and restructuring or new words that we’ve been using [3]. It is to go on expressing the Easter Road and the new creation.

The lines of force that have gone through the itinery of our renewal have been those indicated by the Conciliar decree for the well done renewal of religious life (PC): the return to origins, conversion, the following of Jesus, ecclesiality, support for the person, missionary evangelization.

The important options that the Congregation, in a more or less explicit way, has been asserting and reaffirming throughout these years include: the option for the poor, the option for the universal mission and option for fraternity among people with everything that entails: commitment to peace, justice, the integrity of creation.

Among the 8 General chapters held in the post-conciliar period one can observe two different periods: the first constituent character, comprising the first four (1967, 1973, 1979, and 1985). The second, which would include the other four (1991, 1997, 2003 and 2009), could be called of creative fidelity.

The constituent period was a time for building on solid foundations in the central core of our missionary life. During these years was developed and adopted the renewed texts of the constitutions and directory, which were adjusted to the new code of Canon law in 1985. The course of the Claretian missionary life runs on three fundamental dynamics: the charism, the community and the mission.

The Creative fidelity period is characterized by the reaffirmation of the Claretian charism, the listening and discernment of the signs of the times and of places and the missionary expansion of the Congregation. Horizons are viewed in the light of the Word of God, of the foundational charism, the Magisterium of the Church and the calls of the world.

Throughout the nearly fifty years of the post-conciliar renewal process, the following have remained as dynamics: information, dialogue, participation, joint responsibility and subsidiarity. All documents of the General chapters have dealt with spirituality, formation, vocations, community life, our missionary service and the economy.

The road that we have followed has not been smooth nor straight. An image appropriate to explain the process of renewal is that of a river which born from a few springs continues following its course. At times it is winding, it hides below the ground, it makes pools, it creates waterfalls, it recedes and continues dodging obstacles until it arrives at the sea. We have not always been up to our promises and commitments. More than once we have disappointed the poorest and those most in need of the Word.

Before analyzing each of the Chapters it should be noted: 1) the insistence with which is spoken identity, belonging, availability and 2) the interrelationship between these three areas that configure our missionary life. Each of these aspects is dynamic, open and multi-relational. And are like communicating vessels that interact. The same thing happens when speaking of consecration, communion and mission; or charism, fraternity and availability.

IV. General Chapters from 1967 to 1985

Extraordinary and Special Chapter of 1967

Like all the religious institutes, our Congregation also held the special Chapter, which called for the Church. It was extraordinary because of the resignation of Father Peter Schweiger, Superior General. It was the 17th General Chapter, and was held from September 1 to November 14, in the year 1967. It marks a historic milestone, unique in the history of the Congregation. During the same Chapter, a doctrinal Committee and several commissions functioned. In the light of the Conciliar constitutions and decrees it tried to respond, from our specific vocation, to the call to holiness (Lumen gentium, ch. 5). It gave guidance on our religious life, government, formation, the Brothers, the apostolate, Christian education, missions among non-Christians, the administration of goods. But the most important documents were the Declarations about the charism of Saint Anthony Mary Claret and the one on the Congregation’s spiritual heritage. Both documents sought to propose the description of the features of our congregational identity.

The subject of the constitutions was not directly addressed, but instead suggestions were taken so that an “ad hoc” Committee prepare a new text after the chapter. The first draft, which was reviewed in successive chapters was published in 1971: 1973 and 1979. In 1982 the text was approved by the Congregation of Religious and in 1985 was adapted to the new CIC.[4]

This Chapter highlights the pneumatological, Christ-centered, Church, cordimarian and plural communitarian (priests, deacons, brothers, students) dimensions of the vocation of the Missionaries, Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Although the criteria for offered by Perfectae Caritatis was read in the light of the four constitutions and all the Conciliar decrees, Lumen Gentium strongly polarized attention of the Chapter Members. The affirmation of our identity in the people of God as servants of the word was and remains key for the entire process of congregational renewal. Apostolate, spirituality, formation, Government and economy were configured around it. This Chapter allowed the Congregation to make the qualitative leap from law and morality to theology; from tradition to progress; from uniformity to pluralism; from the individual to the communitarian; from the vertical to the horizontal; from the established order to participation and co-responsibility; from devotional to the spiritual; from the apostolates, the missionary service of the Word; from devotional practices, to the centrality of the Word and the Liturgy; from the coadjutor Brothers, to the Missionary Brothers.

The allusions to the evangelization of the poor and social commitment are significant. (The publication of the Encyclical “Populorum progressio”, Pope Paul VI was still recent). This Chapter asked all provinces to have their own mission, providing personnel and financial resources (MI, 8).

The chapter documents were well received in general by the Congregation. But, we Claretians entered into a process of renewal in which objections and oppositions were not lacking. “The profound and rapid changes” (GS 4) created confusion. Not all change was renewal. The teachers of suspicion (Marx, Freud, Nietzsche) were in vogue, anti-establishment movements made an impression on young religious, who suffered contagion from the French May and other movements like those that occurred in Mexico, USA, etc. All of this produced plenty disorientation, acute vocational crisis and mass dropouts. The pre-Conciliar mentality resisted any initiative and there was strong tension in the communities between the traditional and the new. As the renovation was solidly grounded, it continued forward. The Service of awareness and deepening that was offered through formation courses for all members and in all areas of Apostolate was beneficial.

Chapter in 1973. Second chapter of renewal

When this XVIII General Chapter was celebrated the Congregation had 2,869 members. As a frame of reference these four facts may be emphasized:

1) In 1968 the Assembly of the Conference of Latin American Bishops (Celam) was celebrated in Medellín. It emphasized the option for the poor. In 1969 the Congregation for Religious (SCRIS) published the Renovationis Causam. In 1971 Paul VI published Evangelica Testificatio coming out in response to the crisis of identity among religious. Almost at the same time he published Octogesima Adveniens and held a Synod of Bishops on justice.

2) The Constitution Gaudium et Spes marked the ecclesial sensitivity. The enthusiasm for progress was palpable. The challenge consisted in knowing how to place oneself in the world without belonging to the world[5] . Among us, as in other institutes, awareness had grown of the value of the individual, of freedom, of participation, of co-responsibility. Community experiences in small groups were being sought, while traditional positions were abandoned. Inserted community life among the popular and marginalized areas is initiated.

3) Diversity in ways of thinking, feeling, acting were emphasized; in age groups, community rhythms, lifestyles and the selection of structures. At the same time there was fighting against uniformity, and a need felt for unity within the diversity and pluralism.

4) Religious life needed a well-founded and systematic theological reflection. The Congregation insisted in this service [6].

This second Renewal Chapter carries a concern in its objective: to verify the renewal process initiated in the special Chapter. But it was too early to make serious evaluations. The Open Letter to the Congregation that precedes its Decrees expresses the global vision of what this Chapter was. The letter is followed by all the other Decrees about Government, Brothers, Religious Life, Apostolate, Formation, Economy and the Associated to the Congregation. In this letter it is asserted that the Chapter has been a moment of deepening in Church-communion, which allows the giving of a new validity to evangelical fraternity, and the charism and spirit of our Founder. It emphasizes the revitalization of community life, the reform of the structures of organization and government and the revision of Positions to give them missionary agility, “the vital problem of vocations”, “the very serious problem of prayer”[7], the need to continue studying the Claretian charism and ongoing formation. We already had a renewed text (the second) of the Constitutions.

This Chapter, considered by some as of little interest, was in reality very important. It stressed consecration against secularization and community against individualism and disintegration. It tackled the crisis of significance and of belongingness from fraternal communion in all contexts. At the same time it supported the decentralization -possibility of electing major and local superiors-, it insisted on collaboration at all levels, especially thinking of Federations, Major Organisms and general houses. It promoted creativity, planning and programming our apostolic activities.

The General Government created a Committee of community animation which, during the sexennium, went through several major organisms of the congregation. In the middle of the sexennium the General Assembly was celebrated in San José (Costa Rica) and missionary availability appeared as a glaring concern.

1979 Chapter: Constitutions and The Mission of the Claretian today

It was the XIX General Chapter. Among the Chapter Members there are brothers of African and Asian origin. Four students participated from four continents and four Lay Claretians. This Chapter is remembered for the only document “The Mission of the Claretian Today” (MCT), which marked the missionary life of the Congregation. More importance should have been given to the fact that during the Chapter the definitive text of the Constitutions was drafted. The Congregation then had 2,926 members.

The context in which it was celebrated has as reference the Synod on the Evangelization of today’s world (1974) and the publication of Evangelii Nuntiandi (1975). In 1978 the document Mutuae relationes was published and John Paul II elected. He published his first encyclical Redemptor Hominis. The theme of evangelization makes us turn our look to the Council and find the Document “Ad gentes” a solid support to overcome the crisis of mission. At the beginning of the year 1979 the III Conference of Celam on the Evangelization in the present and in the future of Latin America was celebrated in Puebla (Mexico). The Union of Superiors General and the SCRIS reflected on “Religious and human promotion” and “The contemplative dimension of religious life”, which appeared as documents in 1980.

The Chapter of ’67 had asserted that charism and mission imply one another. This Chapter, both in the renewed Constitutions and in the MCT, overcame the expression “religious-apostolic” and reaffirmed the substantive character that the word “missionary” has for us. This is a word that must be understood from the spiritual experience of Saint Anthony M. Claret and, therefore, it defines our identity.[8] All of us are missionaries: priests, deacons, brothers and students.

While in the two previous Chapters there were Decrees on religious life, government, apostolate, formation, and economy, in this there is only one Document in which all these aspects are dealt with from the outlook of mission. It also sent a message to the Lay Claretians.

The drafting of the MCT was painstaking. It had a wide and long preparation. It was worked using the methodology of “see, judge and act”. The three parts are: I. Our vision of present day reality. II. A rereading of the Claretian Mission and III. Programming of our missionary action in which, the options of evangelization and recipients of our mission, are highlighted. It insisted on something that would be a priority in the following years: the revision of positions and the reorganization of Major Organisms. This theme was widely tackled in the Assembly of Los Teques (Venezuela) in 1983

The Chapter was combining work between the drafting of the definitive text of the Constitutions and the MCT. This prevented the complete drafting of the MCT. The most difficult points to integrate were the ecclesiological dimension and the missionary options and preferences. Against those who claimed that it was not a chapter text because it was not fully concluded in the chapter hall, but it was left for the General Government to give the last touch, it is necessary to assert that more than 90 % of the text was already finished and approved by the Chapter. The General Government certainly improved it by integrating ideas and suggestions that had been expressed in the hall.

The Chapter presented the third renewed text of the Constitutions for the approval by SCRIS. Between the presentation and the decree of approval (February 11, 1982), there were quite a few months of intense dialogue. Finally we had a definitive text about which we can feel very happy.

1985 Chapter. The person in the Process of renewal

In 1983 the new Code of Canon Law (CIC) and the document Essential elements in the Church’s teaching on religious life had been published. This impelled the XX General Chapter to adapt the Constitutions to the new CIC.

With respect to the path of the General Chapters which had offered the great lines that form the backbone of our missionary life, this one makes a combination. It contemplates the path covered since the Special Chapter and makes an inclusive balance of the renewal process of the Congregation. These were times of evaluation. The same was done by many institutes and the Church did it in an extraordinary Synod of Bishops 20 years after the Council. The Congregation had 2,931 members.

The conclusion of the evaluation made by the Chapter itself: “we are well aware of where we must direct our efforts today in order to be faithful to our mission; our objective is clear-cut. In the Congregation there is an abundant supply of good documents, good doctrine, and the main lines of a renewed community organization. However we observe in many people a sort of spiritual flabbiness, and a lack of the gospel mystique and utopian spirit needed in order to match the measure of our mission. We know that we cannot back the options and preferred recipients of our mission, unless each one of us internalizes, in terms of a personal commitment, the unique experience of the grace of our vocation, accepted and nourished in a serious spiritual life and in a community life so as to be always available to respond to what is most urgent, timely and effective. The process of renewal presupposes, as its proper source, the newness of the Spirit of Christ.” (CPR 46).

What was the background? The world had progressed technologically. Society was suffering the impact of secularism, indifference and practical atheism. Strong was the cry against hunger, injustice, violence and marginalization. Arose the new poverties, migrations, AIDs and drugs. It was clear that there was a crisis of moral principles and the hierarchy of values was changing.

The crisis religious life was going through was radical. People were disabled. At the ecclesial level there were talks of “winter situation” (K. Rahner) and the question: “Church, Where are you going?” was frequent. The Chapter continues trusting in renewal, reaffirms the validity and continuity of the process that had been started and proposes to impel it guided by the Spirit, taking special care of the person in missionary community. This care takes into account physical, psychological, spiritual and pastoral aspects. It promotes ongoing formation and front-line evangelization.

Programming the missionary activity and the community project is urgent. Starting with this Chapter, the successive General Governments have prepared the Government Plan of the corresponding sexennium.

What might have seemed anecdotal became a strong trigger for the life of the Congregation, above all in the formation. There was a discussion about the use of “Heart of Mary” or “Mary”. By only a few votes, it was decided to put “Heart of Mary”, but a request was made to the General Government to go deeper into cordimarian spirituality. And a survey, a week of study on this theme in Vic and commissions to deeply reflect on it were carried out. Efforts were made to clarify that we are Missionaries Sons of the Heart of Mary, like Claret.[9] The fruit of this sensibility was the wall painting that presides the Chapel of the General Curia[10]

During the sexennium the three volume commentary to the Constitutions was drafted. They are a valuable instrument for our spirituality[11] .

V. THE PERIOD OF 1991-2009

The four Chapters which this period comprises follow the script proposed by the Constitutions, n. 155. Starting from the heritage of the previous ones, as constituent Chapters, they develop the charismatic-missionary potential giving attention to the social, ecclesial and congregational contexts of the moment in which they are celebrated. It is not that we have entered into routine and irrelevance, but rather that these Chapters have been celebrated, like the previous ones, with the mystique of wide-eyed open eyes and in constant creative fidelity. With our eyes fixed on Jesus, the Prophet par excellence, and looking toward the world in order to obtain its transformation according to God’s design. At no time has the gospel demand of the CC and of the Directory -which deserves to be better known for its doctrinal richness and missionary impulse been put in parenthesis. Neither have we turned our back on the injustices, to the excluded and to those in need of God’s Word. The same methodology “see, judge and act” has been followed and because of this, the contexts have been kept in mind.

Change of paradigm. Starting from the year 1985, coinciding with the evaluation of the 20 years of post-conciliar renewal, a change of paradigm with anthropological, socio-cultural, biblical and theological foundations takes place in religious life. The key concepts until then: vocation, following, consecration, vows, community life, apostolic mission, etc, begin to be understood in a more dynamic interrelated way, with new categories founded on the illumination of the Trinitarian mystery, the figure of Jesus of Nazareth, the ecclesiology –mystery-communion-mission-, Covenant, the Word of God and discipleship, peace, justice, ecology. The spirit of Asís is finding more followers. Anthropology advances towards reciprocity, ecclesiology towards coexistence and interrelationship of charisms and ministries. And in cultural, social and religious relationships we move to inter-cultural, inter-disciplinary, the inter-religious, the inter-generational, the intercongregational. Today we notice impact of this “inter” in the local churches (mutual relationships) as well as in the religious Institutes (Intercongregational aspect). There is a new journey in company and solidarity. Thus the relevance of the shared mission is explained.

These outbreaks of novelty have emerged while trying to clear the thick cloud of tiredness, of disappointment, of lack of harmony within the Church.[12] Hence, the longing for the re-founding, which had a meager fortune.

The decade of the ’90s is specially marked by globalization with all its implications. A movement full of ambiguity which makes the rich richer and the poor poorer. The force of the local awakens and is set up against what is world level. And the human being feels lack of space and time, its necessary conditions to mature.

Within the Congregation, in the year ’92 we had the beatification of the Martyrs of Barbastro, we benefited from the Synod on consecrated life (1994) and from the post synod Exhortation “Vita Consecrata” (1996). there was a great expansion and consolidation of the Congregation in several countries.

The Chapters of 1991, of 1997 and of 2003 underlined missionary identity as “Servants of the Word”, “In Prophetic Mission” and “That they have life”. The last Chapter (2009) reaffirms this identity from the love that urges us.

1991 Chapter: Servants of the Word

The XXI General Chapter was celebrated when the effects of the fall of the Berlin Wall begin to be felt. The gap between North and South continued to open up. The culture of death, hunger in the world, the fight for freedom and democracy and the concern for the ecology of the planet expand. On the other hand, there was a great concern to respond to the call for the new evangelization. The celebration of the 500 years of the evangelization of Latin America was just around the corner. In 1987 the Synod on the Laity was celebrated and the encyclicals “´Sollicitudo rei socialis” and “Redemptoris Mater” were published. In 1990 the SCRIS publishes the document Potissimum institutioni. In 1990 the Synod on the formation of priests is celebrated. In December of that same year John Paul II publishes the encyclical Redemptoris Missio. The guidelines of the Asian Bishops’ Conference were also taken into account. The Congrgation had 3,022 members.

The Chapter document carries the title: “Servants of the Word. Our missionary service of the Word in the New Evangelization.” It summarizes the response the Congregation wants to give to the call of the Pope. Our missionary service of the Word is “an authentic way of being, acting and signifying” (SW 21). We must become poor in order to be servants of the Word and proclaim this Word with a prophetic and liberating spirit. Being listeners and servants of the Word, God’s Word must be at the center of our missionary life. Our spirituality is that of a disciple and our evangelization must carry the “sign” of novelty, of authenticity, of creativity and of sharing or “doing with others.” The centrality of the Word obliges the revision of the means, ways and positions in which we announce it.

The Chapter declaration includes a third part where, in a different form, the challenges and action lines for the five continents are enumerated.

After this Chapter a process of intense study, meditation and prayer and diffusion of God’s Word breaks out. The Prefecture of Apostolate elaborates, with the help of specialists from the entire Congregation, the six volumes of the Word-Mission Project. Centres around God’s Word are multiplied. And the Prefecture of Formation prepares the Formation Plan and opens the “Heart of Mary” Formators’ School.

The expansion of the Congregation was a mandate of the Chapter (SW 29,1). Pope John Paul II asked the Superiors General to open new presences in Asia, África and East Europe, something which he had indicated in the encyclical RMi 30 and 37.

The planning of the revision and restructuring of the Congregation is a fruit of this Chapter. This double criterion began to be realised: Quality of Claretian evangelical life and how to organize ourselves in order to serve better.

1997 Chapter: In prophetic mission

The XXII General Chapter took into account the challenges that the ministry of the Word experiences in each one of the continents. See its description (IPM 5-9). Globalization and the technological revolution obligated redoubling the option for humanization and justice. In 1994 the Pope published “Tertio millennio adveniente.” In that same year “Fraternal Life in Community,” of CICLSAL[13] appeared and the Synod on the life and mission of the consecrated was celebrated. In 1996 the postsynodal Exhortation Vita Consecrata appeared. The Chapter rereads this Exhortation from our condition as servants of the Word and stresses the prophetic dimension. We are heirs of Claret’s prophetic spirit and from it we must understand our style of life and ministry. The Congregation had 2,894 members.

The Chapter Declaration, with the Constitutions as its backbone, underlines the prophecy of ordinary life and the spirituality, which was specifically dealt with in the Congress on “Our missionary Spirituality on the Road of the People of God” in which Claretians from the different parts of the Congregation participated. (It was celebrated in Majadahonda, 2001). It joined the celebration of the grand Jubilee and asked to renew the Secretariat of Justice and Peace, integrating in it the ecological concern and impelling the animation of this dimension in this ministry. Again, it requested the continuation of the restructuration of the Congregation.

The celebration of the 150 years of the Congregation started with the Assembly of Major Superiors in Bangalore. On July 16, 1999 the thanksgiving was held for the gift of the Spirit to the Church. It ended in the presence of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico. Many missionary initiatives were developed during this jubilee.[14]

The concern for vocations impels the Prefecture of Formation to draft the Claretian Vocational Directory (2000).

2003 Chapter: That they may have life

The continental Synods and those on vocations (laity, priests, consecrated and bishops), where detailed analyses had been made of the situation of the world at the end of the millennium had been completed and a hopeful way had been opened for the future. The indicators of violence, death and abuse of human dignity could not leave us indifferent. The echoes of the celebration of the great Jubilee of the year 2000, exponents of the spirituality of communion in the Church, were still fresh. In 2003 the prophetic dimension of our missionary service of the Word so that the men and women of our time may have life and have it in abundance is affirmed. The letter of John Paul II Novo Millennio ineunte and the instruction of the CICLSAL Starting afresh from Christ were especially illuminating texts. From these documents two expressions full of content were derived: “Cast out into the deep” and “the hour of the new creativity of charity.” The encyclical “Evangelium vitae” was also present. The Congregation had 2,063 members.

The preparation of the XXIII Chapter was long and intense. The guidelines of the folders of Word-Mission[15] and the conclusions of the meeting of the Prefects of Apostolate underlay it. The pre-Chapter Committee condensed what was received and drafted the working paper.

At the beginning of the Chapter the following were underlined as the great themes for discernment and deliberation:
1) To continue “in prophetic mission” with new stresses.
2) To intensify the missionary spirituality.
3) To strive to journey in the path of inter-culturality.
4) To continue the reorganization of the Congregation.
5) To increase the sharing of goods.

In view of the loss of the value of life and the contempt of the person, the Chapter recalled: “The glory of God, which is one of the basic aims of our Congregation (cf CC 2), is the human person fully alive (Ireneus of Lyon), the poor fully alive (Oscar Romero), nature fully alive (Paul of Tarsus). We give glory to God, proclaiming that “the Gospel of God’s love for people, the Gospel of the dignity of the person and the Gospel of life are one, indivisible Gospel” (EV 2). The passion for life, thus, belongs to the very heart of our missionary vocation (THL 8).

In this Chapter a prefecture of Spirituality was finally approved.[16] This has doubtless supported the strengthening of the Claretian Secretariat and the Encounters with Claret. Many will remember how much the celebration of the II Centennial of Fr. Claret’s birth had to cover. We cannot leave aside the beatification of Fr. Andrés Solà with a priest and a lay person. It was an event of grace for the Province of México and for the Congregation.

2009 Chapter: Men on fire with love

The last General Chapter is still very fresh in our memory and frequently we have handled its Declaration. The context was preceded by the World Congress of consecrated life, organized in Rome by the USG and UISG[17] in the year 2004: “Passion for Christ, passion for humanity”. The CICLSAL published the document “Authority and Obedience” (2008). In that year the Synod on “The Word of God in the life and mission of the Church” was celebrated. In reference to the consecrated life, Pope Benedict XVI underlines the search for God and the fidelity to the charism of the founders. The Congregation had 3,004 members.

This XXIV General Chapter goes back over the course of our renewal Chapters. Once more it reflects on identity, the belongingness and availability from charity, the first virtue of the missionary. It does this in another cultural, religious and congregational context. It was a good decision to make the Chapter listen to God’s calls in the world, in the Church and in the Congregation. Its compilation of responses forms like a x-ray of the situation. Simplifying, we may observe two great concerns: 1) The frailty of the person unfocussed and incapable of moving securely in the “liquid life” (Z. Bauman). “Not everything that has been lived and tried has expressed holiness, community vitality and pastoral boldness and commitment” (MFL 7). 2) The situation of the Congregation which was asking to take charge of the newness of its geographical and formative situation.

The subtitle of the Declaration offers its objective: Called to live our missionary vocation today.” Thus the identity, the belongingness and the availability are taken again at this moment. And in fact, impelled by charity, the first virtue of the missionary, a comment is made to the definition of the missionary, -Claret’s dream-, with accents of newness: the name, the family, the lifestyle, the road, the sending.

It marked three great priorities: 1) To rekindle the fire in us. 2) To spread its flames. 3) To share that fire with future generations. It was indeed a “new” orientation for our personal and community life and for our mission.

About the specific commitments I stress two: the reorganization of the Congregation, the effects of which have been experienced, and the impulse of the instrument of growth in the Claretian missionary life: The Forge in our daily life.

VI. SOME FINAL POINTS TO BE STRESSED

I affirmed from the beginning the guiding role of the Spirit in our process of renewal. In spite of our frailties, He maintains us as a living missionary community. He has purified us and has gifted us with unity, serenity and courage at the time for confronting each present moment. The Spirit has been the most potent “antivirus” against the “evil spirits”. He has made us take root in Christ, the Word of life, and in the missionary project inaugurated by Claret. The pedagogy of insistence, “patient and persevering”, has been beneficial.

It is inherent in our vocation to “seek in all things”. The key questions that we have continued to make throughout the journey.
Who are we? -Identity.
Where are we? -Insertion in the world and in the Church.
What are we? -Evangelizing mission.
How do we live? – Significance and testimony.
Where are we going? Missionary Horizon.
From where do we evangelize? -From the Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life.

In different ways, the ecclesial nature of our missionary life has been stressed. The visits of the Chapter members to the Popes are a small sign of adhesion. In them we have received light and encouragement.

The Constitutions, once they were approved, have become an obligatory reference in the renewal process as has appeared in the Declarations. From these, each Chapter has tried to have the Congregation live its mission in the Church and the world. The Chapters mark “the hour” of the Congregation.

The significant decrease of the number of Missionary Brothers has been a cause of concern in all the Chapters. The Encounter of Vic (2014) urges us to take seriously the vocational ministry of the Missionary Brothers. Without them, the Congregation is not completely formed.

In the process of congregational renewal the interest of all for integrating and for not excluding has been considerable. It has been an authentic process of reconciliation which has always been open.

1) We were able to be reconciled with the name: Missionaries Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary—Claretian Missionaries. We saw one cannot be Claretian without being Son of the Heart of Mary, just as our Fr. Founder understood and lived it.

2) We were reconciled in the fraternity and mission of all the members of the Congregation: Priests, Deacons, Students and Brothers.

3) We were reconciled in the diversity of apostolates: all of us are missionaries. (Perhaps we have not assumed the task of prioritizing the apostolates. There is much dispersion and not everything is so opportune).

4) We have been reconciled with the fundamental options of our life. At present no one puts them up for discussion.

5) For many we have been determined to integrate cultural diversities, covering the necessary path of inter-culturality.

6) Today we continue being called to be reconciled with humanity and with the entire creation embracing the global and integral ecology. It is necessary to break down all inbreeding and be open to the wide circles of reference where, under the apparent dispersion, there is a claim for integration, harmony and communion.

We are missionaries and we are in mission. But we can only “live forwards.” We are already in the XXV General Chapter, which continues to be a Chapter of renewal with the fresh air brought by Pope Francis. Shall we be able to “come out” and make the qualitive jump to respond to what God wants from us, to what the Church expects from us and to the trust that the poor have placed in us?

–          Aquilino Bocos Merino, cmf XXV General Chapter Rome, August 28, 2015



[1] Let us think of the Iuridical Institute of Rome, the international centres of Rome and Salamanca, the Theologates of Córdoba (Argentina), Manizales in Colombia, Curitiba, Washington….

[2] Fortunately we have an excellent work on the renewal process. Gustavo Alonso, Claretian Missionaries III. The conciliar renewal, Ed. Claretiana, Buenos Aires, 2007.

[3] E.g.: prophecy, insertion, vanguard, creativity, interculturality, ecology, alliance, shared mission.

[4] On the history of the drafting of the Constitutions CMF, cf. Pedro Franquesa, in “Our Project of Missionary Life. Commentary to the Constitutions”. Vol 1, Rome, pp. 27-130. Gustavo Alonso. See also Claretian Missionaries III. The conciliar renewal, by Fr. Gustavo Alonso, Ed. Claretiana, Buenos Aires, 2007, pp 258-312.

[5] The Dominican theologian J.M. Tillard expressed it very well in his book Devant Dieu et pour le monde. It was translated into Spanish: El proyecto de vida de los religiosos, PCI, Madrid, 1974. In his diagnostic essay, which came out in the previous years, he highlights the problem of faith.

[6] Let us think about the Institutes of religious life of Rome and Madrid (1971). It was a pity that the attempt to found in those years another Institute of Religious Life in Medellín did not push through. Later on ICLA was founded in Quezon City and Sanyasa in Bangalore

[7] The Decree on Religious Life carries an Annex on “Prayer in the Congregation”. This text has probably been the boldest in asking us to take personal and community prayer seriously.

[8] Cf. Directory CMF, 26.

[9] Those who offered their testimony of how they were living their cordimarian filiation contributed to this. Cf. Un Hijo del Corazón de María,… 72 experiences of our Marian spirituality. Secretariat of the Heart of Mary, Rome, 1989. José María Hernández, Ex abundantia cordis. Estudio de la espiritualidad cordimariana de los Misioneros Claretianos, Secretariat of the Heart of Mary, Rome, 1991.

[10] It is Pentecost in which Mary, among the Apostles, invites to journey and evangelize with the heart in the hand. Maximino Cerezo Barredo painted it.

[11] The following collaborated in this edition of the Constitutions: Frs. Jesús Álvarez, Pedro Franquesa, José María Viñas, Manuel Orge, José Cristo Rey García Paredes, Antonio Leghisa, Jesús María Palacios, Gonzalo Fernández Sanz y Gustavo Alonso.

[12] The mutual relationships among Bishops, priests and laity were impoverished by suspicion or lack of adequate dialogue. It is sufficient to recall the conflicts in which the Conference of Religious of Latin America (CLAR) was involved.

[13] CICLSAL is the acronym of the new name of the Congregation for the religious: Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

[14] Cf NUNC, September 2000, pp. 160-161

[15] The titles of the folders of each year were: “Pentateuch: so that man may live”. “The Prophets: so that the people may live.” “Paul: announcement of life for different cultures.” “Confessing and witnessing to life in a hostile world.” “Sapientials and Psalms: rivers of life.” That of the Synoptics was entitled “The Kingdom has come.”, but we may accept that life was the key of missionary reading of the Bible.

[16] I say “finally” because since 1991 this Prefecture was requested and the Chapter voted against

[17] USG: Union of Superiors General. UISG: International Union of Women Superior Generals

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