Whenever we Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Claretian Missionaries) are talking with one another about vocations, we feel obliged to recall what is stated in n. 58 of our Constitutions. Hence I consider it a real “plus” to have it quoted whole and entire in the frontispiece of the Claretian Vocation Directory (CVD), which I now have the pleasure of presenting to you. This Directory gathers together the most important points of reference, objectives, criteria, attitudes and options that must be present in an adequate pastoral approach to Claretian vocation ministry.
1. The missionary nature of our Congregation, its concern for the growth of the Kingdom and its desire to keep alive Claret’s desire that God the Father be known, loved and served,1 has led many different generations of Claretians to devote a special effort to arouse, select and cultivate vocations. From the outset, our Fr. Founder himself, our General Chapters and Superiors General have been concerned with the quantitative and qualitative growth of the Congregation. Among the duties that our present Constitutions single out for the Superior General is “to promote vocations everywhere.”2
2. Throughout our history, we can point to moments of special concern for the number of vocations. In this connection, Fr. Claret told Fr. Xifré, “we have to make people”3 and “we mustn’t fall asleep.”4 In 1937, after the death of so many students during the Spanish Civil War, the General Chapter issued a pressing call for vocations. In the immediate postconciliar period, shaken by the strong upheavals of sociocultural, economic, political and religious change, we all began to experience a lack of vocations in countries that had formerly been their great seedbeds. In the measure that the culture of secularism and hedonism has kept advancing, it has become all the more urgent to take greater care of the sources and indicators of vocations within a renewed pastoral vocation ministry, especially in Europe and America.
Today the Congregation is experiencing a very unequal outcome regarding vocations in its different geographical zones. The statistics for 31 December 1999 tell us that the Congregation is presently made up of 3,005 members, of whom 722 are formandi. Most of them are in Asia and Africa. The imbalance that is occurring among us is obvious. Traditional Christian countries continue to suffer from a lack of new vocations. In contrast, in many countries where the Congregation has been implanted only recently, there is a progressive increase. Our Congregational Community is taking on a new face, with quite distinct features deriving from the diversity of cultures in which it is taking root, growing and making the missionary charism of Claret bear fruit.
3. But beyond mere numbers, the constant criterion that has always guided the Congregation has been to prefer quality to quantity. At all times, the Congregation has been clearly convinced that it is a work of God and of Mary, and that it has been entrusted with the mission of proclaiming the Gospel by all means possible and in all parts of the world, seeking the greater glory of God and the sanctification of its members. No matter whether there are many or few vocations, it is obliged to be painstaking in its care for the criteria for selecting, welcoming and accompanying vocations. The ideal of life that Claret traced out for us in his reminder or definition of the missionary is not suited for just any aspirant. Six years ago we drafted and published the General Plan of Formation (GPF), in which we precisely laid out the figure of the Claretian Missionary and the itinerary to be followed in his formation. Now, with the publication of the Claretian Vocation Directory (CVD), we have laid out the bases that must govern and orient the discernment of candidates who want to enter our Congregational Community. The criteria for discerning vocations form the basis for a fruitful renewal of the Congregation. The future of our mission in the Church and in the world is at stake in them.
4. I would not be adequate to regard this vocation directory as a merely practical tool for pastoral ministry. Underlying everything that is said in it is a way of seeing, presenting and living the ideal of our missionary life as followers, disciples and apostles of Jesus, in the style of Claret. In its pages, it is necessary to discover the beauty, harmony and boldness that the Spirit has poured into the vocation of a Missionary Son of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, as a witness and servant of the Gospel of the Kingdom. Therefore, before using it as a pastoral guide, each Claretian should look at himself in it, as in a mirror, and face the challenge of what he sees in order to joyfully relive the grace he has received and gladly share it with others. Reliving one’s own vocation, which is always a charismatic, ecclesial and human co-vocation, is the secret dynamism of all renewal. We are all being constantly probed by the Word of God to open ourselves to the plan of salvation to which, from the outset, we were chosen and destined to be servants. Our communities must always be ready to issue the invitation, “come and see” (Jn 1:39). We need new vocations in order to renew and dynamize the Congregation in keeping with the charism we have received; conversely, we need to renew the Congregation in order to have new vocations capable of responding to the present challenges facing evangelization. Hence we cannot lower the level of requirements when we are selecting vocations, and we shouldn’t be afraid of having fewer to choose from if candidates do not live up to the required conditions.
In this context I would again insist on the need to pay special attention to vocations for the Missionary Brotherhood. “We form a Congregation of priests, deacons, brothers and students who share the same vocation.”5 A vocational proposal for the Congregation is not complete if it does not include the figure of the Missionary Brother.6
5. What we can rightly expect from the publication of the CVD is that all Claretian Missionaries may, from the standpoint of its expositions and guidelines, assume the responsibility that we presently have for vocations in the Church and in particular for those that may be inclined toward our own Congregation. We cannot close our ears to the repeated calls of the Church, and especially of the Holy Father, to discern the signs of the times in which we can hear the call to work for the Kingdom of God. For us, the theme of vocations is united with apostolic charity. We feel pressed by this charity when we see that “the harvest is great and the laborers are few” (Mt 9:37).
6. The CVD not only takes into account the Church’s new approaches and guidelines for vocation ministry, but also integrates the Congregation’s own rich heritage in this respect. Our Organisms and Conferences have a wealth of experience in the field of vocations. Their contributions have been taken into account, and suggestions that have come in from our distinct geographical and cultural areas have been incorporated. All of this offers a guarantee that the CVD is a shared work, both in its criteria and in its guidelines. We are confident that in a Congregation like ours, which is present in such diverse social and cultural contexts, it will become a point of reference and a wellspring of unity in selecting and receiving vocations.
It is presented as an adequate means for helping the Major Organisms, communities and members of the Congregation to encourage and promote vocations. It aims at animating and orientating our work in the field of vocations and at helping to draft provincial and local projects for vocation ministry. Because we are not dealing with a more or less important theme, but with a priority that takes precedence over other important matters, I invite all our Major Organisms to back this priority with generosity and daring. This means dedicating the necessary and best-equipped personnel to this function of animation, involving all the members of the Organisms in it: formandi, formators, superiors, the elderly and the sick. It means getting families, schools, parishes, basic ecclesial communities and youth centers to participate in it. We should spare no efforts and sacrifices in order to awaken, welcome, accompany and consolidate vocations.
7. The CVD is being published during the time when we are celebrating the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Congregation. It can be considered as the fruit of this joyful commemoration. At the same time, it is an expression of our hope in the future. The continuity of life is possible when there are new vocations. And these vocations flourish in a climate of acknowledging and living the gift of the Spirit, who will in turn awaken in us the proper response of free and generous commitment. It is good for us to create spaces and times in order to allow the Spirit to be felt and to act. Let us, then, make room in our communities for new vocations, as bearers of a new sensibility, of new initiatives, and of new forms for expressing and serving hope for today’s world.
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I conclude this presentation with a sincere act of thanksgiving to the Father and to Mary, the Mother and Foundress of the Congregation. During 150 years we have experienced God’s benevolence and mercy on our Congregation of Missionaries. We have been blessed with the vocations that God has seen fit to grant us. We have felt the motherly influence of Mary in many of these calls and in the formation of candidates. May we be worthy of her motherly kindness and concern.
I also want to express my wholehearted thanks, in the name of the Congregation and of all who will profit from this work, to Fr. Jesús María Palacios, Prefect General of Formation, who has put such a great effort into the Directory, as well as to all the members of the International Commission who collaborated in drafting it.
Rome, 19 March 2000
Feast of Saint Joseph, Patron of the Congregation.
Aquilino Bocos Merino, C.M.F. Superior General.