Booklet 26: Challenges of Intercultural Formation Communities



Vic, 3 – 10 November 2008

“The love of Christ impels us” (2 Cor. 5:14)

“My Spirit is for the whole world” (Fr. Claret)


Unlike any other times in history, today people of different cultures and continents come to know each other, meet together and live closer at a fast growing pace due to migration, travel and work in multi-national firms. The world is becoming a global village where no group can live isolated and unknown to the other. The geographic and demographic face of our congregation is also going through rapid changes.

In spite of the early difficulties which the congregation had to face in establishing itself during the times of turmoil in Spain, the missionary zeal of the early missionaries took the congregation to distant lands and peoples which had cultural and linguistic affinities. The congregation remained always in the vanguard of evangelization and reached out to more cultures and peoples and tuned her thinking and action in line with the missiology of the church at each time. Along with the universal Church we sought to become relevant in our missionary evangelization through adaptation and inculturation and undertook the renewal process initiated by Vatican II. Now we are at a time when intercultural encounters have become normal way in almost all walks of life.

Coming together of diverse cultures in a formative context is not new in the congregation. Already in 1906 the first group of Germans came to Cervera as postulants. Along our history we have had several instances of students being designated to different missions where they spent their lives in evangelizing mission. Father General has designated about 42 students mostly from Asia and Africa in the past 5 years who are being formed in the different international formation centers. Besides, most of the formation houses are intercultural in nature as they have formandi from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds of the same country or continent. The newness of the current situation is the changed global, ecclesial and congregational scenario which is very different from that of the times when the German postulants came to Cervera or the Spanish students were sent to Argentina or Colombia. One of the specificity of the present designations is that almost all the students designated to other organisms are from Africa and Asia, and that many of them are designated to those missions which were traditionally fecund in missionary vocations.

Our experience of formation in the intercultural context of our formation centers in the past years invites us to take stock of these experiences, deepen our reflection on the theme and gather the formative insights of the formators to mutually enrich the formation in these centers.

The term intercultural is used here to denote the context of the community where Claretians of diverse cultures of different countries and continents live together sharing life and mission in common. Claretian formation in these intercultural centers is based on the following assumptions:

  1. 1.The cultural richness which each of the members brings into the Claretian community has the potential to enhance personal growth of each other positively and enrich community life.
  2. 2.Encounter of Claretians of diverse cultures in a community context unveils the sublime values of these cultures as well as exposes their limitations revealing both the goodness of God the father of all and the sinful nature of the humans. Thus inter-cultural encounters in a formative context can cultivate gratitude and humility which foster commitment and responsibility in personal life community, and mission.
  3. 3.The uniqueness of each Claretian and his unique vocational story , though conditioned by one’s socio-cultural reality, transcends all cultural parameters. The Claretian charism has the potential to create personal bonds, fraternal communion and family spirit among those who are called from different lands and cultures to form the community of missionaries. It is the task of the community and its members to journey towards that level of spiritual maturity and Christ-centeredness that transcend all ego-centric and ethno-centric preoccupations in order to be effective witnesses of the values of the Gospel .
  4. 4.A holistic formation in an intercultural community has the potential to prepare missionaries who, after the model of incarnation, can truly inculturate into the context of the mission to which they are sent, and enrich the same mission from their own cultural resources appropriately.

The workshop on the challenges of intercultural formation communities was organized to evaluate our formative experiences and learn from them. The experiential accent of the workshop has led to the inevitable absence of theological expositions and reflections on the theme. We wanted that the participants take home some practical and experiential insights to make an impact in their formation centers and progressively gain momentum for a healthy intercultural environment in their organisms. Further exploration and reflections at different levels should make up for what is lacking in this workshop.

When our congregation is able to tap the opportunities offered by the intercultural context of our times and deal with the challenges that ensue from it, we will become more available to the work of the Spirit, the architect of our history.

Mathew Vattamattam cmf

General prefect of Formation.

Conclusions of the Workshop


In this year dedicated to St. Paul, the Apostle to the nations, who knew how to break racial and cultural barriers, there resounds in our hearts a challenging word: “the love of Christ impels us” to intertwine the universal mission with the challenge of the intercultural reality within the formation process, driven by the fire of the love of Christ.

Our Founder also invites us to take on his attitude, making as our own his spirit for the whole World.

This initiative was framed in the directions indicated by the XXIII General Chapter, which says:

– To foster an attitude of openness to the multicultural reality of the Congregation beginning with the initial formation (PTV, 72.1)

– To consolidate and organize new multicultural formation communities in the Congregation. (PTV, 72.2)

At a meeting convoked by the General Prefecture of Formation 15 Claretians from England, Spain, Peru, Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, USA, Cameroon, India, El Salvador, and Nigeria gathered together in Vic from the 3rd to the 10th of November 2008 to evaluate and reflect on the theme: “THE CHALLENGES OF INTERCULTURAL FORMATION COMMUNITIES.” [1]

The workshop utilized the inductive method which fostered the active participation of all from their personal experience and the experience of their formation communities.

The objectives for these work days were:

  • To evaluate the experiences of the communities and to take from them lessons to improve upon in the future.
  • To be aware of the community dynamic in intercultural communities.
  • To discover our own gifts and limitations in our dealings with persons coming from other cultural contexts.
  • To formulate, based on this experience, certain directions for the preparation of students before being sent, for receiving them in their new assignments, and also for their formation in the communities which receive them.
  • To give attention to any particular theme of intercultural significance which the participants may wish to deal with.

Starting point:

Father General who was present with us on the first day and presided over the inaugural Eucharist. In his session with us he shared his expectations from the workshop and pointed out that “inculturality is not something new in the congregation, but rather it is something that we are to live now in a new global context”. Fr. General shared the reasons that motivate the designation of students to those organisms which are “childless” for lack of vocations. The reasons are principally to respond to the exigencies of evangelization in those areas of the world and to assure the presence of Claretians in those areas that have a strategic importance for the development of many of our new missions. He cited the example of our presence in France which is now important as we are growing fast in the French speaking African countries.

We continued further analyzing and reflecting on the concept of culture based on our own intercultural experience. Fr. Jesus Palacios presented the study made on “multicultural formation in the history of the Congregation”. He had us call to mind that the theme has always been present in the history of the Congregation although with different nuances according to their historical context.


At this point of the workshop we stopped to evaluate in groups the experiences of the intercultural formation communities by means of a method of analysis known as S.O.W.T. This consists in taking a look at a situation or concrete aspect of reality, descriptively showing the Strengths, Opportunities, Weaknesses, and Threats of any given situation.

The result of our analysis was the following:

2.1. Strengths

ü The presence of people from diverse cultures and nationalities in the formation centers

ü Language and values of other cultures

ü Different styles of work, prayer, study, living together

ü Testimony of the life and mission of our brothers

ü Interchange of people to take on the Claretian mission (training for itinerancy)

ü Claretian documents which help us to take on our commitments

ü Shared mission with laity and benefactors

ü Strengthening of the universal dimension of the charism

ü Congregational future with a new look

ü Possibility for change and conversion; and for enrichment in aspects which one’s own culture developed little.

ü To live the interculturality as a sign of evangelical unity and fraternity

2.2. Opportunities

ü Interculturality: a positive sign of globalization and possibilities for evangelization

ü Abundant possibilities for communications: New technologies and means to open minds and hearts.

ü Movement of people and groups

ü Resources to know other languages and cultural forms and to analyze the intercultural phenomenon.

ü Possibility to overcome prejudices, individualism and to change stereotypes.

ü Openness and availability of people to the reality of the world for the universal mission.

ü To experience new spiritualities

ü Human and spiritual growth developing aspects of the person which can spring forth in a new context.

2.3. Weaknesses

ü Little preparation and sensitivity of the formators creates confusion.

ü Limited preparation for the students who are sent to an intercultural community and of those who receive them.

ü Difficulty in taking on the values of other cultures

ü Inflexibility, prejudices, and preconceptions in the face of another culture

ü Boasting of one’s own culture

ü Cultural ghettos

ü Little commitment due to little clarity and understanding of the Claretian spirit

ü Lack of a good selection of vocations for living together in a Claretian way

ü Intercultural formative reality by numerical need (from where there is an abundance to where there is a scarcity) and – at time – no other option.

2.4. Threats

ü Diversity of ideologies

ü Secularization, materialism y consumerism

ü Xenophobia: exclusion and marginalization

ü Cultural imposition, individualism, and loss of identity.

ü Ethnocentrism: cultural isolation

ü Discrimination, prejudices, fear of being rejected either cultural or socially.

ü Utilitarian human relationships

ü Lack of vocations in some places, which inhibits intercultural assignments

ü Suspicion and false accusations

ü Using cultural arguments to hide personal ignorance.

Continuing from the previous points we proceed to interrelate the 4 variables of the S.O.W.T.

Our great strength is the presence of people from various cultures in our Claretian formation communities. Our human condition at times presents weaknesses in all people. Strengths and weaknesses offer us opportunities and threats which we will analyze in the following:

1. Our strengths give us the opportunity to…

ü Overcome prejudices and change stereotypes

ü Learn languages and values of other cultures, new styles of spirituality

ü Transform mind, heart, and mission

ü Participate, with greater mobility, in the universal mission of the Congregation and the Church towards new horizons

ü Collaborate in the Claretian mission where there are no vocations

ü Be a prophetic sign of present-day globalization: testimony to tolerance, inclusion, and respect.

ü Continue changing the face of the Congregation, decentralizing and offering greater possibilities of diversity

2. Our strengths can be a threat to…

ü The danger of a utilitarian pragmatism at the moment of making assignments ad gentes

ü Absolutizing the means of communications against community life

ü Fictitious itinerancy if there is no dialogue and consultation

ü The suffering of persons if there is no previous preparation.

ü Converting our communities into spaces of personal isolation if we do not take on an authentic intercultural dialogue

3. Our weaknesses offer us the opportunity to

ü Enrich ourselves in ways that our own culture or personality has developed little

ü Open ourselves to others, their values, cultural richness, and to transcend ourselves, overcoming cultural ghettos and prejudices

ü Mature and strengthen attitudes of patience, openness, dialogue, respect, humility, and tolerance

ü A better distribution of personnel in the Congregation.

4. Our weaknesses can threaten

ü Rash judgments which fracture human dignity

ü Superficiality in human relations

ü Experience of multiculturality without going down the road of interculturality

ü Ignorance of the differences which generate conflicts in cultural interchange

ü Bad witness to the People of God if intercultural-relation problems are not resolved

ü Experiences of failure and depression in people who, after coming to an assignment, don’t live in a process of transformation and growth

ü The exhaustion of formators who improvise and wear-out but do not have the ability to form in the context of interculturality

ü Mediocre adaptation in various environments of missionary life because of serious limitations in the learning of the language


After having shared and analyzing the experiences of the intercultural formation communities of the Congregation, we dedicated a considerable space of time in the workshop to gather consensus on ways to optimize intercultural formation. We grouped the proposals in the following three blocks

3.1. Proposals to the Congregation regarding interculturality

We positively value the road of interculturality that we see moving through the Congregation. We believe that it is a sign of the times and of the Spirit which we need to continue taking on prophetically: For this reason we consider it important:

1. To continue to accentuate the process of intercultural assignments among the diverse Organisms of the Congregation according to the needs of the mission.

2. To assure that those destined for this have the necessary attitude and abilities for a positive intercultural missionary experience.

3. That interprovincial assignments, as much as possible, have a minimum of two people sent to the same organism.

4. To send to the provincial governments and formation teams an anticipatory report on a person to be sent to that organism.

5. To closely and systematically accompany him in the process of cultural insertion and evangelizing ministry of the people and communities to which he is sent.

6. To continue reflecting on interculturality and its consequences in our missionary life to bring forth the theoretical and practical aspects which illuminate the experience.

7. To take on the essential attitudes which make possible interculturality: dialogue and listening, sincere openness, overcoming of stereotypes and prejudices, and a unity of missionary fraternity within the diversity.

8. To promote workshops to reflect upon and experience interculturality.

9. To suggest that Fr. General writes a circular letter to animate and promote intercultural living together in our Congregation

10. To evaluate, systematize, and socialize the experiences of apostolic intercultural communities that exist in the Congregation.

11. To take on assignments and apostolic undertakings oriented and dedicated to be close to oppressed cultures and the excluded.

12. To include in our missionary options the challenges which emerge from the phenomenon of migration and the great displacement of human beings.

3.2 Proposals for the formation of formators:

Highlighting the effort of the formators who, with their successes and failures, have been committed in the formation process of intercultural communities, we consider necessary the following proposals

1. To create a favorable atmosphere for the formator to care for his own process of formation and growth.

2. To incorporate themes of interculturality at the School of the Heart of Mary.

3. To encourage the formator to learn another language than his own.

  1. 4.Ongoing formation for formators.

5. To facilitate the formators in having previous pastoral experience within an intercultural context.

6. To receive from the General Prefecture of Formation materials on interculturality.

7. To have workshops on interculturality every two or three years.

8. To deal with the theme of interculturality in meetings of formators within their Conferences.

3.3. Proposals to improve formation work in intercultural communities

We judge that the formation work done in intercultural communities has been intense and beneficial. The following proposals are to optimize these contributions and to overcome any deficiencies.

1. To give sufficient time in the preparation of candidates destined for other organisms.

2. To send a detailed report on the missionary to be sent.

3. To design a program of welcome in each formative community keeping in mind:

– The serious and responsible learning of the language.

– Progressive assimilation within the context (history, geography, culture)

– A basic understanding of the place from which the missionary is coming

– Dynamics of interculturation and interculturality

4. To program times of reflection on the theme of interculturality in which the experience of the missionary intercultural life can be highlighted in a theoretical and practical way

5. To offer theoretical means (lectures, conferences, studies) on intercultural community life and missionary itinerancy from the beginnings of formation.

6. To promote the use of dynamics and methodologies which help advance self-knowledge and community integration.

7. To work out and evaluate a participative way the community intercultural project

8. To decorate areas of the house with multicultural items.

9. To form the students with attitudes which will help them live interculturally: openness, dialogue, tolerance, respect, listening, communication.

10. To enable the community with habits and resources for positive conflict resolution.

11. To know the intercultural reality of the whole Congregation

12. To share the characteristics of the culture and the mission to which Claretians will be sent in places where they are formed

13. To share among the different intercultural formative communities the resources which will help them understand their own experience and the missionary life of their organisms

14. To have materials available in the places from which they will be sent: books, pamphlets, publications, documents, etc.

15. To insure that the formator will be dedicated to integrating the diverse aspects of interculturality.

The workshop has also been a living experience of our Claretian life together as formators hailing from different cultural contexts. We were able to look into our own cultural and personal strengths and weaknesses that have either an empowering or delimiting effect on our ministry of formation. Beyond all cultural diversities that distinguish us as Africans, Asians, Europeans or Americans, we experience the charismatic spirit of our congregation that holds us together as a family of missionaries. We consider this workshop as a beginning of an ongoing exploration and enrichment of the complex reality that intercultural community living entails.

We hope that the orientations of this workshop will enhance the intercultural dimension of our missionary life and stimulate a culturally relevant process of formation in the centers of our formation. The work of stimulating and increasing the intercultural dimension of our missionary life should continue in the formation centers and organisms of the Congregation. The reflections and proposals of this workshop can illuminate the formative work and community life of our Congregation. This is an ongoing work and a new road that can be implemented within our Congregation with patience, hope, and the commitment of all Claretians. The Prefecture of Formation has, on all levels, a special responsibility to this undertaking.

General Prefecture of Formation
Claretian Generalate.
Via Sacro Cuore di Maria 500197 Rome
25th November 2008

[1] The partecipaants of the workshop: Mathew Vattamattam (Generalate, Rome), Paul Smyth (Facilitator, England, ), Jesus Palacios (CESC, Vic), Antonio Rangel (Mexico), Barthelomew Okafor (East Nigeria), Carlos Julio Rosso (Colombia-Ecuador), Carlos Sanchez (Peru), Gustavo Carnero (Argentina), Irudaya Raj (Chennai), Jose Sanchez (USA West), JoséMaría Bolívar (Betica), Luis Angel de las Herras (Santiago), Mathew Vadakkel (North East India), Mauricio Borge (central America), Michel Anchange (Centro Africa).