Booklet 13: The Claretians in the Dynamic of Inculturation

Jesus Àlvarez Gòmez


In order for us to be able to speak correctly from the very beginning, it is necessary to precisely determine the specific sense in which we are using the term culture and its derivatives a-culturation, en-culturation, in-culturation.

1.1 Culture: It is not easy to find two authors, among the many who concern themselves with culture today, who agree on its definition because this term may be used very broadly or very narrowly. Here we take as our definition the broad meaning of culture as given by the Second Vatican Council:
“All those factors by which the human beings refine and unfold their manifold spiritual and bodily qualities. It means their efforts to bring the world itself under their control by their knowledge and labour. It includes the fact that by improving customs and institutions they render social life more human both within the family and in the civic community. Finally, it is a feature of culture that throughout the course of time human beings express, communicate and conserve in their works great spiritual experiences and desires, so that these may be of advantage to the progress of many, even of the whole human race.

Personal: insofar as the human person “can come to an authentic and full humanity only through culture”. In this sense, the human being is a cultural animal, in so far as he or she is a creator of culture, and to the extent that, through culture the human person attains full humanity: “to amount to more, to be more “, as Pope John Paul Il says.
Cosmic: means the relationship to all the natural goods and values with which the human person brings the world under control through his or her knowledge and labour.
Social: all that with which the human person makes social life, both within the family and within civic society, more human through the progress of customs and institutions.
Historic: makes reference to the fact that human beings express, communicate and conserve, throughout time and space, their great spiritual experiences and their aspirations so that these may be useful to the whole human race.
Sociological: this refers to the plurality of cultures and their socializing ability in so far as the culture within each human group ensures that the person is moulded to the society of which he or she is a part.

1.2 In-culturation: This is the process by which an individual is integrated into the culture of the group into which he or she is born.

1.3 A-culturation: In the strict sense this is “the action by which an attempt is made to impose on a social group the culture and civilization of another group, economically and politically stronger, to which it must be converted by force”4 In our specific case it means the confrontation of the superior (or putatively superior) culture of the foreign Claretian with the culture of the people among whom this Claretian wants to evangelize or wants to form other Claretians. The reason for this is rooted in the fact that Claretian-ness does not exist in a vacuum but in concrete Claretians that have been initiated into the culture of the people into which they were born, since Claretian-ness is no an abstract idea but a project of life. It will have to act, consciously or unconsciously, on the culture of the group he is trying to evangelize; or, even more specifically, on the culture of those who within that people whom they evangelize, want to enter into the group of Claretian evangelizers. If they are not careful, they can try to impose their culture and their way of being Claretians to the detriment of the culture and the way of being Claretians that would naturally answer from the culture of the people being evangelized or within which the new Claretians are being formed.

1.4 In-culturation: This concept here is not considered merely sociologically, but from a two-fold aspect as option and as action. As option, inculturation is an ongoing attitude that commits him to assume the entire process of inculturation, paying the price that is necessary to attain that goal. This can even mean giving up his own cultural status, like Jesus who gave up his divine status in order to become like every human being (Phil. 2: 6-8). As action, inculturation must concretise the option taken: this implies a serious study of the culture of the adopted people in order to share all their values. Inculturation, as we mean it here, is not confined to the relationshipbetween two cultures, that of the Claretian’ s people of origin and that of his adopted people. It must extend to the relationship between the Claretian charism and the culture of the people among which the Claretian evangelizes or forms other Claretians.
In this sense, inculturation is the process by which the Claretian charism is integrated into a different culture than the bearer of it and takes root in that new culture in such a way that native Claretians can use, without any kind of distortion, their own cultural values as the equal of the specific values of the Claretian charism. The final result is a new richness in what it means to understand, live and celebrate the Claretian charism.


The word in-culturation is a neologism invented by Herskovits, an historian of religions. Applied later to Christianity, it was reclaimed as valuable for describing the relationships of the Gospel with cultures by the Federation and Bishops’ Conferences of Asia in 1973 and by the African Bishops in the Synod of 1974. In the context of Religious Life, this word has become popular since a group of African and Asian Jesuits adopted it at the General Congregation of the Society held in Rome in 1974-75. The Claretians used for the first time in an official way in the MCT of the General Chapter of 1979.
When it is applied to Christianity, inculturation means the flourishing of a native Christianity, growing from the seed sown and cultivated by foreign evangelizers. Pope Paul VI anticipated this concept when he said in Kampala in 1969:

Africans, you can and should now have an African Christianity!”
In the same sense, we can and should apply the concept of inculturation to the Congregation in order to mean the flourishing of a native Congregation in any country of the world, springing from the seed of its own Claretian charism, sown and cultivated by foreign Claretians in a specific place, in such a way that we call out, parodying Paul VI, “African Claretians, you can and should now have an African Congregation!” And what can be said to the African can be said to the Asian, the North American, the Latin American, the European, etc.
According to our Directory 5, inculturation has to be a constant in our apostolate because ‘faithful to the principle of the incarnation, we should carry out an inculturated evangelization takingcare to adapt our life and message to the cultural! conditions of the human groups we evangelize “. Speaking in terms of the inculturation of the Claretian charism, from what the same number says of the Gospel, we must conclude that native Claretians must express, live and celebrate their own charism according to their own cultural categories. But this must be in complete fidelity to the specific content of the charism, and in complete communion with the whole Congregation.
Thus, for an authentic inculturation of the Congregation into a specific ethnic group or people, it is not enough to have Claretians from that ethnic group or that people if, upon entering the Congregation, they remain culturally alienated because often intellectual or spiritual colonization, or because of a formation foreign to their culture. It is necessary to pass from a Claretian charism thought out and lived out of foreign cultural categories to a Claretian charism thought out and lived out in native cultural forms.
Paul VI said to the Bishops of Zaire: “Africanization is your task”. The same thing that the Pope John Paul Il said to the Zairean Bishops can and should be said to Claretians throughout the world regarding the Congregation: inculturation “brings to light the areas that have not yet been sufficiently explored as the language for presenting the Christian message in a way that reaches the spirit and heart of Zaireans, catechesis, theological reflection, liturgy, sacred art, the communal forms of Christian life “.
This process of inculturation should reach the point, as John Paul Il himself has said, of making “Christ himself an African in the members of his Body “.
In a letter dated 3 June 1979 addressed to the religious of Africa, Cardinal Pironio and Rossi, Prefects, respectively, of the Congregations for Religious and for the Evangelization of the Peoples, indicated basic directives that religious need to take into account for the africanization of Religious Life. These directives undoubtedly apply to Claretians in any part of the world when they try to incarnate or inculturate the basic elements of their charism in any native culture.
Particularizing for Claretians what is said in this letter on the inculturation of Religious Life, the following principles can be established:
Inculturation requires that the consecration to God in the Congregation be lived in the social and cultural context of each country and each ethnic group, so that the Claretian charism can be seen by these people that surround the Claretians as a wonderful sign of true love of God and of the neighbour.
The inculturation of the Claretian charism also means integrating into that love of God and of the brothers the values of the particular culture in harmony with Gospel, because the Congregation, like the Church itself, has great respect for the moral and religious values of all cultures.6
Native Claretians do not have to renounce their cultural values, but should carefully study them in order to discern what is good and true in them, and give them new dimensions in their consecrated life. Some of those values can be assimilated immediately, while others can be refined. All this demands research and effort.
Above all, native Claretians need to take into account that every culture, like every human being, needs to be converted in spirit and in truth (Jn. 4: 24) and that the passing on of the values of the Claretian charism always will demand a quantum leap and will have to transcend the rea! values assumed, because the Claretian charism, like the Gospel, in not identified with any one particular culture.
Just as it is necessary to strive for an authentic evangelization of cultures 9, Claretians will likewise have to strive to introduce their charism into the cultural context in which it being lived. This is one of the demands that the Pope proposed to the Congregation in his speech to the 21 st General Chapter (1991).b0
Inculturation is indispensable if we want the Claretian charism to be perceived as a glorious witness to the Kingdom.”
No Claretian should ever forget that the charisms of the Congregation links together, by certain common universal Gospel values, all Claretians throughout the many, very diverse areas where each one may use and evangelize. The MCT recalls this: “The Congregation, too, has had some experience of contemporary cultural pluralism, which can doubtless serve to enrich its capacity for mission. . .. Perhaps we have not given enough attention ‘o this theme, but nowadays and from every quarter it has become increasingly clear that there is an urgent need to relate both the Gospel and the bearers of the Gospel to the culture in which they work”12
The Claretian charism, that inseparably belongs to the Church (LG, 44), must seek a way of bearing faithful witness to Christ and to the Church without weakening, responding carefully to the multiple material and spiritual needs of the peoples and cultures among which the Congregation finds itself scattered.
° John Paul Il, Discourse to the Members of the General Chapter in
The most desirable thing will always be complete harmonization, more and more effective each day, between the basic universal values of the Claretian charism and the values of the native cultures.
There is no doubt that, if the Claretians profoundly live their project of life and mission, the culture into which they have been integrated will be affected on its deepest levels, both by their way of life as well as by the evangelizing activity that .they develop. The Claretian charism, in the part of it that is most evangelical, must permeate the essential values of the life of every human being: their criteria for making judgments, their thought patterns, their personal interests, until it touches the very heart of the culture.
Claretians from whatever people, whatever race or culture, by their specific manner of life, will impel all their fellow men and women to deep conversion so that they will end up harmonizing their values and principles with the values and principles that spring from the Gospel. These Gospel values themselves, sincerely lived by the Claretians, will bring about an ongoing renewal, and even the transformation, of cultures, especially at the times when there is a direct and express attempt to effect a socio-cultural change in which the basic values of the human being are expressed.
In this sense, inculturation, in its most proper and genuine definition, is an interaction between the culture and the Claretian charism. This interaction will necessarily result in a creative response, because the Claretians will have to translate their values into a new language. Foreign Claretians must make the effort to dialogue with the adoptive culture and native Claretians must make the attempt to live it in their own culture. This means that Claretians of every time and culture must recast the essential values of Claretian-ness, i.e., their relationship with God, with their brothers and sisters and with material things, into the language of the culture in which they live, be it their culture of adoption or their native culture, or into a renewed language in the situation where a transformation of their culture of origin is taking place.
The project of Claretian life, taken to its ultimate requirements, must necessarily have an effect on the culture, because the Claretian makes himself free when he makes himself master of the world, humanizing it by his work and wisdom. He makes himself free when he makes himself a brother to men and women, through fraternal love that is translated into service and promotion of others, especially those who are poorest’ . He makes himself free when he lives his status as a child of God, opening himself to the mystery of the One who, as Father, invites him to full communion with Himself’.
We do not address the question here of whether a specifically Claretian culture exists in the same way as the existence of a monastic culture has been posited’5. We are certain enough of the effect that the Claretian project of life undoubtedly has on each of the three basic elements of religious consecration: poverty (the relationship to material things), obedience (the relationship among ourselves within the Claretian community in particular and with Society in general) chastity for the sake of the Kingdom (the I-thou, masculine-feminine relationship). A lifestyle characterized by that three-fold relationship cannot help but be expressed in a language, in signs, that make it visible. There is no need here to recall how the monasteries and convents of the Mendicant Orders gave birth to religious music, religious poetry, religious art and dialectic’


Inculturation must not be thought of as a concession extorted from Claretians of a specific culture by other Claretians coming from a different culture. Inculturation is both a right and a duty of one to another, completely grounded in Christian revelation and in subsequent theological reflection. In its ultimate sense, it is nothing less than the continuation of the saving reality of the mystery of Christ’s Incarnation, which is made visible in the culture of each people. This was the attitude the Church followed from its beginnings, although a time came, regretfully, when the Latin Church virtually identified the Gospel message with European and Western culture. Even in the period of the most rigid colonialism, there were many great missionaries that, despite difficulties with the Church and with civil authorities, tried to inculturate the Gospel in the midst of the people they were evangelizing. Moreover, the official Church itself issued various directives in that regard. In 1659, for example, an Instruction from the Propagation of the Faith advised local missionaries that it was necessary to guard against transforming the people being evangelized into Spaniards, Portuguese, French or Italians using the lofty pretext of converting them to Christ.

On the other hand, it is not a matter of “african-izing” or “eastern-izing” the Congregation. Rather it is a matter of all Claretians, from this or any other cultural environrnent, receiving the Claretian charism from one another and living it among themselves. It is a matter of continuing the Incarnation of Christ; i.e., that Christ is made incarnate, out of the specific nature of the Claretian charism, in concrete human beings, even though they are men of the poor because the Word of God became flesh as a man of the poor in the Incarnation (cf. Phil. 2: 6-11).
The mystery of the Incarnation can not only be lived out of the historical tradition of Judaism as it was in primitive Christianity, but out of the historical tradition of the Greco-Roman world or any other people. This will make it easy for them to accept the message of Jesus because this message is not identified exclusively with a particular culture but may be incarnated in every culture.
Inculturation, then, is synonymous with incarnation. And in this way we enter into the very heart of the Gospel and, out of the Gospel, into the very heart of the Claretian charism. The Claretian charism, like the Gospel, does not set up barriers to either cultures or peoples, but breaks down the barriers that hinder its being incarnated in any particular people or culture. And out of that people and out of that culture it produces new riches, new ways of thinking, acting and celebrating.
Inculturation, then is, for Claretians, not simply a pastoral strategy, but something essential that pierces to the heart of the identity of the Claretian mission. As the Constitutions say: “A sense of catholicity will lead them into all parts of the world and make them open-minded, receptive and respectful of the religious and culture customs and values of the people “
Jesus does not have to be incarnated in a “de-culturalized” human nature so that, in this way, he can enter into every culture. Quite the opposite is true. The universality of Christ, his permanent validity for all peoples and cultures, was not the result of a personal process. Rather, by the Father’s will, he renounced that personal process, emptying himself, surrendering his divine condition, so he could appear as an ordinary human being. This means he was a man belonging to a people, a culture, not some vaporous figure in a universalized culture that never existed anywhere, since only specific cultures exist.
Applying this to the Claretian charism, the result is that its universality is not the outcome of a human project, but the consequence of a gift of grace from the Spirit. This gift of grace was originally incarnated in a specific person, St. Anthony Mary Claret, who was a man of his times and from a particular culture. Thus, just like Jesus, the Claretian missionary will not be able to be universal, nor able to have “a sense of catholicity” if he does not accept the own particular being; i.e., his being incarnated in a specific culture. The Congregation will not spring up in a particular people unless, prior to this, like the eternal Word of God Himself, it does not know how to lose itself, to disappear, as a Congregation. Thus the Congregation will only spring up as something proper to a particular people or a particular adoptive culture, as Jesus was incarnated, adopting a human nature that arose from the Jewish people and Jewish culture.
The historical Jesus was born a Jew and remained a Jew until he died. Only the risen Jesus broke down first the Jewish barriers, and later those of all races and all times, in order to be pure transparency for all races and all times. With the risen Jesus appears the new Man (the human being reborn in Christ through Baptism) and the new People (the Church) in which all are new, baptized people. There is no longer any People but the Church and the local churches into which all the people of the earth can and should enter to be converted into the new People of God.
In this context. The risen Jesus becomes the ultimate criterion for the inculturation of the Church and of the Claretian charism in the Church, not belonging to any one culture. What this means is that, no matter what historical importance the Spanish way (for example) of understanding and living the Claretian charism may have had, it is not the only way or the exclusive way of understanding and living it. The transcendence of the Gospel is the decisive argument that destroys any historical dependence on the cultural milieu in which salvation was given to us by Christ, or the particular milieu in which the charismatic gift was granted by the Spirit to St. Anthony Mary Claret. Christ calls all men and women and all peoples— lowly and great, wise and unlearned, rich and poor. The Claretian charism can also be granted to by the Spirit to people of every class and condition, insofar as they form part of one Church and spring from its life and holiness (cf. LG, 44).


The Congregation, like the Church in general, until a short time ago lived imprisoned in Western culture. The Congregation had some enclaves in different cultural milieus in which they evangelized. But in these cultures the Congregation was not exclusively engaged in raising up native Claretians, just as the Church was not overly concerned with raising up a native clergy and native hierarchy. When they did, both the Congregation and the Church inculcated into the native Claretians all the cultural characteristics of the West, while at the same time trying to eradicate any vestiges of their own cultural identity.
Now, on the other hand, the Congregation, like the Church itself, is becoming more and more established among peoples who before had been colonized at the same time as they were being evangelized by the Church in general or by the Congregation in particular. This is true both from the perspective of engendering a native Church or a native Congregation as well as from the perspective of the vocations entering the Congregation. This numeric increase of Claretians coming from cultures very different from the West is evident today in those countries of the Third World. Until recently, these countries were not considered able to assume, in all their radicalism, the values or demands inherent in the priesthood or the consecrated life in general or of the Claretian charism in particular.
This off setting or imbalance of the Congregation in Europe by the numeric increase of the Congregation in the Third World and other culture milieus very different from the West is not only rooted in the vocation crisis, in that “harsh winter for vocations”—vocations that do not enter or that enter and leave—that the 21 General Chapter spoke oP9. It also lies in the progressive aging, not cultural but demographic, of those called from the Western world. This obliges the Congregation to consider that a numeric rebound of its members in the Western world will not be possible in the short term. On the other hand, the strong demographic increase may be one, although not the principal one, of the causes of the numeric growth of vocations to the Congregation from countries in the Third World. We say that it cannot be the principal cause because the Claretian vocation definitely has its deepest roots in the supernatural realm, because it will always be a joyful response to the inviting call of God (Mt. 19:12).
This numeric inversion of the working members of the Congregation in the Western world in relation to the Third World is not simply a matter of statistics. It also affects more important aspects, such as different ways of understanding and incarnating the Claretian charism and different sensitivities to the same profound Gospel values. All this contrasts noticeably with the earlier situation where everything was viewed out of the sensibility, culture, theology, and even the organizational models, coming from the Western world.
The inculturation of the Congregation does not only consist in accepting a healthy pluralism nor, much less, instituting in its Provinces and Vice-Provinces a simple decentralization. It is something much more enriching for the native Congregation in whatever country. It is a matter of making one’s own one and the same dynamic of the Church. There is where the Church takes root with the characteristics proper to the peoples that are accepting the faith for the first time or that are renewing it out of the perspective of ecclesial inculturation. It will also necessarily answer in the Congregation with those same characteristics as, little by little, foreign Claretians that implanted the faith in those countries become sensitive to the cultural peculiarities of these countries. Reversing the terms, Vatican II says about churches in formation: Church cannot exist in its fullness only where there is some form of Religious Life, and, in a special way, contemplative Religious Life. The inculturation of the Congregation will not take place instinctively. It will be necessary for Claretians to attend to it and encourage it. If they do not, there could be a serious danger to the very unity of the Congregation, giving rise to polycentrism and the atomisation of the Congregation. This is a danger the Constitutions tell us always to watch out for.
This problem will become more acute for the Congregation as it extends geographically throughout the world. The question that is posed with great urgency is this:
Is the Claretian charism tied exclusively to the cultural milieu in which it first arose in the Church?
And, consequently Can another culture assimilate the Claretian charism that was not born within it without prior dialogue with the Claretian charism as it exists in other cultures? Evidently the answer to both questions is “no”. The Claretian charism is not tied exclusively to the culture in which it was born nor can it be incarnated in any other culture without prior dialogue. The 21 General Chapter clearly answered the question when it affirmed, in a general way, that, out of our spirituality as hearers and servants of the Word, we have to integrate “into our charism the spiritual riches and cultural values of the different peoples among whom we live”22 as well as when it says that our commitment to the New Evangelization “spurs us on to renew the missionary dimension of our charism ad gentes, educating ourselves for dialogue with cultures and religious traditions of people of other faiths, most of whom are poor”23.
It does the same when it says, referring specifically to our condition as Servants of the Word in Asia and Oceania, where we emphasize the need “to continue to deepen our commitment to explore new areas and concrete means for mission ‘ad Gentes’, in dialogue of faith and life with other religions, cultures and the poor” and, with respect to African culture we will present the entire message of Jesus Christ with respect to African cultures, in order that they may purify and harmonize their values in the light of the Gospel”25.
In the history of the Congregation, as also in the history of the Church in general, there has been the risk of canonizing a particular culture, specifically Western culture. Thus the core Gospel values of the charism or of the Gospel itself was confused with the social and cultural trappings in which it was enveloped at its inception. This attitude does not take into account the fact that a particular culture is simply one culture among many others. Each culture definitely has its own limitations and, thus, if we canonize it, we in effect impoverish it and we will impoverish the Claretian charism that was born in it. For this to happen to clay is most dangerous because such a powerful nexus of cross-cultural relationships exists.
On the other hand, it is no less certain .that in every culture there are positive aspects that, because they are such, can be assimilated by people from different cultures. But along with the positive elements there are also negative aspects or counter values that must be purified. Here we enter unto the delicate work of discernment, both on the part of native Claretians as well as those Claretians who are alien to that culture.
This discernment requires a particular delicacy in those cultural milieus where there are non-Christian forms of monastic or religious Life. One reason for this is to be alert to the possibility of taking on from them specific cultural and religious aspects through the fundamental values of the Claretian charism can be made visible. Another reason is the need to bear witness to the Christian faith and the Claretian message out of what constitutes the core of the Gospel in forms that, by being merely anthropological or cultural, can be accepted by Claretians out of their own identity.
From this can be deduced the decisive importance of specific formation of Claretians within their own cultural milieu without, of course, disparaging the great value that cultural interchange also has. This requires special care on the part of foreign Claretians who have to form candidates for the Congregation in a country that is different from their own. The foreign formator cannot form native Claretians in the traditional sense that considered formation as implantatio Instituti (implanting the Institute), in the same way that traditional evangelization claimed to an implantatio Ecclesiae (implanting the Church). If foreign formators did this instead of posing questions to native Claretians on what values they could let in from their cultural presuppositions, he would be imposing a foreign culture on them. And, consequently, he would be imposing a previously given response instead of stirring up in them a personal response arising from their own specific culture. In this sense, the Congregation does not create either the subject or the object. The important thing is that the Claretian life style is the result of the dialogue or the encounter between the fundamental values or attitudes of the Claretian charism and concrete individuals that thus becomes a culturally original response to the inviting call of God to enter the Congregation.
A formation that is attentive to the values of Claretianness and to the values different cultures will never implant exotic elements coming from other cultures. It will not require giving up the true values of the native cultures because these are riches and a vehicle capable of carrying the Gospel values of the Claretian charism. The inculturation of the Claretian charism must always be done in strict fidelity to its specific values and, at the same time, with appropriate attention to history; i.e., to the coordinates of time and place.


Every Claretian must live and express his own identity out of a specific culture. When a Claretian comes to a people of a different culture, he has to learn all about it. And that Claretian vis-à-vis the totality of that people is the totality of the Congregation. Logically that Claretian has previously been marked by his culture of origin. What this means is that, after a more of less arduous apprenticeship, he will be able to translate his own project of life and mission into a language that is accessible to the candidates to the Congregation. But he will necessarily have to start from the culture with which he identifies himself because, out of it, he has lived the charism of the Congregation.
In order to appropriately translate his project of Claretian life into a new language different from that of his culture of origin, the foreign Claretian has to begin a process that involves serious steps:

5.1 Knowing and Loving the New Culture

The Claretian has to love the adoptive culture. But, in order to love it, he will first need to perceive “the values of different cultures”. But this love will not be effective if, as the Constitutions say, Claretians do not guard against “letting an in- ordinate love for their own country and culture prevent them from adapting to the ways of the people they are sent to evangelize “.

If the fundamental values of the Claretian charism have to transform the very heart of the adoptive culture in which the Claretian will have to incarnate himself, it will be necessary to know in depth the heart of that culture. No one is able to love without prior knowledge. But it will be of little use to the Claretian to have merely a theoretical knowledge of a people and its culture unless it is accompanied by a loving and benevolent attitude. What is necessary is an affective understanding of their values, their realities, until one accepts them as second nature.

5.2 Paying Attention to the Dynamic of the Culture

The Claretian must be immersed in the dynamic process of all cultures. It is not enough to assume some values that are basically reduced to mere folkways. The Claretian has to situate himself at the very centre of the historical process of formation, transformation and transmission of the culture. He must look more towards the goal to which it is directed rather than at the manners and mores that tie it to the past because the future of the peoples is definitely what he has to build. The Claretian must situate himself with a watchful eye, surveying all horizons but never losing his own identity.

True inculturation excludes by its very nature any attempt to manipulate cultures. It is not a matter of a strategy, of tactics, nor of simple tentative adaptation, but of the Claretian identity being expressed in, and out of, the elements proper to the adoptive culture and that it becomes a inspiring principle in the very womb of that culture.

The Claretian charism must act within cultures like yeast in dough. This brings with it certain demands for the Claretian to solidify and fortify the specific cultural values of the people, contributing to the growth of the “seeds of the Word” existing in all cultures, as the 21st General Chapter explicitly stated: “to cultivate and support the ‘ad gentes’ dimension of our charism, searching for seeds of the Word and of the Kingdom in dialogue with other religions and diverse churches to assume specifically Christian values, lived by the peoples according to their own cultural milieus.
In this way there will be a dose bond between Claretian identity and the culture without there being any kind of deleterious identification of one with the other on the part of either the foreign Claretian or the native Claretian. Claretian identity, like the Christian faith, must be lived out of the roots of each culture, but without any intermingling of the two. In this sense, true inculturation consists in presenting the message and the essential values of the Claretian project of life in the forms and terms specific to each culture, so that the Congregation itself is inserted as intimately as possible into the specific cultural context.
The image that best illustrates inculturation is that of a seed sown in the ground. The seed is nourished by that earth, but is not identified with the earth. It germinates and develops into a tree, into fruit, out of the identity and the dynamism of the seed itself, even though without the earth its germination and development would be impossible. It is the same image, so cherished by the Fathers of the Church, which reveals the “seeds of the Word” scattered in every culture. But, nonetheless, these seeds can only grow and develop out of the contact of the Gospel with those cultures.
It is impossible for the leavening action of the Claretian charism to differ from or diverge from a culture, but that culture will not be able to identify the Claretian charism with itself. The inculturation of the Congregation will help the people that live in that cultural milieu, starting with the Claretians themselves, to be universalized, to assimilate the universal values that no particular culture can exhaust within itself. For this reason the Congregation will make a culture ferment, grow and expand, like the yeast mixed into the dough makes it grow from within itself.

5.4 A New Language

Claretians will have to make a concerted effort to find a new anthropological and symbolic language that allows the fundamental message of the Claretian to be translated into the adoptive culture. When a Claretian formed in one culture arrives in a new cultural milieu, he will have to be initiated, he will have to be inculturated. That Claretian first will have to live and reaffirm his persona! project of Claretian life and then he will have to live it, proclaim it and present to his adopted people in a way that they can understand it. This means that the Claretian will have to translate not only various texts (although he must do that too) but also various existential realities into a language that is foreign to him. No Claretian will ever be totally prepared to fulfil that duty. Thus there are frequently hurried “translations”, very often merely a material kind of rendering, into the adoptive culture, of concepts as well as words that as a result are incomprehensible and that distort the reality for that people. This is the case very often with words like poverty, virginity, obedience, and community. If these words have not found a precise conceptualisation within the Western culture in which they arose, how much less will they find, without careful study, an easily understood conceptualization in the cultures in which Religious Life or Claretian identity is being implanted for the first time.
5.5 Purifying the Negative Aspects of Cultures
Inculturation has to be critical. The Claretian has to denounce and purify everything that may be negative in the culture in which he is incarnated. This is something the Church has always done, to the extent that it has been expanding to different peoples, throughout the ages. The Congregation also, as a human and Christian project of life, must fight to eliminate from the cultures it has been encountering its historical journey everything that, instead of making it grow in its humanness, diminishes and reduces it. The Documents of the Puebla Conference refer to this need for purifying cultures:
“No one can see as an abuse the evangelization that calls for abandoning false concepts of God, unnatural conduct, and aberrant manipulations of one person by another”.
The Claretian must identify and fix that which within a culture is incompatible with the elements of the Claretian identity

For this a great interior freedom is needed, both on the part of foreign Claretians in relation to their culture of origin, as well as on the part of native Claretians in respect to their culture. But this is an especially delicate task for foreign Claretians, who will have to make a careful discernment of the adoptive cultural context. This must be done so that they do not consider contrary to the Claretian charism certain elements that in themselves are neutral or that can even include true Gospel values, i.e., “seeds of the Word” scattered by God in that culture from time immemorial.
Both foreign Claretians as well as native Claretians will have to make sure that discernment is valid, beginning with a transformation of mind and heart. This will allow them to first discover what is truly evangelical and Claretian in the adoptive culture, things that must not be disregarded even though they may be difficult to express in a new language. It will, after that, allow them to accept the renunciation of specific elements of their own culture that are incompatible with the form of Claretian life. This does not constitute a mutilation, but rather a service to that culture, thus providing a place for its transformation, not by imposition from without but by evolution and growth from within.
In this way the Congregation will make itself known as it is, with both unity and diversity, out of a profound experience of poverty, of that poverty of Jesus, who renounced his divine status in order to become like all people are, a poor man. The Son accepted being Son in another way, making Himself a man de-spoiled (Phili. 2:6-8). Here the question does not revolve around whether that other way was worthy or unworthy of the Son of God, but rather around another question:
Why did the Son of God want to become a man in that de-spoiled condition? Here is the ultimate basis for the inculturation of the Claretian in cultures that are different and at times considered unworthy, Le., as non-cultures. The Congregation, the concrete Claretian, accepts being in another way, even to point of truly being a Claretian in ways that are the direct opposite of what he used to consider or call Claretian identity. This is the same thing the Son of God did, who renounced his status as such, in order to be truly God out of the opposite of humanity. The General Chapter exhorts us to assume this as the normal price to pay for inculturation: “To continue shifting our positions toward the poor and marginalized ethnic groups, through serious processes of insertion and inculturation”.
Inculturation, based on these presuppositions, will always be unsettling because it will raise questions about the habitual ways one conceives of being a Claretian. That is to say, it will raise questions about the historical forms with which Claretians have been present. But, in allowing this to happen, we will come to know the real reason for our being in the Church and in the world because, like the Church itself, the Claretians’ total reason for being lies in being sent to serve people who are part of specific peoples and cultures. Thus, when a Claretian is incarnated in a new culture, at the service of a new people, he returns to his true origins. He returns to that original unity between the charismatic, as a prophetic reminder within the Church community, and the missionary, as service or usefulness to the Church and the world, through specific actions, as an essential manifestation of the charismatic dimension.

This rediscovery of the original unity between the experience of God and the service of people will help Claretians in no matter what culture they are incarnated to decode the essential elements. This means it will help them prescind from social and cultural projections in which their charism has been incarnated over the course of history in order to create new configurations or new social and cultural projections, either because the old ones have become obsolete or because they have been incarnated in a different culture. An inculturation thus cannot do less than help Claretians to be purified of many elements that have been considered essential to their proper charismatic identity, when in reality they were merely joined to it.


If certain cultures have pursued a certain universalization, it has been largely through violence, through colonization exercised over other, weaker cultures. The Claretians scattered throughout the most diverse cultures will have the obligation to work to overcome these relationships of violence. The General Chapter of 1979 made passing mention of abuse by “dominant cultures” because of their greater economic power or their domination of the media that imposes a uniformity and a homogenization of the poorest cultures that is biased toward these dominant cultures:
“This expansion and uniformity of culture does not, however, assure a balanced exchange of intercultural values, because of the colonialism exerted over underdeveloped nations by nations which are powerful in science and technology, who , are the bringers of a new secular culture.
Besides this, the cultural homogenìzatìon we are witnessing tends to support a hedonistic model of man, devoid of spiritual content, which poses a critical threat to the values of many people with a tradition of more than one world”.
Claretians can and should work for the universalization of culture, but not out of the violence of some cultures toward others, but out of the communion of cultures, safeguarding the cultural identity of each people while having the greatest openness to, and acceptance of, specific values from other cultures, giving and receiving with complete freedom.
In no milieu is communion the result of reducing everything to the lowest common denominator, i.e., eliminating what is original and proper to each culture so all of them will be uniform. It is rather the result of the convergence of different originalities that give up isolation and support counter-position so as to come together in a unity of communion. And, for that reason, communion is not imposed but arises from freedom and increases freedom.
This communion can be a good point for reflection and examination for each and every Claretian in order not to succumb to the temptation of organizing Major Organisms of the Congregation, not for apostolic motives or internal structures proper to the Congregation, but because of difficulties living together due to diversity of ethnic groups, or cultures or even of politics.

On the contrary, far from bearing witness to Christian communion and the communion of the Congregation, it would rather be, above all, a testimony to the hopelessness of achieving communion and fellowship because the Claretian, like the Christian in general, can be or not be many things. He can renounce his ethnicity, his culture and his sensitivity. But he can never renounce his being human because the Claretian insofar as he is such, like the Christian, is a brother by definition. And, for that reason, neither ethnicity nor culture nor anything else, however important it may be, can ever be preferred to fellowship and communion.
Possibly Claretians immersed in Western culture may have committed abuses with respect to other cultural milieus, especially those of the Third World, by thinking that the cultural characteristics of those peoples did not easily mesh with specific elements of the Claretian identity. They considered themselves depositories of the Claretian charism vis-à-vis their Claretian brothers from other attitudes, identifying, wrongly, the projections of their Western culture with the Claretian charism itself. And, as a consequence, they imposed on Claretians from other cultural contexts certain modalities of life that contradicted the idiosyncrasies of those peoples.
Today there may be a reverse movement. Given that Claretians from Western culture are progressively declining numerically, there may be an attempt to impose native social and cultural projections on them. Certainly this is not out of some kind of absurd revenge, but because it is thought that these new dominant social and cultural projections are the only way in which the Claretian charism should be lived and expressed. We have thus gone from one extreme to the other.

Once again, fraternal communion must be the primary element for all Claretians. On the other hand, it must take everything into consideration, or at least what is essential to communion and fellowship, because, without it, subsequent evangelization will not be possible. Fraternal communion will always be true bridge that unites different ways of living one reality, even though the shores are different, one foreign and one native.
The future of the Congregation and of its missionary work, both in the old Western culture and in the new emerging cultures, will depend on the capacity for communion and fellowship with which the Claretians must abound. This does not mean they have to dose their eyes to the problems and conflicts that will undoubtedly answer because of the difference of ethnic groups, cultures and sensitivities. Only when tension and conflict arose will there also be the possibility of overcoming them and to reinforce by hard work the true Claretian community that will arose, not from the homogenization of all its members, but from the convergence of different originalities.
No one should ever forget their own cultural origins unless they want to live in an ongoing cultural schizophrenia. In order to be a bridge it is necessary for opposite shores to exist. The Claretian who goes to a country other than his own— like it or not—has a tradition or, even better, a TRADITION (in capital letters) that has to be transmitted to his adopted people. But this cannot be confused with the traditions (in small letters) proper to his people of origin. The TRADITION of the Congregation, of which the Claretian is the bearer, will have to now be clothed in the traditions proper to the adoptive people so that the TRADITION will become second nature and flourish among that people with their own ethnicity.
The TRADITION is the living memory of the various inculturations of the Claretian charism. And only when the new inculturations are in communion and in continuity with the inculturations from the past will the Congregation flourish as a tree firmly rooted in new cultural milieus.
Basically it is a question of delicacy that, by not being taken into account, often has led to, not only unnecessary suffering, but even real injustice on the part of those who have brought the Claretian charism to new attitudes. One could make a paradigm for balance the attitude reflected by the former President of Tanzania, Julius Nyerere, in My reflection on the evangelizing activity of the European missionaries in Africa. This attitude that could applied to the inculturation of the Claretian charism in countries with a non-Western culture by Western Claretians:
These people believed that African culture was primitive and European culture was civilized. They hoped, in service to God, to “civilize “Africa, which for them meant changing African culture.
In order to do this, they brought what they knew: the Church as they knew it and its life style, to the extent that they could maintain these in a culture that was so different.
It is absurd to criticize the early missionaries because of their attitudes or the activities that flowed from them, because we are the creations of our time and place…
Now the situation of the Church above all depends on our ability to abandon forms and practices that have their origin in European history, but retaining and reinforcing the essence of their Christian message and of their mission.
li is not a matter of painting the Virgin as a Black woman. Historically she was not Black, and Jesus was born a Jew. It is not a matter of abandoning songs of European origin; some are very beautiful, It is much more complicated that … “
Inculturation implies a centrifugal force that impels the Claretian Congregation, and individual Claretians, to go out of themselves, beginning with the certainty of their structure and organization that will have to undergo certain modifications. Today the Congregation is looking for a new balance between unity and plurality, between universality and particularity. It will not be possible to pay real attention to the plurality of cultures without this having a repercussion on the way of understanding and internally organizing the life of the Congregation, because its reason for being is rooted in the sending, the saving mission that must be fulfilled on behalf of all people no matter what their condition or culture. Each new situation will require a new inculturation.