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To the Brothers and Sisters of Carmel

To the Members of the Carmelite Family

To the Benefactors

To Everyone who is interested in the Carmelite Missions

On this missionary day, par excellence, which is the Feast of Pentecost, I would like to remind you of the triple missionary commemoration that we are celebrating this year, 2004: 1) The  first journey of Carmel to Persia (July 6); 2) The foundation of the Carmelite convent in Paris (October 18); and, 3) The first foundation, also of a Carmelite convent, on Latin American soil (December 27).  Different events but all occurred in the year 1604.  They are three fourth-centenaries that it is right to recall. 

The three occasions have a special significance for the Order: first, they definitively confirmed its missionary dimension; then they broke the mould by opening up Carmel’s frontiers and making them closer to her origins, in the Holy Land; they also presumed a cultural leap of unexpected proportions.  It was not only the fact that the sons and daughters of our Saint Teresa of Avila dared to move away from the shores of the Mediterranean (to make their way to central and northern Europe, to the Germanic and Slavic people), it was also their immersion into distant cultures, the first contact with ecumenism and Islam, arriving in the East, founding the first cloistered Carmel on the other side of the Ocean in Mexico.  

I dare to affirm that 1604 was the greatest missionary year of the Order, when it made a most daring and charismatic start in pointing  the way ahead and shaping the Order’s future. These events have left their mark, even today.  The Order has always moved forward, never giving in to set backs. 

There is every reason to be thankful with this triple fourth-centenary in 2004.  It should be considered a privilege to celebrate it, being so important, because these are the roots of the universal Carmelite missionary vocation.  For further information I offer a few brief pages that recall the events, describing them and their historical significance. 

This is enough to say for now, having reminded you of these events of our past.  They are truly great and should never be forgotten.   I hope that this effort will help to increase your  appreciation of the past and, at the same time, to reflect on the present.  This is what I hope.   

With brotherly greetings,   

Damaso Zuazua, ocd,

Secretary for the Missions


Juan-Tadeus (Roldan) of St Elijah, from Calahorra


1604  - 6th July - 2004 

IV Centenary of the Missionary Expedition to Persia 


As a result of the missionary fervour of the Italian Congregation, Fr Pedro of the Mother of God proposed to Pope Clement VIII the readiness of the Order to send Carmelite missionaries to the Holy Land.  However the response of the Pope was that there were enough missionaries in the land of Jesus.  He considered that the missionary desire of Carmel could be realized in Persia where there was more need.  

With the confiding of the Persian mission to the Carmelites, Clement VIII was able to respond to the Legate of the Shah Abbas the Great (1587-1628), who came to Rome on the 5th April 1601 to propose to the Pope an alliance against the Turks and, at the same time, asking for Priests to assist the Catholics in Persia.  The first mission to Persia was undertaken by the Jesuits in 1601 but did not succeed due to the interference of the Viceroy of India, in Goa.  In 1602 a group of Spanish  Augustinians made a foundation in Isfahan, under the patronage of King Philip III and with the financial support of the Archbishop of Goa, Mgr. A. Meneses. 

Even though Ludovic von Pastor spoke of six Carmelites in fact there were just four; three Priests and a Brother, who left for Persia, the first Carmelite mission to the Orient. Their names were: Paul-Simon (Rivarola) of Jesus, from Genova, aged 28; Juan-Tadeus (Roldan) of St Elijah, from Calahorra, Spain, who was to become the first Bishop of the Teresian Carmel; Vincente (Gambart) of St Francis, from Valencia, Spain; and Giovanni (Angeli) of the Assumption, a Brother from Umbria, Italy. A Spanish soldier, Don Francisco Riodolid, from Peralta,whom they met in Naples accompanied them - he was going to lend his services to the Shah.  The expedition was received by the Pope on the 4th July 1604.  The Pope asked them to make the following additional vows: 1) to go and evangelize where ever their Superiors sent them;  2) if required, to accept death for the faith,; 3) not to receive gold, nor silver, nor precious stones.  Two days later, on the 6th July, they left the Priory of Saint Maria della Scala in Rome.  The missionaries carried with them seven papal letters of introduction to the Rulers and Nuncios through whose countries they were to pass.  

They had to select the route for the journey.   They decided that the surest and safest way would be through Germany, then (former) Czechoslovakia, Poland, just touching the Baltic Sea in Lithuania, Russia, and the Caspian Sea.  They had to avoid the Mediterranean, Syria and Mesopotamia, which were war zones between Turks and Persians.

They arrived in Cracow (Poland) on the 25th August.  The King at the time was  Segismund III Vasa (1587-1632).  It was during his reign, in 1596, that the Synod of Brest took place, in which the union between the Ruthinians and Rome was achieved.  The presence of the Carmelites in the capital of the Kingdom was brief.  But that presence has never been forgotten. the Nuncio, Claudio Rangone introduced the expedition to the King.  The latter granted them safe passage to Poland and Lithuania and handed them letters of recommendation for the Duke of Moscow and the King of Persia.  On the 13th September they left Cracow, via Luck, to Vilnius.  From there they had to progress on to Moscow and Persia.  They had remained in Poland for fifteen months. 

There had been enough time to begin an apostolate among the Ruthinians, following the recommendations of the Bishop of Luck.  The Carmelites entered into the heart of the problem, above all in Vilnius.  They made contact with the great protagonists of the Union and with the Jesuits from Polock.  In order to know the ecumenical commitment of our missionaries it is important to read their volumous correspondence, which has been kept in the archives of the Generalate House, in Rome. The “Missio ad Ruthenos”, as Fr Paolo Simon Rivarola, who was in charge of the expedition to Persia,called it,  comprised of the Muscovites, the Ruthinians and the schismatic Greeks and heretics. His idea was to establish a seminary to educate those who would labour in Moscow, Serbia, Valaquia, Moldavia, and Bulgaria: “Spes itaque conversionis Moscovitrum humano modo loquendo non videtur esse alia quam per Ruthenos...”  It was a response to the wishes of Pope Clement VIII: “With you, dear Ruthenians, we must convert the whole of the Orient”.  They did not evade evangelizing the Swedes, if Segismundo III secured again the Swedish crown.  There had planned a mission to the north of Europe.  

Due to the special and intense Apostolate with the Ruthenians in the eastern part of hte Kingdom of Poland, on the 5th May 1605 the General Chapter of the Italian Congregation decided to found a”hospicium pro missionariis” in Cracow.  It would serve as a  resource for the Carmelite missionaries in the North and the East.  The first Friars to go there were Mathias (Hurtado de Mondoza) of St Francis, Juan of the Holy Sacrament (the first Novice Director in Poland), Alfonso of the Mother of God, and Brother Santiago of St Bartholomew: three Spaniards and one Italian.  

On their way through Tartaria Brother Giovanni and Don Riodolid, the soldier, died after succumbing to the bitter cold and other sufferings.  The three survivors reached Isfahan on the 2nd  December 1607, three and a half years after setting out on their meandering journey.  Between the death of Clement VIII (5.3.1605) and the brief Pontificate of Leo XI, there reigned Pope Paul V. This Pope renewed the credentials of the missionaries that they had to present in the Persian capital of that time. They overcame the first difficulties that came with living in an entirely new enviroment, including the offers received from the Shah. 

In Persia they worked in Isfahan (1607-1749), Hormuz (1612-1622), Shiraz (1623-1738), Giulfa (1691-1752), Kharg (1753-1766), Bandar Abbas (1688-1775), Bushire (1688-1755) and Hamadan (1720-1752).  They worked at converting and supporting Armenians, Chaldeans and other heretics or schismatics.   One of the most famous conversions was that of an Anglican, Sir Robert Sherley, who, on the 2nd February 1608 was received into the Roman Catholic Church and married Lady Sampsonia Amazonitios, who took Teresa as a baptismal name.  It was another reason why the Shah appreciated the Carmelites in his Kingdom.  On the 14th April 1624 they received the authorization to translate the missal into Arabic.  Later, on the 30th June 1627, they were given permission to translate it into Turkish.

From 1640 they began an apostolate to convert the “Christians” of St John the Baptist.  They continued their ministry to the Jacobites and Armenians, being now able to celebrate the Eucharist in their language.  They also ministered to the Assyrians of Azerbaijan.  They resolved the difficulty of Muslim conversions by baptizing the dying new born babies.  The number of the “massa candida” was growing.  This practise disappeared, even though there had been a thorough consultation with the Vatican Congregation, Propaganda Fidei, which had responded favourably on the 13th February 1658.  The famous Jesuit Missionary, Alexander Rhodes, also used this  practise.  He wrote to his sister on the 20th May 1659 how satisfied he was and how happy to feel he had “sent so many angels to Heaven”. 

Due to the labour of the Carmelite, their ministry of evangelization, the Holy See created the Diocese of Isfahan on the 12th October 1632. However, a month earlier,on the 6th September, a Bishop had already been appointed, he was Fr Juan Tadeusz of St Elijah.  The episcopal consecration took place on the 18th September in Rome.  He was not able to return to his Diocese, as he died the following year in Lleida, Spain on the 5th September while on his way back. He was the very first Carmelite Bishop. 

Thanks to the mission in Persia the Order went beyond the Alps to central and eastern Europe and established the first Priory in Poland.  It was used as a base for work among the Slavs.  From this mission the Order reached out to the whole of the East.  It had its first contact with ecumenism, due to the ministry with the Ruthenians and its first experience with Islam. For these reasons this centenary leads us “to the beginnings of the Spirit”.  


 For further reading: 


1)            Bertholde-Ignatius of St Anne, Histoire de l’Etablissement de la Mission de Perse, Brussels-Paris (1885), pp372.

2)             Florencio of the Child Jesus, A Persia!  Biblioteca Carmelitano-Teresiana de Misiones II, Pamplona 1929, 167pp.

            Id. En Persia, Pamplona 1930, 144pp.

4)            (Herbert), A Chronicle of the Carmelites in Persia and the Papal Mission of the XVII and XVIII Centuries. 2 Vols. Eyre A. Spottiswoode, London 1939.

5)         Carlos Alonso, OSA, Los mandeos y las misiones católicas en la primera mitad del s. XVII. Orientalia Cristiana Analecta 179, Rome, 1967, 263pp.

            Id., Clemente VIII y la fundación de las Misiones católicas en Persia, in La Ciudad de Dios 71 (1958) 196-240.

            Annibale Bugnini, La Chiesa in Iran.  I Carmelitani (1604-1775). Edizioni Vincenziane.  Rome, 1981, pp 137-153.



1604 - 18th October - 2004 

Fourth Centenary of the Discalced Carmelites
in Paris

Blessed Marie of the Incarnation


 On the occasion of this anniversary of the introduction of the Teresian Reform toFrance, the Order of Carmelites and Discalced Carmelites invite you to celebrate the missionary significance of this event.  It reminds us of the words of of St Theresa of Avila who was moved with compassion for the “misfortunes of France”ravaged by the Wars of Religion: “At that time news reached me of the harm being done in France and of the havoc the Lutherans had caused...It seemed to me that I would have given a thousand lives to save one soul out of the many that were being lost there” (Way of Perfection, chap. 1).

The first Sisters of the foundation of 1604 assumed for themselves and shared in the apostolic anguish of Saint Theresa.  We can divide Theresa’s apostolic zeal into six general trends and  list them for you to reflect on:


1) The missionary ideal of the Teresian Carmel:


Saint Teresa of Jesus, on renewing the Carmelite Order, filled it with an apostolic and missionary spirit, as never before.  The Second Vatican Council insisted that the entire Church is missionary.  With even greater reason is consecrated life missionary in all its many shapes and forms, because it is to be found in the very heart of the Church, and expresses its reality in the clearest possible way.  Consecrated life is a reflection of the relationships within the Trinity, the three divine Persons, all equally united in their mutual gift of love, which is the source of ecclesial communion.

The Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata insists that Communion is a “mission”, because everyone is sent out to others.  Mission, according to this Exhortation, must become the source of communion.  All the baptised are involved in this “missionary mystique”.  Mission is inscribed in the very heart of the Church as mystery. It is communion and also an impulse to give oneself in going out to meet one’s neighbour. This new insistence, this new found clarity within consecrated life perfectly reflects the missionary intuitions of Saint Theresa, which are the very source of her charism.


2) The missionary spirit of the French founders:


A laywoman, Barbe Acarie (future Blessed Marie of the Incarnation) and John of Bretigny were the ones who introduced the Teresian Reform to France .  Both of them had understood the needs and the expectations of the French Church at the dawn of an era of renewal.  History shows us that it was in Madame Acarie’s hotel that the first initiatives marking the Catholic Reform in France took place.

After providing the first French translation of the works of St Theresa (1601), John of Bretigny went to his eternal reward.  He had such a missionary spirit that he carried with him all his fellow countrymen to a new continent.  In replying to an intense spiritual thirst, he made possible a truly “mystical invasion” of France in the XVII century, along the lines of what happened in the XVI century in Spain.

Barbe and John were missionaries in so far as they helped the French Church to renew itself thoroughly.  After the Wars of Religion, over and above some national prejudices, they understood that Spain was the model for France to follow in its rebuilding.  The Reform Carmel seemed to them one of the best antidotes against the protestant heresy.

The “mission” began with the aptitude to convert one-self first, to have for oneself a new beginning in Christ.


3) The Missionary spirit of the Spanish founding sisters:


It took a great deal of apostolic nerve to cross the Pyrenees in 1604 and attempt the “French adventure”.  From the Chronicles we learn that the Spanish founders were prepared to be martyrs, brandishing outside their carts, crucifixes and rosaries during most of their trek through France to Paris. In a letter of March 8th 1605 Anne of Jesus revealed how on arriving in France: “Nearly all the inhabitants of the villages were heretics; this we saw clearly in their faces, they really had the appearance of being a condemned lot”. This extreme language manifested how France was a land full of dangers for the six Spanish Carmelites.  The Paris foundation took place during a time of political and economical crisis (1603-1604) among the Kingdoms of three very Catholic and very Christian Kings.

All the Carmels founded by Saint Theresa of Avila were always places of “martyr” mystique.  During recreation her spiritual daughters performed plays with scenes of martyrdom.  In their apostolic desire the Sisters considered France on a par with the Congo or the New Spain (Latin America), as a country of mission.

Already by 1588, the sister of Father Gracian, Juliana of the Mother of God, a Carmelite from Seville, wrote to Bretigny: “May it please His divine Majesty to hear what I ask of Him for France and to fulfill the desire that I have to see it(...) I hope that I will become good enough and so deserve to call myself French, having already renounced my Castillian name; I do not desire any greater happiness than to suffer for Jesus Christ and if I could I would shed my blood and give my life a thousand times for the true faith (...).  All of us are determined to become French (...). Who would not want to die in France for the love of God?”

Full of spirit the Spanish Carmelites viewed France as the perfect place to spread St Theresa’s missionary ideal, while the Church in Spain, on the other hand, began to become turn in on itself.  The first Teresian generation became exhausted.  The Discalced Carmelite Friars (who look after the Sisters) had become stubborn and difficult.   For twenty years, Mother Marie of St. Joseph - a close friend of St. Theresa - studied french in the hope that she would be able to fulfil the plan of her old friend, Bretigny, to make a foundation.  Even before departure the Spanish Carmelites had a “missionary” state of mind: though, in fact, very few actually left.

 “Mission” is forgetting oneself and having the ability to go beyond one’s own limits.  It is a permanent state of mind, even if one never leaves ones “home base”.


4) Jean of Bretigny and the Carmelite Missions:


The first translator of the works of St. Theresa truly deserves the gratitude of Carmel even though he never really wanted to be recognised. 

Before any other Frenchman he knew St. Theresa and made her known in France. For forty five years (1585-1630), Bretigny had everything ready to send the Carmelites to the Congo.  One cannot imagine the amount of work that this took but in the end it never transpired.  It was not for themselves that Bretigny wanted the Carmelites of Paris (1604) and Brussels (1607) but that one day these two Carmels might flourish with new members who, burning with the same flame as their holy mother, Saint Theresa, would embark for the Kingdom of Congo.

Bretigny died in 1634.  His work, though unsuccessful, was not in vain.  He had lit a smouldering flame.  Then, one day in 1934 (exactly three hundred years later!), Belgian Carmelites made the first Congolese foundation .

And today, beyond the apparent setbacks the mission is still bearing fruit.  One sows another reaps.


5) Journey in Spain (26.9.1603 - 15.10.1604): a missionary witness:


Several of those involved in the 1604 foundation (Louis Jourdain, Jean Navet, Anne of Jesus) have left an account of the expedition of the French group to Spain to bring back Carmelites.  It is a real missionary epic worthy of any novel and full of humour.  The fourth centenary could be an occasion to dive back into these interesting pages which count among the most important of the missionary annals of Carmel.


6) Missionary impact of the 1604 foundation: the spiritual posterity:


The family tree of the Reformed Carmels attests very clearly that the Paris foundation is the origin (direct or indirect) of almost all the other Carmels in the world outside the Iberian Peninsula.

Fruit of a true Teresian missionary spirit, this French Carmel itself became missionary,  it met the challenge of inculturation by propagating it throughout the world.

There is actually only one mission: that of Christ’s who embraces every culture and national spirit.  Then, the fruit of a mission, is a still greater missionary spirit which goes over and beyond new frontiers.  And it will be like this until the end of time.



 Four centuries separate 1604 from 2004.  The Missions remain always important, in the great tradition of the Apostles of

Christ, of the Holy Prophet Elijah and of Saint Theresa of Jesus.  

* For more information.... 

Chronique de l’Ordre des Carmelites Vol.I, Troyes, 1846, pp. 43-116.  Detailed account of the journey in Spain (1603-1604) 

Revue CARMEL (edited by the Discalced Carmelites of Avignon Aquitaine), No.112 (2-2004). Special edition dedicated to the fourth centenary of the introduction of the Discalced Carmelites in France. 

Website of the French Carmel: historical section:

http://www.carmel.asso.fr/histoire/histoire.shtml .



IV Centenary of the First Feminine Carmel in America

1604- Puebla de los Angeles, Mexico-2004



It all began with a lay movement.  The book Tesoro Escondido en el Monte Carmelo Mexicano by Fr. Agustin de la Madre de Dios, unpublished until 1986, relates picturesque details. It began with a devout group of Spanish (Andalusian) widows and young ladies, who had come to Mexico for the usual or other reasons. Because of her attraction to prayer and solitude, Ana Nunez seems to have been the leader of the group. She was born in Gibraleon. She arrived in Vera Cruz (Mexico) with her sister Beatriz having been orphaned in their own country. When their brother Pedro who owned property died, Ana took up a life of prayer and retirement and Beatriz contracted marriage. Elvira Suarez, a Sevilian lady had come to Mexico, had been recently widowed. She joined Ana Nunez in a life of prayer and devotion. Very soon they were joined by another Spanish (Sevillian) lady, Juana Fajardo. 

These three pious Andalusians lived at first in the home of Beatriz Nunez. Then, after 1593, they got their own house. Under the direction of Fr. Alonso Ruiz, SJ, they decided to live as enclosed women and they made vows of chastity in the hands of the Bishop’s representative. Their house was converted into a convent by the bishop of Puebla in 1596.The niece of Fr. Alonso, their director, entered there also. 

Because of the poor climate, the house was moved to Puebla in 1601. A little later, the Works of St. Teresa arrived into the hands of these Recollects. A Franciscan Commisary of the Inquisition had brought them from Spain. The attentive reading and discussion of these Writings changed this community of devote lay women and formed them into a Carmelite community. A Carmelite friar, Pedro de Los Apostoles, who had lived with St. John of the Cross, became their confessor and initiated them in the teachings of the Teresian community. 

It took a long time to transmit the Papal correspondence for a canonical foundation. A document in the Vatican Archives speaks of a request from the Archbishop Elect of Mexico and the President of the Council for the Indies to the General of the Order for the foundation of a Carmelite convent in Mexico City. On the 29 of May in 1601 the Congregation for Bishops and Regulars decided: “Scribatur ad mentem Smi.”

(What is the mind of the Pope?)  In a letter from this Roman Congregation to the Superior General, Francisco de la Madre de Dios, it declares not to send nuns to Mexico because “it is not proper to expose nuns to the dangers of traveling by sea on such a long journey, from which scandals and disorder of great consequence could happen.” This document granted faculties to the Superior General to reply even with censures if necessary, if the request for nuns from Spain for any part of the Indies were repeated.  

So it was that the first foundation of Discalced Carmelite Nuns on American soil was not made by nuns who came from the Iberian Peninsula. It was born charismatically in the Teresian evolution of a group of lay women living a community life in Puebla. Pope Clement VIII granted the permission to establish a Carmelite convent. The Bull is dated July 5, 1602. Because of the slowness of communication and other reasons the actual erection of the monastery took place on December 27, 1604. “The whole city,” says Tesoro Escondido , “gathered like a town meeting with the Lord Bishop.”  The five persevering aspirants received the habit. The Prior of the Carmelites,  Pedro de los Apostoles, preached at the ceremony. “They were”, continues the Tesoro Escondido, “the first Carmelite nuns in America.”  

These first nuns made their religious profession of vows on December 28, 1603, the Feast of the Holy Innocents. Two more young ladies joined the convent. The community grew with new vocations. Mother Ana Nunez of Jesus was the Prioress and Mother Elivira Suarez of St Joseph was the Sub prioress, Mother Juana Fajardo of St Paul was the Mistress of Novices, and Maria Vides of the Presentation was the final member of the community. 

During the time of the laws against the practice of the Catholic religion the convent suffered temporary exile and suppression. But during the convents 400 years of existence on American soil 198 Carmelites nuns have persevered in it. After the five founding Spanish ladies, the majority of the vocations came from the same Archdiocese of Pueblo. The community has had the good fortune to preserve its historical documents. It has also been able to reclaim part of the original convent, something that no other Carmel in Mexico has been able to do. 

In 1970 the original convent was restored as closely as possible to its original features. This historical convent of Puebla founded the convent in Guadalajara in 1695. In 1748 it founded a second convent in Puebla known as Soledad. In 1851 it helped in the foundation of a community in Orizaba. It also helped in the expansion of Carmel beyond Mexico. In 1984 it helped establish the Convent of Santa Cruz in Coban, Guatemala. It produced this new seed for the new millennium.  

The chronicle of Tesoro Escondido relates extensively the life of various nuns of this convent who were known for their great holiness, especially Mother Isabel Bonilla of the Incarnation (1594-1633). All of Carmel in America, North and South, celebrate with joy the IV Centenary of the first foundation of the Teresian Carmel in America. The year 2004 is, definitively, the IV Centenary of the Feminine Carmel in the New World. 

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