The Carmelite Missions cover many
geographical areas: Africa, Asia, Latin
America, Eastern Europe …They are developing
in different contexts and situations,
sometimes in emergency situations, striving
continuously to be inculturated, but always
with the commitment to serving the Church
and society, especially the poor. The
missions force us to think about our
neighbours. Together with our prayers,
our missions are the most important element
of the Order.
I touched down this time in Colombia.
The former classical missionary location of
this country for us Carmelites was the
Apostolic Prefecture of Uraba (1918-1941),
amidst the indigenous people, in the gulf of
Darian. Then, from 1954 on, it became
the diocese of Tumaco on the Pacific coast
with Bishop Mgr. Gustavo Giron Higuita,
which gave birth to further growth that we
will now speak about.
The Boyaca Area
What is particularly interesting about the
people from this area is the way they speak
Spanish, which seems frozen in time and
would have been more familiar to the ears of
St. Teresa. This region is in the
centre of the country, and East of the
Andes. It extends over 23,189 square
kilometers, with an approximate population
of 1,200,000. The administration is
divided into 123 municipalities. The
city of Tunja is the capital of the area.
Agriculture and cattle farming are the
principle sources of income. The natural
resources consist of coal, chalk, lime, as
well as emeralds and oil. There is also an
iron and steel industry, commercial
development, a tourist industry and in
recent times a fabric industry.
The indigenous population is 2,000 people.
There are 35 hospitals in the area, 3
clinics, 37 health centres, 186 other kinds
of health centres, 254 doctors attached to
2,403 centres. Houses with running
water represent 61.5% of the total, and
87.7% have electricity. 46.8% of the
below the poverty line. 15.75% over the age
of 15 cannot read or write.
We now come to the history of this land.
For the Muiscas Indians, who live
here, this land is considered to be paradise
on earth. According to a local
tradition Adam and Eve used bathe in the
water of the local lake. 2,500 years
ago, these same indigenous people built a
sanctuary here dedicated to the sun-god.
Explorers and archaeologists have
successfully saved more than 50 columns of
the colossal temple. They also found
an observatory. In the area there is a
280 million year old dinosaur fossil.
The whole area contains many fossils making
it a place of particular interest.
Villa de Leyva
Less than 200 kilometers from Bogotá, and
2,145 meters above sea level, is the
historical, enchanting and haunting town of
the Boyacan people. It was founded in
1572 by Andrew Diaz Venero from Leyva, who
gave the place its name. Here I met
the most splendid example of colonial art in
the whole of Colombia. It is a city of 7,000
people who all live in very simple and
similar houses: white walls with green
balconies and verandas, every building the
same style and colour. The streets and
squares are paved. Yes Villa de Leyva was
once a place where people came to relax and
today attracts many tourists who stand
opened mouthed in admiration. It is
understandable that the local artisan
industry should be really thriving.
At the time of the Republic of the New
Granada those involved in the Independence
movement passed through this place: Bolivar,
Narino, Caldas, Fernandez Madrid… It was
here that the Council or Assembly of the
Republic met in 1812 to affirm the
sovereignty of the Republic of Colombia.
Villa de Leyva is without doubt one of the
most Carmelite cities in the world. The
convent of our Carmelite nuns dates from
1645. Its most precious relic is
between the painting of our Lady and a
statue of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, and is
called the “Mechudita”. But the
vitality of the convent is really to be seen
in the community of 25 nuns. They have
made other foundations in Colombia, together
with other communities.
In front of the nuns is the Priory of the
Carmelite Friars. They came here at
the insistence of the nuns in 1911. It
has always been the Novitiate. There
are wide verandas, covered with potted
plants and flowers, a reflection of the five
novices. The Priory has organized an
interesting Carmelite museum.
There is a hotel-welcome centre, called
“Duruelo”, surrounding the house. It
was built by the Carmelites and is a good
source of income. It is good for tourism and
a source of employment for the town. This
place is one of solace for the spirit, to
meet God while relaxing and surrounded by
beauty. The income contributes to the
expenses of the formation of the young
Carmelites. The architecture is
impressive, cleverly combining space and
depth with concrete. It has a capacity for
380 guests and is a good place for meetings
The “St. Teresa of Avila” Foundation
I would like to speak now about the blessed
Saint Joseph and Fr. Joseph Arsesio Escobar.
The Patriarch of Nazareth works here
unceasingly. Also if you ask him
unceasingly he will obtain many miracles.
Fr. Joseph Arsesio Escobar is a Colombian
Carmelite who has the rare ability to
convert dreams and utopias into reality…with
the inestimable help of the “our most
glorious Father Saint Joseph”. The words are
from St. Teresa (Life 36:5) that
are repeated in
our day here in this mission of Villa de
Joseph Arsesio Escobar began a difficult and
dangerous ministry to which he was extremely
committed in helping prostitutes and
children who were abused. The missionary
work of Villa de Leyva began a long time
ago, but in 1995 the community began working
with poor families living on the outskirts
of the town. The work consists in
helping these people to build homes.
Fr. Joseph Arsesio, Director of Novices
since 2000, gets his novices to help these
poor people build houses.
Distance was a problem. In order to
overcome this the
community bought a piece of land close to
the novitiate. And in 2003 they
created the “St. Teresa of Avila”
foundation. The following year they were
given permission by the State to begin the
work. The local Bishop of Chiquinquira
was also involved. Thanks to God’s
providence and the intercession of St.
Joseph they were able to buy this land.
Already it is functioning as a health
centre. A mother protecting her abused
children keeps vigil over the property.
There is also a kindergarten attended by
more than 70 children, with 5 adults looking
In the same building they are constructing
“St. Joseph’s shelter” for poor abandoned
and infirm, elderly people: there are
presently16 residents and 30 coming for day
care. The Sisters who run the centre
live on the first floor. A common
chapel is used together with a spirituality
centre, where there is perpetual adoration,
space for retreats, spiritual exercises, and
days of prayer… There is a plan to create a
place of contemplation, a workshop for local
crafts, and a fossil museum to attract
visitors. They are planning to build
20 new houses for poor and single parent
The whole of Leyva town is following
enthusiastically the developments of this
bold undertaking. After the Sunday
Eucharist the people sell food and drink to
raise funds for the project. There is
a great spirit of family among all those
involved. The “St. Teresa of Avila”
foundation is a work of the Spirit, and of
The Apostolic Carmel of Our Lady of Bethlehem
It is the title of a Carmelite Congregation
founded in 1852 in Nantes (France) by Fr.
Gilbert Bauduz and Marie Guillet, a member
of the secular order. It is an
Institution that has developed over the
years and has always been oriented towards
Carmel. Its basic apostolate is
looking after problem children and their
families. They will be taking up the
challenge in Leyva town at the “St. Teresa
of Avila” foundation. Their tasks will
be many: as there are no limits when one is
ministering to the poor to promote religion
and basic human needs.
This is the first time that the Congregation
has left France and its first missionary
adventure. But the “St. Teresa of
Avila” foundation was born of faith and will
continue in faith. For this reason,
only in faith have the Sisters, without any
international experience till now, accepted
this undertaking. It will be a new chapter
in the history of their Congregation.
But the three or four sisters who will come
here next September are ready to meet the
challenges that the future holds for them.
In this exploratory visit I accompanied
their General and her Assistant. The
entire Carmelite family in Colombia,
individuals and Church groups, welcomed them
and showed a great deal of interest in what
they were about to undertake. It was as if
they were a kind of guarantee to the local
people that what they were doing was
working. The visiting Sisters were
duly impressed. The local Bishop saw in them
a bridge to establish a scheme to twin the
dioceses of Chiquinquira and Nantes.
Anything we can do is a contribution for the
mission to the Church in Latin America. It
is important that we respond to the warning
of the Puebla document (1979): “If the
Church does not reinterpret the religion of
the Latin-American people, it will produce a
vacuum that will be occupied by sects,
messianic secular politics, consumerism that
produces disgust and indifference or a
harvest of pagan sexuality…”
The “St. Teresa of Avila” foundation is for
the body as well as the soul; it is for
those who are marginalized in society.
It is a mission with spirituality: here, in
Colombia, in Villa de Leyva, one kilometer
from the centre. I would like to
repeat my earlier conviction: this work was
born of faith, and is developing in faith.
It is an undertaking that has been blessed
by God for the future. In imitation of
St. Teresa, in the great times of her
foundations, here too St. Joseph has been
accredited as the Protector.