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News
Mangalore (India)

1st Mission Congress
of Asia and Oceania
( 2 )

 

 

The Nature and Spirit of the Carmelite Missions

 

   Fr. Dámaso Zuazua, OCD

General Secretary for the Missions,

Discalced Carmelites.

 

 The era of globalization in which we now live, presents a heavy challenge to consecrated life and, therefore, to Carmel. There is the danger of a scattering of concepts, of convictions, of options, and of priorities that could have an effect on our Carmelite vocation. In this new cultural universe we move in, with such a variety of information, of new ideological offerings and attractive theories, there is an ever-increasing need for us to discern, to scrutinize and to revise just what are the valid motivations for our life. There is a strong need to reaffirm ourselves, to base ourselves firmly on the convictions making up the Teresian charism. At this time in the life of the Order it would be useful and timely to adhere to the missionary dimension of our vocation. This will give us a focus, and guide us on the road to be followed in Carmel.

 The missionary aspect of our calling is an essential component of the Teresian vocation. It is not something that is optional, expedient or superfluous.[1] Rather, it forms part of our genetic makeup. Right from the beginning of the foundation of St Joseph's, the Holy Mother herself infused into Carmel her missionary desires. In the writings of Teresa there are striking and well-known references to this topic.

 A deep and faithful expert on Teresian thought, such as Fr. Gracián, in this way describes the importance St. Teresa of Jesus placed on the missionary aspect of Carmel: “Anyone looking to discover the spirit of the Discalced Order of Carmel in all its detail and perfection, by using Mother Teresa of Jesus, would find within her writings such a strong prayer and an ardent zeal for souls, that thousands of times she longed to be able to have the freedom, talents and opportunities that men have to draw souls to God by preaching, confessing, converting nations, even to shedding their blood for Christ. She never demanded anything of me except that I would not stop preaching, giving me much advice and counsel on the matter, and I was to be concerned with things that removed what was offensive to God and that led souls to heaven. She said that, when souls are on their way to hell, it was impossible to have true love for Jesus Christ who was crucified and died for souls, and to remain locked away under the excuse of obtaining some quietness for the soul. This is why we were all formed from the beginning in this vocation to go to convert nations; and it was so effective and fervent, that nothing else was discussed with such seriousness in our monasteries.”[2]

 This witness comes from the very first moments of the Teresian Carmel, “among the first fruits of the spirit.”[3] Another important period of rethinking our Carmelite vocation took place at the time of the restoration of the Order in Spain (Markina, 1868). Someone who could really tell us about that period is the Venerable Fr John Vincent of Jesus Mary (1862-1943). He was a missionary in Kerala for 17 years. He offers us this reflection: The sons of St Teresa are truly the fruit of the cries and tears of Our Mother, saddened and solicitous for the salvation of the millions of souls without faith in distant lands, who are going to be lost because of the lack of preaching and missionaries. This is why I have here what we Discalced Carmelites are 'de ventre matris meae', from the very womb of our mother. Our holy mother Teresa conceived us in the hermitage of the garden of her first convent, which means that we are essentially hermits, like our ancient Fathers of Carmel, hermits above all; but she conceived us between longings and tears for the salvation of non–believers, and this means that we are essentially missionaries. In the intimate meeting of these two lives, eremitical and apostolic, both aspects raised together to their greatest perfection, lies the “quid”, the characteristic, the particular nature of the sons of that Mother who, to the highest degree, managed to unite in herself the sublime contemplative life of Mary with the active and caring life of Martha".[4]

 On another occasion, this same conviction was expressed by the Venerable Fr John Vincent in similar words, concluding with this statement: “Action without contemplation would not be Carmelite; contemplation without action would not be Teresian.”[5] With these presuppositions, missionary work forms an integral part of our charism, it will do no more than consolidate our vocation and make it robust in the face of the various offers and fragmentation of Marshall McLuhan’s global village.

 

 2. Fruit of Missionary Work

 

 The Carmelites arrived in the Orient in 1607, with the foundation of Isfahan, in Persia. An off-shoot from it was established in 1613, in Tatta, today Pakistani territory. In 1620 they came to Goa. The usefulness of a foundation here had been foreseen by the Venerable John of Jesus Mary already in 1613. In 1632 Fr. José Elías, who had been residing in Goa, set out with another missionary to examine the prospect of establishing Carmel in Malabar. They set up residences in the Diocese of Cochin and in the Archdiocese of Angamally. Ten years later in 1642, Fr. José Alexio and Fr. Sebastian, also from Goa, paid a visit to Malabar, with the intention of establishing a religious house. Having failed in their initial venture, they set up the Fraternity of the Scapular of Carmel, which grew in an extraordinary manner in the ancient church of Kuravilangad.[6]

 But Carmel's true epic in India began on February 2nd, 1656, with the arrival by sea of Fr. Giuseppe (Sebastiani) of Santa Maria and of Fr. Giacinto (Catini) of San Vincente. On February 22nd, 1657, they settled down in Parur, their place of destination.

 In the midst of many other endeavors, they had already begun the classic Missions of Mount Carmel, Mesopotamia, Syria, ... Less well-known is the existence of a Mission in China which began in 1719 and lasted up until 1791.[7] While all this is interesting, I do not want to take up time by recounting a lot of historical data which belongs to another conference on the program for these days.

 With the missionary expansion of the twentieth century, we arrive at the Carmelite countries and circumscriptions represented here. It would not do to forget the brief existence of the new Mission in continental China from 1947 to 1951.

 The Order was implanted in the Orient for Mission. Mission gave birth to Carmel in several countries of the Orient. Our Carmelite presence in this continent is the fruit of missionary work. This first observation is deduced from its consequences. It is the first consideration that has to be evaluated. Born from missionary work, we exist for missionary work.

 

3. Let us always consolidate our missionary work

 

 We are fortunate to have the eloquent testimony of the Provinces in India, all of which have been committed to some sort of missionary work. This would also be the time to appreciate more the significance of the proto martyrs of the Teresian family, Blesseds Denis and Redemptus (+ 1638), who gave their lives for the faith during the initial period of establishing Carmel in Asia. It would be handy to place more emphasis on their martyrdom, so that Carmelites from the orient would be left with a clear awareness of mission and always maintained an alert attention towards it.

 Carmel was born in the Orient as missionary, and it must be consolidated as a missionary Order, as in other parts of the world. In his missionary encyclical, John Paul II reminds us: “Faith is made strong by handing it on.”[8] This principle can be applied to ourselves as well: The Order is strengthened and consolidates itself when, from its poverty, it gives members and vital strength with generosity and hope.

 How will the Order in the Orient remain missionary and how will it be able to boost its missionary capacity and missionary charism? Faced with this question, it would be worthwhile to read in a meditative manner “Ecclesia in Asia” (1999) and “Ecclesia in Oceania” (2001), reflecting on their guidelines. Also of help would be to remember the objectives of the recent First Missionary Congress of Asia, which took place in October of 2006, in Chiang Mai, Thailand: 1) to share the joy and enthusiasm of our faith in Jesus Christ, 2) to celebrate Asian ways of mission through witness in the midst of life realities, 3) to deepen awareness in the Asian Churches about the renewed understanding of mission Ad Gentes during and since the Second Vatican Council, 4) to highlight priorities for a renewed mission animation.[9]

 Pope John Paul II appropriately remembers that in this part of the world, “the issue of the encounter of Christianity with ancient local cultures and religions is a pressing one. This is a great challenge for evangelization, since religious systems such as Buddhism or Hinduism have a clearly soteriological character.”[10] At the plenary Assembly of the Federation of the Episcopal Conferences of Asia, gathered in Manila, the Pope presented evangelism as “your absolute priority.”

 That Carmel remain missionary in Asia and Oceania, that Carmel become more missionary in these regions, with effective commitment, is a duty we should worry about. It is the duty we should be teaching from the early years of training, in our novitiates and other formation houses. This is the wish that I present to those taking part in this Carmelite Missionary Encounter. If we accentuate this line of action, we will work at the same time for the consolidation of the Carmelite vocation. Missionary work always spreads a fruitful dynamism.

 A practical outcome of our Mangalore Reunion could be, if we decide, to organize in all our circumscriptions, periodic courses or cursillos on missionary history, on Carmel's missionary spirit, for our new members in formation, novices and students.

 

****

[1] The statement comes from the Venerable Fr John of Jesus Mary (1564-1615). He gives an example and justifies it in these words: "Missionum desideria Fratribus nostris a Deo, qui cor Virginis (Theresiae) probavit, inspirata existimemus" (Tratactus quo asseruntur Missiones et rationes adversae refelluntur, cap. II, n. 12, in Missionary writings, Bruxelles 1998 p. 174.

[2] Jerome Gracián of the Mother of God, Escolias a la Vida de Santa Teresa compuesta per el P. Ribera. Edition of J. L. Astigarraga, in Eph. Carm. 32 (1981) 372-373.

[3] St John of the Cross, Living Flame 2: 12.

[4] Sermon of 30-05-1918. Original in La Obra Máxima, San Sebastián.

[5] La Provincia de S. Joaquín de Navarra y su exposición en Paris, in El Monte Carmelo, n. 426 (1918), p. 367.

[6] Antoney George Pattaparambil, A Study of "Viaggio alle Indie Orientali" of Paulinus a S. Bartholomaeo: Towards an Ecclesiastical Historiography of Malabar/Kerala (1776-1789). Rome 2007, pp. 22-23.

[7] Ambrosius a S. Teresia, Monasticon Carmelitanum, Rome 1950, p. 262.

[8] Redemptoris missio, n. 2.

[9] Judetette A. Gallares, rc, An Account of the Asian Mission Congress 2006, in Religious Life Asia. Quezon City IX/1 30.

[10] Tertio millennio adveniente, n. 38

 

 
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