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Mangalore (India)

1st Mission Congress
of Asia and Oceania
( 5 )


Main Characteristics in the History

of the Teresian Carmelite Missions in Asia


 Fr. Dominic Fernández de Mendiola, OCD.

Former Rector of Alwaye Seminary, Kerala.

(Navarra province of Discalced Carmelites, Spain)


The history of the missions of Teresian Carmel in Asia presents us with some interesting

characteristics. We have two historical periods in which the Discalced Carmelites came to Asia

as missionaries. Let us examine them one by one.


I. Period of the Congregation of St. Elias (Italian Congregation) : XVII and XVIII Centuries up to the middle of XIX Century

During this period of more than 250 years, all the Carmelite missionaries coming to Asia belonged to the Italian Congregation. The Carmelite missions present the following five main characteristics.

  1. The missions were taken up in response to the invitation of the Popes, under the direction of the new Pontifical Centre for Evangelization: The Congregation of Propaganda Fide

  2. They were assumed consciously and explicitly by the Carmelites after considering the apostolic zeal and the words of St. Teresa, as the Mother Founder.

  3. These missions were situated in territories, which are the cradles of great historical religions.

  4. The missionaries, from the beginning assumed as a priority activity, the formation of local clergy in seminaries.

  5. The First martyrs of Teresian Carmel: Bl. Denis and Bl. Redemptus


Let me present a short commentary on each of these characteristics.


1. & 2. Characteristics:

The missions were taken up in response to the invitation of the Popes under the direction of the new Pontifical centre for Evangelization: The Congregation of Propaganda Fide; and they were assumed by the Carmelites after considering the apostolic zeal and the works of St. Teresa as the Mother Founder.


These first two characteristics appear intertwined among the Carmelites who went to Persia (present Iran), which was the first Discalced Carmelite Mission after the Congo Mission in Africa.


The Discalced Carmelites sent by the Pope to the mission :

In the year 1602 Pope Clement VIII appointed Carmelite Father Pedro of the Mother of God who was his confessor and Apostolic preacher, as Mission Superintendent of all catholic missions. At the death of Pope Clement in 1605, his successor Pope Paul V (1605 – 1621) reconfirmed this office of Fr. Pedro of the Mother of God and when Fr. Pedro died (1608) Pope appointed for the same office Fr. Domingo of Jesus Mary.


Exactly in those years from 1600 A.D. onwards the emperor Shah Abbas I, known as “The Great” (1587 – 1628), who showed interest in promoting commerce and cultural relationships with the Christian kings of Europe, also showed a great desire in having some personal contact with Pope Clement VIII. In answer to this desire of the Shah Abbas I, the Pope decided to send some Discalced Carmelites as his legates.


The missionary activity proper to the Teresian Carmel:

The Carmelites judged it proper to study in depth an important question: whether the missionary activity was belonging to the Discalced Carmelite Order or not. The fathers of the Italian Congregation studied this question in the years 1603 – 1604. In this crucial moment appear the decisive intervention of the great master and teacher, in the person of Fr. John of Jesus Mary, the Calahorrian (Spain). He synthesized his thoughts in two writings: the first one, “Assertum seu Tractatus quo asseruntur missiones…” in the first middle of 1603; and the second, the “Votum seu consilium pro missionibus”, related to the mission of Persia.


These two writings are brief but solid in doctrine. Fr. John demonstrated that the missions are not only permitted to our institute but they belong to it as essential. They were essential in all the “three ages” of the Order of Carmel: the first, from St. Elias to the birth of Christ; the second, from Christ to the beginning of the Discalced Carmelites, the third, from the starting of the Discalced Carmelites by St. Teresa.


Fr. John of Jesus Mary introduced this ‘last age’ with forceful words: “At last - wrote the Calahorrian (Spain), “…either we approve the spirit of the Blessed Virgin and our Mother Teresa or not; equally, either we venerate her as our founder or not. To disapprove her spirit will be a temerity, to deny her work of the foundation will be ingratitude. Therefore, being clear that the Blessed Teresa desired the missions more ardently than martyrdom and that she ordained her own works and prayers and those of her family, for the exit of those who were working in the conversion of heretics, who can deny that her idea was to obtain this through the friars, her sons by ways which were not possible to her daughters?”.


Sending to the mission of Persia – Iran – by Pope Clement VIII (1604)

Once it was clear that there was no objection to accept the missions from the part of the charism, neither from the part of the personnel, the Pope directed the Discalced Carmelites to the mission of Persia. On 6 July, 1604 with the required documents of the Pope to the Shah of Persia, the group of four Discalced Carmelites friars of the Italian Congregation - three priests, one brother and a layman - started their journey towards Persia.


Arrival to the Mission of Persia (1607):

The way to Persia was very long and difficult, passing through Poland, Russia and the Caspian sea. Brother Donado John and the lay man Francisco died on the journey. On 2 December, 1607, now it is exactly 400 years ago, the remaining three priests arrived to Isfahan, the capital city of Persia. They are Fr. Paul Simon, who much later became the Superior General of the Congregation, Fr. John Tadeo, appointed as Bishop in the year 1632 (the first Teresian Carmelite Bishop), Fr. Vincent, who opened one house in Ormuz in the year 1609 and one more house in Goa in the year 1609 – 1620.


These two characteristics of the mission of Persia are found also in the missions started in Asia in the 17th and 18th centuries. The most lasting was the Malabar mission entrusted by the Pope in 1656 (1657; 1700-1838); it gave origin to the first Apostolic Vicariate of Malabar – Verapoly, and in the 19th century to other various vicariates like, Bombay, Mangalore and Quilon. The title of Vicar Apostolic, given to the prelates, already indicates that they have the dignity and mission of a bishop, appointed by Propaganda Fide, in territories that were belonging to the jurisdiction of the Padroado (Portuguese) and in which the bishop of the Padroado could not exercise his Episcopal ministry.


3. Third Characteristic

These missions were situated in territories, which are the cradles of great historical religions.


Let us remember that the territory assigned to the Italian Congregation by Pope Clement VIII

on 13 November, 1600, in Apostolicae dignitatis culmine, was the whole world, outside the kingdoms of Spain and Portugal, in which the missionary activity was carried out under the Patronato (Spain) – Padroado (Portuguese). At that moment the Kingdoms of Spain and Portugal were extended over the continents of Africa and America, with profound religiosity without doubt but without the structures of the great historical religions.


To the Italian Congregation was assigned the vast continent of Asia, cradle of great positive historical religions with their own sacred books, structures of culture and transmission of their faith. It is enough to remember the presence of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Islamism, Confucianism etc. On some occasions the authorities of those territories prohibited conversions to Christianity. These circumstances made it that the central and dominant activity of Carmelite missionaries was to take care of the Catholic Christians residing in those territories, not excluding however the presentation of the good news to the non-Christians.


4. Fourth Characteristic

The missionaries, from the beginning assumed as a priority activity, the formation of local clergy in seminaries.


This is one of the important characteristics that continued in Asia during all the missionary activities of discalced Carmelites. All the Apostolic Vicars were aware that they could not complete their mission without the help of a well formed local, indigenous clergy. The first seminary opened for the Vicariate of Malabar was Verapoly in the year 1682. Much later in the year 1766 it was transferred to Alangad, coming back again to Verapoly in 1774. In this Seminary of Verapoly, the great linguist, Fr. Paulino of St. Bartholomew (1779 – 1789) was professor and investigator of the sacred writings of the eastern religions.


The Apostolic Vicariate of Great Mogul, later called Bombay, also thought of forming local clerics and opened one small seminary in 1770. It developed later to be the great seminary of modern Bombay.


5. Fifth Characteristic

 The First martyrs of Teresian Carmel: Bl. Denis and Bl. Redemptus


More than a characteristic of missionary activity of the Carmelites in Asia it is an inspiring fact that the first martyrs of Teresian Carmel were two professed religious of Goa: the priest, Denis of Nativity (Pedro Berthelor, born in Honfleur, France in the year1600) and Brother Redemptus of the Cross (Tomas Rodrigues da Cunha, born in Portugal in the year 1598). They suffered the martyrdom in Sumatra near the city of Achen on 29 November 1638, fourty-six years after the death of Madre Teresa. They are an inspiration for the missionaries in our present age who have to confront and undergo various types martyrdom in the process of evangelization.



II.  Period of Re-Organization of the Missions in the World and of the restoration of the Order in several countries and the unification of the Order: XIX and XX Centuries


The fourth part of the 19th century signalled the beginning of modern missions, promoted by Pope Gregory XVI (1831 – 1848), the previous Prefect of the Propaganda Fide. At the same time took place in Europe the restoration of Discalced Carmelite Order in several provinces which were suppressed during the French revolution and the following liberal governments. In the years 1839 – 1841 the Order was restored in France (by Spanish Carmelites under the Italian Congregation) and in Belgium. After some years, in 1868 the Order was restored in Spain with the Constitutions of the Italian Congregation.


The new provinces of France, of Flanders in Belgium and of St. Joaquim of Navarra in Spain assumed the task and problems of the missions with great intensity. The unification of the two Congregations of Italy and Spain into one Discalced Carmelite Order with the Constitution of the Italian Congregation in 1875, brought the arrival of missionaries of the province of St. Joaquim of Navarra and later on of the other Spanish provinces to the missions of Asia.


To the characteristics of the first period we can add the following ones.

  1. The primordial objective of the Carmelite missions is to bring the good news of the Gospel in non - Christian and the implantation of the Church.

  2. The formation of the local clergy in seminaries and the opening of centres for theological studies.

  3. The arrival of the Discalced Carmelites cloistered nuns in mission territories and the birth of indigenous Carmelite Congregations.

  4. The special relation of the missions in Asia and St. Therese of the Infant Jesus, the Patroness of the Missions.

  5. The fact of Carmelite provinces of Asia, assuming missions in India and abroad.


Let us present a brief commentary on each of these characteristics.


1.  First characteristic:

The primordial objective of the Carmelite missions is now is to bring the good news of the Gospel is non - Christian and the implantation of the Church


In fact, the Carmelite missionaries work in very fertile fields for conversions, particularly at the end of 19th century and the first quarter part of the 20th century in some regions of India, particularly in Malabar - Kerala. Those missions were nourished by an uninterrupted arrival of missionaries. Several of the missionaries were outstanding for their holiness. Three of them, the Venerable Frs. John Vincent, Aurelian and Zacharias, are on the way to Beatification


2. Second characteristic:

The formation of the local clergy in seminaries and the opening of centres for theological studies.


The opening of seminaries for the formation of diocesan clergy, initiated in the previous period, developed vigorously in this new period. The Apostolic Vicariate of Malabar was divided in 1845 into Apostolic Vicariates of Mangalore, Verapoly and Quilon. All of them put up new bases for major seminaries in their respective Vicariates that helped to form the local clergy in the modern Malabar cost of India. Mons. Bernadino Pontovana erected the seminary in Mangalore in 1846 and the new building was built by Mons. Miguel Antonio in the territory of Jeppu that formed various generations of priests until 1878 in which year the mission of Mangalore passed on to Jesuits.


For its part the Carmelite Apostolic Vicariate of Quilon, through Mons. Carlos Jacinto opened the seminary of St. Teresa in Tangassen in 1860 and Mons. Benziger constructed one new edifice in 1914-1916. In 1937 it was converted into a central seminary for the dioceses of Quilon, Trivandrum and Kotar, until 1948 in which year all the seminarians were sent to Central seminary of Alwaye. The seminary of Alwaye became the successor of the ancient seminary of Verapoly that was transferred to Puthempally in 1866. It became the central Pontifical Seminary of all the dioceses of Latins and Syrians of Malabar entrusted to the province of St. Joachim of Navarra in 1932.


Transferred to Alwaye in 1932, the Pontifical Seminary was growing in all dimensions: in number of seminarians, and in centres of formation. With the campus proper to Philosophy (Carmelgiri in 1955), and Theology (Mangalapuza from its inception), with the formation houses of religious congregations around, and finally in the years 1972 – 1973 with the erection of a faculty of theology and philosophy (Pontifical Institute of Theology and Philosophy).


3. Third characteristic:

The arrival of the Discalced Carmelites cloistered nuns in mission territories and the birth of indigenous Carmelite Congregations.


The second half of the 19th century witnessed the first foundations of Discalced Carmelite nuns in the Asiatic continent in the extreme East, in India, and in the middle east, in concrete, in modern Israel. In the extreme east we have the foundation in 1861 of the Carmel of Saigon in Vietnam opened by the community of Lisieux (France); from Saigon came out a new foundation in 1895 at Hanoi in the North of Vietnam. This new community of Hanoi asked for a reinforcement of personnel from the Carmel of Lisieux; some of the sisters of young Therese and also herself were the possible candidates to go to Hanoi.


 In India we have in 1870 (year of Vatican I) the important foundation of Mangalore Carmel, from the religious of the Carmel of Pau (France). It was giving consistency to the existing Carmel of Pondichery existing from 1859 as a fruit of the transformation of the group of devout women gathered in 1748 according to the spirit of St. Teresa.


Related to the Carmels of Saigon, Mangalore, Liseux and Pau came out three Carmels founded in the Holy Land and Palestine in the last third part of the 19th century: they are, Bethlehem and Jerusalem, both in 1875 and Haifa in 1891.


A decisive impulse to the missionary activity of the Carmelites in Asia particularly in India was the birth and rise of indigenous religious congregations of both men and women animated with the Carmelite spirit in the 19th century. At the beginning, both men and women were related to the Carmelite Order as Tertiaries. Among the male religious we have the Congregation of the Syro-Malabar rite of Mannanam, called today as “Carmelites of Mary Immaculate” (C.M.I.) and the Congregation of the Latin rite of Manjummel, which today is one of the provinces of the Teresian Carmel in India.


Among the feminine congregations, two were initiated in 1866 in Koonamavu, one of Syro-Malabar rite - the “Congregation of the Mother of Carmel” (C.M.C.), and the other one of Latin rite – the “Congregation of Teresian Carmelites” (C.T.C.). The Congregation of “Apostolic Carmel” (A.C.), initiated in 1868 at Bayonne (France), established itself in Mangalore (India) in the year 1870. The “Congregation of the Carmelite Religious” (C.C.R.), was founded at Trivandrum in 1880, and the congregation of “Carmelite Sisters of St. Teresa” (C.S.S.T.) was founded at Ernakulam in 1887. The work of these congregations mainly in the fields of education, works of charity, and social and health services, as a Christian reply to the needs of the society has been very significant in India and abroad.


4. Fourth Characteristic:

The special relation of the missions in Asia and St. Therese of Infant Jesus, the Patroness of the Missions


The missions in Asia attracted and nourished the apostolic zeal of St. Therese of the Infant Jesus, while she was living. It is enough to remember her letters to her “brother missionary” Fr. Roulland in China, her devotion to the young missionary Teofano Venard, martyred in Tonkin at the age of 31 and her availability to give herself to the recently founded community of Hanoi, if health and obedience permitted her to go there.


The Carmelite missionaries from their part in Asia were pioneers in putting their missionary work under the protection of St. Therese of Lisieux. The missionaries of India, and in concrete the diocese of Quilon had the privilege of erecting the first church dedicated to the Little Flower in the world. Archbishop Mons. Aloysius Benziger while the process of beatification was going on requested the permission of the Holy See to erect one church dedicated to the Little Flower in the new Christian centre of Thungampara in the mission of Neyattinkara. Little Therese was Beatified by Pope Pius XI on 29 April, 1924 and two weeks later the first church dedicated to her in Malabar was inaugurated by Archbishop Benziger, surrounded by 13 Carmelite Missionaries.


5. Fifth characteristic

 The fact of Carmelite provinces of Asia, assuming missions in India and abroad.


 In the final decades of the 20th century the Carmelite provinces of Asia assumed missions in India and abroad. These missions were understood, as in the whole Church, as “missionary co-operation” to “young churches”. It has been a great contribution of the missionary activity of the whole Order.


1. Provinces of India: This new missionary activity of the Order started after the formation of various provinces in 1981: the province of Malabar assumed missions in Jalandhar and Ranchi; Manjummel in states of Andhra Pradesh and Orissa in India and in Flores (Indonesia); Karnataka – Goa in Tanzania and South Africa; South Kerala in Calcutta, and Tamil Nadu in Chattisgarh.


2. Taiwan, from its part helped in opening two foundations in Singapore.





Today God is blessing the Teresian Carmelite family in Asia, with many good vocations. The last characteristic that we have just mentioned above - that the provinces of Asia are assuming missions in various parts of the world - makes us to see the future with great hope and joy in the third millennium that we have already entered.


A deep examination of the attitudes, words and actions of St. Teresa, our Mother Founder and of her immediate collaborators make us sure of two realities regarding our charism which are interconnected: (1) The Teresian Carmel does not exist in the Church with the proper fecundity desired by God without cultivating the personal prayer - being alone (a solas) with God, (2) at the same time the Teresian Carmel cannot exist with such fecundity without orientating the whole life to the apostolic and missionary end, in the form of contemplative life for the nuns and in the form of apostolic and missionary activity for the friars.



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