With the words “Today a great work begins,” pronounced by Mosén Antonio Claret, gathered with five young priests in a small room of the Seminary of Vic, on July 16, 1849, the life of the Congregation of the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary takes off.
Claret’s initiative was not improvised. For a long time he had been thinking about the convenience, first of all, of preparing priests for the preaching of the Gospel, and then, of getting together with those who were animated “by his own spirit,” to do with them, what he could not do alone. His experience as an itinerant missionary throughout Catalonia and the Canaries had carried him to the conviction that the people needed to be evangelized and that there were not enough priests prepared and zealous for this mission. However, as Claret himself recognized, it was not his own idea, but a divine inspiration that led him to set in motion an enterprise as risky as it was fragile: “how important could it be, since we were so young and so few?” Manuel Vilaró exclaimed, one of the priests gathered in the Seminary of Vic.
Had it not been God’s own, the circumstances in which this work had been born propitiated its failure. Twenty days after the foundation, the news reached Fr. Claret of his appointment as Archbishop of Cuba, which he had to accept, in spite of his resistance. The Congregation remained in the hands of God and under the guide of one of the co-founders, Fr. Stephen Sala, who died in 1858.
At this moment, another one of the co-founders, José Xifré, assumes the leadership. Archbishop Claret, called to Madrid in 1857 to become Confessor of Queen Isabel II, tried to be very close to the new Superior General and to all the missionaries: he participated in the General Chapters, wrote the Constitutions which were approved by the Holy See on February 11, 1870, a few months before his death, gave directives and financially contributed in their needs. For the Congregation and by order of the Superior General, he wrote his Autobiography in 1862.
The Congregation suffered a new and serious trial. With the 1968 revolution the Congregation was civilly suppressed, a good number of missionaries had to take refuge in France and the Archbishop Claret had to go into exile, where he died a holy death in 1870. This is the time of the first martyr, Fr. Francis Crusats. However, the Founder could still see with great satisfaction how houses were being founded in different regions of Spain and even reached Algiers and Chile.
Fr. José Xifré’s generalate lasted more than 41 years, since 1858 to 1899. When his mandate began, the Congregation had 1 house and 16 persons; when he died, the Institute had 61 houses and close to 1,300 missionaries.
Once the monarchy was reinstated in Spain in 1875, the Congregation could recover the houses of which it had been dispossessed by the revolution and an era of expansion began, not only in Spain but also in Africa and America.
The missions of Cuba (1880), Equatorial Guinea (1883) and Mexico (1884) deserve to be emphasized. The missionaries developed an impressive apostolic, cultural and social work, in many cases with enormous sacrifices, including the life of the missionaries. Let it suffice to say, as an example, that the 11 missionaries that formed the first expedition to Cuba, except two, died a few weeks after their arrival to the island.
The growth in number required the establishment of formation centres. And with the expansion, the juridical reorganization of the Congregation into Provinces became necessary to give place to better governance.
The process of consolidation and expansion was constant. The Congregation was becoming present in several countries of Europe, America and China. It developed its ministry of preaching the Gospel both in its traditional forms (popular missions and spiritual exercises) and in other new ones for the Congregation (teaching and parishes). Magazines were founded and publishing houses were opened, everything in line with the Claretian inspiration of the apostolate of the pen.
Trials and sufferings were not lacking either in these years: during the Mexican revolution (1927) Fr. Andrés Solá died a martyr; and in the Spanish war (1936) 271 missionaries -fathers, brothers and students-, obtained the palm of martyrdom, among whom were the 51 Blessed Martyrs of Barbastro. In 1949 all the Claretian Missionaries were expelled from China.
In 1949 the Congregation celebrated the first centenary of its life. It had then 2,638 professed members and 160 novices. The Congregation had become international: it was present in 25 countries and the Superior General, elected that same year, was Fr. Peter Schweiger, a German.
The canonization of the Founder, Anthony Mary Claret, on May 7, 1950, marked a congregational historic milestone. It was not only the recognition of a man’s holiness, but above all, a Church’s back-up to the work of the Congregation.
The celebration of the Vatican II Council had a great importance, because of its effect in the congregational renewal, in the deepening in the very Claretian identity within the Church and in a new missionary impulse. This renewal process continued being reaffirmed in the following years, simultaneously with the expansion of the Congregation in Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe. Not only positions have been opened in new countries, but also new fronts and pastoral activities: basically, biblical centres, renewed popular missions, specific service to the consecrated, specific commitments to justice, peace and the safeguard of creation, presence among the poor, marginalized and migrants, promotion of social communications media and interreligious dialogue.
In 1999 we reached the 150 years of the life of the Congregation of the Claretian Missionaries. A guarantee of its fidelity to the mission received and, at the same time, a motive of suffering and of glory have been the martyrdom of our Filipino brother, Fr. Rohel Gallardo, in May, 2000, the persecutions, kidnappings and all forms of violence suffered during these years in different parts of the world.
The XXIV General Chapter unanimously approved a mission at the UN. The Claretians already had some access to the United Nations Organizations but in 2009 the Department of Public Information (DPI) confirmed the Associated NGO Statute to the Congregation.
During this period, new independent delegations emerged due to the important vocational growth and maturity acquired by the various congregational areas in Africa and Asia. In June 2010 the Independent Delegation of Korea officially started. Two years later, in July 2012, Congo and Cameroon began to operate as independent organisms, leaving Gabon as a Mission dependent on the General Government. In February 2012, once the conflict in the island was over, the mission of Sri Lanka became the Dependent Delegation of Sri Lanka dependent to Deutschland.
If something is characterized in this stage of the history of the Congregation, it is through the processes of reorganization carried out. In January 2011, the First Chapter of the newly created Province of Peru-Bolivia was held in Lima. In February of 2011 the new Province of the United States is constituted, resulting from the union of the until then Provinces of USA East and USA West. On July 16, 2011 begins the journey of the newly constituted Province called San Jose del Sur, which involves the Organisms of Argentina and Chile plus the missions of Humahuaca (Argentina) and Paraguay, dependent respectively on the Provinces of Bética and Santiago.
In October 2011, the new Directory of the Congregation was published, reflecting the legal innovations adopted since the publication of the previous 1999 Directory. These innovations aim to “promote a vigorous missionary life and encourage a bold and creative response to the apostolic challenges of the world. from today”.
Another model of reorganization is that of the new Continental Conferences. The first had been the division in two of the Asian Conference in 2007: ASCLA EAST AND ASCLA WEST. The new Conference of America, which brings together the previous CICLA and NACLA, came to be called MICLA and brought together all the organisms of America. It was formally constituted in March 2012. The other Conference was the European (ECLA) which was born in January 2013 and joined the two previous European conferences: Iberia and CEC.
An era rich in congregational film events of different ranks. We list them: In Spain, Miniseries about Mons. Pedro Casaldáliga “Descalzos sobre la tierra roja”. Two episodes about his life centered on the fight for the peasants of Mato Grosso. And TV report about the mother house of Vic on TV3. Premiere of the movie “Un Dios Prohibido”, about the Claretian martyrs of Barbastro. Spanish TV presented a program on PROCLADE and the Claretian mission in Honduras. In Mexico: premiere of “La Cristiada”, with great success in Mexico and the United States. It relates the time of struggle for religious freedom, where martyr died, among others, our Fr. Andrea Solá.
Several of our missionaries were elected at this stage Presidents of the respective Conferences of National Religious: Fr. Henry Omonisaye of the Conference of Nigeria, Fr. Luis Ángel de las Heras of the Spanish Conference, Fr. Leo Dalmao of the Conference of Philippines and Fr. Artur Texeira of the Portuguese Conference.
On October 13, 2013, 23 Claretian martyrs from Sigüenza, Fernán Caballero and Tarragona were beatified in Tarragona, Spain, along with other almost five hundred other martyrs of the Spanish Civil War. The celebration was presided over by Cardinal Angelo Amato, with the attendance of some 25,000 people, including a large number of Claretians presided by the Superior General and his Council. The beatification of the first Colombian martyr, Jesús Aníbal Gómez, Claretian missionary. Their Liturgical Memoria is celebrated on October 13.
The month of June 2014 created a new Organism was constituted composed of the Province of USA and the Delegation of Canada under the name of “USA-Canada Province”. That same month and year the new Independent Delegation of “St. Charles Lwanga” was created, which integrated the missions of East Africa: Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya.
In 2014, the long-awaited work of Fr. Jaume Sidera, the biography of Father Xifré was published in 3 volumes. The biography, deeply valued by the experts, also became a point of reference about the origin and development of the Congregation.
In 2015, the new statistics of the Congregation are published. In them it appears that the total number of the Claretian Missionaries was 3,002. Of them 20 bishops, 2,176 priests, 1 permanent deacon, 157 brothers, 533 students and 115 novices. At that time, the Congregation added 34 Major Organisms and 458 Minor Organisms (houses).
In 2015, the “Pere Casaldáliga Prize for Solidarity” was awarded to the Casal Claret Association of Vic. Shortly afterwards, the Spanish Catholic Mission of Paris awarded the Medal of Honor to Emigration by the Spanish Minister of Employment and Social Security. Also in June this year the Claretian College Valls was awarded the Prize for Civic Initiative 2015. That June Maximino Cerezo Barredo received from the Spanish magazine Alandar its annual award in recognition of its work in building a better and fairer world with its religious murals both in Spain and in Latin America. In the month of August Uniclaretiana of Colombia received from the OCHA and the IEH the recognition to the best investigation in the category of Approach of Rights. In Rome, in October, Father Pablo Largo received the “Renè Laurentin-pro Ancilla Domini” Prize at the “Marianum” Theological Faculty.
After 105 years of taking responsibility for the “Mission of Our Lady Queen of Angels” in the city of Los Angeles (USA), commonly called “La Placita”, it was surrendered to the Diocese in the month of June. It closed a beautiful Claretian missionary history in which thousands of Latin American immigrants had taken refuge.
The month of August 2015 was the XXV General Chapter in Rome under the theme “Witnesses and Messengers of the Joy of the Gospel.” During the Chapter, Father Mathew Vattamattam, a native of India, and until then General Prefect of Formation, was elected as the new Superior General. During the Chapter a new congregational stage was designed in which the Congregation was invited to enter into a process in tune with a church going-forth that at all times testifies to the joy of the Gospel. During the Audience to the Holy Father, Pope Francis invited the Claretians to “adore, walk and accompany”.
In November, the Claretian missionaries began a new mission in Hong Kong, assuming a parish in the periphery titled of the Epiphany, the largest in the territory of the diocese, since it covers half of the island of Lantao, the largest of Hong Kong. On the other hand, the Claretians of India visited Kathmandu, Nepal, taking the decision to collaborate with five people in two district centers for the year 2016 with the intention of taking on a mission in that country in the future. Likewise, the Claretian missionaries of the Province of Poland opened a new mission in Koudougou, Burkina Faso, 75 km away. From Ouagadougou, the capital of the country. They assumed a parish titled Our Lady of Mercy.
In a letter of the month of December 2015, Fr. General announces the start of the process of reorganization of the Congregation in Europe that will include the following Provinces: Bética-Portugal-United Kingdom-Ireland; Catalunya-EuskalHerría-Francia-Italia; Germany-Poland and Santiago. Always with the aim of forming one Province in the future.
In December 2015, the Holy Father appointed Bishop Rubén González Obispo de Poce, in Puerto Rico. In February 2016, news of the appointment of Fr. Jacek Kicinski as auxiliary bishop of Wroclaw in Poland arrived. Bishop Angel Garachana was elected president of the Episcopal Conference of Honduras. In March, Father Luis Ángel de las Heras was appointed Bishop of Mondoñedo-Ferrol in Spain. And two bishops died during this time: in August of August 2015 Mons. Carlos M. Ariz and in Spain in June of 2016 Bishop Luis Gutiérrez. On November 14, His Holiness Pope Francis appointed Fr. Argemiro de Azevedo, CMF, Bishop of Assis, in Brazil.
On December 22, Pope Francis authorized the beatification of 109 Spanish Claretian martyrs: Mateu Casals, priest, Teófilo Casajús, student, and Ferran Saperas, brother, and companions. And they were beatified on October 21, 2017 at the Basilica of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain.
In the first quarter of 2018, the Statistics of the Congregation is 2,938 Members, 467 Houses, 20 Bishops, 1 Permanent Deacon, 132 Brothers, 2204 Priests, 455 Professed, 125 Novices.
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