Peace and Reconciliation in the Life and Mission of the Claretians
Peace and Reconciliation in the Congregation’s Life and Mission
Josep Maria Abella cmf
Bishop of Fukuoka
Former Superior General Claretians
Witnesses of peace in our communities
We have all known people who radiate peace around them. We have met them within our community, our families, and the different places life has taken us. They are people of different ages, with different roles and responsibilities, coming from multiple cultural backgrounds. In any case, we discover in them some common traits: humility, concern for the well-being of those around them, discretion, and a capacity to “know how to be” that makes them feel close to us without being in the way. As a result, we feel at ease with these people. They communicate peace. Their attitudes and life testimony do not “accuse” anyone; they simply “invite” to live with joy and hope, not to be anxious.
All Claretians have been graced with the presence of some of these people in the different communities of the Congregation where we have been sent. Each one will remember faces and names, relive situations, and feel deep gratitude towards them again. They have helped us to grow. On further reflection, we discover in these people a solid spirituality that sustains the harmony we perceive in their lives. In the lives of these brothers, we verify what the Constitutions tell us in number 10: “Love of God and our brothers has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit and builds up our communion. It is the first and most necessary gift by which we are configured as true disciples of Christ. Therefore, our whole missionary life is governed and informed by this love.” They are people centered on their vocation. This gives them joy and flexibility.
I believe this is the first area we should consider in reflecting on the experience of peace and reconciliation in our congregational history. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus proclaimed in the Sermon on the Mount. Let us thank God for the presence of these brothers who have “educated” us in the culture of peace.
Peace and reconciliation in an increasingly pluralistic community.
Throughout its history, the Congregation has opened itself to new cultural contexts that have enriched the cultural and charismatic patrimony of the Institute but at the same time have meant facing tensions and conflicts. Reviewing the history of the Congregation, we become aware of this.
Our missionaries went out to new horizons full of enthusiasm and generosity. They went out to announce the Good News of the Kingdom of God. They were driven by missionary zeal. We have always admired and continue to respect this availability. However, for various reasons, they did not always know how to recognize sufficiently the values of the new cultures they encountered, often feeling “superior” to the people to whom they were sent. Only over time, deepening their relationship with the people and people who had welcomed them, our missionaries came to love them with true passion. They became part of those peoples, studied their culture, and gave their lives to them. It was a process of encounter that demanded, both personally and institutionally, a remarkable effort of openness and conversion. The fact that the missionaries were sent for life helped them to become more integrated into the people and their cultures.
The next step was to welcome young people from those places into the congregational community. There were hesitations at the beginning: lack of trust, fear of differences, and of the conflicts that could arise. It was difficult, but the step was taken. The presence of these people enriched the community. There was certainly no lack of tensions and misunderstandings. Conflicts arose. There was a need for patient dialogue that helped to bring about mutual understanding. We learned to value differences and to focus on what united us. We realized that one cannot and should not absolutize what is relative. Indeed there were difficulties, but it was worth taking the step. Some suffered wounds in their hearts. The exercise of forgiveness and reconciliation made possible a new path that energized the missionary service of our communities.
On this path of integration, which has also been a path of reconciliation, a new congregational culture has emerged, which is the basis of peaceful and joyful coexistence in each community and the life of the Congregation in general. In this process, we learned that dialogue and reconciliation are necessary steps to enable a joyful coexistence and build an authentic culture of peace. Nevertheless, it is a challenge that is still present and will always continue to question the congregational reality.
A community called to be an instrument of peace and reconciliation in the world.
We have been sent to witness and proclaim the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of truth, peace, and justice. This is not an easy task in contexts where there are situations of violence and confrontation that cause suffering in many people, especially the weakest. The Congregation has repeatedly been forced to confront this type of situation. We have been asked to be instruments of reconciliation and peace. We have tried.
I have seen it in many of the places I have been able to visit in the long years of service in the general government of the Institute. In the development of this mission of peacemakers, I observed some characteristics that I think it is important to highlight:
- Our missionaries did not close their eyes to the conflict because they felt in their own being the pain of the people affected by situations of violence and injustice. They felt strongly challenged by their cry. Nevertheless, they did not remain indifferent.
- I observed that the causes of the conflict were analyzed and that they did not act for their convenience or were driven by interests other than the welfare of the people affected by such situations. Acknowledging the truth of the facts is always the first necessary step towards reconciliation. Analyzing situations from the perspective of those who suffer is an approach that has always been tried to be maintained.
- I was often impressed by the audacity of our confreres, who did not remain silent or fail to act even in the face of threats from those in power or groups interested in maintaining situations of injustice and violence for their benefit.
- They sought all kinds of opportunities for dialogue, even though, at times, it seemed an impossible task. I always felt that they never stopped believing in the urgency and necessity of this service. They understood it as an integral and fundamental part of the mission.
- On many occasions, they had to accept the failure of their efforts, although this never translated into the abandonment of the people who suffered the consequences of situations of violence or injustice. They continued to look for other possible paths. When they were expelled, they were always left with deep sorrow.
- I became aware of the projection these situations had on the personal life of each one and the life of the community. I saw how some Claretian communities welcomed or organized the reception of many people fleeing violence or needing protection. There was no fear of reprisals, nor did they fail to denounce the injustices that were at the root of situations of violence.
- I often observed these situations taken up in personal and community prayer. Light and strength were sought in listening to God’s Word and the Eucharist. The work for reconciliation and peace was not only “social action” but a “confession of faith” in the “Abba,” Father-Mother of all, who desires the happiness of all his children.
- I realized the strength that the support of the brothers of the Congregation (Province or universal Congregation) meant for those directly involved in these processes of reconciliation and peace-building. At the same time, I always considered the witness of these brothers as an essential contribution to the whole Congregation. They helped to raise awareness in a very concrete way of the situation in the world.
- One last observation: contact with these realities reaffirmed my conviction of the importance of networking with other people and groups committed to the cause of those who suffer the consequences of an unjust and violent world. The Congregation had already reflected on this in a workshop organized by the General Prefecture of the Apostolate and held in Fatima (Portugal) in August 1989. This is what our Constitutions ask of us in number 46: “Sharing the hopes and joys, the sorrows and anxieties of people, especially the poor, we intend to offer close collaboration to all those who seek the transformation of the world according to God’s plan.”
It is true that in the history of the Congregation, we have made mistakes in this area, but I think I can affirm that a profound conviction has always guided us: we cannot remain indifferent when people’s lives are at stake.
Josep M. Abella, cmf.