My missionary experience of Claret

A longtime resident and church worker in Mindanao, a Spanish confrere reflects on his pastoral work with Basilan’s poor and the continuing relevance of the Claretian mission.*

I confess that I have had to rediscover Claret throughout my life as a Claretian missionary. The ambition of discovering and living a life as a missionary priest has always been a great motivation in this search from the beginning. The missionaries of the Heart of Mary, who would come to my town to preach novenas and missions at a time of a very popular religious environment in Castile, caused that impression of missionaries and attracted many of those who were preparing to enter the seminary. On the other hand, my brother José María had already decided to enter the seminary of the Claretians in the province of Bética and showed himself every day more satisfied.

Those were the times of the canonization of Blessed Claret; the aura of Claret, missionary on the roads of Catalonia and the Canary Islands, including the island of Cuba, was in the air and within the seminary the euphoria of the Claretians in Rome could be felt in the Roman institutions. In the Novitiate and during the years of priestly formation we were discovering the family traits of the Claretian family with their missionary characteristics inside and outside of Spain, Latin America, Africa and the missionary convulsions of China which the Claretians lived so deeply. We lived intensely the Vatican Council II and the theological open-mindedness that it entailed in the Church and the missionary dimension of the Congregation from the provinces of Spain accepting missions in all the continents.

Although my dream was to study sociology, my first destination was the island of Basilan in the Philippines, place of mission of the province of the Philippines but the province of Betica had acquired the commitment to send a team of 6 missionaries that together with the Claretian Bishop Mon. José Ma Querexeta were going to maintain that mission for some time. Basilan Island is a rich island with a fabulous tropical production but most inhabitants still live in poverty due mainly to the historical injustices and the conflict caused by the Muslim rebellion. The population of Basilan is still a Muslim majority composed of several tribes.

We began our mission with much enthusiasm guided by the inspiration of the Council and the missionary enthusiasm that was lived in the Congregation. As soon as we arrived, at the end of the same year 1972, with the declaration of Martial Law, we were involved in a situation of conflict, violence and death that was for us, young missionaries, like our baptism of fire. It was not easy for us to understand the reasons for that tragic situation that surprised us as soon as we arrived. Basilan has been, and still is, one of the main focuses of this Bangsamoro rebellion. And the immediate result for us was violence and hatred between the two communities of Muslims and Christians. Many Christian families have been victims of violence, forced to leave their land and leave the island, many have been killed and most are forced to protect themselves with arms in collaboration with the army more and more identified with the “Christian” government from Manila. Muslims have also suffered the consequences of war and the repression of military force.

This situation of war and generalized violence forced us to make a serious analysis of the situation and to question our specific mission as Claretians in the midst of that situation of confrontation, prejudice and growing hatred between the two communities. It was a crucial moment of discernment about what our Claretian mission should be in such a situation. We decided to leave part of our pastoral commitments as parishes, schools, even a radio station, to other native agents and dedicate ourselves directly to work with Muslim groups in the most abandoned areas of the island, the mission of the Dialogue of Life with the Muslim communities. This decision has marked our presence in this region of Mindanao.

After a few years in these missionary endeavours to make way together with the Muslim communities in an effort of dialogue, of liberation of communities removed by the war, both Christian and Muslim, I had to go to Rome where I shared animation efforts with the General Prefect of Apostolate especially in the animation of the “Missions” and the Justice and Peace Commission. In this work of animation of the different missions in various continents, I was able to discover various facets of Claret that have influenced Claretian missionary dynamics as well as how the Claretians are living their missionary experience in the different continents. Above all, I was able to discover the Claret as a WEAVER, the importance that for Claret had had the manufacture of fabrics, something unexpected in our formation.

In the last years of his life he writes in his Autobiography: “Of all the things I have studied and applied during my life, I have not excelled as much as in the fabrication … God had given me so much intelligence in this particular that I just needed to analyze any sample, to immediately program the loom with all its equipment in order to obtain the same result, and even better if the owner wanted it”

Claret was throughout his life an accomplished WEAVER, a tissue manufacturer, the expert who analyzed the samples and knew how to produce the various tissues and even better than the samples. How to combine the different colours so that the fabric of the Kingdom would result in each circumstance. He studied the conditions of life, the social challenges, the needs of the people combined with the values of the Gospel to make the fabric of the Kingdom in those circumstances. This was the way of his life in all the tasks that he carried out as an Apostolic Missionary, as Bishop of Cuba, Founder of the Claretians, the Academy of San Miguel, and all the companies he founded.

A few years later we discovered, through the presentation of Fr. Carlos Sánchez Miranda, CMF, the social and liberating dimension of Bishop Claret, especially in Cuba. “There he found himself especially challenged by social realities that demanded creative and audacious responses which can illuminate our current historical moment. The reality of social poverty that most of the population suffered, maintained by a power politics”. Slavery and the slave trade were the institutions on which wealth and dictatorship were based, a reality totally different from what he had known in Catalonia and Spain. We understood and tried to apply the passion of the prophet, a unifying and inspiring passion: the love of Christ and the spirit of martyrdom.

We believe that, loyal to Claret’s spirit, we are consolidating in our mission of Mindanao the focusing of a preferential action for the poor and needy who in our environments and communities of Basilan and Zamboanga are the majority, with a very intercultural population of Muslims, Christians and indigenous tribes. Our mission is to accompany these sectors so that they feel more secure -empowerment-, free of the most basic needs, free from the fear that the armed conflict entails, so that they can grow in the dignity of being all brothers, children of God. A basic foundation of our mission is a better interreligious dialogue, as indicated by our solidarity movement for peace. An essential part of our mission of healing wounded communities is to promote a Culture of Peace that encompasses all aspects of coexistence in a conflictive and intercultural situation, in addition to the culture of peace with creation.

*reprinted with permission from Fr. Calvo's July 19, 2018 Facebook post.

[Photo: Claretian Missionaries for Justice and Peace and Integrity of Creation visit Fr. Calvo at his PAZ office in Zamboanga City.]