Mission in the Peripheries

Encounter in Guatemala May 2018


Dear Fr. Artur Teixeira and the participants of the encounter, 

Through this letter, I would like to express my solidarity with you and felicitate you for such meaningful encounter to reflect on our missions in the peripheries. Pope Francis wanted the Church “going forth” inviting all of us to “go forth from our comfort zone in order to reach out to all the peripheries in need of the light of the Gospel” (cf. EG 20-24). 

Our missionary vocation with heart and fire impels us to shake off our fear and inertias, and sends us forth to proclaim the Gospel in new places and peripheries (cf. MS 66). In tune with the whole Church, we want to be a Congregation “going forth”. 

The terms “going forth” and “peripheries” will become only a Churchy jargon or an empty slogan, if we do not appropriate their deeper meaning and translate them into our form of life. As I have written earlier in a Circular Letter, “The clue to understand the depth of its meaning is to look at Jesus, as did Claret, and learn to go forth to the peripheries. The kenosis of incarnation itself (Phil 2: 6-11) and the options of places he lived (Bethlehem, Egypt, Nazareth), people he associated with (fishermen, sinners, publicans, tax collectors) or persons he dialogued and confronted (Pharisees, scribes, rich young man) are images of Jesus going forth to the peripheries. Jesus sent the twelve in a vulnerable way (no shoes, no purse, like sheep among wolves). The vulnerability of the apostles created free space for God to act in and through them. We need to go by the logic of incarnation that teaches us that freely chosen vulnerability is capable of knowing the condition of those rendered vulnerable by injustice and exclusion, and it allows us to walk with them on the way to true liberation” (cf. Called to radiate the Joy of the Gospel, 2.1). 

During your meeting, I invite you to contemplate this mystery and look at our options and commitments to explore how we can imbibe all the more this spirit of the Gospel. I would like you to consider the following points for your reflection: 

1. There is no true going forth to the peripheries if personally each of us are not willing to go out of our comfort zones and make friends with the vulnerability proper to a missionary. 

2. Going forth to the peripheries is not an ideology, which divides people into leftists and rightists, rich and poor, saints and sinners. It is the Gospel mandate, which should affect everyone irrespective of the platform of pastoral action. There are peripheries to be reached out in every pastoral ministry with God’s heart that hears the cry of the poor. 

3. “We cannot be Claretians if we act as if the poor did not exist” (MS 49). Poverty has many faces in our times ranging from material poverty to spiritual emptiness. Unless we recognize our own poverty and vulnerability, and let God’s presence and compassionate love fill us, we will be like the broken cisterns that cannot hold water (Jer 2:13). It is futile to attempt to quench the thirst of others when you have your own bowl empty. 

4. We have chosen to live a life of marginality when we have responded to God’s call to a missionary vocation. We do not have a lasting city here on earth (Heb 13:14), and we live like sojourners sharing the goodness of those who receive us in mission. This “chosen marginality” with its accompanying vulnerability enables us to share the lot of our brothers and sisters who are forced to live in the margins. Our “chosen marginality” enables us to build bridges with those on whom marginality is forced upon. Thus, we will be able to affirm and upheld the human dignity of each person irrespective of their origins and social status. 

We have wonderful initiatives in the Claretian Family at the service of those in the margins. Our working together and networking among the different initiatives will strengthen us to fulfil our mission in the Church more effectively. 

We shall confide our going forth to the peripheries with the Heart of Mary, the Mother of Mercy, who forms us with the tenderness of her heart and accompany us to any length. On our turn, we shall accompany the People of God with joy and compassionate love. Wish you a very fruitful encounter in Guatemala. 


Fr. Mathew Vattamattam, CMF

Superior General





Prayer. Reflections. Learnings. Brotherhood. Sharing of experiences. Hopes for the missions. Challenge to and in the peripheries. Our missionary charism: Indeed, these are just few words to modestly describe what transpired in the gathering of some 32 Claretian missionaries from different continents and Organisms, working in the Congregation’s periphery missions in our Claret Retreat House in Guatemala last May 28 to June 2, 2018.

This is the Asian Synthesis and Reflections. Gathered prayers and reflections, thoughts and ideas, suggestions and hopes, coming from us, Claretians working in the periphery missions of Asia – the Philippines, Taiwan, India, Sri Lanka.

First and foremost, is our expression of gratitude to the General Government, especially to Fr. Artur Teixeira, CMF, General Prefect of Apostolate, for this missionary initiative. Finding inspiration and direction from the constant invitation of Pope Francis to work among those in the peripheries, we are blessed to gather in Central America Province (Guatemala), whose mission with the poor especially among the Mayan people remains to be one of the most vital and challenging missions in the entire Congregation. Muchas Gracias to Fr. Ismael Montero, CMF, Centroamerica Provincial Superior and MICLA President, for the warm and fraternal welcome.

The choice of Central America as venue, affirms more our missionary calling to the peripheries, especially in the light of Liberation Theology. With fraternal reverence, we acknowledge the presence and words of Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chavez, Auxiliary Bishop of San Salvador and a close collaborator of the slain Archbishop Blessed Oscar Romero, during the earlier part of the assembly. The life and works of Blessed Oscar Romero, who personally made mention in his autobiography the positive role and influence of our Claretian brother-formators in his time during his minor seminary years, set the initial inspiration for the assembly. Romero was a bishop coming from a very difficult time and political context. He understood perfectly his role as pastor for his people especially the poor. Blessed Romero’s threefold principle guided his entire life: love of God, love of God’s Kingdom and accompaniment with compassion to the people. 

Blessed Romero’s filial love for Mary comes as well from his deep rootedness in his pastoral experiences. For him, Mary is the mother of Jesus who loves unconditionally her Son, and loves as well her country. Being a descendant of David, Mary was patriotic who understood her culture and the plight of her people in her time. She was a nationalist woman who knows the story of her nation. 

Cardinal Chavez’ last words imparted to the group about Blessed Romero was profound and deeply inspiring: “Because of the poor, the memory of Romero is alive. Because of the church, the memory of Jesus is alive.” 

We thank Fr. Fredy Estuardo Cabrera Ventura, CMF, for sharing with us “The periphery in the heart of Jesus Christ and His Disciples”. We start by stating and emphasizing the obvious. Jesus Christ was from the periphery and died in the periphery. He shared his life with people from the periphery especially the poor as a matter of priority. As missionaries, we are reminded to share table with the poor much as Jesus shared meals with them, which has become the image of the church. He invites everyone to share the table with him: the poor, the hungry, the sick, the persecuted. Jesus also revolutionized the concept of family. Leaving his biological family to assume a bigger one, Jesus re-defined our human and limited understanding of familial affiliation. We have assumed a bigger family as missionaries from and in the peripheries. The family of the poor. Mary, mother of Jesus, takes a vital role in our common vocation as missionaries. Mary was from the periphery – a mother, a disciple, a leader. Jesus taught, encouraged, inspired and led his disciples to focus their attention to the needs of the people from the peripheries. He journeyed and empathized with them. At the end, the apostles and many of Jesus’ disciples gave up their lives in the peripheries and for those who are in the margins. 

We thank Fr. Carlos Sanchez Miranda, CMF, for sharing with us “Claret in the peripheries of his world and time”. From his extensive research and study on the life of our Father Founder Saint Anthony Mary Claret, Fr. Carlos qualifies Claret as a man of the peripheries. Claret’s historical milieu was far different from our present context. The poor during his time were tired of the monarchy and the military, who wanted the Church to simply disappear. Young when he was ordained, Claret was concerned with the salvation of souls, from the holistic point of view. His idea of the Church was for it to take care of the poor, the sick, the disadvantaged, the slaves. His idea of his missionaries, was for them to be one with the poor and be poor themselves in a radical sense. “Nothing daunts him…” – so that between the years 1840 to 1844, when the civil war was most intense, Claret was the only priest who had the courage to preach openly about the ills of his time, defending the poor, when preaching during the revolution was prohibited. He died a poor man in Fontfroide, in the periphery of the monarchy and written on his epitaph best summarizes his entire life – “I have loved justice and hated iniquity, therefore I die in exile.” 

We thank Fr. Jose Cristo Rey Garcia Paredes, CMF, for sharing with us reflections “From Theology for the Mission to a Mission for Theology”. Fr. Cristo Rey commences his sharing with few practical yet profound questions: 

· What should we do, so that our mission in the peripheries will be credible?

· How can we reconfigure our theological institutions for the missions?

· Do we feel alone in the peripheries?

· How many of us are talking about us being prophets? 

Fr. Cristo Rey clarifies two things. First, Jesus Christ is a marginal Jesus. Second, mission is the mother of theology. Mission is the dance of God. It is the harmony of God. Mission is also the force of the Spirit against the evil one. Our mission in the periphery is not our mission. It is the mission of God. As missionaries, we need to constantly awaken the mission in our hearts. Every Claretian missionary needs to be aware that we do not bring Jesus to the periphery. Instead, we encounter Jesus in the peripheries. “Missio Dei” has a church where which it moves and finds embodiment. Being part of this church, missionaries are functionaries of the Holy Spirit. We are not the masters. We are disciples of the Master. As disciples, faithful to our missionary charism, we are called to work as a community in the peripheries. 

At the end of his sharing, Fr. Cristo Rey talks about Liminal Thinking, where we were asked to re-narrate the narrative of our Claretian identity. Considering the growing clericalism of many religious institutions today, we are challenged to once again understand, shape and reframe our beliefs and practices, based on the charism by which we were born in the church – missionaries in and for the peripheries. To opt and choose to be in the margins is to renounce some things and assume new things. To be in the periphery requires a change of heart and consciousness, to change paradigm and routine, to give sense to the new reality, to give a new story and be an effective storyteller. Liminal thinking vis-à-vis Claretian missionary way of life acknowledges the presence of the Holy Spirit as the One who leads us to complete truth. 

Given all these background, we, the Claretians in Asia, formulated for ourselves the following questions for our discernment, categorized in two areas: (1) What common elements do we have in our ministries?  What common deficiencies and challenges are we faced with, both in the context of our pastoral ministries, in the response of our local communities assigned in the peripheries and the collective orientation as Organisms? (2) How do we make a meaningful response to the challenges of the missions as Claretians in the Asian context? Concretely, what can we do to be more faithful to the Gospel and the Spirit, which called Claret to be a missionary in the peripheries? 

What common elements do we have in our ministries?  What common deficiencies and challenges are we faced with, both in the context of our pastoral ministries, in the response of our local communities assigned in the peripheries and the collective orientation as Organisms? 

Common to the Philippines, Taiwan, India and Sri Lanka is the multi-cultural milieu where our specific and respective periphery missions are located, evident in the language variations, cultural and indigenous-religious practices. Poverty is a striking commonality caused by several factors: natural disasters and calamities, imbalance and unjust distribution of resources in our given societies, health care problems both for those who are mentally and physically challenged and impaired, class struggle especially experienced by our indigenous peoples, indifference and apathy from those who hold more power in the community, issues on human rights, human trafficking where women and children become victims at the tail end, the lack of respect for the sanctity and dignity of life, protection of our environment, to name a few. 

Given these situations, we feel the existential tiredness as missionaries in the periphery with the overwhelming task of making our ministries and our peoples survive–literally- sometimes at the expense of a genuine fraternal relationship within the local religious community itself and the Organism at large. There is so much to be done in forming, building and re-building peoples’ lives alongside our very own human limitedness as missionaries, not to mention also our limited resources to keep the ministries going. We are also faced with the seeming reality of having less and less missionaries willing to set marks in the periphery missions, where interests and preparations are geared towards the more desk-confined, clerical institutions in the Organisms. We feel the growing clericalism in our midst which deprives us of our radical embodiment of our missionary charism. The periphery missions need more charismatic, motivated and inspired missionaries, who both can speak and work with and for the poor people. 

How do we make a meaningful response to the challenges of the missions in the peripheries as Claretians in Asia? Concretely, what can we do to be more faithful to the Gospel and the Spirit, which called Claret to be a missionary in the peripheries? To these questions we have responded: 

· To inculcate, deepen, train and provide mechanisms in our early seminary formations and onwards, the love for the periphery missions and solidarity to the grassroots.

· To constantly remind ourselves the ideals of our father founder, St. Anthony Claret that we are first and foremost missionaries, par excellence.

· To promote and collaborate with other lay people, other organizations and religious congregations who share the same vision and priority.

· To work on shifting our mental and pastoral paradigms from the center to the peripheries, with our institutions (e.g. schools, parishes and publications) gazing and geared towards the missions.

· In the face of the growing universal crisis of religious missionary vocations, Claretian missionaries today are challenged to be more credible and genuine models of faith and praxis, “different” from the secular world.

· Prefectures of Apostolate in every organism, the Mission Procure and the JPIC, need to put more emphasis on the importance and priority of periphery missions, by constant support and encouragement to the missionaries in the frontiers, designing and implementing relevant, meaningful, sustainable programs and projects for the poorer communities. The Mission Procure should be first and foremost in the service of the missions in the peripheries.

· As administrative steps, we suggest a constant accompaniment to the missionary communities in the peripheries so that they will be more aware and sensitive to the signs of the times; to prepare more missionaries for the peripheries and allocate sufficient resources for such. 

As Claretians in Asia gathered here in Guatemala, we believe that our concerns which we brought in this assembly, speak and apply in equal manner to all periphery missions in this continent, beset by almost the same pastoral challenges. 

We pray for support in our periphery missions. We pray that we can be more radical witnesses to the Gospel. We pray that more young Claretian missionaries will commit themselves to work with the poor and the suffering, those who are in the margins and are considered dregs of our society. We pray that those who are already working in the peripheries may find meaning in their work, not to lose inspiration, strength and courage to face all their difficulties. We pray, through the intercession of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, mother of Jesus, first disciple, faithful both to God and to her country, mother and protector of missionaries, that we may live lives of fidelity and trust. We pray that the Congregation may constantly gaze at Jesus Christ who opted to be poor, and to follow Him in a manner by which St. Anthony Mary Claret lived and taught his missionaries as his legacy. We pray that we may become God’s humble collaborators in building His Kingdom, HERE AND NOW. 

“Nothing daunts him. He delights in privations. Welcomes sacrifices and rejoices in being humbled.” 

Fr. Anthony Soosai, CMF (India)

Fr. John Christy, CMF (Sri Lanka)

Fr. Arvin Buenconsejo, CMF (Philippines)

Fr. Larry Miranda, CMF (Philippines) 

Fr. Rohan Dominic, CMF (Sri Lanka – United Nations NY-USA)





Message to the Congregation in Africa

After meeting with our brothers from the peripheries in different parts of our world, we, the participants from Africa feel well equipped to spread the Gospel in our own peripheries. It has been for us a special period of formation and information gotten from the rich experiences shared by the brothers.

Our missions are located in the peripheries of our continent. We have experiences of wars, violence, religious intolerance, terrorism and poverty. With this meeting, we resolve to respond to the needs of our brothers and sisters by being true messengers and witnesses of the joy of the Gospel by our testimony of life. We want to bring hope, joy peace and reconciliation to them. 

We suggest to ACLA and to our various organisms and missions to revisit our formation plans to reflect these experiences and needs of the continent at this time, as enumerated above.


Mensaje final para la Congregación en Europa

El testimonio de Jesús y la experiencia del Padre Claret nos interpelan para que salgamos del centro a las periferias.

En ellos recibimos una clara llamada a estar junto a los que más necesitan de Dios, a acompañarlos, a acogerlos, a trabajar en favor de su dignidad. Es el encuentro personal con estas personas el que nos lo posibilita.

Ello nos está pidiendo ser capaces de aceptar renuncias, salir de nuestras comodidades, y desenmascarar nuestros pretextos que nos pueden estar impidiendo ser audaces y asumir riesgos.

Es necesario que iniciemos un camino de conversión personal y social, que nos lleve a no ser cómplices de las injusticias y a ser profetas que, con nuestra forma de vivir y nuestras acciones, denuncian este mundo injusto.

En las periferias hay vida y esperanza. Experimentamos que Dios está presente en ellas y nos fortalece en nuestro ser testigos-misioneros de la alegría del Evangelio. Y así lo hemos podido vivir en este encuentro fraterno entre misioneros claretianos implicados en las periferias de muy diversos lugares del mundo. La narración de nuestra historia vivida ha sido una gran riqueza, un gran regalo que agradecemos a Dios.

En el proceso de reorganización actual en el que nos encontramos en Europa, nuestro compromiso liminal en los márgenes debe ser un elemento esencial que no puede faltar en nuestros planteamientos y en nuestras opciones. Esta misión es de Dios y es el Espíritu quien nos atrae a participar en ella.

La magnífica acogida de la comunidad claretiana y de las comunidades cristianas de Guatemala y de Centroamérica y su testimonio, indígena y también martirial, han sido un contexto muy apropiado para esta experiencia.


Mensaje final para la Congregación en América

Hermanos de MICLA:

Este Encuentro de ‘Evangelizadores en las Periferias’ nos ha confirmado en el caminar que vamos realizado en América. Hace 50 años, con la Conferencia General del Episcopado Latinoamericano celebrada en Medellín, el Espíritu nos marcó el camino desde el clamor de los pueblos marginados y empobrecidos. A ejemplo de Jesús, como Claret, experimentamos que el Espíritu nos ha capacitado y enviado a evangelizar y solidarizarnos con las periferias de nuestro tiempo y sus causas. Nos sentimos llamados a responder con esas acciones pastorales que, fieles a nuestro patrimonio espiritual, hacen presente la Justicia, la Paz y la Integridad de la Creación.

Queremos comprender nuestras intuiciones misioneras como respuestas a los signos del Espíritu que nos desafía, no a la auto-referencialidad de personas y organismos locales. Desde los impulsos del Espíritu vamos realizado nuestra ‘caminhada’ misionera en América, acompañando situaciones y rostros sufrientes a causa de la migración, el extractivismo, y la violación de los derechos humanos y de los pueblos originarios.

Nos siguen inspirando nuestros mártires de ayer y de hoy. Ellos nos impulsan a profundizar nuestra presencia y acompañamiento en las periferias, donde sigue en juego la vida. El testimonio martirial de Mons. Romero nos ha recordado cómo nuestro ministerio profético de la palabra nos debe llevar a la entrega total.

Quienes participamos en este Encuentro nos hemos llenado de alegría al comprobar que en muchos lugares de la Congregación vamos encontrando sintonía en la única misión del Espíritu, y en las opciones, acciones y búsquedas.

Animamos a nuestros misioneros jóvenes, especialmente a quienes están en los procesos de formación  y en la pastoral juvenil, a que sigan sus búsquedas animados e interpelados por la esperanza de los empobrecidos. Confiamos que la participación como Familia Claretiana en la Jornada Mundial de la Juventud (JMJ+fc), en Panamá 2019, sea un momento para resaltar la Iglesia de los pobres y de los mártires y dar nuevo impulso a nuestro trabajo misionero en y desde las periferias.  

Sigamos siendo testigos de ese cántico de María desde las periferias, que nos impulse a acompañar de cerca las realidades de los que se encuentran en los márgenes, de los que no cuentan para este sistema productor de miseria. Cantemos la misericordia de Dios desde nuestro testimonio de vida en comunidad y en salida misionera.


"¡Somos misioneros! La Misión pertenece a nuestra identidad más profunda". | "We are missionaries! The Mission belongs to the core of our most fundamental identity".

MS 1 (Cf. CC 2; Dir 26.)