A Happy Missionary Christmas from the Xaverians

Heard the one of the wife on the eve of their wedding anniversary reminding her husband by stating “Tomorrow is our wedding anniversary and I want a lovely gift. Something shiny, metallic and goes from 0 to 100 in seconds.” … So he bought her some bathroom scales. (Ouch!)

This time of the year gifts abound. Be it socks, aftershave and boxers for the men or perfume, jewellery and chocs for the ladies … Christmas is the time when we show our love through gifts.

That’s exactly the meaning of this feast. God loved us so much that he gave us his beloved son. He loves us so passionately, unconditionally, overwhelmingly, that he becomes one of us. This is the total gift that love demands…becoming one of us. This in turn demands a response from us. When you receive a gift, you respond positively…even if it may end up in the Charity Shop later!

Our response is to show our love in return. God’s love, so immense that becomes incarnate, must be mirrored by our love so intense that it becomes our mandate. “Love the other as I have loved you.”

As God comes to share our broken condition, we are called to enter into humanity’s brokenness. Emmanuel means God with us, and indeed God is with us especially in the broken… the poor, the marginalised, the victims, the forgotten, and the voiceless. There is no point in singing “Emmanuel, God is with us” if we don’t reach out to touch the God who is with us every day. God comes to offer hope, to set out a new vision, to encourage us, to care, to show compassion, to heal, to take away our despair, to show there is a different way… and we are called to do the same.

Christmas is a missionary feast. The angel is sent to the hill country of Nazareth, the Word is sent to the Virgin, Mary goes to Elizabeth’s, the shepherds get up and go, the Kings travel afar… Jesus is sent into our world, into our reality, into our lives. Jesus is the Missionary of the Father.

The story is full of going, being sent, journeying… and we too, in turn are to be heralds of the Good News, messengers of the Word which brings life, bearers of the love of God incarnate. We are to make Jesus born anew in our hearts, in our lives, in our world. We are to make God’s love become flesh, to become real, to be present again in our world. How? Amongst the tinsel and trappings, the turkey and the TV, the merriment and mayhem… each of us must make the time to pause, to pray and to plan.

  • What does Jesus mean to me?
  • Where is his light needing to shine?
  • How can I be God’s love for others?
  • Who am I being sent to?
  • Why am I waiting???

We used to use the phrase to mock someone who thought they were it… “So you think your God’s gift?” Well we are God’s gifts and if we show love through gifts, then this season must be the time to make of ourselves a gift to others.

We cannot delay, we must hasten, we cannot stand still. Our world needs urgently to feel the love of God and we must birth him with speed … yes, as fast as 0 to 100 in seconds!

Happy Missionary Christmas from the Xaverians.

A Month That Was!

October was dedicated as the “extraordinary month of mission” by Pope Francis and for me it certainly was.

I left for Brazil at the end of September and returned the end of October. It had been 4 years since I was last there. I had worked in Brazil for 6 years and had been going back every two years, for a month at time, sometimes with a small group to “dip their toes” into the reality of that immense nation.

First stop was Rio and the city’s most iconic landmark, the Cristo Redentor – Christ the Redeemer statue reminds us of the importance of the Christian faith as it overlooks the city with outstretched arms. Rio is the city of contrasts which is home to all. From Favelas to Five star luxury apartments, from street vendors to streets flanked by designer shops, from the poor to the prosperous….Christ looks down on them all, and, I am sure praying that “thy Kingdom come and thy will be done.” For God’s Kingdom is a far cry from the Kingdoms we have built up on earth.


“Rio” means river and it wasn’t long before I was back on the rivers where I worked in the Amazon region of the state of Pará. I spent some time catching up with people in the Parish of Our Lady of Peace, where I had worked. It is a Parish in the Diocese of Abaetetuba made up of 72 islands, 60 base communities – the model of Church here, 700 square kilometres and 40,000 inhabitants. The Church survives because of the laity. Catechists, community coordinators, collaborators, all make sure the pastoral dimension of the community is alive and well. Through the various ministries, initiatives, projects, and activities the lay people ensure the community is responding to the directives of the Parish and of the larger Brazilian Church and addressing the needs of the people.

It was also a special moment as the Synod for the Amazon was taking place in Rome at the same time and so there was much hope and prayers around for the meeting and especially considering the environmental disaster currently engulfing the forest and its people due to short-sighted and selfish Government policies.

The second Sunday in October is the feast of our Lady of Nazareth, Patroness of the Amazon. Two million pilgrims take to the streets of Belém to walk behind the small image of Our Lady praying for favours or in gratitude for prayers answered. Our small group walked behind the image for nearly 6 hours as it made its way from the Cathedral to the Basilica. It possesses miraculous qualities and the faithful walk, some on their knees, in praise or in petition to the Virgin of Nazareth. This is another river – a river of pilgrims, families, young and old, able and disabled, all colours, classes, saints and sinners recognising the mother of the Saviour and seeking her help in bettering their lives, however that may be. Brazilians love marching be it in procession or in protest, and so it was a moving day and very humbling to see the faith of so many in their hearts… and in their feet!

From there I went to the arid North East of Brazil, to a place called Jericoacoara, a coastal village in the Ceará state and from there down to South Bahia around Porto Segura, the landing place of the Portuguese and of the first Jesuit missionaries to arrive in Brazil. I travelled to Coroa Vermelha to the place where the first Eucharist on Brazilian soil (519 years ago) was celebrated and again it was very special. I spent time reflecting on the positives and negatives of the arrival of the Europeans and of the Christian faith, and although we may criticise the methodology of those first missionaries, in their hearts they were obeying the mandate of Jesus “Go out to all the world and spread the Good News.” A mandate still as valid today as when first proclaimed.

I then headed back up north to my old stomping ground of Belém and Abaetetuba, via the capital Brasilia, where in the Cathedral I prayed for the a dramatic change in the corrupt Brazilian politics, a redistribution of wealth among the Brazilians, an end to the slash and burn policies in the Amazon, more respect and tolerance of those on the margins, especially the indigenous Brazilians, and that the faith of the Brazilian peoples bear fruits in the creation of a more just, equal and compassionate society. These prayers could be for our own country too and our world, but in Brazil, the country of stark contrasts, it is more obvious and just seems to be ongoing.

The theme of the extraordinary missionary month was “Baptised and Sent”. Being back in Brazil reminded me of our common call to be missionaries by virtue of our Baptism…wherever we may be. And so for me leaving the tropical rainforest at 33 degrees to return to the torrential rain of 6 degrees, reminded me that mission is where you are and it’s who you are!

The Kingdom envisaged by God is still a way off and so may the extraordinary mission month remind us of the extraordinary mission that we all share, at all times, wherever we find ourselves.

If you know your history…

There is a famous Celtic song sung with gusto by the legions of wonderful fans of this great club at every game (No prizes for guessing which team I support.) and it has the words…

“Sure it’s a grand old team to play for; sure it’s a grand old team to see. And if you know your history, it’s enough to make your hearts go oh, oh, oh, oh!” (I don’t think it will win any awards for it’s lyrics or tune or be the next Eurovision entry, but it grabs the sentiment and the importance of never forgetting where you have come from.)

Last Saturday we dipped into the history books as we gathered to have our first Xaverian Day. About 30 of us spent the day discovering the roots of the Xaverian Family, its charism, mission, spirituality and implications for us today.

In the morning Angela led us in a beautiful welcoming liturgy and then we explored the life of the Founder Saint Guido Maria Conforti, the birth of the Xaverians and the characteristics of this Missionary Family.

In the afternoon Phil presented Pope Francis’ “Evangelii Gaudium” – The Joy of the Gospel and facilitated input and discussion on the relevance of being missionaries today. Rose then helped bring the day to an end with a closing liturgy helping us to be reminded of what we had learned and what was shared.

Below is a part of the presentation I gave which hopefully might give readers a glimpse of who we are. We hope the day is the start of a journey where we can discover together our missionary vocation and how to live it.

The Xaverian Family.

The Origin and Charism

“The Spirit of the Lord animates the Church and constantly renews her awareness of her mission in the world. The same spirit inspired Bishop Guido Maria Conforti to dedicate himself to the evangelization of non-Christian, and to gather into one missionary community those called to consecrate their lives to God for the same ideal. Following our Founder, and reliving the same charism, we Xaverians respond to the Lord’s mandate “Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News to all creation.” The life and the words of the Founder are a singular source of inspiration for our apostolic life.” (Constit.#1)

Who are we?

Presently we are a small family of priests, brothers, (700) sisters (200) and lay members/collaborators/ associates working in 20 countries throughout the world, founded in 1895.

Conforti’s Testament Letter, which he wrote in 1921 whilst presenting the new Constitutions for approval, is clear on the vocation of the Xaverian.

The Xaverian is to be apostolic.

“Our vocation draws us closer to Christ and to the Apostles, who leaving behind everything pledged themselves entirely to following Christ.”

So that dimension of Christ rooted but sent is essential for us.

The Xaverian is to be Religious.

Conforti saw that the Apostolic Life must be inseparably untied to the Religious Life. He said, “The Apostolic Life combined with the Religious life is the most is in itself the most perfect life possible according to the Gospel.”

His Institute was to be a religious-missionary one or none at all. Which was quite different from other Orders and Congregations emerging at that time.

Conforti saw the purpose of the vows was to focus the Xaverian completely on the proclamation of the Gospel.

The vows.

 “Poverty is the first sacrifice Christ demands of those who aspire to perfection or of following him more closely” characterised by Moderate Lifestyles.

Chastity is the vow which is seen as the total gift of self and gives a better witness in announcing the Good News.

Obedience, Conforti saw as the sacrifice to God of the greatest gift of freedom. It is there to make the missionary become solely an instrument in proclamation of the Gospel.

Mission and Community.

For Conforti there was also another dimension to the Religious-Apostolic Life and it was that of Mission. It was a fourth vow where the Xaverian must be prepared to commit to going to others (ad gentes) outside of his own culture (ad extra) for life (ad vitam) to “win as many as possible for Christ.”

Also Conforti wished that the religious community be the agent of mission. This would be a much better sign and a model of mission. Community is where the Xaverian tries to model the very Kingdom that is being announced. Harmony and fraternal love are indispensible…

“Let each one carefully protect the bonds of this sacred unity and avoid anything that could weaken it …Everything should be generously offered on the altar of fraternal harmony which makes the communal life of any institution strong and prosperous.” (TL)

He constantly insisted on this and one of his well known phrases was; “Love one another as brothers, but respect each other as Princes.”

Xaverian Spirituality.

Xaverian Spirituality derives from the spiritual experience of its founder, Saint Guido Maria Conforti. As the founder of it, he passed on his spiritual life to his “children” as the spirituality they should follow. At least, there are three main elements of his spirituality that are very remarkable in the Constitutions;

  • Christ-centered spirituality,
  • the love of the community/family,
  • the spirit of mission towards the poor, the marginalized and especially those who have not known Jesus yet.

Recent happenings.

April 2018, we celebrated our XIII Regional Chapter.

We set ourselves these objectives for those 4 years.

  1. Develop a mission spirituality
  2. Mission on the margins (Particularly interfaith dialogue.)
  3. Lay Participation and Formation

In October 2018 we took part in the first European Study Forum where for the first time we accepted that now Europe is a mission territory and the non-Christians are on our doorsteps.

We are in the process of developing how we respond to this paradigm shift in mission and may St Guido bless us with wisdom and courage.

Fr Jim calls on the Church to lead on climate change

Our very own Fr Jim was interviewed recently by the Scottish Catholic Observer. They published an article based on the interview on the 6th September. You can read the article here.

Jim spoke out both for the indigenous population and for mankind in general. The wanton destruction of the rainforest affects us all. We may be distant but we are complicit by our carelessness. A quote from the article shows our connection to the problem “Fr Clarke said deforestation was taking place in the region when he worked there in 1987, as large companies such as McDonald’s were ‘using the land to farm cattle for their burgers.’” Even taking our children or grandchildren to McDonalds has consequences.

“Go and ask your Dad.”

My Dad has many wise sayings… usually around drink. When someone bought him a drink it was either; “Your face I may forget. Your kindness, never!” or “May your giving hand never wither!” What a philosopher the old man is! One other which he quoted frequently to us, usually around exam times, was “If you fail to prepare, be prepared to fail.”

On Monday and Tuesday (12/13th of August) we will be meeting in Coatbridge, looking at our plans for the next three years as a Region. As well as the Xaverians actively involved in our centres in Preston, Coatbridge and the Parish in Glasgow, Hugh Foy, the UK programmes director and our new recruit Phil Callaghan, Deputy Director of Programmes, will meet to pray, reflect and strategise the priorities and our activities until the next Regional Chapter in 2022. Hopefully in the next few weeks we will highlight the way ahead for us as the UK Region and give more direction and focus to our presences in Scotland and England.

Coupled with these meetings, here in Preston, we will be preparing for our Xaverian Charism Day on September 14th. On that day we hope to understand better the vision of Conforti, the history of the Xaverian Family, the lived out Xaverian Vocation and develop our mission spirituality too. In this exploration day we hope that we all emerge better prepared to make mission happen in the here and now. This will be a chance for us to take seriously Pope Francis’ invite to become missionary disciples!

We also are putting on hold the proposed Open Day which was scheduled for 7th of September. Why we meet, what we do, how we fundraise, socialise, bring people together, use our resources, reach out… will hopefully creatively come forth when we have a better handle on what being a missionary is today.

“Every day is a school day!” – another one of Dad’s pearls of wisdom – reminds us that we learn, grow, better ourselves… if prepared to do so. So let’s seize the moment and allow God to speak to us, through us and among us, so that the idea of failing might never be an option.

Jim

New wine, new wineskins…

Sometimes reality hits us hard. A few years ago, in my home Parish in Scotland, one of the Altar Servers asked if I was Father Clarke. When I replied that I was, she then continued… “Yes, you were at school with my Grandad. ”After the initial shock, I have since invested heavily on anti-wrinkle cream and anti-depressants, but the numbers don’t lie. And so it is great to announce that we are having an injection of youth to the old skins at 169.

On July the 1st we welcomed to our Regional and Preston Centre staff, Phil Callaghan who will be beefing up the team (as if I need beefing up) and will be jointly responsible for the Administration at the Xaverian Centre and as Deputy Director of Programmes for the UK Region.

Phil is from Manchester (but don’t hold that against him) and a big United fan (bless him). He has extensive experience as a lay person working in the Church. He has worked as a hospitality worker at the Quaker Meeting House, worked freelance in adult formation and in preparing and managing an event for Catholic young adults in the lead up to the Synod of Bishops’ on Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment. He has been a Development Worker for the Young Christian Workers (YCW) and was also the National President between 2011 and 2017 as well as being involved in the Salford Diocese Lourdes Pilgrimage.

Phil studied at Heythrop College, London where he obtained a BA in Theology. It was there where Phil first encountered the Xaverians, as our confrere Rocco Viviano was studying and teaching there.

Phil came and did some YCW training in Coatbridge a few years ago and myself and Hugh took part in a YCW weekend at that time. We were both impressed by Phil’s deep faith, his love of the Gospel, his sense of justice and general desire to reach out as a missionary disciple.

Our Region felt the need to give Preston a real go and Phil’s presence with us, along with his youth, enthusiasm, energy and experience, will aid that greatly. We will also have a few changes in the make up of the Xaverian Community, which will see three Xaverians and Phil actively dedicated to programmes and projects at the Preston Centre (Watch this space).

To this end we are also having a day of Formation on Mission Spirituality and the Xaverian Charism on September 14th, where hopefully together we can look at being missionaries, here and now and plan meaningful activities. Also on September 7th we will have an Open Day to allow people to come and meet us.

The summer has been mixed, in terms of weather. As I write this it is raining heavily whereas two days ago it was tropical. From speedos and sandals to Wellies and waterproofs… such is life. We hope too that as we move on in the next few months, things will get heated up in terms of our activities and our initiatives and that our wine will be bubbly, refreshing and energising.

Please join us in these exciting times!

The Summer of ’89

Someone once quipped “If Bishops and Priests went on strike, would anyone notice.” Don’t answer, please!

From many comments such as “It’s alright for you, you only work one day a week!” and “Priesthood? That’s a cushy number. That’s why you never see it advertised at the Job Centre!” I have had my share.

On the 17th of June 2019 I will celebrate 30 years of priesthood. (Not looking for a fanfare and balloons) I have never gone on strike, but I’d like to hope I have been of some relevance to some people over that period.

Reflecting on the years gone by, I thank God for the call to ordained priesthood, for the opportunity to respond to that call (sadly not the case for many others) and for the places, people and plethora of positions the call has put me in. All in all, I have been blessed.

During the ordination rite, the Bishop asks the Superior, “Do you judge him to be worthy?” I read someone once saying that this is the wrong question. It should be “do you judge him to be unworthy?” For Christ calls the weak, the unworthy, the last … as his co-workers and I identify with that. I studied with many people, of both sexes, who would have been better equipped than me for ordained priesthood, but that is not Jesus’ criteria.

Over the 30 years I have made mistakes, I have fallen short, I have been unfaithful, I have let people down, I have let myself down…but I keep trying my best, limited at times as that may be.

However, I have been blessed and encouraged by the priesthood that we all share as Baptised. And that has inspired me to be better. Be it the women in the Base Communities in Brazil rowing for hours to teach other mum’s good child care, be it Hattie Williams in South Side Chicago opening her doors to bring the black and white communities together, be it Mrs. Murphy who gives her £5.00 every week for the missions, be it the many great men and women, who we can all think of, who have brought Christ to others, the catechists, the Eucharist Minsters, the folk who make the coffee after mass, those who visit the sick, collect for the poor, volunteer for this and that… this is the priesthood we all share, and I thank God for the priests (non-ordained) who have enriched my life and encouraged me.

I would like to believe that at our Centre here in Preston, we can create a space for all priesthoods to be welcomed, celebrated, encouraged and empowered. The body of Christ has many parts…but all part of the same!

Have a look at the range of activities on the go and maybe bring something yourself. We all have pieces of the jigsaw and together we can make the picture more complete. After all God didn’t do it alone – the Trinity, that we celebrate reminds us of the perfect community, each one playing different parts…creating, redeeming and empowering.

The late great Norman Walsh used to joke when someone was celebrating a wedding anniversary… “Did you have a minute’s silence?“ On Monday I will take a minute or two to thank God for priestly ministry, mine and others. Please take a minute too, to do the same.

Jim

Xaverian Interfaith Conference 2019

In March the Xaverian Missionaries from the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States held a conference in Coatbridge on Interfaith dialogue.

There are paper copies of the final report from the conference on the display rack in the Preston Centre or you can read it by clicking here.

Preston Xaverian News: 31st May 2019

News just in from Fr Jim. You may remember from his previous post (Sunday the 26th May) that he and Hugh Foy were off to Rome for a conference. Fr Jim writes…

The 50 Years anniversary of the 1969 Conference on “Cultures of Unbelief” was held in the Gregorian University in Rome from May 28-30. Jim Clarke sx and Hugh Foy took part on behalf of the UK Region who have as one of their directives Interfaith Dialogue.

The basis of the Conference was an ongoing study looking at belief and unbelief in various parts of the world. One of the aspects was looking at the disaffiliation from the Church and the growing tendency towards atheism. On the whole, it was a very useful time and relevant to our Mission in Europe and the Western World.