Mooring in New Marshlands. The Prophetic Mission of the Passionists in the 21st Century by Fr. Gwen Barde CP
Indeed, Passionists do not stop. They seek new marshlands by vigilantly listening to Christ’s present groaning—with the planet, immigrants and refugees, human trafficking victims, stressed workaholic populace, young people thirsty of relationship and meaning. Pope Francis challenged the Passionists: “…the strength and simplicity of your message…can (very well) speak to today’s society, which has learnt to no longer trust mere words, or let itself be convinced only by facts.
In 1988, Fr. Carl Schmitz, a Passionist working with the B’laan tribes in southern Philippines, was gunned down on the stairs of his mission. Months before that, Fr. Carl received anonymous advices telling him to leave the mountain and go down to the parishes in the city. A priest’s daily job is to be in a church not in houses and farms of rebels, one advice went. Fr. Carl could answer only in his masses. He would say that the daily work of a Passionist is to deliver God’s love—not only in the church but more in those far from church: farms, lakes, copra ovens, and mountain shacks.
Revised October 2021
Khalil Gibran’s ‘Prophet’, when asked to speak about pain, says: “Pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding. Even as the stone of the fruit must break so that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain” Awakening to the terrible reality of human suffering breaks open our heart. Then love and action in the service of justice becomes possible.
Appreciating and trying to live our first vow as Passionists to keep alive the Memoria Passionis should offer a clue as to how that shell may be broken. It should also give us some tools for critical reflection on our contemporary experience
Paul of the Cross began his great work in a world in transition. The Peace of Westphalia in 1648, less than 50 years before his birth, marked the waning of the political influence of papacy and empire, the two major medieval powers. ‘Enlightenment’ ideas began to make themselves felt. The church would no longer set the agenda; religious communities, dislodged from the center, would find themselves ‘at the edge’. In this world Paul found the drawing force of his life in contemplating the Crucified God. From here came his passion for life. The Crucified One led Paul to the ones he saw as the poorest, those who did not know God’s love and had no hope. Paul saw the name of Jesus on their foreheads.
We are called to continue the great work in a world still rocked by massive change. At the start of the 3rd millennium, "to see reality in our time is to see the world as crucifixion." 
 The Nonviolent Cross, Jim Douglass, first published 1968; republished by Wipf & Stock, Eugene, Ore. 2006 (Photo: iStock)
We had accomplished so much in just those few days during our 35th Provincial Chapter, June 5 to 11, 2019. We had affirmed many exciting proposals that arose from our Visioning process. Approaching the conclusion of our gathering, Fr. Clemente Barron asked me to help with some language for a final declaration which could be the "icing on the cake" for our time together. I agreed and Clemente crafted most of it. While the declaration was not acted upon during that Chapter, I am happy to celebrate and raise it up again now as it seems so right for the signs of our times.
Clemente reflected that at the Chapter, "Fr. Joachim gave us this stirring image of the statue of St. Paul of the Cross in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome: St. Paul of the Cross pointing to the Crucifix which he holds in his left hand with his right hand. He does not point to himself. As I reread this reflection, I think this is St. Paul of the Cross pointing to the living crucifix today."
From the declaration:
"It is being at the foot of the Cross where we Passionists are reminded of the cost of redemptive love, as we gaze on the dying Jesus the Christ. The foot of the Cross reminds us to be in solidarity with everyone who has ever lived and who will breathe the air we do in the future. It is the Cross that gives us hope and the courage to commit to creating a better community, a better world and sustaining God’s beautiful creation. As Passionists, we commit to prayer. We also commit to education, advocacy, and action at the local and national scene. We resolve to commit to this work, in our homes, in our neighborhoods, in our cities and states where we live."
Read the entire declaration here.
Pope Francis would be one of the influential Catholic voices in recent years reiterating the need to step outside our known world, and reframe it through the eyes of those on the margins of society. It's an idea that lies at the heart of the Passionist movement. Nicholas Postlethwaite from the Passionists, and post-evangelical poet David Benjamin Blower talk about the places they've lived - and while admittedly speaking from their own experience, they discuss their attempts to adopt a new narrative, where they themselves are not at the center. They talk about how that's changed them, as well as discussing the politics involved in self-awareness, privilege and ideology.
I particularly like the article [in the Passionist newsletter Passio] about “Re-Formed”, two sisters from the black community in Liverpool 8 who have re-bounded from their own experience of prison to work with gangs in inner city Liverpool. I’m proud that by supporting their work, we are able to continue the legacy of Austin Smith CP, the first Passionist I heard of.
It was back in 1989. I was living in Liverpool 8 and volunteering at a couple of local charities working with people with mental health problems.