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.
Every Passionist is familiar with Fr. Carl’s understanding of his mission. It is simply the message of Jesus’ passion and death: bring everyone to the nucleus of God’s love shown on the Cross. St. Paul of the Cross, founder of Passionists, took this message to the crucified of his time—the destitute children in the marshlands of Maremma.
The Passionists’ prophetic mission then is making berths in marshlands. St. Paul’s Maremma have come to stand for people and places in the peripheries where no one dares to go, especially where suffering renders God as seemingly absent. As Fr. Jesus Maria Aristin notes, “We cannot think of Jesus’ cross and forget about the crosses around the world.” A quick survey of Passionist missionary presence around the world reveals three notable marks of prophecy: making God handily present, infectiousness of God’s love, and ingenuity for more missionary paths.
Passionists strive to let God’s love comes handy. In Haiti, Fr. Rick Frechette keeps a midwife kit next to his door and surrounds his bed with clamps and surgical gloves ready for emergency calls. In Papua New Guinea, Bro. Jim Coucher and fellow Passionists built progressive caring shelter for the disabled. Fr. Kieran Creagh and our Passionist brothers in South Africa deliver palliative and respite intervention to HIV/AIDS and other terminally ill patients. Fr. Rey Ondap rescues Filipino fishermen arrested in Indonesia because of illegal documents provided them by fishing companies. Fr. Martin Newell brings God’s voice to streets fronting government buildings in London. Many other places see Passionists animating God’s ready accessibility.
Another mark of Passionist prophetic mission is making God’s love contaminate and enable people. When Fr. Roberto dal Corso, in Tanzania, developed agri-farms to sustain the Passionists, he involved the communities around. Now, the local people are efficient farmers and cattle breeders. In Indonesia, Passionists’ fight against palm oil business rouses people to assert their environmental security. Fr. Mario Bartolini’s defense of poor peasants in Yurimaguas infect others in championing justice for indigenous peoples in the Peruvian Amazon. Oftentimes, a sad prize awaits those fighting against injustice in South America, Asia, and Africa. But this cannot contain the infectiousness of God’s option for the oppressed.
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.”
The Passionists cannot just live, pray and preach from afar but moor in new marshlands.
Reprinted from Jubilaeum Communication Bulletin: The Passionist Jubilee Year 2019 N03