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Message for 147th foundation anniversary of the SVD

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September 8, 2022

Dear confreres, Sisters, Mission Partners, Friends, Benefactors and Relatives,

Some days ago, I was in Togo, joining the confreres, sisters and lay partners to celebrate the arrival of our first missionaries on its shores 130 years ago. Though the mission in Togo had to cease by the First World War, the sending of the first missionaries to Togo marked a critical moment in the history of our Congregation. It was a pivotal moment when the Divine Word Missionaries stood their ground in the continent of Africa that demonstrates St. Arnold’s resoluteness in crossing the Europe’s borders and reaching out to people beyond the familiar.

Before sending missionaries to Togo, the Founder spent long hours in prayerful discernment. Yes, he took time as he was a man of contemplation. Before founding our Congregation, he promoted the Apostleship of Prayer in Germany and the neighboring countries. The importance of prayer for mission is reflected in the foundation of the SSpSAP after establishing the two active missionary congregations. He invited others to contemplation as he was convinced that in “an epoch of history when evil and hope are simultaneously so great,” we need to practice contemplation to get a clear orientation of our life, as an individual, as a community, as Church, and as human family. In present times, when fake news and objectivity are so difficult to distinguish, our pursuit of truth must be guided by the graces of a prayerful discernment.

On this foundation day of our Congregation, I invite you to reflect on contemplation as a source of inspiration, strength, and perseverance in our intercultural life and mission. To be consistent with the understanding that mission is principally the mission of God, we can only do justice to it if we cultivate the contemplative dimension of our life and mission. Fr. Antonio Pernia, our former Superior General, reminds us of the need for conversion from activism to contemplation in mission. We are asked not to rely merely on ourselves, our ideas, and our work but to put our trust in the Lord who is at work in manifold ways. We participate in realizing God’s designs by being with the people and enabling them to do things on their own.

I would like to focus on three aspects of contemplation that may benefit us. The first is to get in touch with ourselves. Contemplation is about getting-in-touch or connecting with the self. Our busy schedule can lead to a superficial connection with ourselves. It can result in not accepting our weaknesses and not using our finest strengths. Activism, being absorbed in work, can cause us lose our identity, not knowing who we are. As a result, feeling burdened and worn out from within and without, we may run away from ourselves. In contrast, contemplation can initiate a self-journey to return to the deepest sense of our being and identity that in turn can redirect our missionary efforts.

Secondly, contemplation means learning to see others and the world with the eyes of God. How does God see the world? The sight of God is honest and respectful that sees the whole and does not concentrate on the negative side of a person or of the world. Learning to gaze at others and the world with the eyes of God entails learning to see and acknowledge the shadows and suffering in the world, injustice among people, and exploitation of nature. With God we also open our eyes to the potential to improve and transform by recognizing and using people’s goodwill, gifts and resources, regardless of their backgrounds.

Finally, contemplation helps us respond to the question: what does God want us to do in our context? Understanding ourselves better and looking at the light and shadows of our world, how does God invite us to respond to the situation? In what ways, can we contribute to enhance our community, our Congregation, the Church, and the world? What do we have to accept with humility as part of our limitations as created beings?

Daer Brothers and Sisters,

The foundation day of the Congregation is an important day to bring us back to the core of the missionary endeavor of our Founder, St. Arnold: his prayer life and contemplative dimension of his mission. May the celebration of the 147 th anniversary of our Society be an inspiration for us to strengthen our prayer life, personally and as community. Let us stand our ground wherever we are and remain committed to our mission.

Happy Foundation Day to us all.

Fr. Budi Kleden, SVD
Superior General