Pope Francis has lauded the rich history of the members of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit under the protection of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Spiritans/Holy Ghost Fathers) that is being realized in some 60 countries across five continents.
In his Monday, May 8 address to a delegation of Spiritans at the Vatican on the occasion of the 175th anniversary of the refounding of the Catholic Congregation, the Holy Father acknowledged with appreciation the “generous and courageous docility to the Spirit” that he said has characterized the ministry of the Spiritans over the years.
Claude Poullart des Places, a native of France who gave up the practice of law to study for the Priesthood founded a community for youthful men with the wish to become Priests in 1703. He dedicated the community to the Holy Spirit, calling it the Congregation of the Holy Spirit.
Some 150 years later, Francis Libermann, a converted Jew, established another religious family also in France, bearing the name, the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
The delegation of the Spiritans had an audience with Pope Francis on May 8 to mark 175 years since the des Places-founded Congregation of the Holy Spirit merged with the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary that Venerable Libermann had founded, to become, in 1848, the Congregation of the Holy Spirit under the protection of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
“You are present in sixty countries on five continents, with some 2,600 religious and the involvement of many lay people," Pope Francis told the delegation of the Spiritans.
He attributed the growth of the Congregation over the years to the members’ fidelity to the spirit and charism of their founders, including, the Holy Father said, "evangelising the poor, accepting missions where no one else wants to go, favouring service to the most abandoned, respecting peoples and cultures, forming local clergy and laity for integral human development, all in fraternity and simplicity of life and in assiduity of prayer."
Considering the rich history of the Spiritans in the last 175 years, Pope Francis said, "We see that Providence has rewarded their generous and courageous docility to the Spirit.”
"Your charism, open and respectful, is particularly precious today," he said, adding that the charism of the Spiritans is especially relevant in today’s "world where the challenge of interculturality and inclusion is alive and urgent, within the Church and outside it."
Reflecting on the 1848 merger of the two Congregations that were both dedicated to the evangelization and service of the poor, the Holy Father said that the process resulting in the fusion required that those involved overcome their respective “fears and jealousies”.
To realize the merger, he said, “it was certainly necessary to overcome fears and jealousies, and the brothers of the two families accept the challenge, joining forces and sharing what they had for a new beginning,”
In a note to ACI Africa following the May 8 audience with Pope Francis, Fr. Jeffrey Duaime who was part of the Spiritan delegation recalled the appeal of the Holy Father to the Spiritans.
“Pope Francis emphasized clearly in his off-the-cuff remarks that we should be open to include everyone (tutti, tutti, tutti he repeated several times) in the mission to proclaim the Good News to those in need,” Fr. Jeffrey said.
The U.S.-born members of the Spiritan General Administration who serves as the First Assistant to the Superior General further recalled, “As we celebrated 175 years of the great risk that of two Congregations being united for a common mission, Pope Francis reminded us that this is important moment for the future of the Congregation”.
Making reference to the “320 years since the founding (and) 175 years since the fusion (refounding) of the Congregation, Fr. Jeffrey said that the Holy Father is reminding Spiritans across the globe “that the mission continues with the same passion and vigor” as envisioned by the founders.
“We are called to respond to the new challenges of Mission today and tomorrow in fidelity to the vision of our founders and the charism of the Congregation,” the Spiritan member who started his missionary in Haiti, and has previously served in parish and education ministries told ACI Africa on May 8.
He added, recalling the address of the Holy Father earlier in the day, “Remaining open to the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives today by responding to the needs of the marginalized in today’s world is the challenge that we must continue to embrace.”
In his message to the Spiritan delegation, Pope Francis encouraged the Spiritans to foster the virtues of courage and perseverance in their ministry, saying, “Do not give up your courage and inner freedom, cultivate it and make it a living feature of your apostolate.”
“There are so many men and women who still need the Gospel, not only in the so-called ‘mission lands,’ but also in the tired old West,” the Holy Father said.
The spirit of perseverance, Pope Francis told the Spiritan delegation, “was the great intuition of your founders and the beautiful testimony of so many brothers and sisters who have gone before you. And this is also the wish and the invitation I address to you today.”