Thursday, February 29, 2024

Order of Argentine priests spreads the Gospel where the Church has not gone before

Revolutionizing Missions: Order of St. Elijah Marks 8 Years of Global  Evangelization

From an undisclosed location in Southeast Asia out of fear of an atheistic government, the intrepid Father Federico Highton devotes his life to announcing the Gospel to all people, especially those living in places where the faith has vanished or never been established. 

Highton and Father Javier Olivera Ravasi are two Argentine priests who in 2015 founded the Order of St. Elijah, whose motto is “Through my God I shall go over a wall,” which comes from Psalm 17. 

The order is dedicated to cultural engagement and sending missionaries “ad gentes” (“to the nations”), in a reference to the Second Vatican Council’s decree that reaffirmed the call for missions and salvation in Christ and highlighted the link between evangelization and charity for the poor.

The order’s website states that its members seek out the lost and the “’immense multitudes who thirst for Christ,’” as cited in Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium, “even when they do not know they are lost.” They go wherever the Catholic faith has vanished or not penetrated and have gone to Afghanistan, Yemen, Ivory Coast, Benin, Tibet, Laos, China, and India’s northeastern Sikkim region. A recently produced video captured Highton in Malawi.

CNA asked Highton why he goes so far afield from his native Argentina, which has material and spiritual needs of its own. 

“The Italian writer Vittorio Missori once said the Catholic religion is one of ‘and/and,’ not ‘or/or,’ which is to say it is mystical and ascetical. It seeks the salvation of souls everywhere, not just the slums of Buenos Aires but also in the Himalayan Mountains and deep in China,” Highton said. “The vocation of a missionary is to go anywhere ‘ad gentes,’ just as it is the vocation of Carthusian monks to pray and fast and for journalists to seek the truth.”

The order takes its name from the biblical prophet and saint Elijah, who is also known as Elias. The order’s website expresses admiration for “the heroic spirit of the holy prophet who, with his zeal and tireless preaching, was a fiery missionary. Just as the Carmelite fathers were inspired by him in their contemplative dimension, we seek here to inherit his missionary ‘parrhesia.’” 

In April 2020, fellow Argentine Pope Francis delivered a homily on parrhesia, which is often translated as “boldness,” as found in Acts 4:13-21. The pontiff said of the apostles Peter and John, who faced the Sanhedrin in the Temple: “The gift of the Holy Spirit: frankness, courage, parrhesia, is a gift, a grace that the Holy Spirit gives to him on the day of Pentecost. Right after having received the Holy Spirit they went out to preach courageously, something new for them.”

Olivera Ravasi said that Pope Francis personally received members of the order and instructed them to evangelize in places where the faith had not been shared before while also providing necessary authorization for mission work.

In addition to parrhesia, the Order of St. Elijah is founded on heroic commitment, fidelity to the divine “mystery” — the equality with which gentiles are to be treated (as mentioned in Ephesians) — and devotion to the Virgin Mary. Their intention is to preach the Catholic faith boldly and proclaim it “upon the housetops” (Mt 10:27) without fearing those “who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Mt 10:28). 

“Like the martyrs, such as St. Blaise, we are called to parrhesia even though we are cut into pieces,” Highton said.

While he is across the world in Asia, his brother and co-founder of the order, Olivera Ravasi, remains in Argentina, where he leads the order’s “Catholic counter-revolution” with teaching and outreach to university students and young professionals. 

A lawyer, theologian, blogger, and author who has produced numerous video conferences and interviews on YouTube, Olivera Ravasi told CNA that the Order of St. Elijah recently celebrated its eighth anniversary and is seeking to purchase a house in the heart of Buenos Aires to offer studios, a conference room, and a book store where young people can receive instruction in the faith and exposure to Catholic culture. The order also has a formation house for seminarians in Ecuador under the auspices of an archbishop.

While there are missionaries of other orders in Argentina, Highton said the Order of St. Elijah has its own charism and apostolic dynamism: “We go to the missions with just a backpack and without the bureaucratic apparatus of others. It’s as if we are missionary commandos. In the Church, there are the regular troops, but we are the commandos.”