Dear Salvatorian Confreres,
I am very happy to be able to send my fraternal greeting from our Motherhouse in Rome, in which Fr. Francis Mary of the Cross Jordan lived the major part of his religious life. As you know on 17 January 1890, Fr. Jordan sent from this house, the first Salvatorian missionaries to proclaim the Good News of Christ the Savior to the poor and needy in Assam, northeastern India.
For this reason, and from this same place, I write to announce to you that from 17 January to 8 December 2015, we will celebrate the Salvatorian Missionary Year. I have come to this resolution after reflection and dialogue with the members of the generalate as well as through prayer at the tomb of our Venerable Founder. How many times have I asked myself, what can we do to revitalize our apostolic religious life so that it is attractive and commits Salvatorians to become passionate witnesses of Christ’s salvation in the world?
The Church today, through Pope Francis, also invites us to be creative witnesses in our way of living and acting, deepening what is essential in respect to our following Christ. For us, Salvatorian religious, Christ the Savior is at the heart of our life and is the source of energy to overcome adversity and temptation so that we “do not conform ourselves to this age” (see Rom 12:2). This is our Salvatorian vocation, to be witnesses of Jesus Christ in a Church that is a sign of Salvation.
In reality, mission and witness are constitutive parts of the purpose of our Society of the Divine Savior, so that all know, love and serve Christ the Savior. As soon as Fr. Jordan got word of the approbation of his apostolic work at the diocesan level in 1889, he received a petition from the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith to have Salvatorians evangelize the immense territory of Assam, in the northeast of India. It was a territory of great challenges, where the proclamation of the Gospel had not yet arrived. It was an invitation and involved challenges that other religious orders had rejected.
Enflamed with missionary zeal and supported by his companions, Fr. Jordan accepted this pastoral responsibility. On 17 January 1890, our Founder sent from Rome the first Salvatorian missionary group to the Asian continent. This date since then signals the start of the expansion of Fr. Jordan’s missionary spirit that continues to bear fruit until our days, so that today Salvatorian life and spirit are present in over 40 countries.
Nonetheless, the sudden death of Fr. Otto Hopfenmüller in the mission of Assam represented for the Founder a serious setback. Rather than extinguishing his evangelizing dream, however, he increased the number of workers so that the seeds of the Gospel would reach the mission in Assam. Without losing time, on 12 December of the same year 1890, Fr. Jordan sent another Salvatorian group comprised of Sisters, Fathers and one Brother.
Years later, the First World War (1915) resulted in the forced exit of the Salvatorians in Assam and new suffering for Fr. Jordan. As is known, only 74 years later, that is, in 1989, did Salvatorians return to the Indian mission. The territory in which first Salvatorians started and were expelled, now is flourishing and subdivided into 16 new dioceses, where 40% of the population confesses the Christian faith in a country where the majority follows Hinduism.
Confreres I recount this story because it reminds us that next year we celebrate the 125th anniversary of the sending of the first Salvatorian missionaries to Assam as well as the 125th anniversary of the death of Fr. Otto Hopfenmüller and the 25th anniversary of the resumption of the Salvatorian mission in Assam. These events have led us to proclaim 2015 as the Salvatorian Missionary Year under the motto “The Savior's Mission is our Passion”.
I wish to invite everyone to participate in this time of grace, which will promote the missionary spirit at the personal, community and congregational level for all the members of the Salvatorian Family. Furthermore, Pope Francis has proposed the celebration of the Year for Consecrated Life from the first Sunday of Advent 2014 to 2 February 2016. This suggests, therefore, that mission and consecration ought to go hand in hand in the life of every Salvatorian.
In order to engage in the Salvatorian Missionary Year, with the help of the General Mission Secretariat and the Team promoting the veneration of the Founder, we propose the following goals:
1) Thank the Divine Savior, before anything else, for the history of our mission and the unity of the Salvatorian Family.
2) Recall the first Salvatorians who understood the missionary charism of Fr. Jordan.
3) Revive the missionary fire of our Salvatorian identity within the Church and in the world at the personal and community level.
This invitation is directed to all Salvatorians but I especially wish to address our young religious confreres so that you be the ones who carry the torch and illumine the world with the Gospel message and the joy of evangelization. Do not be afraid to be disciples on mission, helping to transform human realities, marked by material and spiritual poverty, into realities marked by hope and the fullness of life. Do not allow the light of the Salvatorian mission be extinguished in your hearts!
I end this letter by announcing that on our webpage (www.sds.org) there is a link to the Salvatorian Missionary Year, in which you will find documents about this topic, prayers, photos, activities, and celebrations. I ask that you share the materials that have been prepared for this missionary event with others. I deeply desire that the Salvatorian Missionary Year not be solely a “clanging cymbal” rather that it be an interior event, a vocational call to return to the source of the centrality of Christ and the missionary impulse in the apostolic heart of Fr. Francis Jordan. The Salvatorian mission is not only a longing of the past, rather it is the core element that gives impulse to and maintains alive the desire to follow the Lord day by day in the heart of the Salvatorian.
I thank you, ahead of time, for all you will do during the celebrations of these Salvatorian events, reviving and spreading Fr. Jordan’s charism in different cultures. Count on my prayers in this undertaking and do not be afraid. Loudly proclaim in all parts “The Savior's Mission is our Passion”.
Fr. Milton Zonta, SDS - Superior General
Fr. Agustín Van Baelen, SDS - General Mission Secretary
Rome 16 June 2014; 166th anniversary of the birth of Fr Francis Jordan