Living Hope Newsletter – April 2008


Faith and Love in Action

Claretians are spread throughout the world in a wide variety of ministries. While known for their commitment to social justice and peace, foreign missions, and publishing, Claretians also serve as doctors, teachers, administrators, chaplains, and in many other roles – including parish priests.

In the Western Province of the United States, Father Steve Niskanen, C.M.F., pastor of historic La Placita Parish in Los Angeles, leads a staff of five Claretian priests in hearing confessions and celebrating 35 masses each week for a vibrant community of English and Spanish-speaking families.

Though they live in a bustling metropolis, these Claretians are truly missionaries. Living and working together in community, the companions help and support one another, even as they provide support to a large and diverse population of Hispanic people.

“To be true to our calling as missionary priests, we have to work with the poor,” Father Niskanen says.

Every weekend, thousands flock to La Placita, the oldest church in Los Angeles. For years the little chapel served as the sole Roman Catholic Church in the city. On Sunday, Claretians begin celebrating the Eucharist at 6:30 a.m. and preside at 11 masses throughout the day – five in the morning and six in the afternoon. Besides being a parish and place of sacramental ministry, the church serves as a center for the Latino community dating back more than 200 years.

La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora la Reina de Los Ángeles (The Church of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels) was founded in 1781 to serve the local Mexican settlers. Claretians took charge of the parish on May 20th, 1910. Father Richard Estrada, C.M.F., who’s been an associate pastor at La Placita for more than two decades, calls it a place of refuge.

“From the very beginning, it’s been a church of the pueblo, people—people who just recently arrived mix with people who have been here for many years, some middle-class people, some very poor people, some homeless,” he says. “Many people, every day, all day long, come in asking for legal aid, medical aid or some kind of help because there’s a lot of poverty out there.” Every morning the Claretians, volunteers and parish staff, serve breakfast to 150 homeless people, many of whom are undocumented immigrants. The church also functions as a shelter each night, where up to 40 people find safety and rest. Citizenship classes, English language classes, and religious education are among the many other offerings.

“It’s a place where the language and the culture are familiar to people,” Father Niskasen says. “It’s a meeting place, a place to gather where people’s spiritual needs are met, and they get nourished and affirmed.”

Fr. Matthew Mundackan, who trained in a wide range of holistic healing practices in his native India before coming to Uganda in 1997, opened the St. Clarets Holistic Healing Center one year after his arrival. Here, he performs accu-pressure on a man with high blood pressure.

“Pray to the Lord to Heal You”

The people living in Kitwekyambago, a community within the Claretians’ Kiyunga Parish in Uganda, don’t know what they’re missing. Isolated in a rural outpost 100 km from Kampala, the Ugandan capital, they have none of the comforts people in the United States are used to – running water at the turn of a handle, grocery stores stocked with food, quality education, access to the best medical care and technology in the world – to name a few. Yet residents are unwaveringly happy and grateful for the gifts the Claretian presence there has brought to their lives.

St. Claret’s Holistic Healing Center is one of the myriad ministries Claretian missionary priests started in East Africa. Established in 1998 by Father Matthew Mundackan, C.M.F., the Healing Center has treated more than 6,000 patients since its inception, offering traditional healing practices including dietary programs, herbal treatments, and services like reflexology, magnetic therapy, mud therapy, and yoga.

Trained in his native India, Father Mundackan offers “Pray to the Lord to Heal You” these and other healing services almost free of charge to a community desperately in need of affordable health care. Many patients come from great distances seeking treatment of body, mind, and spirit. Integration of the Center’s all-natural healing methods and the strong faith it espouses has been seamless; every patient sees the Healing Center’s motto posted boldly at the entrance: “My son, when you are sick, do not be anxious. Pray to the Lord to heal you."

In addition to the Healing Center, the 150-acre Kiyunga Parish includes Our Lady of Assumption Church, a nursery school, an all-girls secondary school, a training center for lay pastoral leaders, a residence hall for Healing Center inpatients, and a fresh water well.

More than 3,000 Ugandans call Our Lady of Assumption their church, attending Mass there when they can. Many receive the sacraments at one of 42 parish substations, located throughout the diocese. Claretian Fathers Joy Mampallikannel, C.M.F. and Mathew Vazhuthanapalli, C.M.F., take turns celebrating Mass in the church and going out into the surrounding community, bringing the sacraments to people who are unable to leave their fields and families to visit the parish.

Signs on the main road direct parishioners to the Kiyunga parish and the other services available through the site. Established in Kiyunga in 1997, the Claretians now have tow full time priests in Kiyunga, in eastern Uganda, and provide a range of services through the parish, including a training center for lay church leaders and a holistic healing center.

In nearby Jinja, Uganda, 15 Claretian students are engaged in philosophy studies on their path to priesthood. During regency, a one-year period of active ministry for Claretian students between philosophy and theology studies, many of them find work and recreation at the parish to be a life-giving break from the rigors of study. Pius Nandebe, a Claretian regent at the parish, recently spent a day harvesting bananas with parishioners to supplement the church’s food supply.

"Regency is an important time in the life of a young Claretian,” Pius says. “Now is the time for us to put into action all that we have learned about God and service during studies."