Living Hope Newsletter – February 2013
Christ the King Mission
Situated in the small town of Malaga, which is named for a grape varietal grown in the region, the Christ the King Mission bears its own fruit in service of the many community members who cross this historic church’s threshold. This is a mission church that used to be without a traditional parish structure. The Claretian Missionary priests of St. Anthony Claret parish in Fresno, California, have ministered to the spiritual needs of this high-poverty community for almost 60 years now. They also have taken on the responsibility of maintaining the mission church.
“There are two sides, but we are one parish,” says Claretian Fr. Gabriel Ruiz, pastor of St. Anthony Claret and one of three priests who alternate ministering at Christ the King each week.
The bright white church, built in 1933, invites the many faithful in Malaga, as well as pilgrims from across the state and country eager to experience the church’s old-mission charm and history. The Claretian Missionaries came to Christ the King in 1954, and since then they have been offering Mass, catechism, and the sacraments to church members and visitors.
“We have Spanish services on Saturday and Sunday that draw some 300 people,” says Fr. Gabriel. The desire for services in English is growing. “With the younger generation of people, there are some that still speak Spanish, but there are more and more of them speaking English,” Fr. Gabriel says. “In addition to visitors, we have some of the old timers—some from the fields—and newer, younger families from outside the city.”
The preservation of the old mission church is a special part of local and Claretian history that reflects the Congregation’s dedication to the spiritual needs of the poor and to Hispanic Catholic tradition. “The name of the church is especially meaningful,” Fr. Gabriel says. “During the persecution of the Church in Mexico, Christ the King was very important, and used as a rallying cry for Catholics.”
Christ the King has many needs as it continues to grow, drawing more people each year. Signs of aging in the church led to a renovation of the interior two years ago to prevent the historic space from being condemned. The growing community also likes to gather together for fellowship, but the mission has no parish hall as a gathering place, and even the parking lot is in need of repair. The parish considers these future improvements important facets of expanding its ability to extend hospitality and welcome to Catholics in need of a community.
“I’m concerned because we need to update these things, but the funds aren’t available,” Fr. Gabriel says. “The parish is growing, and our facilities need to reflect that growth so that we can be responsive to all who come here.”
The Claretians in Argentina
The Claretians have deep roots in Argentina, having worked in the country for more than 100 years. These roots have been the strong foundation for their many ministries—from parish life to education to preparing men for the priesthood and religious life. Today there are about 70 priests and seven brothers addressing the needs of their communities throughout Argentina.
The Claretians work to build healthy communities through their ministries, living in the same neighborhoods as the people they serve and learning about the people’s needs first-hand. In the Argentinean cities of Cordoba and Buenos Aires, the need for quality education led to the development of Claretian schools to improve the opportunities available to the communities’ children.
At the Claretians’ Center for Theological and Philosophical Studies in Cordoba, Claretian seminarians, along with students from other congregations, apply themselves to the rigorous study required to become a priest or religious brother. This thriving academic and spiritual center offers students and visitors many facilities unique to the area, including its prized library of over 50,000 volumes. Many of these works are extremely old, written on animal hides and covered in leather binding. And for Claretian seminarians in Cordoba, the formation houses of Los Peregrinos and Rhoel Gallardo provide quiet communities for reflection and study.
In Alta Cordoba, the Claretians, faculty, students, and parents are extremely proud of the record of excellence at the Claretians’ Heart of Mary School. Of the 2,200 students enrolled at the school, 80% graduate and pursue their college degrees. The excellent Catholic education they receive at Heart of Mary for nursery, primary, and secondary school definitely paves the way for futures with promise and opportunity.
Claretian dedication to education and the spiritual lives of students continues through college in Argentina. At El Tambo, the student ministry center at the Centro Unversitario Catolico in Cordoba, academic life is enriched with the spiritual. Students have access to the sacraments in addition to Bible study and dance groups. Students also have the opportunity to give back to the community by providing food for the poor and homeless in the city through programs at El Tambo.
Claretian parishes are often located among communities where the needs are greatest. Heart of Mary parish in Buenos Aires, built by the Claretians in 1927, is no exception, situated in one of the poorest and most violent neighborhoods in the city. Claretian priests offer four Masses every Sunday, and with the help of volunteers, feed as many as 100 people each week for Sunday dinner throughout the year.
The Claretians play a major role in the social and spiritual lives of the communities they serve in Argentina. They continue to provide for their communities’ urgent needs, as they look forward to expanding their ministries in the years ahead.