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You are here:Home / Family News / NEF 2014 / Family News - 2014 March 14th / The 11 vicariates of the congregation (3)
Mar 14, 2014

The 11 vicariates of the congregation (3)

Holy Land Vicariate

Holy Land

Its roots

The presence of Betharram in the Holy Land is due to the combined efforts and determination of two great characters in the history of the Congregation, namely Father Auguste Etchecopar, 3rd Superior general and St Mary of Jesus Crucified; they worked together at the establishment of a community in Bethlehem in 1879. Sister Marie was linked to the work at Carmel, whose priests were and still are chaplains; it is only right to remember the names of the pioneers of this vast undertaking for Betharram: Fathers Prosper Chirou, Pierre Estrate (future superior general), Jean Auguste Abbadie and Brother Hilaire Mestrezat.

At the end of the 19th century the residence of Bethlehem had become the spearhead and centre of the whole Congregation. To avoid the seminarians (or scholastics as they were called then) having to do the two years National Service required by French law, in 1890 the chaplains’ residence accepted part of the young recruits for the Congregation; these young candidates were leaving France knowing that for at least ten years they would not be able to return – such was the law. When the Congregation was expelled from France in 1903, the residence in the Holy Land was named official seat of the scholasticate and for a time for the novitiate also. Meanwhile, in 1905 a new residence was opened in Nazareth and in 1911 received the scholastics for their two years of philosophy. From then onwards the two houses in the Holy Land were fully in activity as scholasticates for the Congregation, not forgetting the primary and fundamental work, namely the spiritual accompaniment of the two Carmelite Monasteries.

Scholasticate in 1898

At the beginning of the 1920s and after the break for the First World War, both residences were admitting once more the scholastics in philosophy and theology together with the corresponding teaching team. Bethlehem had as many as 50 students and Nazareth more than 30. In view of the number of young candidates, at one moment it was necessary to open a new residence which was situated near the archaeological site of Emmaus. This house didn’t open its doors to the scholastics who were directed towards Balarin in France. Finally, another important and well deserving sign was to have accepted to direct the patriarchal seminary at Beit Jala from 1932 to 1980.

After the Second World War the houses in Bethlehem and Nazareth ceased to function as a scholasticate, precisely in 1948 when the Congregation was divided into Provinces. From then onwards, not forgetting the chaplaincy to the Carmelite Monasteries, little by little they became prayer centres and guest houses for pilgrims. Finally they served as meeting places for Congregational assemblies at international level (formation, Council of the Congregation in 1995 and the General Chapter in 2011).

At the end of the 20th century the young Arabs began their formation in view of the priesthood and consecration as Betharramite religious. Their presence led to the opening in 2008 of the parish residence Zarqa in Jordan, and hopes for the future of Betharram in the Holy Land. Finally with the new millennium, the residence in Bethlehem has become once more a place of formation and preparation for consecrated life as the seat of the novitiate for the St Michael Garicoits Region.

Roberto Cornara

Its Present and its future with Fr. Pietro Felet scj, regional vicar

1875/1879 – 2014 = 138 years of history written by the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Betharram in the Holy Land.. That counts for something! Successive generations of religious but who are now dying out, have kept faithfully in memory the years spent in formation or in ministry; the word “hic” engraved in stone has left an indelible mark on their hearts as contemplatives. It is “here” that the Word became man; it is “here” that Christ was born of the Blessed Virgin Mary; it is “here” that he was crucified, died and was buried; it is “here” that he rose again from the dead; it was “here” that his “Here I am” rang out with that of Mary “to do your Will, Father”. If you want to know the effect of an experience in the Holy Land you have only to question the young African religious who spent their canonical year of novitiate here.

Bethlehem: Verbum caro, hic factum est.


The religious of the Vicariate feel responsible for carrying on the heritage, as heritage to be transmitted to future generations of religious. In the Vicariate we have often been wondering what we should be like today, as religious of Betharram at the heart of the Mother Church in Jerusalem, and what we should be like tomorrow.

The time of our discreet entry in the face of Church feelings of the day, is well and truly part of history, but is typical of what are our characteristics, that is humility, devotion and fidelity. In the course of time our Congregation found its place and has always been and still is renowned for its availability in the service of the local Church. Its close links with the local Church were not in self interest but for the good of souls met on the way: Carmelite Sisters, seminarians, priests, refugees, abandoned children, the disabled, and the laity. Our commitment to the laity was carried out in an indirect fashion: train future priests in our seminary who afterwards would become formators of the laity. Only six years ago in a show of total trust the Patriarch entrusted us with the responsibility for a large parish in Jordan where the young and not so young are to be found side by side with the Betharramites. These parishioners, seeing our way of life, have been attracted and are asking to have a better knowledge of our Charisma which is witness of our life style of humility, fidelity, devotion and welcoming.

So far I have been talking of the past and present; but what of the future? How do we imagine it? What are the calls? With what troops will we carry on the good work? For the past year and in the course of our community meetings these are the questions which come up for discernment. Here are the points on which we are all agreed: the meaning of belonging to Betharram, the courage of enculturation, rediscovery of a missionary spirit and the stability to pursue an apostolic project. The youngest and most active of the religious had their initial formation at diocesan level. The not so young have a diocesan mentality rather than a religious one. Not many of them know what it means to belong to Betharram, hence the need to pay particular attention to on-going formation in community so as to rediscover together the beauty of our charisma when lived in another cultural and religious context.

Enculturation of the young religious is most important. Consequently it is absolutely necessary to begin by learning a local language as a tool for communication and insertion. Something else which is of vital importance is integration in the Arab and Jewish culture with courage, passion and love. Anything gleaned in books is useless. The Mother Church in Jerusalem is rooted in the Middle East, meeting point of peoples, religions, tongues, cultures and thousand year old histories. It is a world to be discovered, known, interpreted and with which to communicate. If this is missing, the religious is living under a cloud, cut off from the surrounding world, and with the risk of a slow death by suffocation.

Betharramite missionaries in South America, in China and Thailand, and in Africa have much to teach us. Moving from one place to another by make shift roads, problems with local authorities, new smells and tastes were their daily lot. Yet they never lost their initial joy and enthusiasm at bringing the Good News of salvation and liberation to the people. The Holy Land is a relatively narrow strip of territory but the difficulties concerning the movement of people remain: the residents permit to be renewed periodically, visiting another community requires time, and a lot of patience. In the Holy Land there are also frontiers which are not all constructed with barbed wire or blocks of cement but which can lead to a dialogue between cultures, religions and even generations. To acquire a new culture means entering into the mystery of the kenose of Christ himself: it means leaving one world to enter into a new world and be consumed by it for love.

To learn another language so as to build up good relationships demands a certain stability. Such stability can come from commitment to the pastoral of vocations on the spot, collaboration with the clergy presenting ourselves with a strong religious identity and a clear project. Betharramite religious from other countries can be a positive element in the stability of the Vicariate, if they make clear and conscious choices for “ever” and not for a brief period of time.

Although they didn’t have our Rule of Life at hand local animators helped us to find the points on which to focus our commitment for and with the local Church in crossing new frontiers. I am going to resume them for they are an exact reflection of what is to be found in our Rule of Life: formation of the young, attention for the families, the spiritual accompaniment of pilgrims and of consecrated souls.

Solid convictions, good suggestions and the best ways of serving the local Church and the neighbour must be pursued during the next few months as we continue our discernment.

In the Middle East the Pastors of the Catholic Church, the Orthodox and Protestant Churches are forever saying: “Either we shall be saved together or we shall perish together”. There you have a clear call to unity and community! Furthermore, we religious of the Sacred Heart are full of Hope. Betharram will continue to be in the Holy Land if we so want it and how we want it!

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