150 years of the Redemptorist presence and mission in Suriname
Letter from Superior General
Rome, July 2, 2016 – Prot. N. 112/2016
“Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16)
Dear Confreres, Sisters, Associates and friends,
On August 1, 2016, the Congregation is celebrating 150 years of the Redemptorist presence and mission in Suriname. This is an occasion of joy and hope for the whole Congregation as we remember the heroic missionary witness given by our confreres from the Netherlands, from Brazil and from Suriname over a century and a half.
The jubilee celebrations began last year on August 1, and will conclude in Paramaribo at the end of this month. On August 31, 1865, Blessed Pope Pius IX promulgated the decree entrusting the Apostolic Vicariate of Dutch Guyana (later known as Suriname) to the care of the Dutch Province of the Congregation. When the Congregation accepted this missionary commitment, it marked a new chapter in our missio ad gentes. In March, 1866, Mons. Jan Swinkels, C.Ss.R. and three Redemptorist missionaries arrived in Paramaribo. The Church was already present, but now the entire Vicariate was entrusted to the Redemptorist Missionaries. This required a new flexibility and adaptability on the part of these new arrivals, in order to ‘proclaim the Gospel ever anew’.
As we prepare for the Canonical Phase of the XXV General Chapter in Pattaya, Thailand, the experience of the Redemptorists in Surinam offers us an example of ‘restructuring for mission’ over a long history. This restructuring involves inter-provincial and international collaboration. For the 135 years, the Church was entrusted to the Dutch Province. Unfortunately, in the 1980’s and 1990’s, this Province was no longer able to send missionaries, and only three native Surinamese had entered the Congregation. Turning to the General Government, the Province of Amsterdam expressed their willingness to transfer the care of the mission to another Unit. They promised to continue to help in the transition period, with language training, and they made a commitment to assist as far as they were able with other resources.
Considering the challenges of the Redemptorist missionary presence in Suriname, the General Government asked the Union of the Redemptorists in Brazil (URB) to accept the care of this Mission. Thus began an interprovincial and international collaboration for the sake of the mission. There have been many challenges over the past 15 years, and some of these continue.
In 2001, this mission was been entrusted to the nine (V) Provinces of Brazil. And they continue today.
For this 150th Anniversary, I invite the Congregation to mark the occasion in our common prayers and Masses on the feast of St. Alphonsus, who had himself dreamed of sending Redemptorist missionaries to the missio ad gentes.
The best known Redemptorist Missionary in the story of Suriname is undoubtedly Blessed Peter Donders, C.Ss.R. During the Canonical Phase of the General Chapter, we will remember the 150th anniversary of his entrance into the Redemptorist novitiate on November 1, 1866 in Paramaribo. The significance of this event remains important for all Redemptorist Missionaries, and I invite you to reflect on his life as an ‘incarnation’ of the Redemptorist Charism, and a model of integral evangelization for us as we ‘proclaim the Gospel ever anew’ today.
Attached to this letter is a brief reflection on the significance of Blessed Peter Donders for Redemptorist Missionaries, especially at this moment in our history when we are called to go out to the peripheries in order to bring the Gospel to the abandoned and the poor. I invite you to read it also in preparation for the XXV General Chapter.
May God bless us with the missionary passion of Blessed Peter Donders. May this celebration of 150 years of Redemptorist Mission in Suriname inspire us in the process of restructuring today. May our Mother of Perpetual Help accompany us and may St. Alphonsus intercede for us as we continue to ‘preach the Gospel ever anew’, especially to the most abandoned and the poor.
Your brother in the Redeemer,
Michael Brehl, C.Ss.R.