Fr. Charles Phukuta, CICM
US Provincial Superior (Recently elected as the New CICM Superior General)
1. CAN YOU SHARE A BRIEF, IN-A-NUTSHELL HISTORY OF YOUR ORDER AND COMMUNITY?
Missionhurst-CICM was founded in 1862 by a Belgian diocesan priest from the Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels, by the name of Theophile Verbist, for the evangelization of China. CICM stands for Congregatio Immaculati Cordis Mariæ – Latin for the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Missionhurst-CICM’s origins lie in Scheut, Anderlecht, a suburb of Brussels; that is why we are mostly known as the Scheut Missionaries. Presently, our international name "CICM Missionaries" is preferred, although, in the United States of America, the Congregation is mostly known as Missionhurst.
During World War II, anxious for the survival of our missionaries in China and hoping to provide them with Mass stipends from the U.S., Father Ernest Dieltiens was sent to the United States to seek financial support for the CICM China missions and to find areas of ministry.
Eventually it was decided to establish a permanent CICM mission in the U.S. In April 1946, Father Dieltiens was able to buy an eleven-acre property called “Lyonhurst,” for its former owner, Mr. Frank Lyons. The name was then changed to “Missionhurst.” During the same year, sixteen missionaries arrived from Brussels. Most of them were immediately assigned to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The others were assigned to the African American ministry in Columbus, Ohio.
In October of 1946, two priests moved to Culpepper, Virginia, where their mission covered three counties. On November 16, 1946, the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith gave official approval for CICM to work as a missionary Congregation among African Americans in the United States. In 1947, ten more missionaries arrived – one of whom is still here and, in 1948, an additional twenty-three. Also in 1947, it was decided to expand our CICM presence in the US; thus, in 1948, a large group of 23 missionaries arrived.
Today, about 40 Missionhurst-CICM missionaries live and work in the United States. During the first 40 years most came from Belgium and Holland. During the last 25 years most newcomers have come from the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Philippines, and Indonesia.
Through our development office we publish Missionhurst Magazine, organize mission appeals, and coordinate fundraising effort and we always welcome new donors to support our missionary projects in 22 countries around the world.
On the East Coast, three Missionhurst missionaries are currently working in administration. Eight are retired but remain actively involved in various ministries. We staff parishes in the Dioceses of Arlington, Raleigh, and in the Archdiocese of New York.
In Texas, our pastoral activities primarily serve the Hispanic community. We staff 6 parishes on the west side, the poorest sections of San Antonio, as well as two rural parishes in towns outside of San Antonio.
Today the 841 CICM priests and brothers are present in Asia: in Taiwan, Mongolia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Philippines, Indonesia and Japan; in the vast continent of Africa: in Congo, Cameroon, Zambia, Senegal, South Africa, and Central African Republic; in the Americas: Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Brazil, Mexico and the United States; and in Europe: Belgium, Netherlands, Italy, and France.
2. WHAT MAKES YOUR ORDER SPECIAL?
Missionhurst-CICM is an exclusively Missionary Institute of religious priests and brothers. Its members are called to go beyond geographical and religious boundaries to share Jesus Christ with all those who do not know him. To be ready to leave our country is a basic requirement in the life of each member of the Congregation. It is an option that constitutes an essential trait of our CICM identity and that profoundly marks our history. We read in our Constitutions:
“Like our founder, each of us has heard the call of Christ: “Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Gospel to all creation” (Mk. 16:15). We are sent to the nations to announce the Good News, wherever our missionary presence is most needed, especially where the Gospel is not known or lived. We leave our country to proclaim salvation as the great gift of God which liberates from everything that oppresses and divides people. Following Jesus, we address ourselves preferentially to the poor as the privileged recipients of the Kingdom of God.”
Missionhurst members come from different nationalities, races, and cultures, yet we live and work together as brothers.
We love and respect the people to whom we are sent. We adopt a listening attitude and try to gain a knowledge and understanding of their socio-economic, political, cultural and religious realities. We foster attitudes which reflect these values, and cooperate with initiatives which promote them. Through dialogue, we mutually purify and strengthen our values and their expression. Wherever we work and whatever our specific tasks, we try to respond to situations of misery, injustice and oppression and to understand their causes. In our work for a new world we are always inspired by the Lord Jesus and his Gospel.
Today, almost about 841 priests and brothers from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and North America, continue serving and caring for God’s poorest and most neglected people around the world.
3. WHAT CAN PEOPLE IN TODAY'S WORLD LEARN FROM THE EXAMPLE AND TEACHINGS OF YOUR ORDER'S FOUNDER?
Inspired by our founder’s devotion, Missionhurst missionaries have proclaimed the Good News of the Gospel in some of the most remote places on earth. Many have died in the service of their missions.
We are most notable for our international missionary works in China, Mongolia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Philippines, and in the Valley area in Texas and Black Catholic communities in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Missionhurst-CICM missionaries give witness to the universal love of God by living among the people, sharing in their privations, and participating in the day-to-day effort needed to achieve life-long spiritual and material changes.
“One heart and one soul”, we witness to the Father’s will that all men and women be brothers and sisters in Christ. We are a sign of solidarity among the particular Churches in their universal mission. In 1867, our Founder wrote: “Provided we have good missionaries, very generous, well mortified, we will carry out the will of God; their nationality matters little to me.”
In response to the people’s most urgent needs, Missionhurst missionaries may start a new farming project, build a clean water supply line, work to improve nutrition and health, establish a loving home for orphans and abandoned children, start a leadership training program or a sheltered workshop for the handicapped, or provide “seed” money to village entrepreneurs struggling to start small businesses. Or we may build a new chapel, clinic, seminary, or school.
As trusted members of the communities in their care, we work in close cooperation with local churches to promote Christian values, human dignity, self-reliance, and a decent standard of living, while sharing the hope and comfort of the Gospel.
4. WHAT DO THE MEMBERS OF YOUR COMMUNITY DO DURING A TYPICAL DAY?
5. ARE THERE ANY PARTICULAR RULES THAT ARE CENTRAL TO LIFE IN YOUR ORDER?
As stated earlier, we are called to go beyond geographical and religious boundaries to share Jesus Christ with all those who do not know him. To be ready to leave our country is a basic requirement in the life of each member of the Congregation.
Additionally, one of our general principles about community life is that: “as much as the nature of our apostolate permits, we live together in community” (Const. Art 51).
These celebrations are good occasions to deepen the bond of brotherhood among us, to renew our commitment as religious missionaries, and to be more deeply imbued with the spirit of our Congregation.
Our Proper of the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary for the Liturgy of the Hours also include September 9 - St. Peter Claver, Priest (Memorial), September 11 – St. John Gabriel Perboyre, Priest and Martyr (Memorial).
Q&A by Fr. Charles
Appreciating Our CICM Calling as Gifts to the Church.