The Missionary Fraternity of Mary is an order of Priests within the Roman Catholic Church dedicated to educating and ordaining young men to bring the good news and the sacraments to the marginalized Catholics of the world. They educate the poor, welcome vocations to religious life to all without regard to ethnic background; prepare youth for lay ministry within the Church, and work with the poor to develop their spiritual and temporal well being.
Diocese of Sololá
Our origins begin in the Diocese of Sololá under the conscientious and loving care of its good shepherd and bishop, Monsignor Angélico Melotto and our founder, a priest in the Diocese. It was there that the movement of the Spirit guided our development from a youth movement to a Society of Apostolic Life which is now known as the Missionary Fraternity of Mary. However, much time had to pass, a time full of suffering and hardship, before we would attain such recognition and be established as an order of priests within the Catholic Church.
Socio Political-Religious Context
At the end of the 1970’s and during the 1980’s the civil war intensified everywhere in Guatemala, but especially in the districts of Quiché, Huehuetenango, Sololá, Verapaces and Chimaltenango. The great majority of the people of Guatemala suffered as a result of extreme poverty, social injustice, exploitation, lack of education, and marginalization. However, the aforementioned areas were particularly had hit. In addition, class struggle worsened, which consequently led to a conflict between the army and the guerrillas that unleashed kidnappings, torture, genocide, and exile. The Catholic Church in Guatemala was persecuted; priests, religious men and women, and catechists (especially those who preached against these injustices) were watched, received death threats, kidnapped, tortured, and in many cases, murdered. People pretending to be Christians infiltrated religious meetings, misinterpreted the preachers, and wrongly reported them to the military and civil authorities.
In light of all that was going on, the Guatemalan Bishops’ Conference made public the Pastoral Letter “United in Hope” on July 25, 1976, which, in addition to encouraging and supporting the mostly Catholic population in these hard times, also demanded the respect of the fundamental rights of all citizens to personal property, life, freedom of expression, education and land ownership.
The First Fraternities
With this first experience of exodus, a new stage of development and formation began for the young men of the community of Caminantes in Prayer. A small group settled in Mazatenango on the grounds of what is now Divine Redeemer Parish and attended the Salesian Theological Center in the district of Guatemala City for their studies. Soon afterwards, another small group that lived inSaint Bartholomew Parish joined them. A third fraternity of major seminarians was sent to Mexico City to complete their philosophy and theological studies at the Pontifical University of Mexico, and after a year of classes there, they returned to Mazatenango and settled in a rented house near Saint Bartholomew Parish in order to avail themselves of the fraternal community experience and the pastoral collaboration with the parish.
In 1984, relying on the rudimentary rules of their “Statutes”, three Fraternities were formed: two located in San Cristóbal City, in Zone 8 of Mixco, in the district of Guatemala, whose members received formation at the Institute of Religious Sciences led by the De La Salle Brothers, and a third, that of those who had finished their studies in Mexico and returned to Guatemala to join the pastoral parochial service.
In 1979, the Christian Life Conferences movement was introduced in the Diocese of Sololá. Two conferences initially aimed at evangelizing boys were held, and subsequently another two were held for girls. As a result of these conferences, a youth group was organized with personnel from the Diocese of Sololá.
In December of that year, 300 youth who had participated in the conferences celebrated their first Christmas on the premises of the San Lucas Tolimán Parochial School in Sololá, Guatemala.
Amid the difficulties, the heightened violence, and the armed conflict, the second retreat for young leaders was celebrated in January of 1981. There it was determined that safeguarding the integrity and the lives of the leaders and of the youth groups was an urgent need, and therefore the name of the youth movement was changed to “Christian Youth Paths” (from “Youth Paths to Christian Liberation”) in order to avoid any misunderstandings in light of the political situation.
At this time two young men from the Christian Youth Paths with vocations to the priesthood were already under the care and sponsorship of our founder and he felt divinely inspired and called to found his own seminary in the Diocese of Sololá and namedit “Our Lady of the Path.” In November 1980, upon completing a vocational retreat, eleven more candidates to the priesthood joined them. In January of 1981, the name “Caminantes in Prayer” was given to that small community of seminarians. They took up residence in a part of the House of Religious Instruction in the diocese so that they could lead a life of prayer, continue with the Secretariat of Youth Ministry, lead the Caminantes Movement forward, assist the different youth groups, and receive the appropriate formation for the priesthood. Their formation included classes on weekends taught by the Pedagogy Faculty from the School of Education of the Rafael Landívar University, based in the city of Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.
A New Exodus
In 1985, Bishop Melotto and the founder of the Fraternity, held a dialogue with Monsignor Próspero Penados del Barrio, the Metropolitan Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Guatemala, and obtained his unconditional support. Then, with the consent of the Apostolic Nuncio for Guatemala, Monsignor Oriano Quillici, the Missionary Fraternity of Mary was established as a “Public Association of Clergy” on May 10th, and by the end of that same year, it was given pastoral assignments at the parishes of San Pedro Ayampúc, San José del Golfo, and San Rafael Arcángelnear Guatemala City. in addition the Fraternity provided spiritual assistance to San Felipe de Jesús Sanctuary in the district of Sacatepéquez, Guatemala.
In 1986, Saint Luke the Evangelist Parish in Sacatepéquez was entrusted to the Fraternity, and the first ordinations to the Deaconate and the priesthood were also celebrated with great joy and gratitude.
On June 29th, 1990, the Archbishop established with Nihil Obstat, the formal and explicit approval of the Holy See, the Missionary Fraternity of Mary as a “Society of Apostolic Life” by Diocesan Law.
First Missions Abroad
Beginning in 1987, the Fraternity began with its first students in Italy, which subsequently sparked new missions in there. Later, missions were opened in Ecuador, Panama, and Venezuela. In Venezuela, the presence of Monsignor Oriano Quillici as Papal Nuncio (previously the Papal Nuncio in Guatemala) was of vital importance. Through his support and mediation, the Bishops of the Dioceses of San Fernando de Apure and the Diocese of Calabozo welcomed the Fraternity to serve in their dioceses. It was in this way that the presence of the Fraternity began in Venezuela. A number of other dioceses in Venezuela requested Fraternity missionaries to collaborate pastorally and this resulted in a missionary population which to this day is only exceeded by the number of priests working in Guatemala. Later on, missions were opened in Honduras, Canada, Nicaragua, and most recently, Kenya.
Diocesan Youth Ministry
As a result of the Christian Life Conferences, a well-established youth group was in place and in 1980 the first changes were made to youth ministry. The first retreat for young leaders was celebrated at Las Casitas, in the capital of the district of Sololá, Guatemala.
During the first retreat for youngleaders an evaluation of the development of the Youth Ministry Project was taken and it was decided that more structure and cohesiveness were needed in the diocesan youth movement. As a result, the name was changed from Christian Life Conferences to “Caminos Juveniles de Liberación Cristiana” (“Youth Paths to Christian Liberation”), whose members adopted the name “Caminantes” (“travelers”) to refer to the “caminos” (“paths”). The new name also prefigures the “Spirituality of the Exodus” which became central to the Missionary Fraternity of Mary.
In the mid-1980’s, the first yearnings for the priesthood arose, and the Secretariat of Youth Ministry was established with its headquarters on the grounds of the retreat house in Panajachel, in the district of Sololá, Guatemala.
In 1983, Bishop Melotto retired and a new Bishop was appointed in the Diocese of Solola. Our founder, who was in charge of the Youth Ministry in the diocese was assigned as pastor of Saint Bartholomew Parish in Mazatenango in the district of Suchitepequez. Some young men who were in the community of Caminantes in Prayer decided to withdraw from Our Lady of the Path Seminary in Solola in order to answer God’s call to live in community with our founder in Mazatenango. Afterwards, new vocations joined them and together they formed the first “Fraternities of Life” that evolved into the Missionary Fraternity of Mary.
Structure of the Seminaries
With the new Exodus in 1985 and the canonical approval that established the Missionary Fraternity of Mary by Diocesan Law, a sizeable group of major seminarians settled temporarily (while their own facilities were being completed) in what was at that time the former Archdiocesan Minor Seminary, and the Minor Seminary of the Fraternity began to operate in a rented house in Antigua, Guatemala.
In 2003 the founder and Moderator General of the Fraternity resigned. New leadership internal to the Fraternity was elected on an interim basis in 2003 until new elections could be held by the General Council of priests in September of 2004. In 2004 the present leadership of the Fraternity was elected at the general chapter meeting of all priests of the Fraternity. Rev. Eder Erwin Escobar-Lopez was elected as Moderator General. Father Eder, along with the general council has guided the Fraternity during these transition years all the while being true to the spirituality and charisms of the Missionary Fraternity of Mary as defined in its constitution and founding documents.
While there have been many challenges during the past 25 years, the Fraternity has also been blessed by the continuing growth in vocations to the priesthood and expansion of its mission outreach. The primary mission of the Fraternity is to provide pastoral care to the marginalized within the Church were the need is the greatest. At this time there are approximately 150 missionary priests working in 27 dioceses in 10 countries. In addition there are close to 200 seminarians in various stages of formation at the seminary campus in Guatemala City.
Recently the Fraternity has renewed its commitment to working among the youth in the context of sponsoring “Exodus Juveniles” (Youth in Exodus) retreats. In many ways the Exodus Retreats originated in the work which took place in the Diocese of Solola in the late 1970s. At this time over 3000 youth in Venezuela and 1500 in Guatemala have participated in Exodus retreats which provide a means for strengthening and developing their faith and bringing that faith into the challenges of daily life.
We continue to rely on God’s providence and guidance to remain true to our charisms and spirituality and continue in our fields of action: to serve the Church pastorally where the need is the greatest; evangelization of youth; and to work within and understand the universality of the Church. May we continue to seek strength in the words of Mary, our blessed mother, “Hagase en mi segun tu Palabra” (may it be done to me according to thy word).