Father Abraham Vettuvelil, superior general of the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales, is bringing a message of renewal of faith to the Diocese of Nasvhille.
Father Vettuvelil, who leads the nearly 1,300-member strong Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales working in 26 countries around the world, was in Nashville to lead a Lenten retreat March 6-9 at St. Joseph Church in Madison.
“Lent is a spring time. It’s a time to renew ourselves” by taking a close look at ourselves and starting “all over in a fresh way,” said Father Vettuvelil. “People are challenged in their faith today. … We all need renewal.”
Father Vettuvelil was invited to Nashville to lead the retreat by St. Joseph pastor Father Tommy Joseph, one of four MSFS priests serving in the Diocese of Nashville.
Father Vettuvelil was pleased with the participation of the people attending the retreat. “They really hunger for God’s word,” he said. “They’re very much fascinated by this theme of God’s mercy.”
He wants the retreat participants to “really experience God’s mercy and compassion, especially in this Year of Mercy,” and to “realize they are God’s beloved children,” Father Vettuvelil said. No matter a person’s past or their sins, he said, “God’s love will never change. God’s love is unconditional.”
During the retreat, Father Vettuvelil shared the spirituality of his order’s patron saint, St. Francis de Sales, which he called “the spirituality of the heart.”
At the core of St. Francis de Sales’ message is that “all are called to holiness,” Father Vettuvelil said. “To be holy means to belong to God.”
After the retreat at St. Joseph, Father Vettuvelil planned to visit the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, were the Trappist monk and writer Thomas Merton lived, before returning to Nashville to lead a Lenten retreat for the Mother Teresa Syro-Malabar Mission. He will end his trip to the United States by attending the board meeting of DeSales University in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and then will return to the MSFS generalate in Rome.
The Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales was founded by Father Peter Mermier in 1838 in France to promote the renewal of Christian life by preaching parish mission, for evangelization and for the education of the youth. In 1845, the order sent its first missionaries to India, and today 70 percent of the order’s members are from India.
The charism of preaching a renewal of Christian faith still drives the order today, Father Vettuvelil said.
“Right now we are trying to recapture the missionary nature of our order,” he said. “The challenge is to go back to our roots, to stay focused on renewal of Christian faith.”
The goal is to “bring God closer to people and bring people closer to God” by helping them to experience God’s mercy, Father Vettuvelil said. We must “bring the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus to the center of our lives and then move on with our journey.”
Before coming to the United states, Father Vettuvelil spent two months visiting MSFS missions in Africa, including in Tanzania, Zambia, Mozambique, South Africa and Namibia. The Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales are in 10 countries in Africa.
“We are doing very well in our missions in Africa,” Father Vettuvelil said. “Africa is a land of opportunities” in need of a renewal of Christian faith, which is his order’s charism, he said.
The order also is working in 16 dioceses in the United States. In the Diocese of Nashville, MSFS priests include Father Tomy Joseph; Father Davis Chackaleckel, pastor of St. Catherine in Columbia; Father Jacob Dio, pastor of St. Luke Church in Smyrna; and Father Luckas Arulappa, pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Loretto.
“Our presence here is to bring our charism to the United States,” Father Vettuvelil said. “The challenge today is to be more prophetic and be more missionary minded.”