The Mission of Casanare: Nearing Four Centuries of Augustinian Recollect Evangelization
It is the oldest mission which the Order of Augustinian Recollects has at present. Casanare, in the Eastern region of Colombia, better known as the oriental plains, is one of the 32 districts of the country and is located about 387 kms. from the capital Bogota. It comprises 4% of the total land area of Colombia and has a population of about 300,000. Since 1662, the Augustinian Recollects engaged themselves in the evangelization of the place notwithstanding the hardships it shares with the other parts of Colombia battered by poverty and violence.
Every community has 3 religious. All the mission centers are located in significant towns: Yopal, Paz de Ariporo, Mani, Orocue, Trinidad, except Bocas de Paulo which is the rehabilitation center of Trinidad.
Living in the midst of Poverty and Violence
The mission at present is facing a volatile situation due to evident dangers:
- the violence of those who are rising up in arms
- pockets of poverty especially in the villages
- the upsurge of Christian sects which confuse the people
- the indifference of the politicians
- the neglect over the district, especially the vicariate of Trinidad.
In spite of all these, there are positive things that one can point like the religious culture of the Casareño people, the all-out help coming from the Church authorities and, the most essential, the gratitude of the people for the spiritual help received, which has inspired the religious to go on working and for the mission to move on ahead.
During the almost 400 years of evangelization work of the Augustinian Recollects, the most significant achievements in the mission are the following:
- The establishment of new parishes especially in places with big settlements
- For lack of sufficient number of religious in every community, the participation of the lay in the evangelization work had been of great help in attending to the needs of the remote communities, especially during important celebrations, aside from the help received from the communities in Bogota.
- For sometime the mission had been considered a place where the new priests spent their youth and vitality, producing rewarding fruits in the people who saw the parishes as dynamic centers of Christian experience.
- The reaching out of the religious as representatives of the Catholic Christian Church to the different ideologies and situations of persons found in the area.
- The strengthening of the missionary dimension of the Order as a vital aspect that gives fulfillment to the reason for which the religious have consecrated themselves, to announce the good news through service to the rest.
The mission in the plains began in 1662. Testimonies From the Mission
Fray Sergio Orlando Gerena “This experience has left a mark in my young religious and priestly life”
The missionary experience left a mark in my young religious and priestly life. It gave me a chance to live with peoples of other culture, acquiring new helpful tips for my apostolic life. But it was a painful reality to know that there were still so many left out and remained unvisited by us or by any missionary due to lack of volunteers and our being so limited in number. Even then we tried to extend spiritual help and at times even material help to as many as we could.
Fray Angel Cordoba “The mission is a wonderful school where Christ is the number one teacher”
It is indeed a gratifying experience that, after several years of missionary work in this place, one is not only engaged in administrative tasks but more so in personal encounter with the people. These encounters are a learning experience for our religious and priestly life, especially those visits through the trails and the preparation for the sacraments for those in isolated places. It is interesting that in these occasions we religious be able to see in them the face of Christ in need. In our particular mission area, among those who are fighting against the government, there are some who ask help to escape from a lawless and violent life. The most important thing is to have come to realize that the mission is a beautiful school where Christ is the number one teacher, and the religious are his partners.
Lay People “With the Augustinian Recollects we experience God in another perspective”
Being able to count of the Augustinian Recollect priests is gratifying for all of us. It gives us a chance to have an experience of God in another perspective, that is, through the life of the holy Augustinians. The priests who are with us are a big help in the growth of the faith of all, especially through their total self-giving in the apostolate and their attention to the remote areas of the parish.
Almost 4 Centuries of Comings and Goings
The mission in the plains began in 1662, when it was then decided by the Church and the president of the Court to have the Department divided into 5 districts, each falling under the care of the religious Order then present in the territory. The Augustinian Recollects took charge of the area bounded by the rivers Upia and Cusiana, southwest of the Department. Nonetheless, in spite of the work undertaken during this period, the religious who answered to the call of this new challenge met persecutions and a lot of misunderstandings, like the other religious communities, instigated by ambitious settlers who were unjust and exploitative of the natives in the area and who did not welcome the efforts of the missionaries to defend them.
After the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1767 and the retreat of the Capuchins in 1795, the Augustinian Recollects had a bigger role in the evangelization of the Department. Then the locals were also working hard in the urbanization of their place helped by the missionaries.
Later, the number of the religious decreased in alarming figures, until such point that there were not enough to handle the mission. In 1855 the last missionaries left, fortunately not for a long time.
During the second half of the XIX century the Colombian Church suffered so much due to the anti clerical laws promulgated by the Colombian government. These almost reduced the Province to disappearance if not for the work of a group of religious led by Fr. Ezekiel Moreno who came to the rescue just on time.
With this saint the presence of the Augustinian Recollects in the missions of Casanare took a new turn, getting revitalized from 1890 until today. In 1893 Pope Leo XIII removed the territory of Casanare from the Diocese of Tunja, establishing it as Apostolic Vicariate of Casanare, with Fr. Ezekiel Moreno as the first bishop. In 1992, Pope John Paul II canonized this Augustinian Recollect bishop and hailed him as a model evangelizer.
Then in the year 2000, making a big leap in history, this Vicariate was divided into two and the diocese of Yopal and the Vicariate of Trinidad were created, with Fr. Hector Javier Pizarro Acevedo appointed as bishop, and the province is again put in charge of this mission territory.
Since then the mission has experienced significant progress, either on the part of the religious who are enriched with their missionary experiences or on the part of the beneficiaries of the pastoral work being done through the years.
The missionary work of the Augustinian Recollects in Casanare has been very good. Its fruit is visible in the interest of the people to live their religion. However there is a felt need for more work to be done in order that the Catholic Faith may continuously grow during these difficult times of the Church.
Casanare Mission (Colombia)
SEPTEMBER 2008 · SIERRA LEONE. José Luis Garayoa: “We asked God that we be killed with one shot and not cut to pieces”
By-laws of Augustinian Recollect Missions Autor: OAR (174 Kb)
SEPTEMBER 2008. SIERRA LEONE. José Luis Garayoa, Augustinian Recollect missionary
OAR Missions The Order of Augustinian Recollects has been a missionary congregation since the time of its beginnings. In actuality, it is responsible for evangelization in 8 territories of mission located in seven different countries, Brazil, Colombia, China, Peru, Panama, Taiwan and Sierra Leon.
Video: Augustinian Recollects in Casanare Héctor Javier Pizarro Acevedo, bishop of Trinidad, Colombia, from 2001, he reports the experience in Casanare.