Fr. Claudio Garcia Extremeño (Roa, 1921) is a Dominican priest whose singular life continues influencing positively many of his brothers, professor of theology and many other people who know him well. We mention some items of his rich Curriculum Vitae: Licentiate in Theology, Doctorate in Missiology, Master of Theology, Regent of Studies, Prior, Provincial and now member of the Dominican Convent of St. Peter Martyr in Madrid. Now over ninety years of age, Fr. Claudio has a lucid mind and a kind, open and dialogical attitude. When I told him that I would like to interview him, Fr. Claudio commented: “Ok fine, but I will answer the questions I believe are appropriate.” I accepted gladly knowing that he would answer all my questions – and then some. I added that I would like him to contemplate his life and its different stages from the present – his present. (Fausto Gomez, OP).
Question: Fr. Claudio, the whole thing started at Roa! Later on, you felt called to follow the path of the Dominicans. Tell us something about the path that led you to the priesthood: your profession, your studies, etc.
Answer: Yes, the thing, my “call” started at Roa (Burgos). One day of August (1933) I was invited with another town mate to go to the Dominicans to study high school at their Apostolic School La Mejorada (Valladolid). I accepted the invitation right away. Why? Well, this was a golden opportunity to satisfy my desire to study. Here at La Mejorada, I studied first and second year.
Then, thinking that the unknown would be better than what we knew, we went joyfully to Ocaña (Toledo) to take up third, fourth and fifth years of high school. It was not so at all. Quite the contrary, for due to the Civil War (1936-1939), our class was able to pursue their year of secondary studies only. We had to leave Ocaña and all of us had different sad experiences. All of us knew, however, that some of our priests were martyred by communists of the Communist government challenged by Francisco Franco who rose against it on July 18, 1936. These martyrs assassinated in different places near Ocaña were: José Mira, Félix Osés, Canuto Arregui, Floro Casamitjana, Casimiro Adeva, Isaías Arroyo, Manuel Moreno, Maximino Fernández, Victor García and the co-operator brothers Teódulo Cuenca and Eduardo. We felt especially traumatized by the martyrdom of three of our dear formators and professors in Ocaña itself: Frs. Antonio Abad, Toribio Fuertes and José Pérez, who accepted their death serenely and with great faith; they were buried in the cemetery in a common grave. This terrible tragedy was perpetrated in the month of October, 1936.
Thereafter, I decided to leave Ocaña. I went to Valencia and I had to work – “by the sweat of my face I will earn my food”- in different jobs: office secretary, construction worker, helper in harvesting grain, including carob beans. We were at times so hungry that we were forced to eat some carobs.
At the end of the civil war (1939), I went back to my town, to Roa, where my parents and brothers were waiting for me. A little later, I was invited to go back to the Dominicans, this time to Santa Maria de Nieva (Segovia). After some hesitation and doubts, due to the terrible experience of the civil war, I told my parents that I would like to go back to follow my studies. My parents gave me permission and I went back and pursued fourth and fifth years. At the end of July (1941), my class went from Santa Maria de Nieva to Avila for the Novitiate, and the studies of philosophy and theology. I was clothed with the Dominican habit on August 8 and on August 9 (1942) I made the simple profession, and three years later my solemn profession. Through the journey I had my doubts, but after the solemn profession, never doubted on the road taken, although I had of course my ups and downs.
I completed my theology studies at the Faculty of the Angelicum in Rome (1947-1948). I was ordained priest at the Lateran Basilica in Rome on December 26, 1947. In the year 1948-1949 I finished my studies with the Lectorate and the Licentiate in Theology. Afterwards I studied Missiology at the Pontifical University the Urbaniana, where I attained the title of Licentiate and Doctorate (1949-1952). In 1969 and after a four-hour examination before a tribunal of the Order presided by its Master, fray Aniceto Fernández, I was granted the title Master of Theology on October 3, 1969.
You were professor for many years: In Santo Tomás (Avila), St Peter Martyr (Madrid), Major Seminary of Burgos, etc. Please comment
Fr. Provincial, fray Silvestre Sancho informed me that he had assigned me to the Convent of Santo Tomás de Avila as Socius of the Master of Students (Fr. Fueyo) and as professor to the Studium Generale. From then on, my life has been dedicated to teaching different theological subjects in Avila, Madrid (San Pedro Martyr), Burgos, Seminary of Madrid and to presiding the exams for the bachelor of Theology in the seminaries of Toledo, Tenerife and Siguenza. My teaching was only interrupted during the four years I was the Prior Provincial. I have tried to link the service to the Word in its diverse modalities with the oral and written teaching. I have carried out this task not only in Spain, but also in Chile, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and also in the East – in the Philippines, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Japan…
Almost all the members of the Province were your students. How were we in general: good, not so good, a bit naughty at times?
As I said, I was professor for many years and in different places. It is true that most of the members of the Province have been my disciples. Were they naughty? Of course, some of them, yes. And some were “cheaters.” There was one who copied from his seatmate even the mistakes in orthography.
As you know, I have always liked soccer. I used to play with the students every afternoon in one team. There were then among the students a good number of excellent players. Some were even invited to play in the team of Avila, source then of the Atlético Madrid; but they did not fall into the temptation! I played forward. There was a defender who when I got the ball shouted: “Kick the Assistant Master of Students!” Forgetting at times that it was a joke, a few really kicked me. One who took the saying seriously is now a great missionary in Venezuela. There was a good rapport among us within mutual respect. Indeed, we had a wonderful time
The professors carried out their mission in class, explaining, giving oral and written tests throughout the course, the debates, etc. Are the professors as demanding today as then?
There was a time when a first year student approached me to tell me: “It seems that you have picked me up among my classmates, because you always give me the grade seven: Introduction to Theology, 7; Theological Places, 7; Ecclesiology, 7; Archaeology, 7. Thanks God you gave me 8 and 9 in Preaching.” I told him: Is seven not good enough? Seven is equivalent to “cum laude.” Do you remember what Christ said to St. Thomas Aquinas? “Bene scripsisti de me, Thoma.” So St. Thomas was given cum laude, and you still complain? Both of us laughed heartily. I had him in succeeding courses and I do not remember if I raised his grade of seven, but I know he graduated in philosophy and theology and that thereafter has carried out his mission in the East with a higher degree than cum laude.
Fr. Claudio, you were also Regent of Studies and the Order gave you (well, you earned it with flying colours!) the extraordinary title of Magister Theologiae, Master of Theology. May I ask you this question: Do you think that study continues to be – in theory and practice – an essential element of the Order? Moreover, do you thing that it is also essentially important today in our missionary Province? Please, tell us your vision of Dominican study today.
Regarding your question on study let me say the following: I believe that it is still relevant what our Fundamental Constitution tells us: study is one of the constitutive elements of apostolic life, as it was envisioned by St. Dominic (IV); it is part of the kind of life to which each one of us is obliged by profession (n. 226), it is indeed an essential part of our life (n. 83). It is interesting to note that when our Fundamental Constitution speaks of the essential elements of our Dominican life it ends thus: “The life of the Order comprises a synthesis of these elements, inseparably interconnected, harmoniously balanced and mutually enriching. It is an apostolic life in the full sense of the word, from which preaching and teaching ought to issue from an abundance of contemplation” (IV).
You also ask me if all this is valid for our missionary Province. A brief answer would by way of a simple question: The qualifying term “missionary” is opposed to the substantive term “Dominican”? Obviously not! In the life of our Father St. Dominic we can find the answer: when he sent his friars to a concrete place he told them what they had to do, namely, to study, preach and found convents. I do not believe that St. Dominic, who placed the assiduous study of the Word of God to the service of his ministry, when he wanted to go to preach to the Cumans (then, missio ad gentes) would deny the need of study for all his children. Naturally, in the “countries of mission,” and keeping what is essential, study must have special connotations in its content and in its goal. The Constitutions urge the friars to commit themselves with perseverance to the study of truth, and the convents to promote study in them. The General Chapters have underlined the need of study in the Order and also why this need is more urgent today. Our Provincial Chapters have assumed the teaching of the Order and concretize it in accordance with the new problems the Province has to face (cf. Avila, 2005; Hong Kong, 2009).
Fr. Claudio, you were the Prior Provincial of the Province in “difficult times”! Please, comment
You say that I was Provincial in “difficult times.” I would like to concretize the question by saying that the difficult times that you seem to speak of refer to the Vicariate of the Philippines. Generally speaking, I found the other Vicariates, as well as the concrete ministries of our Province in the Philippines, very well at the personal level and at the level of community life, and in the teaching and apostolic work. The few problems I found in our Vicariates I tried to solve them the best I could. Regarding the specific problem to which you seem to refer to I also tried to do my best to solve it, as you know well. Indeed, I had a hard time. Then there and now far away, I continue asking myself: When the Philippine Province was founded, was the solution we took the correct one? I am aware of the errors that in this and in other questions related to the different positions I carried out in the Province I may have committed…
We are celebrating the Year of Faith (2012-2013) focused on the Golden Anniversary of the beginning of the Second Vatican Council. May I ask how did you see Vatican II then and now?
I lived Vatican II in Avila with great expectation. The Constitution by which Pope John XXIII convoked the Council explaining why he was doing so invited to hope. While different Vatican II documents were being approved the idea that it was a true renewal of the Church was growing, the renewal Pope John XXIII had asked in ad intra (Lumen Gentium, Sacrosanctum Concilium, Dei Verbum, etc.) and ad extra Ecclesiam. It would be very long to analyse the newness in each document or the change in doctrine in some of them. It is proper, however, to underline some points on the matter: Gaudium et Spes, on the Church in the modern world; Ad Gentes Divinitus, on the missionary activity of the Church; Apostolicam Actuositatem, on lay apostolate; Dignitatis Humanae, on religious freedom; Nostra Aetate, on the relationship of the Church with non-Christian religions; Unitatis Redintegratio, on ecumenism; Perfectae Caritatis, on the correct renewal of religious life, etc. The various pontifical documents of Paul VI, John Pau II and Benedict XVI have helped us greatly to understand and carry out in practice the implicit content of the conciliar documents.
How do I see Vatican II now? I see it with optimism. I believe that the Church has been renewed in the celebrations of faith as well as in the service of the Word. The teachings of Sacred Scriptures, Dogmatic and Moral Theology, etc. in the Ecclesiastical Faculties and in the specialized institutes have assumed normally and generally integrated well the changes proposed by Vatican II. On my part, I have tried to do it in the different theological treatises I have taught, and particularly in Ecclesiology, Christology and the Sacraments of Christian Initiation. Was I able to achieve it?
As you know, there are theologians that affirm that the conciliar teachings not only have not been followed but that even there has been a stop, an “involution” of the Council’s teachings. Taking into account the changes in society in the last fifty years – changes that greatly affect the Church -, these theologians believe that there is a need of a new ecumenical council, of Vatican III. Nevertheless I believe that what is needed now is something that has not been yet achieved: a deeper unveiling of the implicit content of the different conciliar documents.
You have written many and good articles and some excellent books on Missiology: On Missions or on the Mission of the Church? Why from Evangelization to New Evangelization?
I believe that on this point there has also been an evolution from the Decree Ad Gentes. The Exhortation of Paul VI Evangelii Nuntiandi (1975), as fruit of the deliberations of the Synod of Bishops of 1974, and the Encyclical Redemptoris Missio (1991) of John Paul II, and other following documents have re-directed missions to mission. If these documents have given pre-eminence to mission over missions, this does not mean that the missionaries have disappeared but that they are contemplated in a new paradigm. We have to pass from a conception of countries or territories of mission to a theological conception of the same. Although Ad Gentes Divinitus (no. 6) says that the task “is one and the same everywhere and in all situations,” however “it may not always be exercised in the same way.” The differences therefore “do not come from the intimate nature of mission, but from the conditions in which it is carried out.” Considering then that the Church acts according to the means at her disposal and that the conditions of those to whom the mission is addressed are different, there must be “particular initiatives” that are called missions or missionary activity and that are clearly distinct from pastoral practice and ecumenical commitment.
If AG integrated missions into mission, these – mission and missions – have been integrated into evangelization according to Evangelii Nuntiandi which says that the whole Church is evangelizing, and exists to evangelize. In the CELAM Assembly of the Latin American Bishops (1983), John Paul II convoked the Church to “a new evangelization: “new in its ardour, methods and expression.” To avoid narrow interpretations of the new evangelization as more destined to those far from the Church, more to post-Christians than to Christians and in this way blurring the specificity of the mission ad gentes, the Pope says: “To say that the whole Church is missionary does not preclude the existence of a specific mission ad gentes” (Redemptoris Missio, 32). We have to distinguish the pastoral action carried out in consolidated ecclesial communities, the new evangelization directed to the baptized that have lost a living sense of the faith or of their belonging to the Church, and specific missionary activity. The latter is destined to “the peoples or groups who do not yet believe in Christ, to those who are far from Christ, in whom the Church has not yet taken root, and whose culture has not yet been influenced by the Gospel” (RM, 34). In this same number of Redemptoris Missio John Paul II asserts strongly that although “the boundaries between pastoral care of the faithful, new evangelization and specific missionary activity are not clearly definable,” nevertheless “there must be no lessening of the impetus to preach the Gospel and to establish new Churches among peoples and communities where they do not yet exist, for this is the first task of the Church… Without the mission ad gentes, the Church’s very missionary dimension would be deprived of its essential meaning and of the very activity that exemplifies it.”
Generally speaking, the Dominicans like many other religious Congregations continue diminishing in number, principally in Europe. What more may we do to change this trend?
It is true what you say: Dominicans are diminishing in numbers, particularly in Europe. What can we do to change this trend? I do not have a magic mirror to see for certain what to do and how. The European society – and the Western world in general – is dominated by secularism, relativism, laicism, atheism, etc. Relatedly, in Spain according to a new survey the number of deaths is higher than the number of births, and that the births come mainly from the migrants from Eastern Europe and from the Latin American countries. In this context we realize that if the married couples have only one or two children it is difficult that these children would like to embrace priestly or religious life. Did you not see the trend in your own town El Oso? In our time, it was not rare to see that in families with many children a few brothers/sisters would enter religious or priestly life. Nowadays, the few vocations that emerge come from cities or big towns. When the last Christmas I went a few days on vacation to my town Roa (with about 2600 inhabitants) I did not see any young man in the Church. The good news is that in some places the trend is being reversed: in our Church of San Pedro Mártir in Madrid the participation of young couples with their children in the Sunday Masses is impressive.
What can we do? The first thing that occurs to me is “to continue asking the Owner of the field that He gives us generous vocations because the harvest is abundant and the workers are few.” The second thing that occurs to me is this: let us approach the young people and tell them what Jesus said to some of his disciples: “Come and you will see,” come to our convent and you will see who we are, how we live, how we carry out our apostolic activities as individuals and community. As we read in our Constitutions: “The life and apostolate of each brother and of each community will be the first invitation to embrace Dominican life” (LCO 165, II). The young people are moved not by an abstract ideal but by concrete persons and a community. The question arises: How do individuals and communities incarnate today what our Fundamental Constitution says in IV? Are we witnesses of what we profess? If we are witnesses, then we can apply what Paul VI says of a Christian or a group of Christians: those who approach us or see us will ask themselves, why do they live in this manner? What or who is inspiring them? Why are they with us?
On the other hand, our missionary Province, like some other Dominican Provinces, is growing in the number of novices and students and also in places of mission – Korea, Vietnam, Myanmar, East Timor, etc. How do you see these shoots of hope?
How do I see these seeds of hope in our missionary Province? You give me the answer in your question: with hope. When I open the Catalogue of the Province and see the number of postulants, novices and students from Venezuela, China, Myanmar, Singapore, Korea, Vietnam… my heart opens to hope because the seed that the workers sowed in these peoples fell on good soil. It is now your turn to continue cultivating, forming in Dominican life those seeds so that they will produce the desired fruit. In this aspect, let me recall what I said before: Let us not forget that our goal is “the evangelization and the implanting of the Church among peoples or groups in which it has not yet taken root” (AG 6). Certainly, these local churches will not be sufficiently formed if in them there are no convents in which men and women may follow Christ through the practice of the evangelical councils (Cf. LCO 110-120). When the moment of implanting the local Church is reached, the missionary Province must accept that the proper role of the missionary is to be of service to the local Church, to continue the journey knowing when to diminish and when to disappear so that the youthful Church with her own proper autochthonous characteristics may increase: to be always ready to leave the pastoral care of the new Church to her own native agents those activities or Christian communities of greater vitality, and to direct our missionary work to break new fields of mission. Experience shows that this endeavour may be difficult to the point of reaching conflictive situations, but the missionary vocation stricto sensu must assume these situations as a requirement of the same mission. The availability to service of the mission ad gentes, “Go out to the whole world,” and the detachment from oneself make up the columns of missionary spirituality.
Back to basics! Do we Dominicans still treasure and practice the motto “Contemplari et contemplata aliis tradere”? Or, perhaps, there is something lacking today? Please kindly explain. Thanks
You ask me if there is something lacking today regarding the well-known Dominican motto “contemplari et contemplata aliis tradere.” I do not dare to make a global judgment of the whole Province or of the members that compose it. “Mother Church has doctors…” Certainly, that motto expresses very well the ideal of the Order. Our Fundamental Constitution states it briefly: It is an apostolic life in the full sense of the word, from which preaching and teaching ought to issue from an abundance of contemplation (IV). Our Master of the Order has told us that “contemplation and the preaching of the Word constitute like the heart of the life and mission of the Order of preachers,” and he invites us “in this period of preparation of the Jubilee of the Order to focus our attention on contemplation, following the example of Mary who meditated in her heart the mystery of her Son, and that leads to the very heart of our consecration to the Word, true light that gives light to every man coming into the world (Jn 1:9). Perhaps the absorbing activity does not allow us to give sufficient attention to the ways the tradition of the Order offers us. All these paths of the Word of God have a central place: listening to it, celebrating it, meditating upon it and studying it.
Let me ask you now some personal questions on your current life. How do you see life – your life – today?
How do I see my life today? What do you want me to tell you? I see life very well. When you are nearly ninety two years old what else can I ask? Yes, I use a cane to walk, so what? Yes, I take about eleven pills a day, and these help me much. Yes, I visit my doctors regularly, and they like to see me so that they can ask me (as some do) what have you done to keep so well? My answer is that they should have embraced the religious life when they were young. Of course, we have a good laugh! At times I meet people who tell me: “I see you so well; it seems that the years do not pass for you.” I answer them: May God keep your eyesight, many thanks. And I add: if I am fine I give thanks to God for the gift of life and until He wants, without putting limits to his providence.
What were and are your preferred kinds of sports yesterday and today respectively?
You ask me on my preferred forms of relaxing yesterday and today. Let us put in parenthesis the word “preferred.” The kinds of relaxation yesterday were sports, long walks in days of outing, summer days climbing Gredos (Avila), swimming in a “pantano” in Madrid or Avila, beaches in Cantabria or the Mediterranean, days with family and friends of Quart de Poblet (also in a beach in Hong Kong), etc. And now, what are my ways of relaxing? With aging, everything has changed. The sports that I “carry out” today are: watching television, “walking” by car, replacing swimming with the shower, etc. Yesterday and today I like to walk, now with a third leg! In summer, in August I enjoy the fiestas of my town Roa, and I do not miss the chance of watching a bullfight, of course not jumping to the bull ring… What a difference!
The last question! I am sure that you look to your future with hope and serenity. Are you worried about tomorrow in any way?
Certainly I look to my future with hope and serenity. I firmly believe and hope that God the Father shall continue making a reality in my life his grace, his love, his forgiveness and his mercy. How about tomorrow? As I read this question I immediately remember the scene of Jesus at Gethsemane: “Father, if you wish take away this chalice from me; but your will be done, not mine.” You who are a good Thomist remember that St. Thomas explains this by distinguishing between “voluntas ut voluntas” and “voluntas ut ratio.”
It helps me have a meaningful life participating actively in the life of the community, thus trying to make a reality in my life the motto “contemplari et contamplata aliis tradere.” This sums up everything.
Dear Fr. Claudio, brother, magister and friend, many, many thanks! May the good Lord continue blessing you many more years with the lucidity and kindness that characterize you! Again, as we say in Spanish, gracias mil.