FROM THE HERMITAGE OF MOUNT CARMEL
Mount Carmel, in the Bible, even though it does not assume a great importance given to other mountains like Sinai, has its own unique importance in relation with the figure of Prophet Elijah (1 Kings 18,20-40). It is an image and symbol of a holy place that favours immediate contact with God. Its eschatological nature takes us to that transcendent world and to the Divine initiative that is inexhaustive. The resounding victory of Elijah on Carmel against idolatry in Israel keeps alive the need of faithfulness to the Covenant and to the memory of God’s faithful love, as a continuous stimulus to conversion.
Historical background – Elijah, the Founder
It is historically and archaeologically proved that from the time of the prophets Elijah and Elisha, holy hermits of the Old and New Testaments, lived in that mountain favourable to contemplation of heavenly things, close to the spring of Elijah for centuries. St. Albert of Jerusalem, the Latin Patriarch and Papal Delegate to the Holy Land (1206-1214), during the time of Pope Innocent III, gathered them in a group and a gave them a Rule of Life. In this process, St. Brocard, one of the hermits was elected as their leader and Prior.
Particularly significant is the invitation to build an oratory in the middle of the cells around which the group would be united. Pope Honorius, successor of Innocent, in 1226, approved this Order and Rule given by Albert with the Bull “Ut vivendi di normam”. Centuries old eremitical tradition always identified in Elijah an archetype and model of the Religious life and this reasonably affirms that the imitation of Elijah is found at the origin of Carmelite eremitic ideology.
On 26th June 1725 Pope Benedict XIII gave permission to the Carmelites to place the statue of Prophet Elijah in the Vatican Basilica with the pedestal inscription “Universus Ordo Carmelitarum Fundatori suo S. Eliae Prophetae erexit” (The entire Carmelite Order erected the statue to its Founder). Through this act the Order affirmed the already established tradition that the Carmelites are the direct descendants from Elijah and the uninterrupted succession from the time of the Prophet onwards.
Mary: Patron and Mother
As Mother, Mary was hailed since the beginning as Institutor, legislator, the first and principal foundress of the Carmelite Order and the whole Order venerates her as “Mother of Carmel”. Information dated to within a few years of the presentation of the Rule tells that the Oratory was dedicated to Our Lady, with the result that the hermits came to be known as the “Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel”. One of the historical monuments in this regard is the famous Statue of the Our Lady of Mount Carmel, carved in 1820 at Genova in Italy, solemnly crowned at Vatican on 4th March 1823 in the presence of Pope Pius VII, was solemnly enthroned on 10th June 1836 in the Monastery shrine of Mount Carmel.
THE RENEWED SPIRIT OF St. Teresa of Jesus
Among the reforms of the religious Orders which took place in Spain in the 16th Century, one of the most notable is the reform of the Carmelite Order under the initiative of St. Teresa of Avila. The reformation was first done for the female nuns in 1562 and this was extended to the male religious in 1568 with the collaboration of St. John of the Cross.
Teresa ’s purpose of the reform of the Carmelite friars was to re-establish Carmelite objectives and disciplines that had become weakened in those years. To her, Mount Carmel is the place where the charism of the Order was born and is the cradle of the Carmelite family. In her book Foundations 14,4., she writes to her nuns, “ Let us have before our eyes our true Founders, those holy fathers from whom we descend, that we know it was by the road of poverty and humility that they now rejoice in God”.
After a period of initial conflict with the Order over the jurisdictional rights, eventually peace was restored and the members of the reform who were originally called Contemplative Carmelites, soon became known as Discalced Carmelites and became a separate Order on 20th December 1593 by Pope Clement VIII. This allowed the Discalced Carmelites, being an Order, to have their own superior general and administration.
The Carmelites Missionaries reached the shores of India in 1620 in Goa. The pioneer and founder of this mission was Fr. Leandro of Annunciation, native of Burgos in Spain, from the noble family of Melgosa. After obtaining the necessary permission from Fernando of Albuquerque, the viceroy of India and from Rev. Christopher of Lisbon, the Archbishop of Goa,Fr. Leandro inaugurates the first foundation in Goa on 25th April 1620, dedicating the mission to Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
Carmelites in Kerala
The official advent of the Carmelites to Kerala, then called the Malabar mission, was in 1657. When an internal revolt had taken place in the Malabar Christian community (So called St. Thomas Christians) and it divided the community into two opposing factions, the Pope Alexander VII delegated the sons of St. Teresa of Avila (Discalced Carmelites) to intervene in the matter. He divided the responsibility of reaching Malabar to two groups with the intention of reaching there at the earliest. One group took the then existing land route through Syria and Mesopotamia. The other group took the sea route from Lisbon. The Apostolic Delegate of the first group was Fra. Giuseppe of Holy Mary, belonging to the family of Sebastiani of Caprarola, in Italy and he was accompanied by another important person, Fr. Vincenzo of St. Catherine, the author of the famous book “Viaggi alle Indie Orientali”. Taking the sea route both of them reached Cochin on 22nd February 1657. Their strenuous efforts paved the foundation stone for the Carmelite Mission in Kerala.
Today, from its humble beginnings, the seed of the Carmelite Mission, has grown up into a big tree, stretching its branches in an impressive manner all over India. Presently the Discalced Carmelites in India are divided into 7 Provinces, 1 Provincial Delegations and 3 Regional Vicariates. The total members would be around 900. Besides, the Cloistered Carmels, the female Carmelites in India are divided under 8 congregations.