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The manners of Evangelization
Witness: Clement Hofbauer – the saint who went out to meet people
Saint Clement Mary Hofbauer is well known to us Redemptorists, but rather less so for those who do not know the Congregation.
I have always wondered why this man, who at his baptism received the name of John, changed his name to Clement. I found that the bishop St Clement from Ankara, a 3rd century martyr, had a similar life to our Clement Hofbauer. In his early childhood bishop Clement lost his father, and then very soon his mother died as well. I think that young John was inspired by that person, the way that bishop of Ankara managed with his personality, his growth and how he had been working to be close to God. I think that our Saint Clement took account of his great predecessor, that martyr from today’s Turkey. St Clement Mary Hofbauer through his activity in Warsaw and Vienna inspires a lot of people today. Against all appearances he is not saint of past, but saint of the present and future. What inspires me the most is his mobility. He was a man who was not sitting and waiting for God to come to him – it was St Clement who went out. He firstly went out to look for his vocation and when he came to Tivoli in Italy, he received the name of Clement. He was looking how to serve the Church. His family situation was very hard, we know – he was orphaned very early, and his mother took him in front of the cross saying that from now on, Jesus Christ will be his father. I think that this had meant a lot to Clement, who then took physical and spiritual care of orphaned children. His activity in Warsaw was incredible: it was a very difficult time, and with the recent battle of Praga a lot of children had lost their parents and homes. Clement was working at small church of St Benon in the New Town Market Place.
The time was difficult for the Church as well. Today we also say that time is difficult because of different situations. It was difficult back then – each time of course has its own difficulties. I think that the inhabitants of Warsaw and Vienna were fascinated by St Clement, because he knew how to be in effect, the parish priest of big cities. In Vienna he was called the parish priest of Vienna. Inhabitants of Warsaw also counted him as a very open man to all languages and people. Such was that continual mission, which was the hallmark of St Benon’s church – preaching God’s word in many languages, the celebration of Masses, and the sacrament of confession, as well as a very welcoming attitude to people. Clement was going out to the people. He was not waiting for people to come to him, rather he was looking for those outside. He was available in front of the church, he was talking with people – I think this is still a typical exemplar of a Redemptorist’s work, following the example of the Redemptor Hominis – The Reedemer of Humanity, so going out to meet those most abandoned. Clement picked the most abandoned out in the orphans of Warsaw. These orphans, especially girls, often had to work as prostitutes, so St Clement wanted to get them out of that sinful environment by founding vocational schools for women. He was the one who founded the first vocational school for women in Warsaw and I think that is why he was invited to create new structures connected with the Constitution of 3 May 1791. He at least supported spiritually those who wanted to renew Poland.
Clement had difficult moments as well. Parents didn’t take children to his school just like that. He had also to collect money. Sometimes it happened that he, with great faith, knocked on the tabernacle door there in that small church on Piesza Street. That knocking was not just knocking on the tabernacle, but that was knocking for a far higher value. “Jesus, I trust in you“ – we know that today thanks to the image of Divine Mercy and sister Faustina Kowalska, but we can say that St Clement was already a man who lived out the phrase, “Jesus, I trust in you“. He trusted the Redeemer without limit.
I also think we should notice that St Clement was very mobile. How can we say that? He looked for confreres. It is not by accident that within twenty years he created an incredible community in Warsaw – almost forty Religious, fathers and brothers, who worked with him in the apostolate of evangelization. His mobility meant that he walked here and there. He was not waiting for people, it was he who went out to seek them. In my opinion today we need such spiritual mobility in looking for the most abandoned, because these people will not come to us. It was he who went out personally or with help of other people. According to me it is important nowadays not only to imitate but also to import the best exemplars. It is not about copying, because we cannot recreate all the elements from St Clement’s life, but we can create a mechanism of going out to meet people. In my opinion it is the most important aspect of our evangelization today – going out to meet the abandoned. Clement is great example for us both in Warsaw and in Vienna. Not without reason is he so respected and considered as the patron of these two big capitals.
Author: Andrzej Kukła CSsR
Translation: Dominik Król CSsR
Music: Pride by Kevin MacLeod