Arnold Janssen’s first foundation
Society of the Divine Word
Divine Word Missionaries, SVD
Societas Verbi Divini
In 1875 Arnold Janssen founded the Society of the Divine Word for priests and brothers. They were to bring the Good News to peoples everywhere but especially to those who had never heard of God.
Arnold wanted the whole world to hear the good news, but the country he felt most drawn to was China. Four years after founding the Divine Word Missionaries, he sent his first two priests to China, the country with millions of people who in the nineteenth century after Christ were still waiting to hear about his message. Since the middle of this century, China has been closed to Christianity and to its messengers. But Arnold Janssen also sent his missionaries to other Asian countries – Japan and Philippines. Today Divine Word Missionaries are also in Indonesia, India, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea. Soon Thailand will be added to this list. In this area of the world can now be found 53 % of the future SVD « proclaimers of the Good News» ; and missionaries from some of these countries have, in their turn, been sent «to the ends of the earth ».
Africa had also carved itself deeply into the consciousness of Arnold, and it was there that he sent his men in 1892. Togo was the country; but after World War I his missionaries had to leave. Even if missionary work has ceased in his « first love» – China – his sons today are bringing the message of Jesus Christ to more and more people in Africa. Not only in Togo again, but also in Ghana, Zaire, Angola, Botswana and Kenya, they are helping the African people to appreciate the richness of their own culture, while accepting Jesus as Lord of their lives.
The Divine Word Missionaries were sent by Fr Janssen first of all to those who had never heard of God. He also saw a need to send priests to the many migrants who around the turn of the century travelled from Europe to the « New World ». There were not enough priests in these countries to care for them, so it was sad for them that they could not worship and be helped in their christian life ; or it was easy for them to grow careless in living their faith. In 1889, Arnold sent his missionaries to the German speaking immigrants in Argentina. This was the beginning of a mission with many and varied works. His men soon branched out to other groups, not only in Argentina, but in at least eleven other countries in South and Central America. Some of them can be found proclaiming the Gospel in the most primitive areas of these countries.
Around the dawn of the twentieth century, the SVD also started some mission stations in New Guinea, and opened a house in Australia. Now, close to the beginning of the last decade of this century, they plan to extend their missionary work to Somoa and to « The Land of the Long White Cloud » – New Zealand.
Their work in the United States, also dating from the beginning of this century, encouraged, and opened the way for, black men to become priests and missionaries. In fact, wherever they have worked, they have encouraged young men from the local communities to become priests and brothers for their own people, and for the world.
For Arnold, the final aim of the work of the members of his Society was to help people to come to a deeper personal relationship with God. To make this possible, he himself started, and he encouraged them to open retreat houses. This has been one of the outstanding features of the houses he opened in Europe; it can be found also in many countries where the SVD are working.
No matter how different the ways of doing mission work are for the followers of Arnold, first and foremost, their basic task is to «proclaim the Good News». That is what each of them is sent forth to do. We are reminded of Paul, who, seeing in Athens an altar dedicated to The Unknown God, proclaimed to the men of that town that he came to tell them of that unknown God and of his Son Jesus. The work of the missionary is to lead people to know God, and to discover how He has been and is present in their day to day living. The Word of God is the « daily news » of the missionary. The Word of God takes root in the life of every Christian who tries to make it the centre of his life. So the love, the gentleness, the tolerance and the compassion of the God who is proclaimed cannot be hidden. It breaks forth in the things the Christian does. Thus the missionary not only tells about God, he tries to bring his healing and freeing salvation into the daily lives of the people he works with. This the Divine Word Missionaries do in their pastoral work at all levels and of different kinds. They may be teaching in schools or universities; engaged in parish work; using the media for proclaiming the Gospel; helping people to live with more dignity ; helping them to greater freedom ; providing centres of healing for soul or body… wherever they are, whatever they do, the sons of Arnold Janssen do all they can to bring the saving love of Jesus Christ to all peoples.
How can you tell a Divine Word Missionary ?
He belongs to a community of missionary priests and brothers. Since they come from many nations, they remind us that the Church is for all peoples of the world. Like Father Arnold, they try to discover always what God wants them to do, and they are not afraid to move into new and strange situations to do what God asks of them.
What does God ask them to do ?
You will find them doing many different kinds of work… but in all, they try to bring the good news about our GOD to those people who have never heard of Him ; or to those who are longing to hear about Him.
How do they do this?
They know that only the Spirit of God can bring faith to people ; so in their own lives they try to be men of prayer, full of faith and hope, and like Father Arnold, always trying to deepen their friendship with Jesus – for whom another name is the Word of God, the Divine Word. Walking with Jesus in their lives, they bind themselves to the Society of the Divine Word by the three vows of chastity, poverty and obedience. In this way, they share in each other’s lives, and form a missionary religious community.
Can they choose where they go?
Everyone who joins the Society is ready to go wherever his superiors send him ; this can mean leaving his own country, and working in a land where he has to speak another language. But anyone can volunteer for a mission he would prefer to work in.