The 39 Provincials andsix Latin American Delegation Superiors who met for two weeks in CuautlaMexico with the Superior General and his Council will already have returnedhome by the time you read this. They have surely begun briefing youon Inter-Chapter 2001. Here are a few behind-the-scenes glimpses ofwhat went on.
It began with abang!
The Inter-Chapter meetingliterally began with a bang: a thunderstorm and an earthquake! The participantsarrived at the Cuautla hotelsite of the meetingin the midst of adriving tropical rain storm. The brief storm resulted in a candle lightsupper as electricity faded in and out. A bit laterthere was a magnitude6.5 earthquake. Sunday evening was a "Mexican Night" as participantsgot a firsthand taste of popular Mexican musicculture and food ata special welcoming event provided by the Oblate Vista Hermosa School.
MondayOctober 8thesmall 80-bed hotelcompletely taken over by the Oblateshad becomea beehive of activityhumming with communication in informal groupsboth large and small. Acquaintances were renewed or madeallianceswere struck to help each other carry out the Oblate mission.
In a way the meeting hadalready started before the participants gathered in Cuautla. Each onehad been assigned a Latin American country to visit before arriving.Time was taken on the first day to reflect on the Latin American missionaryexperience. This was done in small groups made up of members from differentcultures and languages.
Fr Gregorio IRIARTEawell known analyst of the socio-economic and religious phenomenon inLatin Americahelped focus these discussions with a presentation entitledLatin America and the Caribbean TodayThe Challenges in our MissionaryWork. Mr. José Luis Estradaa Mexican economist alsogave a talk. Both men focused on the effects of globalizationespeciallyon poor countries. Highlights of Fr. Iriartes presentation areavailable on the OBCOM website (www.omiobcom.org)asare also Fr. Generals report and the many papers presented duringthe meeting.
Paper and more paper: The Reports
If generating papersis considered the hallmark of a good meetingthe Inter-Chapter wasnot lacking on that point. Besides the six regional reports and Fr.Generals addressten other papers of varying lengths were presentedby the General Administration: Lay AssociationsBrothersImmense HopeProjectJPICRestructuring of the Vice ProvincesThe Number and Natureof RegionsOblate Communications and MediaFinancesFirst and OngoingFormation.
-- Regional reports
While space does not permita lengthy presentation of each reporthere are some impressions fromour correspondent at the Inter-Chapter.
Latin America notedan increase in vocations and the challenge of providing good formation.Interprovincial cooperation in this field is proving effective. Thereis a regional novitiate in AsunciónParaguay. The four Brazilianunits have a common novitiate. Peru and Bolivia have a joint scholasticatein CochabambaBolivia. Scholastics represent 20% of the membershipin the Region. Latin America was commended for its very visible optionfor the poor. It was also asked why Justice and Peace issues no longerseem to raise the same interest as they did in the past. One answerwas that the oppressive factors today are more hiddenthey do not havethe clear face they had under the dictatorships.
Africa-Madagascar emphasized the need for Oblaterenewalwhile noting that the increasing number of vocations in theRegion gives them much hope for the future. Asia-Oceaniasreport led to a discussion on interreligious dialogue and the religiouspersecution being experienced in some countries.
Canada noted itsopenness to internationality in these special times when everythingin their churches seems to be in a process of change. Their report waslater completed by an evening session on the thousands of cases of litigationin some Provinces relating to the Indigenous Residential Schools. Morethan 90% of these cases are considered to be unfoundedyet they resultin high legal fees that threaten to bankrupt three Provinces. Therewas considerable sympathy for our Canadian brothers because the mediafocus is on the litigation and little recognition is given for the 150years of work with the First Nations.
An interesting item inthe discussion of the European report concerned the presenceof many Muslims in Europe. There is a new concern for interreligiousdialogue as a result of the September 11 events. The United Statesreport the first since the unification of the 5 Provinces emphasized the work to clarify the mission of the Oblates in that countryand the efforts to strengthen community lifenotably through sessionsfor local superiors. The U.S. Province needs more Spanish speakers forits extensive Hispanic ministry.
-- Fr. Generalsreport
This nineteen page textwas presented after the regional reports. It has yet to be decided inwhat form it will be communicated to the whole Congregation. Fr. Generalsaddress was followed by a discussion in small groups and a plenary sessionduring which he answered questions on it. The questions themselves givean idea of where the participants interest was.
Some of the questionsconcentrated on mission and internationality: What are the lessons learntin sending and receiving missionaries? What about older Oblates whoare ready to do ministry in an international context? Are there concretemodels of a new community-based mission? What is the role of districtcommunities? What program have we to integrate the older Oblates? Therewere also questions on the Oblate Regionsfinances and the missionof the lay associates. To the query: if you had one wish to askwhatwould that beFr. General answered: that the Oblates be widely knownas those who are committed to whoever are most in need today.
--The other reports
As mentioned abovepapersrelating to ten other topics were presented by the General Administration.Here are some reactions from the assembly on some of them.
Lay Associations:It is important to promote a spirit of unity between the different associations.The idea of having a common logo was accepted almost unanimously.
Immense Hope project:This project was singled out as a major common task for the Congregationuntil the next General Chapter. It will be an important means to answerthe missionary call of the new century. The process needs to be adaptedto the local realities.
JusticePeace andthe Integrity of Creation: Here the discussion focusedas foreseenon possible representation at the United Nations. The topic was presentedby Fr Seamus FINNand followed by a lively discussion. Many of theparticipants did not favor an Oblate U.N. representation at this time.It was hoped that the General Administrations new JPIC servicewould concentrate on animating what is going on at the local level.
Restructuring the ViceProvinces: It was suggested that the way be left open for establishingGeneral Delegations as a temporary measure if some Vice Provinces arenot ready for other solutions before the next General Chapter. Therewas a strong insistence that restructuring must always be understoodas something we do for the sake of the mission.
Restructuring the numberand nature of the Regions: The concrete proposal that will be broughtto the next Chapter is probably that Canada and the United States becomeone Region. Some Regions said they could see the General Councillorfor their Region becoming the president ex officio of the regionalconference in a future structure. This is a matter for the next Chapterto consider.
Finances: The growingawareness of a new financial situation in the Congregation was anotherof the main results of the Inter-Chapter meeting. Two questions willprobably stay in the minds of all after leaving Mexico: How can thepoorer Oblate units raise more of the funds they need? How can we buildup an endowment that allows the General Administration to function properlyin the future?
First Formation: Internationalitya regency period and the need for qualified formators were the issuespresented. Some participants stressed the importance of spiritual formationand introduction into religious life.
Ongoing Formation:The presentation concentrated on the International De Mazenod Centerin Aixnext years symposium on Missionaries to Secularityin Canada and the U.S.and a symposium on Interreligious Dialogue in2003in Asia. The participants asked for more information about availableprograms and persons for ongoing formation and singled out preparationfor retirement and old age as one of the pressing needs.
-- The next GeneralChapter
During the discussionon a possible theme for the next Chapterthere seemed to be a generalconsensus that it should somehow flow from the Immense Hope process.