No. 468 August-September 2007
The Acts of the 34th General Chapter of 2004 included the following mandate: The General Council establish a commission of Oblates and associates to explore structures that will promote the many aspects of association in its various forms. (par. 9.2, Witnessing to Hope)
This new commission met at the General House in Rome for the first time from June 25-28, 2007. General Council members, Oswald FIRTH and Federico LABAGLAY, along with Frank SANTUCCI from the De Mazenod Center in Aix, directed the meeting to which Oblates and laity from the various Regions of the Congregation had been invited. The theme that gave shape to the discussions was: “Partners in mission inspired by the charism of St. Eugene.”
Besides hearing major presentations from Oswald and Frank, the participants also heard the Superior General, Fr. Wilhelm STECKLING, speak on “The actual situation of laity in the family of St. Eugene.”
The lay faithful who took part in the meeting were Veronica Ntja (Lesotho), Beltrán Acosta (Paraguay), Omar Tejera and Laura Nuin (Uruguay), Peter Liu (Hong Kong), David and Trudy Maiden (Australia), Mark Garczynski and Denise Héon (Canada) and Vincenzo Teodori (Italy). The Oblates attending the meeting were Jean-Marcel Gatshuya (Congo), Salvatore De George (USA) and Santiago Lyons (Mexico).
Two very important messages emerged from this first meeting of the Commission. Firstly, that the Oblates of Mary Immaculate can draw great confidence from the desire and enthusiasm of the laity to follow the charism of St Eugene de Mazenod, and to be companions on the mission journey.
Secondly, that the laity can draw great confidence from the fact that the Oblates have specifically recognized the role of the laity as co-workers, proclaiming and sharing God’s Word, and bearing witness by their lives. This recognition has been reflected in a series of General Chapter decisions, culminating in the 2004 Chapter’s decision to establish the Commission to explore means of promoting association with the laity.
In the course of the meeting, four key issues were identified:
1. The need to clarify the identity and/or name of existing and future forms of lay association. It was recognized that a range of different titles exist, some of which are suitable for some regions, but not for others. It was therefore decided to adopt an “umbrella” term to describe the range of lay associations and the spirit in which they work: “Oblate Partners in Mission.” This allows units which have Lay Associates, or MAMI, or Social Action Groups, to continue using those titles locally, but within an overarching concept of partnership in mission.
2.The need to develop basic and advanced formation programs for Oblate Partners in Mission, including formation for Oblates on the role of the laity.
3.The need to develop flexible guidelines for structures and procedures of lay associations: e.g. frequency of meetings.
4.The need to consolidate existing forms of association where appropriate, and/or to develop association with new groups, e.g. youth.
To maintain the momentum gained at its first meeting, the Commission will meet again in the spring of 2008. In the interim period, the Commission members will take the four major issues back to their respective Units and Regions to consult with appropriate partners in mission, and also consult with each other, so as to develop proposals for the next meeting. Mrs. Denise Héon (Canada) will serve as coordinator of these activities.
The Northern Province of South Africa, which will welcome the Interchapter members, has published a web page where there is information about the Centre where the session will take place as well as links to places of interest in the surrounding area and to the other Units in the Region. Many thanks to the provincial, Peter GALLOWAY, and Edy MABILA, Executive Secretary of the Africa-Madagascar Region, for making this information available. The site can be found at this address: http://mysite.mweb.co.za/residents/oblates-bfn/.
When he arrived in Laos at the beginning of 1947, Yves BERTRAIS, priest and Oblate of Mary Immaculate, was 26 years old. He died on May 27 at the age of 86. What did he know then about this world and its peoples? Not much.
Three years later, he set out to encounter the ethnic minority, the Hmong, “the free men,” or, to put it more precisely, “those who have for themselves vast mountain spaces, who are independent of the governments of the countries where they live, and who have had no other masters other than their own traditions.” They are animists and polygamists. They grow opium on burnt land for their own needs, as well as for medicine and for selling.
Father Bertrais settled in a village perched high up near Luang Prabang. A man with passion, he set to work learning a language that is an exclusively oral idiom of the Sino-Tibetan family; he tried to transcribe it on paper. It was a fascinating activity: spoken Hmong uses seven tones with different force and special modulations to express surprise or anger.
While he did not forget his mission of bringing Christianity to an animist people – the first converts, in 1953, were the shaman and the chief of the village where he lived – he worked especially to introduce the art of writing to a people who, with the Franco-Vietnamese war and then with the American-Vietnamese war, were going to enter the modern world through a very bloody and painful door.
He was not alone. Protestant missionaries, notably the American evangelical pastor Samuel Pollard, had already started at the beginning of the 20th century. In an early experience of ecumenism – we are now in 1953 – Pastor Barnay, who spoke Hmong, Professor Smalley, a specialist in linguistics and phonetics, and Father Bertrais started to work together. There were months of work and a few rules, of which one would have great importance in the future: one had to be able type the words on either English or French typewriters. Thus, Hmong writing, used everywhere today, was born, for war had broken out for these communities in Indochina.
Yves Bertrais is the author of the first Hmong-French dictionary, published in Vientiane in 1964. Twelve years later, in conjunction with the School for Higher Studies in Social Sciences, he wrote an important study on the marriage rites of the Hmong in Laos and Thailand. Furthermore, right after the takeover of the peninsula by communist regimes and the massive exodus of Hmong families, it would be he who would convince the French authorities to help with the construction of the Hmong village of Cacao in Guiana.
While it is uncertain whether his proselytism did much to change the Hmong communities, thanks to his efforts, their culture is now written, readable and can be passed on. And all of this took place while he himself, inflicted with Alzheimer’s, was fading away. (Yves-Marc Ajchenbaum)
Having been named Vicar Apostolic of Windhoek by Pope Pius XII in 1957, his main task was to establish ecclesiastical structures in Namibia. He became known as the “building bishop.” At the age of 68, he freely resigned in order to put the leadership of the Namibian Church into African hands. His first successor was Bishop Bonifacius Haushiku, I.C.P. Today Archbishop Liborius NASHENDA, OMI, is in charge of the local church of Windhoek.
After 1982, Bishop Koppmann served as an auxiliary bishop in the German diocese of Augsburg and lived with the Missionary Benedictine Sisters in Tutzing. Due to his frail health, in 1993 he moved to the Oblate community of Hünfeld. In a way, he was very aware of his dignity as a bishop; on the other hand, he was easy going and very much appreciated for his good sense of humor and his sharp mind, his loving compassion and interest in his brothers and the people of Hünfeld.
On July 2, the local Bishop of Fulda, Msgr. Heinz-Josef Algermissen, celebrated the pontifical requiem for Bishop Koppmann. Other German bishops and priests and many Oblates attended the funeral; the big church of Hünfeld was packed. Apart from relatives, many people from Hünfeld and the surrounding villages took the opportunity to honor the missionary bishop for one last time. For more than 10 years, he had served in the confessional in Hünfeld.
The new Oblate Bishop of Keetmanshoop, Namibia, Philipp PÖLLITZER, will receive the pectoral cross and episcopal ring of Bishop Koppmann. Fathers Josef MATHUNI (mission procurator for Austria) and Gottfried HOFER (Vicar Provincial for the Oblates in Austria) will take the cross and the ring to the new bishop’s ordination as delegates for the Central European Province. (Thomas KLOSTERKAMP)
The Superior General, Fr. Wilhelm STECKLING, also took part in the celebrations. He told the pilgrims and religious gathered there: “For ten centuries, monastic life has been alive atop this Holy Cross mountain. Evidently, this type of life, inspired by the life of Jesus and Mary in chastity, poverty and obedience, is part of our Christian heritage which should remind us of Christ, just as do the relics of the Holy Cross. Our Founder, St. Eugene de Mazenod, gave us, as our distinctive symbol, the large cross which we wear with our religious habit. Two hundred years ago, a profound experience of the cross changed his life and set him on the road to the priesthood. I am happy that for the past seventy-one years, the Oblates have served the people and continue their mission here.” Before leaving Holy Cross, Father General blessed the Oblates throughout the world with the holy relics. The reliquary with some fragments of cross of Christ, according to a legend, was given to the convent in the 12th century by Saint Henry, the son of St. Stephan I, King of Hungary.
The Shrine of the Holy Cross is the oldest one in Poland and is located on Holy Cross Mountain at the summit, 595 meters high. A Benedictine monastery was established on the site in 1006. At one point in its more recent history, it served as a high security prison. The Province of Poland’s novitiate is now located there (15 novices), as well as a community of preachers. The government recently signed an agreement giving the Oblates the whole building as of November, 2007. Each year, some 200,000 pilgrims visit the shrine which also includes an Oblate Mission Museum. (Damian KOPYTO)
The first of the two commemorative celebrations took place on March 23-25 in Congo, amidst a background of gun fire: a rival faction was trying to bring down the recently elected government. Although the violence was short-lived, over 600 persons died and many who would have wanted to come to the Oblate celebration could not do so.
Assistant General, Fr. Paolo ARCHIATI, who had taught with Giovanni in Congo, was present, along with some members of Giovanni’s family. These were days of remembering not only the person of Giovanni but also the missionary presence of the Oblates. The scholasticate opened its grounds for a missionary/vocation exposition; local music and dance entertained the guests; there was a solemn Eucharist and a conference by Fr. Archiati on the theme: “Formation and Mission in Fr. Giovanni Santolini.” A local bishop, the Apostolic Nuncio, the Ambassador of Italy to Congo, and other dignitaries had planned to be present for the Mass, but because of the violence going on in the center of the city, they were unable to attend.
A month later, on April 21-22, there were celebrations in Genoa, Italy, where Giovanni Santolini was born in 1953 to a family of eleven children. Prior to joining the Oblates in 1977, he had studied at the diocesan seminary.
The first phase of the hometown celebration was a gathering where some of those who had known him were given the opportunity to share their stories about him. Speakers were Oblates Nino BUCCA and Paolo Archiati and a classmate from the diocesan seminary, Don Bruno Sopranzi. The Archbishop of Genoa and President of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, Angelo Bagnasco, concluded the session, reminding the audience that according to Giovanni Santolini, what is important is to begin – to take the first step: then the rest is easy.
The following day at the Church of the Immaculate in Genoa, the liturgical celebration of the Fifth Sunday of Easter was in honor of Giovanni Santolini in the very church where he had been ordained a priest 25 years earlier. Father Archiati preached the homily in which he continued the thought raised by Archbishop Bagnasco the day before: the importance not only of taking the first step, but also of knowing when to start over, to begin again, as was the case for St. Peter in the Gospel of the day where three times he was asked to declare his love for Jesus.
Father Corijn will complete eight years of service as president of St Josephs in September 2007. His successor Father Sylvester David will be installed on September 3.
Father Corijn replaces another Oblate, Father Jozef KUC, who has served as rector for the past 15 years. On June 15, St. Paul’s had a farewell celebration for Fr. Kuc. The Oblate Superior General, Fr. Wilhelm STECKLING was in attendance.. After thanking the departing rector for his 15 years of service, Cardinal Ivan Diaz, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, made public the appointment of the next rector who will be installed on the January 25, 2008, the feast of the Conversion of St Paul.
The Pontifical International Missionary College St Paul the Apostle was blessed on December 3, 1965, by Pope Paul VI. At the beginning, it served various purposes, but since 1977, it has been used as a residence for student-priests doing post-graduate studies in the ecclesiastical Roman Universities. The residents come primarily from territories that are under the jurisdiction of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (formerly Propaganda Fide). It can host a maximum of 190 students. Presently there are187 students at St. Paul’s, coming from 50 countries: 95 from Asia, 76 from Africa, 10 from Latin America, 3 from Europe and 3 from Oceania.
The Oblate Province of Natal, while regretting the loss of Fr. Corijn, takes pride in being able to send one of its members to serve the universal Church. (Stuart BATE)
Fr. Victor SANTOYO, the delegation superior, has announced that this year, the 33 Oblates who make up the General Delegation of Peru are having a number of celebrations to mark their 50th jubilee. They have planned several week-long “fiestas” in parishes where the Oblates are working: Christ the King in Chincha, St. Francis in Orcotuna-Huancayo, Our Lady of Peace in Comas, and Jesus the Savior in Aucayacu-Huánuco.
There will also be a special “Jubilee Week” in September at the parish in Comas, featuring each evening a “Missionary Symposium.” Among the speakers will be such noteworthy theologians as Gustavo Gutierrez and Gregorio IRIARTE.
The first contact takes place in the youth groups of our parishes, in the traditional youth mission (every year with about 120 youth), and in the annual youth congress. From these, we find the most active, the most involved youth, who are then invited to vocation gatherings and retreats
Each year, a few of them come to live at the Vocation House (a model which exists since 1986.)
In the prenovitiate, the youngsters finish their high school education and study philosophy. This lasts for four years.
Shortly thereafter, they can be admitted to the novitiate which, in our case, is one of the two in Latin America (one in Paraguay itself and the other in Guatemala). During the scholasticate, they take their theological studies at the Institute of the National Seminary.
This year, we have 38 young men in formation:
- 4 in the Vocation House
- 24 in the Prenovitiate (7 of them possibly candidates for the novitiate)
- 2 in the novitiate
- 8 in the scholasticate (1 is a deacon and the other is already in perpetual vows)
In other words, the 33 Oblates with perpetual vows in the province find themselves blessed with 36 young men who would like one day to be perpetually professed (6 of them already are in temporary vows).
If we add to this report the presence of 19 Oblate women religious (10 of them with vows), you can imagine with what gratitude St. Eugene is looking upon us – and we upon him!!! (Miguel FRITZ)
As the largest men’s religious and Catholic congregation which has been serving the people of Sri Lanka for the last 175 years and a group both of indigenous and foreign missionaries who have labored and still continue to work for the human, educational, social, cultural and spiritual welfare and well-being of our people in all parts of the country, we are deeply concerned and perturbed by the horrendous and shocking events that are overtaking our country at the present moment, bringing such misery and untold suffering.
The political instability, violence, social disintegration and moral decadence at all levels are matters of grave concern to all right-thinking citizens. These are being manifested in the open and gross violation of human rights clearly enshrined in our Constitution, indiscriminate killing of the young and the old, eviction and multiple displacement of innocent civilians, abductions, extortion of money and scant respect for life. We unreservedly condemn these evils as irreligious, inhuman and irrational, contravening the noble religious values that we uphold in all our religions.
The international image of Sri Lanka as a religious country is being blatantly tarnished by these events which are now a daily occurrence and on the increase.
While we are in solidarity with all those people of sincerity and goodwill who are working hard to bring about some change in this prevailing situation, we, on behalf of all the Oblate Fathers, Brothers and our associates, earnestly appeal to the political and civil authorities, whose authority has been vested in them by the sovereignty of the people, to bring back social harmony, peace and the rule of law that will ensure safety, security and well-being of all the citizens of our dear motherland.
The training session ran from July 8-21. It brought together Oblates from Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas. The objective for the gathering was to enhance and expand the skills and resources in Oblate Units throughout the Congregation for JPIC animation, advocacy and implementation. Through a process that included presentations, reflection, small group discussions and collaborative learning and planning the participants were invited to wrestle with and constructively respond to common JPIC trends, issues and challenges.
The program featured sessions on the challenges and opportunities of Globalization, improving understanding of the operations of the Global Financial Systems and opportunities for collaboration with Global Public Institutions, e.g., United Nations, non governmental organizations and corporations. Through three of the workshops, Oblate participants explored the ‘ecological’ dimension of their vocation and learned about ways they can respond to the deepening ecological crisis.
This program was a continuation of the effort to integrate the JPIC commitment of the Congregation into every aspect of its mission and life, recognizing that the policies, projects and programs of the Congregation must seek to reflect the principles of Catholic Social Teaching. Finally, the organizers of the training session hope that it will strengthen the bonds of communication, networking and solidarity throughout the Congregation and thereby improve the effectiveness and quality of the JPIC mission. (Seamus FINN)
One of the most difficult, if not the most difficult of all missions undertaken by Assumption Province, belongs without doubt to Fr. Wojciech Wojtkowiak who, for the past 14 years, has been working in First Nations ministry in Saskatchewan. He is the only priest working full-time with them in the Archdiocese of Regina. I recently had the chance to spend a weekend with him and experience his ministry first-hand. He is in charge of a small parish in Lestock, Saskatchewan, where he resides. About forty people came to Sunday Mass when I was there but, in reality, this was more than usual on account of my visit; typically only 20-30 people come each Sunday.
The rectory at the parish is quite large; in years past, several priests lived there. Were it not for Fr. Wojciech, the parish would have closed a long time ago. The people understand this all too well, and are all the more grateful to him for his ongoing dedication. Here, as across most of Saskatchewan, one can see the decline in rural communities due to emigration to the cities and the way that family farms have disappeared, leaving only large-scale agriculture.
Fr. Wojciech has thirteen First Nations reserves under his care. Sister Bernadette Feist, OSU (and Honorary OMI), helps him tirelessly in this most challenging of missions. The distances that must to be covered are enormous and one has to spend hours in the car to get to some of the settlements.
As I listened to Fr. Wojciech speak of his ministry, I came to the conclusion that it takes amazing dedication for someone to want to live in such humble conditions and to remain committed to such challenging work. Added to this is the fact that despite the enormous efforts and sacrifices, immediate results do not appear forthcoming - and this is something that would no doubt discourage the majority of us. Undying patience and willingness not to measure progress via timetables are without a doubt necessary.
On the first day of my visit, we traveled to a distant First Nations reserve. After hearing about the place from Fr. Wojciech and Sr. Bernadette, I was overcome with a feeling of resignation and nothing more. I remembered the stories of pioneering missionaries who wrote about how years of work and sacrifice would still fail to bring desired results. However, what I heard about the reserve in question here left me feeling totally broken. In the past, the First Nations population would attend Mass and were very welcoming to the missionary; today in Pasqua, however, only one 95 year-old Aboriginal lady comes to Mass! The others have stopped coming or wanting to have anything to do with the Church ... except for funerals when they still call the priest.
The beautifully situated church has not been used for two years; inside, thousands of dead flies littered the floor and the stench of mold and mouse droppings was unbearable. Such is the picture today of a parish abandoned, but which years ago was a shining example of faith and Native involvement in Church life.
When I asked what happened to the faith of the Native population to bring about such conditions, it was said that they had never really accepted Christianity; they never truly lived the faith. Added to that were the scars left by abuse in residential schools long ago and the lawsuits that ensued. It would seem that the current generation of Native people has been lost to the Church.
Along the way, we also visited the Standing Buffalo, Muscowpetung and Piapot reserves. The following day, we traveled to the reserve in Sakimay where we celebrated the Sunday liturgy (it was a Saturday), as well as Flower Day, which is equivalent to All Souls Day. About thirty Native people came to Mass and they prayed very nicely. They were involved in the liturgy, helped with preparations, read the readings and sang and, as always, brought food to eat after Mass and continued to celebrate as a community.
I felt much happiness after this visit; here was a community of kind, pleasant, happy people who respected their pastor and were grateful for his work. Maybe the differences with regard to faith life of various First Nations communities are the result of differences among the bands or reserves themselves... After the liturgy was concluded, the people made their way to the cemetery where a prayer was held in memory of the deceased; people paid their respects to their souls and left flowers on their graves.
The Institute will combine prayer/meditation, workshops, and community service with lots of reflective time structured in two-week sessions that will focus on social justice themes. The sessions include “Building a Spirituality of Social Justice”, “Building a Spirituality of Ecology”, “Living as Global Partners”, “Living in Right Relation”, and “Living in Ways that Matter”. We will also have opportunities for participants to take part in optional activities, such as nature hikes, yoga, labyrinth walks, movie nights, book clubs, and, of course, celebrations!
We hope that interest in the Institute will be diverse, with an opportunity for ecumenical and multi-faith participation and with the opportunity to reach out to those who are searching for spiritual grounding. A range of ages and backgrounds will help to enrich the experience of all participants. We have also designed the program to be divided into 2-week sessions, so that those who are unable to afford the time and fees for the full 10-week program can participate in the session(s) of their choice. Anyone interested in participating or wishing to pass this program information along to others is welcome to check our website (www.galileecentre.com). The first session runs from September 21st to November 29th. (Submitted by Darlene O’Leary, Executive Director, Galilee Centre, Arnprior)
The board is presently composed of five Oblates from different parts of the Oblate world. Frs. Rufus Whitley, General Treasurer, Rome; Fr. Chris Pulchny, Assumption Province and Lesotho; Marc Dessureault, treasurer, Notre-Dame-du-Cap Shrine in Quebec; Mario Azrok, Kenya; and Roger Hallée, Colombia.
Banking and investment consultors present included Messrs. Geraldo Gonzalez, Richard Kardys and Helmut Kammerlocher. Also present were U.S. province treasurer, Fr. Joe Hitpas; Vince Fuller, the Chief Financial Officer of the U.S. Province; and Fr. Jerry Kivlehan, treasurer of the Anglo-Irish Province.
The Oblate Investment Pool was officially inaugurated as a branch of the General Administration on January 1, 1991. In 1994 it was legally separated from the General Administration. Its title is presently the Association of Oblates for International Pastoral--registered (O.I.P.). The Board keeps the General Administration regularly informed.
The bilingual French and English event was organized and facilitated by Fr. Ron YOUNG and sponsored by the Departments of Mission Studies and Interreligious Dialogue of Saint Paul’s, and cosponsored by the Pontifical Mission Societies, (Canada and the United States); Oeuvres pontificales missionnaires (Canada); and the United States Catholic Mission Association.
The conference was organized with a three-fold aim: so that participants could hear from well-respected speakers about the important issues concerning mission and evangelization; so that participants could discuss with a diversity of other interested believers; and so that they could learn what would benefit the mission, both at home and abroad.
Speakers included Fr. Ron Rolheiser, President of Oblate School of Theology (San Antonio); Fr. Luc TARDIF and Dr. Fabrice Blée, professors at Saint Paul University (Ottawa); and well-known and respected Canadian sociologist, Dr. Reginald Bibby.
The conversations were animated, marked by the passionate commitment of the participants who had come from near and far to share their experiences and dreams for a renewed missionary effort in North America for the 21st century. Held on the weekend of Pentecost Sunday, the Oblate Congregation and the Church prayed to the Holy Spirit to enliven our missionary spirit in today’s world and to let this event mark a new beginning of dialogue and collaboration. (Warren Brown in OMI USA, July 2007)
It has become common to say that, in the dioceses where we find ourselves, we need to work hard to renew our way of “doing Church.” In several dioceses, we are experiencing new Church procedures meant to address the shortage of leadership for pastoral action and the formation of Christian communities. It is essential to adopt appropriate ways for accomplishing the Church’s mission that will be useful in our own situation. We need to develop or change certain ways of acting, being mindful of the human, material and financial resources that are available.
One thing is obvious: we are not numerous and relief is not on the horizon. Nevertheless, in all of the parishes, there are people who want to assume responsibilities; they are creative and they simply want to learn how. To do that, they are counting on our continued Oblate presence and our commitment.
Nevertheless, for our action to be effective, we need first of all to decide why we are in parishes. What is our vision or mission? Do we own the culture of a Church that is “for everyone?” Secondly, what sort of leadership do we exercise? There’s an art to living the mission. It means knowing how to establish goals and share responsibility – being a “Church where everyone is in charge.” And thirdly, what are our resources and how do we manage them? It’s the Church “at the service of everyone.”
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