No. 475 April 2008
Dear Brother Oblates
By this letter, I hereby convoke the XXXV General Chapter, which will begin in Rome on September 8, 2010 at the General House of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, at 476 via Aurelia.
Constitution 125 says that the purpose of the General Chapter is to “strengthen the bonds of unity and to express the members’ participation in the life and mission of the Congregation.” It therefore concerns all Oblates: old or young, in first formation, in full ministry or retired, Brothers and priests. All should have a chance to express their particular participation in our life and our mission. Having the members of our lay associations participate will further enrich the preparation.
How might we make this happen? Constitution 125 continues by saying: “United around Christ, the Oblate family shares the lived experience of its communities as well as the challenges and hopes of its ministry.” This means that the time of preparation should be one of prayer, of uniting ourselves more closely to Christ, of sharing in community and of reflection on our ministry.
The Chapter Commissioner, to be appointed in May, and the Precapitular Commission, will provide the ways and means for us to move on together in our preparation.
Last but not least, Constitution 125 also speaks of conversion and the urgent needs of our times. “The Chapter is a privileged time of community reflection and conversion. Together, in union with the Church, we discern God’s will in the urgent needs of our times and thank the Lord for the work of salvation which he accomplishes through us.” While we have not yet identified a theme for the next General Chapter, the Interchapter Meeting last October made some proposals which resonate with C. 125: Conversion to a better quality of our vowed life, and response to the poor whom we are sent to evangelize.
In 2010, a new Superior General and his Council will be elected. As mandated by the last General Chapter, there will also be consideration of updated structures of government on all levels, in light of the needs of the Oblate mission.
Our preparation is starting somewhat early because during this year all the Regional conferences will be meeting; it is they who must set up the electoral process for the Chapter delegates (R 128a). The election process can then be concluded by the end of this year.
I entrust the XXXV Chapter to your care and especially to your prayer. May Saint Eugene, Blessed Joseph Gerard, Blessed Joseph Cebula, and all the other Oblates who have left this world in God’s friendship, intercede for us.
Fraternally in Christ and Mary Immaculate,
Fr. Wilhelm Steckling, OMI
Rome, March 1st 2008
Latin America was well-represented with five major superiors: Domenico DI MEO (Uruguay), Miguel FRITZ (Paraguay), Vicente Louwagie (Mexico), Mauricio SCHROEDER (Peru), Guillermo SILES (Bolivia), and Erasmo VASQUEZ (Guatemala). Europe was present in the persons of Yves CHALVET DE RECY (France), Thomas KLOSTERKAMP (Central European Province), Nicola PARRETTA, with his Vicar Provincial and personal translator, Salvatore D’ORTO (Italy), and Radoslaw ZMITROWICZ (Ukraine). Coming from the Asia-Oceania Region were Claudio BERTUCCIO (Thailand), Harry DYER (Australia), Paul NADCHETHIRAM (Jaffna), and Francis NALLAPPAN (India). Aloys KAPP (Namibia) and Cornelius NGOKA (Cameroon) represented the Africa-Madagascar Region.
Besides the customary presentations by members of the General Administration concerning congregational policies, expectations and procedures, there was a two-day session with Sister Christine Anderson, FCJ, on the topic: Meaning and Mission: Understanding Leadership and Membership in the Oblates today.
Since the Immense Hope project continues to be an important part of the life of the Oblate Units, there was time devoted to evaluating the present state of the project in the Units represented at the session. Harry Dyer and Vicente Louwagie gave personal testimonies about the project in their respective provinces.
After Father General spoke with the group about the present demographics of the Congregation, Thomas Klosterkamp spoke on leadership in a declining Unit and Francis Nallappan spoke of leadership in a growing Unit.
The participants spent the intervening weekend exploring not only the wonders of the Eternal City but also such places as Assisi and Orvieto.
Returning to the center as Pope Benedict XVI, on March 9, the Holy Father offered the Eucharist of the Fifth Sunday of Lent to help celebrate the center’s 25th jubilee. The two young Oblates who minister there served as acolytes for the papal Mass which took place in the center’s Church of San Lorenzo in Piscibus. Norbert is in his third year of theology at the Gregorian University and will be ordained a deacon in May. David, whose family lives in an Oblate parish in Miramar, Florida, is in his second year of theology in Rome.
It took a year to build the church. The pews came from the workshops of the Otshikuku mission in Ovamboland. The altar and the tabernacle stand are made of natural stone from the area. The bell is a generous gift from Poppenhausen in the Rhön area of Germany, my homeland. Just as the bells rang out in the Rhön, now they ring out in northern Namibia to call people from far and near to religious services, especially the Bushmen and the local farmers. Some of them have to come as many as 20 km on foot or by donkey cart to church. Even some evangelical Christians sent their choir to our celebration.
Tsintsabis is part of the Tsumeb mission and is 60 km north of the city known for its copper mine. Tsintsabis is the headquarters primarily for pastoral ministry among the Bushmen of the San Tribe, begun by Fr. Hubert KNUF who died two years ago and still cared for by Deacon Joel. They used to have their religious services in a military camp and then in a class room. But the community felt that they needed their own home, their own real church. The community of Bushmen has grown to about 100 members; they also have catechists and pastoral helpers to preside at funerals.
Slowly but surely, the community of Tsintsabis is developing. The Lions Club of Tsumeb has built a school for children up to 10 years old. Of course, there is a police station. There is also a modern bakery that supplies the entire area around Tsumeb with local types of bread. It was built by the “Brot gegen not” (Bread against need) Foundation of the German Kamps bakery chain; at the same time, it’s a training place for young Bushmen. (Berthold HELLER in Der Weinberg, March 2008)
They traveled first from Nairobi to Kionyo where Oblate Fathers Mario Azrak, Sholto Douglas and Daquin Iyo welcomed them warmly. They were present for the 10th anniversary celebration of the Oblates in Kenya. Fr. Mario was expecting the whole parish of 3,000 people to come from all the eleven prayer stations in a radius of about 15-20 kilometers. On Saturday, the women arrived to prepare Sunday’s dinner for 250 people on an open fire. Vegetables were prepared, chickens were slaughtered and wood was cut. The ladies worked joyfully together - it was truly an act of love.
On Sunday, the celebration started at 11:00 a.m. and lasted four hours! The grounds were covered by a sea of people with hundreds of beautiful children. Each part of the Mass was celebrated with singing and dancing which is the African way to express their deep love of God. At this Mass, the new pastoral parish council was introduced and installed, and Fr. Daquin was installed as the parish priest of Kionyo replacing Fr. Mario - a changing of the guard.
In Kionyo, they visited the co-operative bakery for which 20 women contributed $250 each, an amount matched by the Oblates. This bakery produces 700-900 loaves of bread a day which is delivered by bicycle.
The Mt. Kenya East Interdenominational AIDS Group is supported by the Oblates. It currently helps 70 adults and 30 children. The group provides transportation to the hospital for treatment, education on AIDS and help with the children’s school fees and uniforms. Plans are underway for the construction of a Voluntary Testing Clinic in the village.
The visitors then traveled into the hills to an isolated area. They found a Corn Mill which was started by a group of Catholic women and supported by the Oblates. This group charges to grind the corn and, with the electricity generated, they also charge cell phones and batteries in the back room, very creative on the part of the women. The Oblates also support the Mt. Kenya East Water Project, which was started under the leadership of Fr. Ken Forster some seven years ago. This project delivers water to 4,000 homes.
Their journey took them to Meru where they stayed at the Oblate residence for four days. They visited the Meru Prison which still operates out of buildings dating from the colonial era and was meant for some 150 inmates. Now it houses about 130 women and 1500 men. Women are allowed to have children under four years of age stay with them in prison, so there were also some 30 children. Fr. Joe Jacek is the prison chaplain.
During a visit to a school run by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, they saw the wonderful work the Sisters are doing in the slums of Meru. They provide education for about 400 students. The Oblate pre-novices work with teenage boys and the Sisters, with the girls. They cook lunch on an open fire for 170 children Monday to Friday. On a wall, along with art work from the 3-8 year old children, are the words: “The value of the world is the value of each person.” (by Sharon Federal in Mission Oblate, February 2008)
During a recent visit to South Africa, Barbara McCauley, from the Oblate Mission Development Office in Dublin, met with Fr Paddy at his AIDS hospice in the township of Inanda Newtown, on the outskirts of Durban. She tells the story of how this remarkably healthy and energetic nonagenarian set up an AIDS hospice over twenty years ago:
“In response to the Church’s challenge to stand up and do something about poverty, unemployment and HIV/AIDS, Fr McMahon started a 12-bed hospice in 1984, four years after the new settlement of Inanda was established.
“Today, 1.5 million people live in this impoverished township. The much expanded hospice is perched on the side of a hill. A big sign outside reads, ‘Sukumawenze: Place of Care’. Sukumawenze means ‘Stand Up and Do Something’.
“This is the only such hospice in the area. Fr McMahon has built up a supportive relationship with the Department of Health and Social Welfare. The hospice is usually full to capacity with men, women and children suffering from HIV/AIDS and related killer illnesses such as TB.
“I witnessed the magnificent care that volunteer nurses were giving lovingly and cheerfully to people, some of whom had come for respite and others to die.
“Incredibly, Fr McMahon’s oasis offers further services to the people. He provides computer training courses; a daily feeding programme for orphaned and sick children; a home-visit programme; counselling and HIV testing and a basic education programme on HIV/AIDS and TB.
“As I was leaving, I turned around to wave goodbye and marvelled at the drive and accomplishments of this most unassuming of men”. (www.oblatesai.org)
In 1950, the Oblate parish priest of Marbel, Koronadal, gave two altar boys 50 copies each to sell at 10 centavos a copy. I was one of the two altar boys. Our share would be 5 centavos per copy sold. If I sold all my copies, I would earn P25.00, in those days a lot of money for a first year high school boy. Thank God, the demand quickly overran the supply!
Today the Mindanao Cross enjoys the singular honor of being the longest running Catholic newspaper in the Philippines. Its roster of competent editors includes distinguished media people who later went on to achieve national prominence, such as: Nereo Andolong, Rodolfo Tupas, Emil Jurado, and Patricio Diaz. It has reaped many richly deserved awards, the most recent being the provincial paper with the best editorial-writing.
Its predominantly secular news provides information and clarification regarding events that are happening and developing. Its editorials strive to provide meaning and critical interpretation to the often difficult and confusing political and social burning issues of the day. Its Catholic religious content and orientation is unobtrusive, readable, tempered with respect and charity, while providing information and guidance to the Catholic faithful. A welcome educational combination to the secular and religious!
For 60 years, the little paper with a big cause has reported the news, clarified and interpreted it, thus helping the shape of the opinions of countless readers in our small corner of the world.
How does one evaluate the work of the Mindanao Cross? One way is to use the “triple dialogue” of the Asian Catholic Bishops. In 1974, the bishops surveyed the Asian situation and identified three key characteristics: Asia’s identity as the cradle of the world’s ancient religions, its rich mosaic of cultures, and its massive poverty.
If religious mission is a task of sharing the treasures of one’s faith for the benefit of all, including that of social transformation, the task would have to be by way of a triple dialogue; dialogue with other persons, dialogue with cultures, and dialogue with the poor. Through this triple dialogue, a better person and a better world would slowly emerge.
Genuine dialogue means commitment to one’s own identity and convictions, understanding and respect for others’ beliefs, a fraternal conversation and humble journeying- together- to discover and to do the will of God in the political, economic, social, cultural, and religious spheres. A peaceful dialogical process—this is the way to justice, peace and harmony among peoples of different religious beliefs and cultures, the way to social transformation on behalf of the poor.
Given these criteria, one may state with great certainty that through 60 years, the Mindanao Cross has been respectful of various religious traditions, especially of Islam. It has fostered the development of different cultures, especially of the marginalized. It has consistently demonstrated a preferential option for taking the side of the poor in the universal struggle for a better future. In this triple dialogue, it has played the role of critiquing, encouraging, promoting, and advocating.
In various burning issues of the day, the Mindanao Cross has been faithful to a perennial and traditional Catholic moral principle which may be liberally translated from the Latin, thus: “In matters that are certain, declare the truth; in doubtful matters, promote liberty; and in all things, exercise charity.”
At 60 the Mindanao Cross begins a new life of service to the community. Congratulations to the little paper with a big cause! Our gratitude and prayers to our loving God as well! (+Orlando B. Quevedo, O.M.I., Archbishop of Cotabato at http://www.omiphil.org)
Sometimes referred to as “Tribals,” or “Ādivāsīs” (literally, “original inhabitants”), many of them were converted to Christianity in the 19th century. Their pastor describes them as “…backward socially, politically, economically, and in religious faith too… People are uneducated in my parish and live like slaves. They wear minimum clothes and work hard for their livelihood through their daily labour.”
The parish served by Fr. Pauldass covers 17 villages scattered in the mountains, hills and forests. There are about 1500 Catholics. He calls them “…very faithful towards the Church and its teachings. They are very regular for Sunday Mass, Marian devotions and the sacraments. They give a handful of raw rice as their offertory in the holy Eucharist… When I go for Sunday liturgy, I say Mass on a mud altar. In some villages there is no proper electricity; the people live in mud houses with wooden roofs.”
He continues: “There are also pagans in two villages who do not know anything about Jesus, God, and the sacraments. They worship a particular kind of tree, even today. The Hindu fundamentalists are more troublesome and stronger here than in south India. Last year, one of our parishioners was shot dead by the Naxilites (Communists) groups.”
For the first three years of his ministry after ordination, Fr. Pauldass served as Vocation Director for the Indian Delegation. Each year, he was able to bring 30 to 35 new candidates to the delegation. His present ministry is totally different but no less challenging.
The plan is that the first missionaries will go to the Oblate Mission in Zhaoqing, in southeastern China, in 2009. Zhaoqing is a city of approximately 500,000 people. Fr. John WOTHERSPOON established the mission there in 2002. He works primarily with very poor migrant workers who have come to the city from rural areas to find employment.
The Oblate-sponsored lay missionaries will offer English lessons, a practical benefit to the children, since knowledge of English helps them gain entry to government schools and find employment. They would not be allowed to do direct proselytizing in the name of the Catholic Church. The PIM Program is as much about the personal development and growth of the volunteer as it is about helping the poor and needy. Therefore, the missionaries will attend daily Mass and undertake a formation program in which they will study the life of St. Eugene de Mazenod and that of Fr. Matteo Ricci, a 16th century Jesuit missionary in China. They will also keep an electronic diary of their experiences.
Since in China, religions are not permitted to “advertise” or promote their particular beliefs, the missionaries will not be expected, or permitted, to undertake this type of activity. Instead, they will spread the Gospel by their very presence in China, helping the poor and abandoned. Their mission will be their day to day example of the life they lead, following the dictum that “actions speak louder than words.”
The volunteers will initially make a six-month commitment with the option to extend it to twelve months. For more information, contact the Mr. David Maiden, MAMI Mission Coordinator for the Australian Province: email@example.com.
Our Lady Help of Christians Chapel was created next to the Oblate residence and the English-speaking school was called the Chapel School. Later, they moved to the Center House of the Oblates. Sister Irene began by teaching three American children in December 1947. In March of 1948, the school opened under the supervision of Franciscan Sisters from Pittsburgh. There were 18 children. After seven years of dedicated service, these Sisters left and were replaced by Felician Sisters.
The school earned a good reputation among institutions of private education. It quickly grew and the space became insufficient. The superior at the time, Father Joseph SUPPLE, decided to buy land next to the school for expansion. Father Edmund LEISING, at the time Director of Camp Paiol Grande, questioned having the children study in such cramped spaces and he suggested that they buy an even bigger piece of land.
He himself recounts his memory of the events: “I was Director of Paiol Grande for ten years and I learned that in the classrooms, we taught the youngsters to pass exams. Indeed, in the classroom there is much confusion between Instruction and Education. They needed space for physical activities and recreation. Education happens among people of the same age.
But Fr. Supple did not think the financial situation would allow for it. I was at dinner one day with my friends, Joaquim and June Esteve, whose sons were students at the school. I spoke to them about our problem. To my surprise and joy, they said they would donate some land for us. Joaquim showed me a property on João Pontes Street, 37,000 square meters – Flora Manor. He said he was very interested in building an English Language School, but the property would be donated for the Oblate mission. In the future, it would help the Oblates serve the poor. We then contacted Dr. Octávio Lotufo, an architect and engineer, to start working on the present school. I got a loan from the bank and we were able to repay it in five years. In 1961, the students began to attend the school.”
Many Oblates were involved in the administration and religious education in the school When the Felician Sisters left, lay persons took their places. The students are very international, coming from various countries; the same goes for the teaching faculty. In 1970, the Oblates decided to hire a lay administrator.
Presently, there are 700 students in the school. It is still essentially an English-speaking school. Many students now are children and grandchildren of former students. For the past 17 years, Fr. Thomas BROWN (who next November will celebrate 50 years in Brazil) represents the Oblates in the Our Lady Help of Christians Parish at Flora Manor. (Nossas Noticias, December 2007)
The parish and its communities reopened in 1960 with the arrival of Fr. Jaime NORMAN. There was a steady stream of renowned Oblates such as Roberto Hickl, Ernesto Lieckens, Florencio Robles, Antonio Díaz, Horacio Sarabia, Ricardo Philion, Félix García, Jesús de la Cruz, and other great missionaries.
However, there is no doubt that the community holds dear to its heart the memory of Fr. Francisco PFEIFER, who built a rural clinic which for many years was the health center of the whole region, since Padre “Chico”, as he was called here, was also a doctor. With his somewhat basic knowledge, he gave great physical assistance to the people.
Today, Quiechapa, as a mountain community, lacks the resources which those of us who come from the city are used to, such as transportation, the communications media and other goods. But instead of those things, there exists an air of serenity and joy which are characteristic of the locals. Furthermore, there are the great forests and its springs that furnish water, not only for Quiechapa but also for the other towns in the area.
In the high mountains, there are violent situations due to different factors such as family revenge, emigration which causes the breakup of the family, conflicts between towns, and the cultivation of some unhealthy plants. But there are also flowers in abundance, fruit trees and other seasonal foods, as well as the local production of the traditional drink known as mescal, from the agave plant, something that adds a bit of joy to the fiestas and to family and cultural gatherings.
I also notice that the religious and civic fiestas, cheered by native music groups, are a great means of hospitality and unity in these towns, certainly a long way from other cultural centers. It is in those moments that I discover that God is really walking beside His people, feeding them, giving them life and courage to move forward. On the other hand, I have the impression that for the people that speak zapoteca, the language is a big obstacle to our communicating with one another. But it is no longer an obstacle when you understand that you are with them and that you are using a symbolic language to say that which at times cannot be said. Communication is enhanced because the God of mercy and of love shows Himself in the actions and gestures that say more than words can say.
A sign of hope in these towns is the future that can be seen in the children and youth who, with their creativity, their joy, their dreams, their games, their spontaneity, can do much for their communities that are so thirsty for peace and better ways to live together; that is a dream, not only for the future, but also for the present in our world. I am confident that the uniqueness of these people is a gift for our missionary charism. (Fr. Roberto TOLENTINO)
On the same day, with the resignation of Bishop Frantz Colimon, S.M.M., his coadjutor, Bishop Pierre-Antoine PAULO succeeded him as Ordinary of the diocese of Port-de-Paix.
Archbishop Constant reached the obligatory retirement age for bishops in 2006. He will celebrate his 50th jubilee of priesthood in September of this year. He was ordained Bishop of Fort-Liberté, Haiti, in 1991. In 2003, he was named Archbishop of Cap- Haïtien. He has also served as President of the Haitian Bishops’ Conference.
Ordained a priest in 1969 and a bishop in 2002, Bishop Paulo received his Oblate formation in the United States and in Rome, Italy. He also holds a Doctorate in Biblical Studies from the University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. Various assignments in parish ministry, in formation and in seminary teaching preceded his being named provincial of Haiti in 1987. He helped establish the Oblate mission in Colombia where he also taught Sacred Scripture at the major seminary in Cartagena. He was asked to return to his native Haiti in 2001 to become the coadjutor bishop of the diocese that he now leads.
Fr. Dummer heads up the Oblate ministry team which serves three parishes and one mission: Soldotna, Kenai, Homer, and Ninilchik. The three priests work on a rotating schedule, covering one parish for a week before moving on to the next one.
The ministry is truly collaborative since each parish has a religious or lay pastoral associate in place who has been working with the people for years. “We work with the parish leaders,” says Fr. Andy, “to minister to the people of the Western Kenai.” The parishes have been without a fulltime resident priest for a number of years and the Oblate team has been welcomed with open arms, and with loads of home-baked goods. (Fr. Andy Sensenig, OMI in OMI USA, March 2008)
Where do we stand on this? When Christ says to the crowd: “Stop weeping, for she has not died, but is asleep,” are we amongst those who mock or amongst those who believe, however tentatively?
The past week and a half was a good time for me to reflect on these questions as I visited with the members of the OMI Lacombe Formation Community: David MacPhee, a novice at the novitiate in Godfrey, Illinois, Jack Herklotz, studying in Chicago and the two pre-novices from Ontario and Saskatchewan. One can’t help but be struck by the enthusiasm shown by the novices. When I went to novitiate thirty years ago, I was eighteen and my fervor could rightly have been dismissed as naiveté. It’s different now. The eight novices are men who have completed university studies, operated their own businesses, and had a plethora of experiences, both positive and negative, in our church. They have seen the charism of Eugene de Mazenod lived out – richly and poorly – in the Oblates; somehow, through all of this, they have come to the Congregation, taken us by the sleeve, and said, “We want to go with you because we see that God is with you.” Sitting with David, his face animated as he spoke about his hopes for the future, it was easy to be swept up by his enthusiasm. “Imagine what a difference it would make if we were to have three of our younger Oblates living and working together in a city somewhere. We could really make a statement: The Oblates are here and we’re going to make a difference!”
The visit with David was followed by a train ride to Chicago with Jack who had arrived in Godfrey later on the same day as I had. It gave the two of us an opportunity to further our discussions on the shape and direction formation could take within OMI Lacombe. Jack has another four months left at Catholic Theological Union where he, along with fifteen others from around the world, is taking classes designed for future formators. I sat in on one them entitled: “Dealing with difficult people in formation.” He introduced me to the group as his fellow formator – and then got a good laugh by suggesting that he was going to be paying close attention to the topic so he would know how to deal with me. I think he said it tongue-in-cheek! Jack is enjoying both his classes and the group he is with. The program is designed to simulate, insofar as possible, a regular religious community and thus they have many of the consequent joys and problems. “Whose turn is it to clean up the Community Room? It isn’t being done regularly.” Once classes are finished in June, Jack will return to Canada for some holiday time before we start setting up the formation house.
From Chicago it was back to Ottawa overnight (INFO Lacombe is an unrelenting taskmaster) and then on the next day to Saskatchewan. André Boyer and I met with a fellow from northern Saskatchewan interested in the Oblates. The meeting gave us a chance to learn more about him, gave him the opportunity to ask questions of us and together make tentative plans for the future. A Cree speaker who has known the Oblates since high school and has since spent time working in business and government, he wants to explore a persistent call to religious life.
As I write this, in the airport on my way back to Ottawa, I look forward to my regular Thursday meeting with Derek. Twenty-two years old and full of life, it’s always a pleasure to spend time in prayer with him and to reflect on his own spiritual journey; I come away from our time together feeling energized and full of hope.
Abram was seventy-five when asked by God to do the impossible. “I’m too old. I don’t know the way. No one is interested.” All would have been reasonable, rational reasons to stay home. With unreasonable, irrational faith, he started walking. During this season of Lent, the Formation Community invites you to be unreasonable, irrational. Take a chance. Put aside hesitations. Leave nothing undared. Invite someone to consider life with the Oblate community. Like a ship in harbour, there is safety in staying put, remaining silent; however, like a ship, that’s not what we were meant for. (Harley Mapes in www.omilacombe.ca)
As part of the big Oblate family to which we belong by the grace of God through St. Eugene, we express our thanks for the great blessings which the Lord has showered upon us in our brief history. On September 14, 2007, we joyfully celebrated our first ten years of community life. We were in Lourdes for our annual retreat preached by Fr. Fernando DE LA PAZ, Provincial of Spain. In that atmosphere of prayer and in the presence of our Mother, all of us (16 sisters, at that time 12 professed and 4 novices), together with the international Oblate community, gathered around the altar to celebrate joyfully the mystery of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. The joy was all the greater because of the renewal of vows of some of the sisters in temporal vows.
The latest extraordinary grace-filled event deeply touched our history as an Institute. After we had been approved by the diocesan Church of Madrid on September 8, 2001, we had our first General Chapter on February 1 and 2, 2002. “O yes! We need to tell ourselves that we have received an extraordinary grace! The more I think about it in all of its aspects, the more I realize the value of the gift.” We fully united ourselves to these words of the Founder which he wrote after the approbation of the Congregation, in March of 1826. And now, after six years of journeying as a Congregation, we have held our second General Chapter. The first days of this new year became for all of us a time of thanksgiving for the work of salvation which the Spirit has been bringing to pass in us and through us.
It too was a time of community conversion and a time to discern the will of God for our lives, personally and as an Institute. Because our journey in these past few years took place in three communities, we felt a strong need to reinforce our bonds of unity. (In Pozuelo, we have the juniorate and “motherhouse” where we began our history as “Oblatas;” we have a place in Horcajelo, a little town in the hills of Madrid – the novitiate; and in downtown Madrid, we have the house for postulants which collaborates very closely with two diocesan parishes in the area.)
We lived this moment of grace and communion by fixing our gaze on Jesus Christ, our Spouse and Teacher, who called us to be one body. St. Eugene, referring to the General Chapter of August 5-12, 1856, wrote in his journal: “A single spirit animated all the members. The discussions, very profound in meaning and charitable in practice, always produced a unanimous decision, to the satisfaction of all. One could apply to this gathering the cor unum et anima una of the first disciples of the Gospel.” Both in the retreat with which we prepared for the Chapter and in the closing Eucharist, Fr. Fernando used these words of St. Eugene to illustrate our reality, recognizing a certain similarity with those first years in the history of the Missionary Oblates as a Congregation, which were not without a degree of difficulty.
Nevertheless, we are aware that Jesus Christ alone is the source of fraternal charity and unity among us; it is only by rooting ourselves in Him and not centering on ourselves, and with the constant inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we will make real within ourselves the Oblate charism and give life to the Founder’s testament: “Practice among yourselves charity, charity, charity, and outside, zeal for the salvation of souls.” And as every light that comes from the Lord illumines the darkness, it reveals our condition as sinners, our pettiness and our weakness. Just as the Savior of all mankind wished to be born in that little town of Judea, Bethlehem, so too he wants to be born among us, in this little religious family: poor, as a child wrapped in swaddling clothes, totally dependent on his parents, in a stall for animals…yet in the midst of this poverty, showing us the affection of God, the joy and the light of his Salvation which everyone desires.
There is now opening up for us an immense territory to which we must go, responding boldly and generously. “Even though, because of their present small number and the more urgent needs of the people around them, they have to limit the scope of their zeal, for the time being, to the poor of our countryside and others, their ambition should, in its holy aspirations, embrace the vast expanse of the whole earth.” (Note bene, CCRR 1818). The future of the mission which we take upon ourselves is a great challenge that calls us to some area of evangelization in the Church, especially cooperating with the Oblates. Nevertheless, for the time being (until our family grows more), one of the priorities of the Institute is still first formation which we have decided to call “Formation for the mission.” Since we are called to be missionaries in apostolic communities, we realize we must use this time well in order to grow in our vocation as apostolic women, animated by the Oblate charism (cf. C. 46).
We thank God for the Oblate charism we have received as His gift for the whole Church, through the person of St. Eugene and all the Oblates who have responded with the total gift of their lives. To all the Oblates, those who are part of the community in heaven as well as those who continue their pilgrimage on earth, we give thanks for their generous oblation to the Lord and to the poor, and for their prayers for us. “In the name of God, let us become saints!” – St. Eugene (Irene Aguilar Berral)
Unfortunately, in Romania as well as in many other countries in the world, this societal problem is not being dealt with in the better interest of the human person. For example, presently in Romania, there is a need for effective national legislation to halt the alarming increase in the number of women pulled into the vicious circle of prostitution by panderers and hucksters who have no scruples.
As citizens of Europe and other parts of the world, it is our duty to express our strong disapproval and to oppose the perpetuation of any form of human violence so that we might contribute to the reaffirmation and preservation of true moral and social values that promote a safe and healthy society, thus assuring full respect for the fundamental human rights of every person.
We Oblates want to contribute to this effort of consciousness raising by asking, first of all, that all those who are friends and collaborators with our mission in Romania would help us in freeing those who have been reduced to slavery.
At the top of this iceberg of solidarity stands the Caritas Association of Bucharest and a tight network of NGO’s. Their most recent public intervention was on February 12 at Romania’s Palace of the Parliament, where these organizations held a press conference to inform the country’s public opinion about the consequences of legalizing prostitution in Romania. (OmiRomania, February 2008)
The brief vacation at the end of February examinations has become, for the scholasticate in Vermicino, a suitable occasion to encounter one of the Oblate ministries of the province. But should we hold ourselves within the boundaries of the province when the scholasticate is made up of five different nationalities? Besides, today, a low-cost airline ticket to Madrid costs less than any international Eurostar train. And the Congregation is inviting us to go beyond borders of every kind to build communion on all levels.
Added to the impressive and enjoyable meeting with the Oblates, we met with “las Oblatas” who told us the brief and Spirit-filled story, from the beginning to the present day, of this women’s Congregation of Oblates.
We celebrated the Second Sunday of Lent at Aluche with the local community, together with families and children whom we told about our living the same vocation in “five national editions.”
The past 182 years of life have not rendered stale the freshness of the Oblate vocation which the Church has deemed authentic. (Adriano TITONE)
The provincial-elect of France, Fr. Yves CHALVET DE RECY, in recounting his own memories of the gathering, stated that the gathering “would continue in the challenges it raised, in the conversions that must take place, in the goals to be achieved, in the daring actions to be taken, and in the means yet to be discovered.”
The scholasticate community continued their “Year in – Year out” tradition at Maria Engelport with a program they called “Everything has its season – a conversation with time.” Besides nine scholastics and their superior, Fr. Stefan Obergfell, there were 18 young participants. They began by getting to know each other and by discussing their notion of “time.”
They spent Sunday, December 30, looking back at 2007 and asking themselves questions such as: “How did I use my time? Where have I spent my time? Did I waste time?” They also used verses from the bible as they tried to find a spiritual motto for 2008.
The last day of the year or “Sylvester Day” was busy with preparations for the evening celebration. There was supper to prepare: vegetables, salads, sausages cheeses and other meats. Others decorated the hall and prepared games and music for the party. They passed the last hour of the year before the Blessed Sacrament in adoration. To the sounds of the Te Deum, they moved out of the church to celebrate the arrival of the new year with champagne and fireworks.
Meanwhile, in Hünfeld, the novitiate community played host to a group of young men who are considering an Oblate vocation. There were 14 participants from Germany and Austria who came to experience Oblate community and to learn more about the Congregation.
The group also paid a visit to a former salt mine in Merkers (Thüringen). They ventured 500 meters below ground to hear of the history of this mine that was dismantled in the 1990’s. In the last days of the Nazi regime, high officials had used the mine to hide money, gold and valuable art treasures they had looted.
The last day of 2007 was spent on a more spiritual theme as the novice master, Father Martin WOLF, led the group in a meditation on the theme: “How did God work in and through me in the past year?” There was also time for personal conversation with the priests and for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. And just as in Maria Engelport, so too in Hünfeld, the Oblates and their young guests ended the old year with a Te Deum and some merriment.
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