No. 476 May 2008
Between late January and early April, 2008, thirteen Oblates gathered to experience and reflect on internationality for ten weeks at the Centre International de Mazenod in Aix-en-Provence. These Oblates came from the United States, Haiti, Uruguay, Zambia, Lesotho, Cameroon, France, Namibia and Sri Lanka. The session was animated by Dominique Dessolin (France), Frank Santucci (South Africa) and Noel Garcia (Philippines).
The session started with a liturgy during which each member planted a different variety and species of plant. This would serve as a symbol of the group for the following ten weeks. During the first and second weeks, they shared about themselves as persons, believers and Oblates. It served to build trust and confidence among the members. The group worked together for the liturgy, preparing meals, washing and cleaning the dining hall and recreating together by watching television, or a dvd or playing “Uno”. During the following two weeks, there were workshops on “experiencing internationality”. The group was guided by Sr. Marlene Huxley, a Franciscan Missionary of Mary from Australia. Each Oblate shared something about the history and culture, values, and beliefs of his place of origin. Insights and knowledge were gained from each others’ sharing; the participants became more aware of the “other” and the dynamics working within and outside relationships. Issues pertaining to living internationality also surfaced.
During the fifth week, Frank Santucci spoke about how Eugene crossed borders during his time; Wojciech Kluj (Poland) spoke about the history of the Oblates’ crossing borders as they expanded as a congregation. This was followed by five days of living together in houses at Taizé. The group joined the Taizé community and visitors from different parts of the world in prayer and liturgy. They had the chance to dialogue with a Brother in the community and ask about life in an international community. After the stay in Taizé, the group went on a ten day retreat at the Abbey of Citeaux. Frank guided the group as they deepened and reflected on their experience for the past weeks of talks, workshops and living together as a community. The Abbot of Citeaux gave a talk to the group on internationality as experienced by the Cistercian Order and on the theological aspects of internationality.
The eighth week was Mazenodian Holy Week during which the group visited the places of the first missions in Grans, Barjols and Marseille. The group also visited St. Laurent du Verdon where the founder wrote the Constitutions and Rules. On Holy Thursday, the talk was on the “Eucharist: Presence and Service” by Benoit Dosquet. As part of the Good Friday meditation, Dominique Dessolin spoke of Eugene’s sufferings and his Good Friday experience. The participants joined the local Oblate community for the Easter celebration.
During the ninth week, the group listened to and dialogued with Oswald Firth (General Administration) and Francis Nallapan (India). They spoke about the missionary challenges of today’s world and they shared about the mission context in Asia.
The tenth and last week was “synthesis week.” Father General was present to listen to the insights and questions of each participant. The group reflected on the past weeks of living together, on what they had heard, and what they had shared with one another as the fruits of the session. (Noel Garcia)
After many years serving as a missionary in Pakistan, Theogenes Joseph came to Rome to be Administrative Assistant for the General Administration. In February of this year, he left for his new obedience in the Philippines. Besides his office duties, he spent many hours planting and tending different seasonal flowers around the General House. Cooking is also one of his hobbies: he kept the community supplied with his own concoctions of spicy sauces, hot enough to make many a tongue burn and eyes water. At least once a month, he would tell the cooks to take a Sunday off so that he could prepare his special curries and rice for the community.
Rabindra (better known as “Rabi”) came to Rome primarily to serve as the printer for the various publications coming from the General Administration. Gradually those printing duties were diminished as more and more Oblates received their documents electronically. This gave Rabi more time to show other talents. He designed and kept alive with colorful flowers a “rock garden” along the road leading up to the General House. It would be impossible to count all the hours he spent cleaning the roads and sidewalks of dead pine needles and leaves. His artistic touch was evident in the way he would arrange flowers and other decorations for the community chapel. Shortly before leaving Rome, he took lessons in painting religious icons from the community bursar, Fr. Clyde RAUSCH. Rabi will receive an assignment from his provincial in the Colombo Province after a brief sabbatical.
Newly arrived in Rome to take over the printing duties and other tasks is another Oblate Brother from Sri Lanka, Kamal MENDIS. He arrived in early February and is currently immersed in the mastery of the Italian language.
The committee members are: Alphonse Rakotondravelo (Africa-Madagascar), Ariel Martínez (Latin America), Francis Efren Zabala (Asia-Oceania), Mark Dean (Canada-US), Martin Wolf (Europe) and Paolo Archiati (General Administration). You can send your suggestions to Paolo Archiati (firstname.lastname@example.org) or to any other member of the committee.
We thank you for your participation and collaboration and we ask you to keep this project in your prayers.
This first volume has 494 articles, mostly biographies. It is indeed people who make history. Among them are 331 Oblates who made their perpetual oblation during the Founder’s lifetime and who remained or died in France. There are also 71 non-Oblates who had a rather important relationship with Eugene de Mazenod and whose names often appear in his writings. This work is therefore a tool for research and a source of knowledge on many subjects. There is also a brief history of each of the 25 Oblate houses in France. One will also find various themes related to the history of the Congregation (the Altar of the Vows, General Chapters, Brothers, the Oblate Madonna, missions, etc.) or the history of France in the 19th century (the Empire, the July Monarchy, Napoleon, the Restoration, the Republics, etc.). Several articles are enhanced with illustrations, allowing the reader to envisage the persons, monuments, and places described or mentioned in the articles.
The first two volumes of this Dictionary are meant to complement the 22 volumes of Oblate Writings. The Founder’s name, his role in the foundation and development of the Congregation, his observations about the Oblates and the events of his time appear on each page.
The book is being sent free-of-charge to bishops, English-speaking provincials, scholasticates, novitiates, and prenovitiates. Oblates and houses can order this volume for 30 Euros (45 US$) plus postage, from:
P. Théophile Le Page, omi
Casa Generalizia OMI
Fax: + 39 6 39 37 53 22
The response of the people was incredible: over 250 people came on a Sunday evening. The program involved speakers from the various denominations and National Chief Phil Fontaine. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a first in Canada. It is hoped that by hearing the stories – “remembering the children” – there will be healing not only of individuals, the students of the IRS but, more importantly, the First Nations People will take their rightful place as Canadians. The Churches acknowledged that we were part of this flawed system and that no matter how good our intentions, harm was done.
The program was interspersed with prayer, song and dance both by the First Nations People and by Church people. The evening ended in a round dance; to the beat of the drum, everyone joined as one people in celebrating new beginnings.
As the disciples expressed during their experience of the Transfiguration, “It is good that we are here.” I think it was important that we, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, were present at this launching. It was a good experience for all of us. (By Jim FIORI in INFO Lacombe, March 14, 2008)
At the celebration, Bishop Wiesner paid special tribute to the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and thanked them for their contribution in the evangelization of the region. “The presence and ministry of the Oblate priests and brothers needs to be underlined,” he said. “They were the pioneers, the framers of the Church in this part of the world.”
The history of the Diocese of Prince George notes that even before the establishment of the Prefecture Apostolic of the Yukon and Prince Rupert, the Oblates were active here, since they had been given responsibility for the mission of the church on the entire mainland of British Columbia in 1861.
A young Father Bunoz arrived in BC in 1891. He left the lower mainland in 1902 for Dawson City, Yukon and remained in the north for the rest of his life.
Even before that time, Father Adrien-Gabriel Morice, served the Carrier and Sekani peoples out of the mission at Stuart Lake. He arrived in northern BC in 1885 and is well known for his invention of the Carrier syllabics, the written grammar of the language and the translation of the Carrier prayer book, which is still used today by First Nations elders. Father Morice established a printing press at Stuart Lake and is also known for making maps of the interior of BC. In fact, it was one of his maps that became the first map of the interior of BC published by the government in 1907.
Another pioneer Oblate was Father Nicolas Coccola, who came to Fort St. James in 1905 and served the First Nations people of this region until his death in Smithers in 1943. He traveled constantly to be with the people, in all seasons and conditions, suffering with and for the people in the sense of a “true missionary”.
Over the past 100 years, most of the priests and all of the bishops have been Oblates. For many years the only diocesan priest was the late Monsignor Lawrence Turgeon. But in more recent times there have been a number of men ordained for the Diocese of Prince George and today there are eight diocesan priests, five Oblates and five international priests.
When the Prefecture was raised to the status of Vicariate Apostolic on October 17, 1917, Father Bunoz was ordained bishop and given the title of Vicar Apostolic.
On January 14, 1944 the territory was divided into two vicariates. Bishop Bunoz remained as Vicar of Prince Rupert and Bishop John Coudert, formerly coadjutor bishop of the old Vicariate, was transferred to Whitehorse.
In 1967 Pope Paul VI raised the Vicariate of Prince Rupert to the status of a diocese. In the meantime, Bishop Fergus O’Grady had moved his headquarters from Prince Rupert to Prince George, as it was easier to travel to the various parts of the diocese and to the outside world from Prince George. On June 5, 1968, the name was formally changed to the Diocese of Prince George and Bishop O’Grady was installed as its first bishop.
The final step in our evolution as a local Church took place on March 25, 2000, when the Diocese of Prince George was recognized as a fully mature diocese, rather than a missionary diocese, being transferred from the care of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith to the Congregation for Bishops.
At the celebration Bishop Wiesner referred to the words of Pope John Paul II at the beginning of the new millennium. “We are invited to remember the past with gratitude, to live the present with enthusiasm and to look forward to the future with confidence.” And why are we able to do this, the Bishop asked. “Because Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.”
Bishop Wiesner recognized the essential service given by laity, Religious men and women, priests and bishops throughout the history of the diocese and thanked each for their ministry. Likening the diocese to a ship, the bishop said, “My brother priests serve us on the ship. They are anointed, sent by God and serve generously and faithfully. They are rowing constantly when we are tired and want to quit and for this we say thanks.” (Submitted by Mary-Anne Lewis Jamin in www.omilacombe.ca)
Iona College joined with a number of other Brisbane schools to give 40 boys and girls in Year 10 and 11 the opportunity to spend six days teaching computer skills to rural primary and secondary students. And the visit was also a major learning experience for the Australian students, as they gained a deeper understanding of a different culture in this underdeveloped heart of South Africa. All the students involved came away convinced in the Gospel message that it is in giving that we receive.
The following is the experience of one of the Year 10 students, Oliver Codd, on his return to Australia:
To be offered a life-changing opportunity such as this was something I was sure to never forget. My adventure would be to travel to Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa, to help the children of rural Eshowe in the development of their basic computing skills. The chance to go one on one and tutor kids from such a different cultural background opened my eyes to how large the world really is.
Now, what would this mean to a fifteen year old boy, currently undergoing early adolescent changes? It completely changed my outlook on life. I often look back at the kind of person I was before this trip. I was often selfish and materialistic. Looking at the little amount of material things these Zulu people possessed showed me that material possessions should have no affect on how you live your life. These people, living in houses comprising a few rooms, were as happy if not happier than any person you would find on the suburban streets of Australia. After this trip, I have often found myself daydreaming about how lucky I was to be sitting in a state-of-the-art library or to be travelling in such an expensive, luxurious car. Why is it that I used to look up to the people who lived in multi-million dollar mansions and drove hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of automobile? No one is to say they are any happier than I am.
I now often contemplate what is important in life. At these times I simply turn to my school prayer. It tells me to fill my soul with compassion for others, lead others by example and serve my Lord Jesus with all my strength. I now believe that my life should be filled with love, compassion, happiness and God. (MAMI Newsletter, February 2008)
On the morning of the 10th of August, I felt a bit nervous as I was going to say my first Mass in Mandarin. The Mass was going well until after the Gospel reading when I had to stop. The reason was that one of the patients had just died!
Magdalene: this is the baptismal name the sisters at the Centre gave the 27-year old girl two days earlier. Before the baptism, the sisters asked her whether she wanted to be baptized and to be with God. Her answer was “yes” and she added: “Yes, I want to be with God, but why is he giving me so much pain?”
Her parents arrived just after the doctor. They were very emotional. I have never seen a Chinese man crying like the father of that girl. Before the body of Magdalene was taken away, her mother put in her pockets and under her shirt plenty of fake paper money. The mother believed and hoped the money would bring her daughter a better and happier life in the other world.
This all happened at the AIDS Centre in Aixiwang, in the southern part of China, where I spent last August. The time spent there was an eye-opening experience and a spiritual journey for me.
There are 16 patients in the Centre: eleven adults (from twenty to sixty years old) and five children (the youngest is eighteen months old and the oldest six years old). Some of the adults are also drug addicts. The Centre was established four years ago. The original plan was to have it just for adults. However, two years later, someone brought a little boy and begged the sisters at the Centre to accept him. The sisters didn’t have the heart to refuse. Now there are six children and they are considered blessings from God for the place.
All of the patients feel like one family. The adults take care of the children, play with them and teach them. Somehow, it gives them a sense of hope and a lot of joy. It makes them feel that the burden they carry is a bit lighter. They feel much better when they see the children playing around with smiles on their faces and when they hear the voices and the laughter.
Some of the patients, because of their illness, get tired very quickly. Still, everyone tries to do something useful. Some take care of a small garden while some help with the cleaning. Most of the patients spend two hours in the morning and two in the afternoon everyday producing beautiful artificial flowers, which they try to sell to make a bit of money to cover the expenses of running the Centre.
There are four sisters working in the Centre. Two of them are qualified nurses. Their work and mission is to keep the Centre going and assist the patients with whatever help they need. Their biggest challenge is to make the patients realize and believe that there is still hope -- if not in this world, then for sure in the other one.
All the neighbors are aware of the AIDS patients in their area. Although there has been no major incident such as attacking the Centre, there is, however, a great fear to deal with the patients or even associate with the workers involved at the Centre. For example, we were going out to the city one day but the taxi driver refused to take us there. Then in the city, we could hear and see people looking at us and saying “AIDS people!”
Just a couple of days before I left the Centre, a five-year old boy died. Now I am in Beijing in the middle of another year of studying Mandarin. However, my heart is still with the AIDS patients. I remember talking to them, playing badminton with them and sharing jokes. I recall that we had a good time. But I also remember very well their eyes; they were eyes without hope. I thought to myself it must be even more difficult for those who have no faith. So, I ask you, please pray for them, pray for the gift of faith for them. God bless you. (www.oblates.com/au)
A large throng of the faithful gathered around their Shepherd, together with the entire Episcopal Conference of Laos and Cambodia, the Apostolic Nuncio to Thailand (who also oversees the Church in Laos) and His Eminence, Cardinal Renato Martino, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. The cardinal’s presence was particularly meaningful since at the time of Bishop Khamsé’s ordination as bishop, Cardinal Martino was the Apostolic Nuncio in Thailand; he is the only one of the three co-consecrators still living. At the end of the celebration, he recalled with emotion the difficult circumstances of the episcopal ordination of Bishop Khamsé in those very first years after the revolution when no foreigner was allowed to enter Laos.
In thanking those present, Bishop Khamsé stated that in the difficult moments in those past 25 years, moments which were inevitable, given the situation in which they found themselves, God’s help was never lacking, nor was the affectionate support of his brothers and sisters in the faith. That it is how he has been able to arrive at a celebration of those 25 years. He concluded asking everyone to thank God for His love for the little Church of Laos. (Missioni OMI, March 2008)
Feeding 400 people every day costs a lot and our Center has barely enough to do this. Consequently, I gathered a bit of courage, picked up the telephone and called the pastor of a rich parish in the city. He answered cordially and gave me an appointment for the same afternoon. At the given time, I arrived at the parish office. When I was about to enter, the secretary, seated at a desk, roared at me in an angry voice: “What do you want?” I didn’t have time to respond; a sister next to him added her piece: “Whoever you are, stranger, we don’t have anything for you. You can just leave.” Stunned and taken aback by such a welcome, I timidly stated: “I am Fr. Vincenzo and I have an appointment with the pastor.” To say the least, I was angered by such a reaction. Sure, I wasn’t wearing a nice jacket and black clergy suit, but I was clean and I don’t think I looked like a terrorist. I know that theirs was a crazed reaction of irrational fear at the presence of an unknown foreigner. Yes, the people do live in a state of worry: immigrants are landing uncontrolled on their shores. Strangers of every color are overrunning the city. Foreigners hang around the bars under the suspicious gaze of other clients who fear robbery and rape. We tend to fear whatever is different and unknown to us. But we need to be aware that one cannot conquer that sort of fear with the brute force of the police. One cannot overcome the fear of what is different with the guns of soldiers. Violent repression by itself is not enough to stop these people who are “invading.”
In fact, Korea, the nation where I live, has a an army that is 600,000 strong. (In Italy, there are only 120,000 in the military.) A well-organized police force has good control of the territory. The border to the North is protected by a field of barbed wire and land mines. The rest is surrounded by the immense Pacific Ocean. Nevertheless, the country is still not able to stop the waves of immigrants that invade its shores: a mine field cannot stop those who are fleeing the misery of their own countries. Bullets cannot cut down the dreams of a young person. The fear of prison does not alleviate the bite of hunger. Someone who already feels dead inside is not afraid to die.
So do we need to leave things as they are without doing a thing? Should we remain passive before the thousands of strangers who debark on our shores? That too would not be just. The State has to first of all provide just laws that regulate public life and that everyone must respect. Then, it’s a question of promoting a healthy development in the countries from which the immigrants come so that they can stay at home without having to seek elsewhere their dreams that often end up in tragedy. The SHARING of these problems among nations can do much to lessen racial tension and prevent so many evil wars and cultural selfishness.
Then there’s a second step to take, on the personal level: each one of us is called to conquer fear with a healthy and constructive TRUST.
Indeed, only true and deep TRUST can conquer FEAR. I remember that story in which Jesus and his disciples were in a boat when a big storm came up and put them in danger of their lives. After calming the storm, Jesus said to them: “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” (Mk 4:40) You cannot conquer fear and anxiety by arrogantly raising your voice or pointing a gun, but with a bit of optimism and by believing, full of hope, in the Risen Lord of History.
That man of color there is not an enemy but the father of a family who wants to give a bit of bread to his hungry children. That Slav there is not a brutal criminal but a youth looking for and dreaming of a better life. That girl there is not a callous prostitute to take advantage of but a woman who wants true love and a future with more dignity than what she had in her own country.
I say this because I too am a foreigner in the country where I live. Sometimes I have experienced prejudice. Sometimes I have been insulted. Sometimes I have been brutally interrogated by the police and that hurt me deeply, just as I was hurt by what I heard in that Catholic parish: “Who are you? What do you want?”
“I am a son of God and He loves me tenderly. I want to be welcomed, understood, accepted by you. I need for you to share with me some of your time, some of your attention, and some of your resources with me. I am a human being who, just like you, wants to love and be loved: that’s the only desire I have in this life. That’s who I am; that’s what I want.”
There are nine Christian villages nearby and six other places where some Christians are living. Our main work is to provide religious services for these 15 places and to visit the homes. Our catechist goes three times a year into a Muslim village where a Catholic family is living. For the past eleven years now, a priest has also been permitted to visit this family. My assistant is in charge of the Middle School; I take care of seven elementary schools.
Much time and energy are spent dealing with land claims. Our Christians established themselves some time ago in this barren desert with the help of a missionary; they changed it into fertile land, yet now, in spite of their working the land, they have no right to own it. So the conflicts arise. In the past two years, two Christians have been shot at. It is difficult to find a just solution. The current deputy district director is a Muslim who spent his childhood in the Netherlands and graduated from a Middle School of the Brothers of the Christian Schools in Multan. He does what he can for us; therefore, we have hope that our people will be able to buy land at a reasonable price. Our Christians usually live by farming and day labor.
Understanding is not easy. I cannot yet speak Urdu fluently; it’s the local language for business, but the people here speak Punjabi which is quite different from Urdu. (Father Günther ECKLBAUER in Der Weinberg, April 2008)
A planning and rehearsal week was held in January when team members gathered from all over Australia. We spent many hours going through each liturgy and event. We tasted and approved the menu; we experimented with the registration process. The Hosting and Welcome Team have been searching and finding many generous families who will host our pilgrims. The Heads of Portfolio will gather again in May at Pentecost to renew friendships and continue the planning.
The Australian Province is very aware of the tremendous responsibility it has in welcoming the young Oblate world to our country and it accepts this responsibility with joy. We also realize that distance and finances have meant that not everyone who wanted to attend is able to do so. Via the website www.oblates.com.au, we have tried to keep everyone who is interested up-to-date. Even if you are unable to attend, there are still many opportunities for involvement via prayers and contributions to the discussion board.
The IOYE has been organized by young people from all over Australia and every effort has been made to include the entire Province in the planning and celebration. The Australian continent covers some 7 million square kilometers; distance and communication issues have always been a part of Australian history. Mobile phones and the internet have greatly helped in the planning and the Oblate Youth website has helped bring people closer together.
Every Oblate is encouraged to pray for this gathering, especially using the IOYE Prayer below.
Loving God, you create, redeem and mission us as your Oblate community to be a witness to the world. Inspired by St Eugene de Mazenod, we follow the call to leave nothing undared for your kingdom. As we prepare to gather as one in Australia at the International Oblate Youth Encounter, may we all hear, accept and share in the call to see the world through your eyes. Amen. St Eugene de Mazenod…pray for us.
Together with members from this community and some volunteers, we began the pre-mission. That consisted in going from house to house on all the streets of that community in order to do a survey of the religious and social reality and to find out who would be willing to receive the missionaries into their homes.
We asked volunteers in all the communities of the parish to be part of the mission and we planned four formation meetings. The first one took place on Sunday, February 10, in the St. Peter community. At three o’clock, the future missionaries showed up and signed in, according to communities. To our grand surprise, there were 339 persons present.
There was much enthusiasm, with mission-themed songs, led by the music group from St. Jude Thaddeus, and with each community waving their colorful banners. The speaker, Fr. Eugenio, the vicar of the deanery, developed the first theme: “Disciple of Jesus.” There can be no mission without a deep passion for Jesus Christ. You cannot give what you do not have. The missionary is a person who lives in real intimacy with Jesus, with the Father, in the presence of the Holy Spirit. For that, he must have a personal prayer life, the Eucharist, and a prayerful reading of the Gospel.
After a brief break for lunch, the session continued with a skit on how a missionary should act. The first meeting ended with Holy Mass. It was the talk of the streets and the supermarket! Now we are asking for prayers that we might carry out a blessed and worthwhile ministry. (Fr. Robert VALICOURT in Nossas Notícias, February 2008)
One afternoon, while in an automobile with Father General, a German with a long experience in Paraguay, Fr. Fernando de la Paz, the Provincial of Spain, Fr. Mimmo DI MEO, the superior of the delegation of Uruguay, and Fr. Marcin FIGAJ, a Polish member of the Province of Spain who was getting ready to leave for Venezuela, I was able to get a sense of our Oblate family. I can assure you that the feeling of brotherhood was so strong that it became a sign of the richness of our differences.
We were returning from the celebration of the perpetual vows of the a Sister Oblate of Mary Immaculate. Their little congregation, begun in Spain in 1992, has already 17 sisters, four novices, and three young postulants, keen on giving a woman’s touch to living the charism of Eugene. Among them are women from Spain, Germany, Ukraine, and Poland. This too is a sign of the times!
Another reality always on the table is unification. In the mind of the General Administration, there will eventually be three or four provinces in Europe, with their own missionary and community projects, instead of the actual seven provinces. In the past couple of years, some Units have already merged: the Central European Province (Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic) and the Polish Province (Poland and the Scandinavian Delegation).
Italy and Spain have begun a process of collaboration and discernment. There are six Oblate communities in Spain. They are few in number because many Spanish Oblates have gone off to foreign missions. The Italian mission in Uruguay was begun by Spain.
In the history of the Spanish Province, there are many touching pages. Worth special mention is the tragic murder of 22 Oblates, priests, brothers, and scholastics, in 1936, during the Spanish Civil War. Just in the past year, the cause for their beatification has decidedly moved forward. The six communities are located in the north-central area, three in Madrid and two farther south. Some 35 Oblates are involved mostly in parish ministry, youth work and parish missions. Another 13 Oblates are in the Spanish Sahara, Venezuela, and Lourdes.
In recent years, the sharing of common experiences has increased between the Spanish and Italian Provinces. The first and foremost joint venture is in the area of formation. Another area is that of parish missions. Some Spanish Oblates took part in parish missions in Calabria; last November, Fr. Piergiorgio PIRAS from Italy was part of a mission in the south of Spain. Since last December, Fr. Marcellino SGARBOSSA has been part of the mission team in Spain. There have also been some common experiences in youth ministry, such as a gathering for girls held at Marino, Italy, together with the Spanish Oblate Sisters. Fr. Angelo CAPUANO traveled from Italy to Spain with some Oblate lay collaborators for a meeting with the Spanish Oblate laity on February 2-3, 2008. The major superiors have also taken part in events in each other’s provinces. Last year, there was a delegation of Italian Oblates at the missionary congress of the Spanish Province. The provincial of Spain was present at the Assembly of the Italian Province in 2006 and at the meeting of Italian superiors last November. Then there was my trip to Spain for the 125th anniversary celebrations.
Fr. Fernando was recently named to a second term as provincial of Spain. I will conclude with his words, spoken at the meeting of Italian superiors: “My plan, if I am named to a second term as provincial superior, is to suggest to Fr. Nicola PARRETTA, provincial of Italy, and to his Council, that we put together a plan and a timetable whose objectives would be to dialogue, to get to know one another better, to look for possible areas of greater cooperation in ministry, to state the advantages and disadvantages of a possible unification of our respective provinces, and finally, to make a decision.” (Missioni-OMI, January-February, 2008)
Fr. Vincenzo BORDO, an Italian Oblate working with street people in Seoul, Korea, was a participant at the latest meeting, along with people from twenty-eight countries. Vincenzo was the official representative of the Church in Korea.
In the keynote address, Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, Secretary of the Dicastery, stated that when talking about homelessness, we are dealing with the lack of basic human rights. Homelessness almost always forces a person into a downward spiral of poor health, poverty and marginalization. Therefore, the needs of the homeless demand both a human and an ecclesial response.
Among the recommendations coming from the session, Vincenzo underlines four important conclusions:
1. Theological foundations: the Church must reach out to homeless people on the street in positive ways because in them is present the suffering and risen Christ.
2. A day of prayer might be organized in which the liturgy could express this solicitude through a focus on the centrality of the poor in the heart of God. October 17, celebrated as World Day against Poverty, might be a good time to pray for those suffering from extreme poverty.
3. Unused churches and church-owned buildings could be placed at the disposal of homeless people.
4. Chaplains and spiritual counsellors should be readily available for homeless people.
Vincenzo would like to reflect with other Oblates involved in this ministry with people on the streets (homeless, women, children). They can reach him at email@example.com.
The headquarters of the Divine Life Society and the Sivanandashram in Durban invited him to participate at their expense. At the end of the pilgrimage they committed the ashes of their spiritual Master, Sri Swami Sahajananda, into the fast flowing waters of the Ganges.
The swami had been associated with Father Garth in interreligious encounters for more than twenty five years. During the height of South Africa’s turbulent and violent resistance to the oppressive laws of segregation during 1970’s and 1980’s, Father Garth founded and animated the Community of Reconciliation in the premises of St Joan of Arc church in Pietermaritzburg. The purpose of this community was to live in a multi-cultural community of faith and prayer, defying laws of segregation and taking the consequences. The community comprised families, individuals, people from broken homes, the poor and the homeless.
One day Swami Sahajananda visited the community by surprise and put his head to the ground before the icon of JESUS in the sanctuary. Their long association began there.
Father Garth was at the bedside of Sri Swami Sahajananda, in long protracted silent prayer, a few hours before he died and he was then drawn intimately into the last rites and the cremation ceremony twenty eight hours after he died. This was attended by thousands of mourners, mainly members of the Divine Life Society whose South African branch was founded by the Sri Swami Sahajananda
In his many years of interreligious collaboration, Father Garth has remained inspired by the words of the Vatican II document Nostrae Aetate which states in paragraph 2: “The church therefore has this exhortation for her members: prudently and lovingly, through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions and in witness of Christian life and faith acknowledge, preserve and promote the spiritual and moral goods (truths and values) found among these people, as well as the values in their society and culture.” (http://omi.org.za/natal/)
I wasn’t really expecting to be sent to Africa for my internship. What a surprise! What a joy! Enzo, whom I already knew, and André came to meet me when I got off the airplane. In the room which they had had repainted for me, there was a many-colored bouquet of flowers on the desk. The next day at Mass, my brothers presented me to the assembly. Then I told them the reason for my coming and that I am a Hmong, born in Laos, of French citizenship, and whose parents are in Guyana. The welcome I received from one and all was very cordial.
They took me out to discover Dakar and its suburbs: a city which resembles every other big city, but with construction sites everywhere (the city is in perpetual construction), with sand everywhere, and herds of sheep, cattle and goats all over the place, and exposed sewers. The air is impossible to breathe.
Senegal is a country that has a Muslim majority. Inevitably, the majority group is favored. But I discovered a great tolerance and a quite exceptional sense of brotherhood. There is great mutual respect: All Saints’ Day, Christmas and Easter are holidays. They also speak of Christianity on television. And many Muslims go on pilgrimage to Popenguine, a Marian shrine.
Anyone who comes from outside is struck by the exuberance, the dedication and the energy of the Church in Senegal. The Christians are a happy lot and proud of their Christian identity: they pray, they sing and they dance in churches that are full to the rafters. Every Mass is truly a celebration and no one is bored.
Whom does one find in church? Lawyers, professors, doctors, nurses, but also a majority of ordinary and simple folk. Many don’t even have something to eat three times a day. Nevertheless, they give and they share generously the little that they have.
What brought the Oblates to Senegal? The end of the mission in Laos. When they were expelled from Laos in 1975, some Italian Oblates who had been there relocated to Senegal. And the bishop who invited them sent them to a suburb of Dakar.
There are now 25 Oblates in Senegal, in Dakar, but also outside of it and in other dioceses, gathered in small communities of two or three. Half of them are Senegalese. Some have gone out to other missions, for example to Guinea-Bissau. There is another new mission project waiting in the wings because of insufficient personnel.
As for myself, I exercise my ministry as a deacon in the Oblate parish in Dakar. I also teach some classes at the inter-novitiate: to women religious novices. I try to introduce them to the synoptic gospels and the letters of St. Paul. The preparation of these classes takes a lot of my time.
That’s where I am at the beginning of my internship. It’s exciting! (Audacieux pour l’Évangile, April 2008)
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