No. 496 February 2010
As we celebrate the 184th anniversary of pontifical approval, we have reached 2010, the year of our 35th Chapter. The proposed theme is “conversion.” This year began with a terrible catastrophe - in Haiti, the capital and other cities have been destroyed by the earthquake, over 160,000 people have died, and there has also been loss of life among the Oblates and their relatives. The provincial administration of one of our strongest provinces is displaced, our scholastics have had to abandon their studies, important buildings are destroyed.
The terrible disaster of Haiti brings to mind the passage about the fall of the Siloam Tower, which speaks explicitly about conversion. Jesus says there: “Those eighteen upon whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” (Lk 13:4-5) - In which way does the earthquake call us to a change of our ways?
Every General Chapter deals with conversion to our original call, but this time we have made the theme explicit. A certain urgency was felt. Saint Eugene de Mazenod, too, felt a call to urgent conversion right at the time of our congregation’s approval: “In the name of God, let us be saints”, he wrote on February 18, 1826. Do we feel that same urge? Will conversion really happen with us today?
Even with a special focus and a reflection process in place, we might remain skeptical. By experience, we know too well that our good intentions often do not last long; the classic example are the New Year resolutions which are said not to survive January! We tend to become discouraged because of our resistance to change, or even cynical. Perhaps we need to learn more about conversion, look at it from different angles.
1. One way of looking at the change of mind we are called to is from our side. Jesus uses imperatives when he says: “the kingdom of God is at hand; reform your lives and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1:15). Saying: reform your life! He indicates that an effort on our part is clearly required.
But the gospels themselves speak of our difficulties with Jesus’ urgent call. When Jesus makes the statement: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” the text continues: “Those who heard it said, ‘Then who can be saved?’” (Lk 18:25-26)
2. Repentance, change of life, conversion can also be seen from another angle. Jesus, in his answer to the disciples’ question above, “Who can be saved?” makes a consoling statement: “What is impossible with humans is possible with God” (Lk 18:27). In other words, there is help. We are not left alone; conversion is not just our own affair.
Let us try to describe this help we may count on. Comparisons, metaphors come to mind. What about “shortcut”? It may appear ambiguous. One would have to reject it if it meant sidelining conversion; of course, God “has not given any one permission to sin” (Sir 15:20). There is no shortcut for avoiding conversion to the Kingdom, to a world where God will reign, to the Jerusalem that comes down from heaven. But there is a shortcut in the sense of the shorter way God may want to indicate to us once we have started with our effort.
Another metaphor could be “power conversion.” It might sound a bit trendy; the word “power” is used today in many new combinations – power steering and power tools; power charger, power search, and even power nap. It means that there is additional energy involved, not just our ordinary strength. Could there also be a power conversion?
One can go so far as to say: we must gain access to power greater than our own if we want to get anywhere on the road of reform. St. Eugene was convinced that such a higher power had become available when he had received approval for our Rules. On February 18, 1826 he wrote: “they are no longer simple regulations …. They are Rules approved by the Church … they have been judged holy and eminently suited to lead those who have embraced them to their goal.”
Shortcuts, special means of power -- they are metaphors for saying one thing: that conversion is not possible without God’s grace. It is a task but much more a gift. Scripture scholars point out that Jesus’ call, “reform your lives, and believe in the gospel”, puts change of heart and faith inseparably together; one cannot happen without the other. Among the many powerful gifts of grace – sacraments, Scripture, community, etc -- let me point out one special way and means to achieve the change God is asking us for: our commitment to the poor. It becomes particularly relevant in the wake of the earthquake.
Constitution 5 reminds us that “We are a missionary Congregation. Our principal service in the Church is to proclaim Christ and his Kingdom to the most abandoned.” When Jesus makes his comment on the tower of Siloam, he must have observed that some people distanced themselves from the victims saying: “This happened because they were sinners.” Similar voices have recently been heard about Haiti; yes, even today! Jesus’ answer is: they are human beings like you’ you have no privilege over them; you could perish like them at any time -- therefore be converted!
In practice, these means for us who were not hit by the earthquake that we must show solidarity and not distance ourselves – we are in the same boat. The provincial of Haiti wrote in a recent letter: “This is an occasion to look at life with new eyes and to better appreciate God’s gifts to us. This is an occasion of a stronger solidarity between us.”
Since 1826 we bear the name of Mary. How would she have reacted in front of those “on whom the tower of Siloam fell?” I believe that she, who is mother of all, is asking us today to find the grace of conversion in our solidarity with the poor.
15 January 2010
Dear Brother Oblates and associates, dear friends,
Through Information OMI, I want to let our Oblates in Haiti know that the members of the General Council, gathered here in Rome in plenary session, and myself, and as I believe all the Oblates around the world, stand in solidarity with them at this difficult time of the earthquake. Many Oblates and friends approach us for news and they ask how they can help.
We have not yet been able to establish contact with Port-au-Prince. We have learned that Scholastic Brother Weedy Alexis has died in the catastrophe, among the many, many other victims. Our prayers and sympathies go to his family and the Oblate community. Thousands find themselves trapped, wounded or without shelter and need assistance; many of them are relatives and friends of our confreres.
It seems that the rest of our Oblates have not been harmed. We know that the theologate building has been destroyed, the new part of the provincial house as well, and the homes of many people the Oblates know. Our General Treasurer is sending out a letter with some explanations to help those who wish to direct donations to the Province of Haiti in response to the disaster. Please contact him directly if you wish more specific information. Our Oblates on the ground are the closest to the needs, and St. Eugene de Mazenod will inspire in them ways to employ the right means in the right place.
By our prayers and solidarity, let us accompany all those who suffer. Being close to them is being close to Christ. This is also a moment to realize that we are one family with the Oblates in Haiti, united through our faith, our charism and our commitment to the poor and most abandoned.
With fraternal greetings
Fr. Wilhelm Steckling, OMI
General Councillor, Fr. Loudeger MAZILE, says that other Oblates and scholastics in the ruined city have survived.
Fr. Fred Charpentier, who works in Les Cayes, about 100 miles from the epicenter, reports that damage in the Les Cayes region was much less than in Port au Prince.
The Les Cayes region includes the Proje Espwa (Project Hope) orphanage run by Fr. Marc Boisvert. On Fr. Marc’s blog, we read the story of one of the women who works at the orphanage: “Joey Lamarre’s mother is one of our housemothers. She spoke to Joey who was in class when the earthquake struck yesterday. His professor and two of Joey’s classmates were killed as the walls of the university crashed down. Joey was hurt and was buried for six hours but he was finally freed and brought to a temporary clinic. He may have serious injuries and his mom is going to Port-au-Prince to be with him.” (http://pwojeespwa.blogspot.com/)
Bro. Clausel Germeil, who lives at the provincial house in Port au Prince, e-mailed that he was teaching in a school at the time of the earthquake. The school totally collapsed on him and the students. He was not severely injured. Damage at the provincial house was in a section mostly of offices and not where the Oblates live. The theology house next door was completely destroyed.
15 January 2010
Good morning, Father General,
I am using what is left of the battery charge on my laptop to write you this message. You have certainly learned that on Tuesday, 12 January 2010, at 4:53 p.m., a violent earthquake (a magnitude of 7.3 on the Richter scale) passed through Haiti and has practically destroyed the city of Port-au-Prince.
Most of the big buildings have collapsed.
The provincial house was seriously damaged and the new construction (the annex) has collapsed.
The scholasticate has also caved in. The two formators (Frs. Muscadin and Almonor) as well as the two scholastics who were there (Ronel and Johnny), and Fr. Jean-François Printemps who was visiting there, are safe and sound.
The other scholastics were at a conference at CIFOR, being presented by a Brazilian doctor. The CIFOR building collapsed and the conference presenter died, as well as an Oblate scholastic, Weedy Alexis, and a Spiritan scholastic, Stéphane Dougé. Presently, the minibus of the Monfortain scholastics is blocked under the debris, with 14 passengers aboard, 9 of them Montfortains. They can do nothing, up to this point, to rescue them. One of them is alive for his voice can be heard and they are talking with him, but that is all that can be done.
It’s a catastrophe, total devastation in Haiti. Since Wednesday evening, the inhabitants of Port-au-Prince have to sleep under the stars, as do we, for there are aftershocks from time to time. Everyone is afraid and we do what we can to take precautions.
There are no means of communication or of information. With a bit of luck, the telephone might work. I have not yet been able to communicate with our confreres in the province.
There is no electricity, no water at the provincial house, no internet. I imagine that it is the same situation just about everywhere in Port-au-Prince.
Yesterday, Father Loubeau and I were obliged to go out onto the streets to get to the scholasticate. Everywhere there is crying, weeping and wailing. The streets are piled high with dead bodies.
There were other collapsed buildings: the Port-au-Prince archbishop’s residence, the National Palace, the Cathedral, Sacred Heart church, the Major Seminary at Turgeau, the Major Seminary for philosophy at Cazeau, the Episcopal church of the Holy Trinity and several other large churches and schools, Catholic and Protestant.
It was only yesterday morning that they were able to retrieve the remains of Mons. Joseph Serge Miot, Archbishop of Port-au-Prince. The Vicar General is still under the debris: they no longer hear his voice. A professor at the Major Seminary at Turgeau and three seminarians were trapped inside the seminary. No one can hear them.
Up to this point, they have named eight dead among the seminarians of Cazeau. (But the Oblates at Blanchard and Sibert have been spared).
Some aid arrived yesterday morning from the United States, France and the Dominican Republic. But they cannot do much because there are still the aftershocks. They are saying that the aftershocks should end by Friday evening.
The deceased Oblate scholastic had to be buried yesterday afternoon together with the Spiritan, in the courtyard of the Spiritans (their church and their house were also destroyed). There is no functioning morgue. There is still no help. This morning at 8 o’clock, we are going to have a funeral service together with the Spiritans.
You can understand, Fr. General, that the damages must be immense. One still cannot estimate them, even though the Prime Minister has spoken of about 100,000 deaths. The total is much worse than that for there are still the wounded, the disappeared and the material damages.
Several priests, brothers and religious women are unaccounted for.
Fr. General, this was simply an attempt to describe for you what we are experiencing. Because I must hurry so as not to use up the battery, you can understand that I am unable to tell you everything or respect formalities.
Thank you for your understanding and your solidarity.
We know that you are thinking of us and that you are lifting us up in prayer to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, our helping mother.
Fr. Gasner Joint, omi
18 January 2010
Dear Father General and Council,
Dear Brother Oblates,
I am in a cybercafé (in a less damaged area of Pétion-Ville) to read your messages. Many thanks for your support. There are three of us here: Frs. Maxime Eugène, Albert Cator and I. Besides the information that I have already sent and which can be read on the Oblate internet site (www.omiworld.org), we are now in the process of evacuating Port-au-Prince. Some residents of the provincial house have already left for Mazenod, Camp-Perrin. The scholastics in theology have been sent to Oblate parishes on the Southern Coast. Those in philosophy are waiting for the opportunity to move to the North.
Our sympathy goes out to the Oblates who have lost members of their family. For most of the other Oblates from Haiti, their close family members are relatively all right and have found shelter somewhere. In Port-au-Prince, everyone is still sleeping outside, a situation that will most likely last at least another month. Now there is the exodus towards other towns.
There is no hope of being able to return to academic activities this year in Port-au-Prince, nor even for public life, since most of the state offices and commercial establishments have either collapsed or have become unusable.
We are planning to move the administrative center of the Province to a safer city, but for that, we are awaiting for specialists to better assess the situation, for they are foreseeing an eventual dominos effect in the other cities as well. And then we need to save what we can at the provincial house and the theology house.
The government has decreed a state of emergency and a month of national mourning (January 17-February 17). It is also promising rapid steps to bring into operation the banks, the communications services and the service stations, but we are still waiting for that to happen.
Again, thanks to Father General and his councilors, to all our Oblate confreres and our friends for your support.
United in prayer in Jesus Christ and Mary Immaculate,
Fr. Gasner Joint, omi
22 January 2010
Dear brother Oblates,
Once again I want to thank each one of you for your words and acts of sympathy on the occasion of the earthquake. I am sorry I have to send another collective message – some are complaining they have not received a personal email. Please understand that, deprived of regular means of communication; I didn’t have any other choice than giving the priority to the most urgent needs. There is no electricity in Port-au-Prince. Besides that, I had to organize the moving of about 30 Oblates from the capital.
I moved to Les Cayes yesterday with two members of the administration (the Bursar who presently doesn’t feel so well and the Director of the Provincial House). In the City of Les Cayes, and in the community of Charpentier which welcomes us, we have electricity (and consequently the possibility of internet connection) only from 7 pm to 5 am. Sure, we are trying to improve our situation, for instance to temporarily relocate the provincial administration office to a place where it can be more functional. But we don’t expect things will begin right away to run on wheels for us as, while the majority of those we left in Port-au-Prince cannot even eat or sleep. In other words, we are trying to do our best, but for the moment we are here in this community sharing their life, their facilities as well as their needs.
I want to express the gratitude of the Oblates in Haiti to all those, individuals and organisms, who gave or offered financial assistance for debris removal, rebuilding, restructuring or relocating. We highly appreciate your solidarity with us in this catastrophic situation. And be sure that your donations will be most welcome. But in this messy rush in which we find ourselves, we cannot yet evaluate our needs in terms of project or application. Our country is destroyed, and so are our Churches, schools and formation houses. The Oblate scholasticate for theology collapsed; so did the building that housed the provincial administration offices. The provincial house is severely damaged.
Thanks be to God, many sectors of the international community hurried to the population’s rescue right after the tragedy. But it’s not over yet, since we are still in the aftershock period, and we don’t know for how long.
To any person or organism ready to help us, I suggest that you send your contribution to the following bank account:
Bank Name: TD Banknorth
But we have not lost Faith, Hope and Love. We know God, though in a mysterious way, is walking at our side. And we ask Him to keep on protecting us and abundantly bless all our friends and benefactors.
Fr. Gasner Joint, omi
Pwoje Espwa also feeds and educates 1200 other local children. This requires a total preparation and serving of over 4000 meals each day. Boisvert said, “There was a point where we didn’t know where our next meal was coming from but we are starting to see supplies arrive in now.”
Funding for Pwoje Espwa is largely provided by Free the Kids, a United States non-profit organization. Executive Director Jami Vass said: “We are seeing a rapid increase in interest and donations. We believe we will have enough financial resources to feed, clothe, house, and educate these children, thanks to our most generous American friends and the international community.”
For further information: www.freethekids.org
Thanks for your letter. There has been crisis in Jos since the 17th of this month and it has gradually affected almost all the other parts of the city. Despite the curfew imposed by the government, many people were reportedly killed between Tuesday and Wednesday this week. The Oblates in Jebbu Bassa are safe, although there is also tension there. Our brothers are obliged to remain indoors. One young man from Jebbu Bassa was one of the victims during the violence at the center of the town last Wednesday. The military took control of the security in Jos Tuesday this week. According to Fr George Ihenacho, superior of the mission, the curfew has been relaxed since yesterday to enable people to get something to eat.
I can’t really say what caused this crisis for there are many versions. What is certain is that religious intolerance is growing more and more in some northern parts of Nigeria and peaceful co-existence between Christians and Muslims has become a serious challenge. The Oblates working in Jebbu Bassa parish will certainly have to deal with some cases of displaced people who fled their homes.
As soon as I get more information from our brothers, I will update you on how they are coping with the situation.
His funeral Mass took place on January 23 at St. Joseph’s Juniorate Seminary, Kohuwala. Presiding at the Mass was the provincial of the Colombo Province, Fr. Clement WAIDYASAKERA. The homily was preached by Fr. Leopold RATNASEKARA. Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo presided at the final prayers of commendation.
A joint message from Fr. Wilhelm STECKLING, Superior General; Fr. Oswald FIRTH, Assistant General; and Fr. Federico LABAGLAY, General Councillor for Asia-Oceania, gives a good summary of the many talents of Father Forbes and the esteem with which he was regarded.
Dear Father Clement,
In Father Dalston Forbes, we have lost a friend and a confrere who has been a source of inspiration and a tower of strength, both to the Congregation at large, when he served as a General Councilor for Asia, and more particularly to Sri Lanka, where he was a wisdom figure especially during moments of national crisis. We recall the important role he played as General Secretary of the Major Religious Superiors Conference in Sri Lanka where he labored to make Vatican II a living reality in the local Church.
He was one of the first Rectors of Our Lady of Lanka National Seminary who was born and bred on Sri Lankan soil. There he was revered as a prophet and a ‘Guru’ of contemporary times. The hundreds of priests and religious who benefitted from his knowledge and wisdom will continue to remember him for the intellectual guidance and spiritual nourishment they drew from this prayerful man of God.
We are aware that Fr. Dalston was a man of many talents and interests. As a philosopher, he was a seeker of the truth. His theological insights were well grounded on the Word of God and teachings of the Church. And living in a country which was till recently riddled with a thirty years war, to which he was always very sensitive, he was a keen political analyst and champion of peace and national harmony. He was a person whom both clergy and laity would consult, trust and listen to. That brotherly and consoling voice will always be remembered by all those who knew him and loved him.
The Congregation which he deeply cherished will miss him and Sri Lanka will feel his absence. But Dalston belongs to the Lord, and the Lord has now called him unto his own with these words: “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world!”
Adieu dear brother, we shall treasure memories of you in our hearts and our minds.
70 Years of religious life
65 Years of priesthood
60 Years of religious life
60 Years of priesthood
50 Years of religious life
25 Years of priesthood
“They are before God, bearing the sign, the kind of character proper to our Institute, the vows common to all its members, the firm habit of the same virtues. We are linked to them by the bonds of a special charity. They are still our brothers and we are theirs. They now live in our mother-house, our main residence. The prayers and the love they retain for us will one day draw us to them and we shall live in our place of rest together with them.”
(Letter of Founder to Fr. Courtès, 22 July 1828)
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