After twelve years of service as General Councilor for Europe, Father Chicho ROIS joined the little Oblate community in the Sahara desert. These are his thoughts on vocation ministry in a place where there is only a handful of Christians.
When you travel for the first time deep into the desert, you are moved by the lifeless immensity you are seeing. At first glance, you think that there is no vegetation, no animals … nothing. Little by little, looking more closely, you begin to discover the beauty of the desert: a chain of dunes that is continually shaped by the permanent beating of the wind, the insects, some small rats, lizards that play hide and seek and maybe, with luck, you can see the mythical bird of the desert.
A herd of camels is guided by their sense of smell to discover water where everyone else sees only sand or they walk for days towards where they know that the first drops of rain will fall. The shepherds who follow them are therefore called the sons of the cloud. And with those first drops of rain, the miracle happens: the desert blooms …. Of course
there was life; only we did not know how to look deeply enough. There were those seeds waiting days, months, maybe years, to bloom. And there are men who are able to live the beauty of knowing how to trust, to wait and to love in extreme situations, so as to sing when the desert blooms.
These images come to mind as I think about vocation ministry in our Oblate mission in the Sahara. It is a mission among a people that calls itself 100% Muslim. The few Christians that there are, with the exception of the three Missionary Oblates, are there for a year or two, five at the most, because of their work and their businesses. One cannot hope for conversions because “proselytism” is forbidden by law. It’s a mission in which the hidden life of Nazareth becomes real, so as to enter into dialogue with suffering humanity.
Can there be vocations in the Sahara? Can flowers bloom in the desert? As we share about this in our community, we all agree on the way we can be useful for vocation ministry in the Congregation. We do this first of all by persevering in prayers for vocations which we say each day in our community, prayer so that the Lord will send vocations and will help those who feel this call to make progress in their response, especially those who are in first formation. It is a prayer we feel sure that God hears, although most of the time, we celebrate Eucharist without the presence of the faithful, as we hear the calls to prayer from the minaret. It makes us so happy every time we hear about new vocations in other missions, about our novices and scholastics throughout the world. We feel part of that family.
To prayer we join our way of living our ordinary life, our oblation, in humility and poverty. This Oblate community life is both a testimony of Christian community for our Muslim brothers and sisters; it is itself a mission. But why not dream that the Lord send vocations to discover his call here, in the Sahara. Why not dream it? Why put limits on the grace of God?
Perhaps we are called to be like those men of the desert who know how to wait for weeks, months, years, for rain from the sky so as to be able to see a flower born. Yes, let it rain in other places so that many vocational flowers might be born but also in hope that one day the miracle will happen. Like them, we are called to love, to hope and to trust.
Living the essence of our charism, giving witness to the beatitudes in community, we participate in the dream of God for humanity and we feel like members of a family that is full of life because it knows how to be missionary in the most forgotten places of our Earth. (Article originally appeared in the Bulletin of the OMI Province of Brazil, Nossas Noticias, July-August 2017)