(United States Provincial, Fr. Louis STUDER; his Vicar, Fr. Arthur FLORES; and the US Treasurer, Fr. James CHAMBERS attended the recent assembly of the Delegation of Zambia. What follows are excerpts from Fr. Studer’s report of the visit.)
An African proverb states, “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” This adage summed up well the tone and purpose of the General Assembly of the Missionary Oblates in the delegation of Zambia. Forty-seven Oblates met for four days in Lusaka, the week of January 14, 2018 at the Jesuit Retreat Center there.
The theme of the Assembly was “Come And See” which underlined the necessity of familiarizing all the Oblates of the delegation with the many and diverse ministries of the Oblates in Zambia, as well as continue the strategic planning for future new ministries vis-a-vis the six directions for Oblate ministry outlined at the 2016 General Chapter in Rome. Fr. Vincent SAKALA, Delegation Superior, opened the Assembly with Eucharist. In his welcoming address, he reminded the Oblates of some of the accomplishments achieved on behalf of the poor since 1984 when the Oblates from the former U.S. Southern Province began ministering in this South Central African country.
Oblates are known and recognized for their closeness to the people they serve at Mary Immaculate Parish in Lusaka, which they founded. They identified several lay leaders who could help the Oblates get established in this new missionary venture. Eventually, these leaders built a new church building, social hall, rectory and helped make possible educational, social, spiritual outreach for a couple thousand parishioners and others beyond parish boundaries.
Statistics can begin to tell the story of the success of the Oblate presence these past 34 years in Zambia. The Oblates of Mary Immaculate are the largest male religious order in Zambia. Currently, 24 prenovices are preparing to become Oblates, living at the seminary residence built to house them in 2011.
The Oblate parish in Kalabo currently serves 65 parish out-stations; in Shongombo, the Oblates serve 25. This vast outreach from the central main parish is typical.
Because of unreliable transportation, or none at all, poor roads, seasonal flooding and very few vehicles, the Oblates know many of the parishioners cannot get to the main parish. So the Oblates meet them where they are, as often as they can, often experiencing these same transportation difficulties themselves. Poor transportation was also one of the primary reasons for the establishment of Radio Liseli (Light). The Oblates provide catechetical and evangelical teaching as well as educational, social, spiritual and even sometimes political education, particularly to the people of western Zambia where transportation is particularly challenging.
One complicated, complex issue which Radio Liseli has brought to the attention of its listeners is deforestation. Deforestation is the cutting down of trees for sale, usually to other countries who pay handsomely for this wood. It is unclear who benefits from these sales but the government does little to stop it, even though the forests are on public properties. Trees attract the rain, necessary for crops to grow. Bishop Evans CHINYEMBA of the Mongu diocese has often spoken publicly about this grave concern.
The second half of the Oblate Assembly addressed the possibility of beginning some new ministries as the delegation continues to implement the six directions of the General Chapter in prioritizing its ministries.
The Oblates are recognizing “the new poor with their many faces” in the new ministry of coordinating the prison ministry in Zambia. Correctional Ministry is currently “hit and miss,” if at all. Oblates hope to ensure that through this correctional ministry, dear to the heart of Oblate Founder, St. Eugene de Mazenod, prisoners will be given renewed hope, new assurance of their dignity as sons and daughters of God. Other new ministries include ministry with youth, with a plan to establish an office to coordinate this ministry in the delegation and assign an Oblate to this ministry full-time.
In the diocese of Livingstone where Bishop Valentine KALUMBA was installed in September 2016, the Oblates are planning to eventually build a Marian Shrine. With Victoria Falls nearby, a major world attraction, the Oblates may put the Shrine under the patronage of “Our Lady of the Falls.” With heavy tourism to this beautiful area in this very poor diocese, they hope to be able to provide spiritual sustenance for thousands of weary travelers from all over the world.
The Oblates will soon staff a parish currently being built in the Livingstone diocese. Three Oblates plan to arrive February 17th, with the hope that the church, in the process of construction, will be finished soon, once funds are available. The current small building used as a church is terribly inadequate for the 500 or more expected to attend when the church is completed.
It is said that a missionary “worth his salt” can adapt to whatever situation, familiarize himself with whatever circumstances in which he finds himself! This would certainly be true of the Missionary Oblates’ ministries in Zambia! (Fr. Louis STUDER in OMIUSA, March 2018)