The official celebration of the unification of the three South African provinces took place on 21 May 2018, the Feast of St. Eugene de Mazenod and of Mary, the Mother of the Church. The Mass was celebrated in the iconic St. Charles Catholic Church at Victory Park in Johannesburg, the city in which the new Provincial Administration will be located. The main celebrant was Fr. Guillaume MUTHUNDA HELENGELA, the General Councillor for the Africa-Madagascar Oblate Region. The liturgy was enhanced with beautiful music and song by the novices, supported by the scholastics from Cedara. The Mass was attended by the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Peter Wells; Archbishop Buti TLHAGALE, OMI, of Johannesburg; Archbishop William Slattery, OFM, of Pretoria; Bishop Victor Phalana of Klerksdorp; and Bishop Duncan Tsoke, Auxiliary of Johannesburg. Many Oblate Associates and friends attended, adding to the joy that was experienced by all.
It was most meaningful that a great number of Oblates attended – more than 115 of the 152 members – travelling from Cape Town, Kamieskroon, Kimberley, Bloemfontein, Durban, Pietermaritzburg, Potchefstroom and Zimbabwe, besides those who are resident in Johannesburg. The effort the Oblates made to participate in this historic event signified the support they have for the new structure and for the mission it is intended to serve. This was very encouraging for the new administration. There was no one without a smile on his or her face. The many photographs capture the spirit of the day.
Fr. Muthunda read the decrees establishing the new province and of appointing the provincial and council. He then addressed the congregation, recounting some of the history of the Oblates in South Africa. He acknowledged the work done by the former provincials and the restructuring task team; he warned the Oblates of the ‘loss of Egypt’ syndrome that could arise; he reminded us of the priority of community life, and admonished us to promote a true missionary spirit with the value of interculturality.
Fr. Ronald CAIRNS preached the homily. He was both amusing and deeply spiritual as he reminded the Oblates of the quality of their ministry that is appreciated and expected by the people we serve.
As a deep theological, symbolic gesture, the three former provincials Frs Vusumuzi MAZIBUKO, Ronald CAIRNS and Mokone RATHOKOA brought up three jugs of wine in procession and poured them into a single jug held by the new Provincial, Fr. Neil FRANK who filled the chalices from this one jug. The unification into one Province is at the service of the Church for the salvation of souls.
A moving part of the Mass was the number of Oblate anniversaries that were celebrated. To mention a few. Anniversaries of religious life: Fr. John PATTERSON (75 years); Bishop Edward RISI (50 years); Archbishop Buti TLHAGALE (50 years); and anniversaries of priesthood: Fr. Sean COLEMAN (60 years); Fr. Paul DECOCK (50 years); Fr. Thomas ZONDI (25 years). There were 22 jubilarians altogether who for the first time celebrated in the new province.
There are many challenges ahead for us, but the Spirit gives much confidence. Fr. General has called on the new administration to be ‘bold and courageous’. It is important that we preserve our Oblate way of life and break out of the parish priest mould that we often get cast in. Community life is central, with Oblates living under the same roof and having a common life together. This witness is essential to our way of serving the Church.