That two flowers are born in a garden is nothing new. The blossoming of the desert is an event. Every year, the ancient nomads who settled in the towns on the edge of the desert are happy to see the arrival of the scarce rains. With them, seeds that have remained invisible in the darkness of the earth for months, perhaps years, can germinate. For a few days, perhaps a few weeks, the desert is dressed in green and flowers, bringing joy to its ancient inhabitants who come to admire the spectacle.

On 20 December 2022, despite the fact that it is winter in Western Sahara (the tropical desert winter) two flowers bloomed: the commitment of the first lay associate of the Western Sahara Mission (Mediterranean Province) and the first Oblate Brother in the history of our Congregation directly appointed by the Superior General as Superior of an Oblate Unit, the Sahara Mission, the first since the Holy Father Francis approved his Rescript of 18 May 2022 allowing this new formula, as the Superior General himself pointed out during the meeting with the Oblates of the Mission.

On 18 December, our new Superior General, Father Luis Ignacio ROIS ALONSO – “Chicho” – was able to come to Western Sahara to spend a few days and say a peaceful goodbye to the Oblates and the people of this Unit, after having had to leave unexpectedly for Rome on 29 September due to his election as head of our Congregation.

When he arrived in Dakhla (formerly Villa Cisneros), in the south of Western Sahara, he met the local Oblate community and proceeded to the canonical installation of the new Superior of the Sahara Mission, Brother Silvio BERTOLINI. He did so during the Eucharistic celebration, which was attended by the other two members of the mission (Father Mario LEÓN DORADO – Apostolic Prefect of Western Sahara – and Father Stanislass DIOUF), as well as Father Diego SÁEZ MARTÍN, Postulator General, who had come to help the brothers for a month and a half, after the enforced absence of Father Chicho, and two lay people who work closely with the Oblates.

The recent 37th General Chapter was mindful of the need to make greater efforts to give the vocation of Brother the prominence it deserves. Father Chicho emphasised that this appointment, made in the first session of the new Central Government and which has the particularity of also being the appointment of a Superior of the Oblate Unit, is a sign for the whole Congregation that the Holy Spirit continues to give birth to new realities along the lines of what was discussed at the General Chapter. However, when the Administration of the Mediterranean Province proposed the appointment of Brother Silvio to the Superior General, it was not just to take advantage of a new modality being introduced in the Church as soon as possible, but because of Brother Silvio’s personal abilities, which, according to the superiors, are what the Unit needs at this time. Brother Silvio emphasised this fact, because the trust placed in him by the Church’s discernment prompted him to accept this new mission with the same confidence, placed in God.

Brother Silvio, originally from Brescia (Italy), made his Oblation in 1990 and spent almost twenty years in Senegal. He has been in Western Sahara for about a year. As he himself says: “If I had to summarise in very few words what I think the mission is for me as a religious brother, I would say that it is to respond to a call that I feel is clear, almost palpable, in a fraternal relationship in dialogue and proximity, in listening and helping and in the different needs of the people”.

The other Oblate flower that blossomed in the Sahara desert was the engagement of Clarisse INO BARROU as a lay Oblate, which took place during the same ceremony. This was certainly the most beautiful flower, as she is a woman.  Clarisse is a close co-worker of the Oblates in the Sahara and serves in the Caritas office in Dakhla, particularly in assisting migrants. After his installation as local Superior, Brother Silvio received the commitment of Clarisse, the first person in this Unit to commit to living the lay life through the Oblate charism. Father Chicho also emphasised the importance of lay Oblates for the recent General Chapter, and pointed out that this is another manifestation of what the Spirit is bringing about in our religious family, as the recent Chapter demonstrated.

These two flowers in the Sahara are such a great event that we want to share it with the whole congregation. If, in the middle of winter in the desert, the Holy Spirit brings forth two flowers, imagine how much life God is bringing forth in our whole congregation!