Mission month:  The Oblate Missionaries of the Mediterranean Province share with us the fruits of their reflection and assessment of the situation of two ministries in which they are engaged together with the Lay members of the Oblate Family.

Two conferences promoted by the Mediterranean Province of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate in September gathered ideas and projects for the present and the future around two vital themes of Oblate pastoral care: the parish and the itinerant mission. The conferences were held in Pescara, at the parish of Sant’Andrea Apostolo, and in Marino Laziale (Rome) at the headquarters of the Youth Center and Novitiate. They were both prepared by the Mission Commission of the OMI Mediterranean Province.

The Pescara conference

On the shores of the Adriatic, the parish of Sant’Andrea Apostolo hosted the first of two conferences from 4 to 7 September. The Mission Commission had received a request, originated at various levels, to organize a meeting on parish ministry. Already on May 11, 2022, a meeting was held on the ZOOM platform with the theme of the “missionary parish” at its center. On that occasion, 29 Oblates from around fifteen communities were present.

In Pescara, there were two key interventions. Monsignor Angelo Spina, Archbishop of Ancona-Osimo, spoke about evangelization today. Drawing from his long experience as a priest and bishop, he stated that evangelization is at the same time “joy, necessity, right and duty”. Father Carlo Mattei, Oblate parish priest at Sant’Andrea, proposed some ideas on the theme of “parish and Oblate charism” starting from Evangelii Gaudium 28: “The parish is not an outdated institution; precisely because it possesses great flexibility, it can assume quite different contours depending on the openness and missionary creativity of the pastor and the community. While certainly not the only institution which evangelizes, if the parish proves capable of self-renewal and constant adaptivity, it continues to be ‘the Church living in the midst of the homes of her sons and daughters’”. He then suggested the way for a missionary parish according to the charism and Oblate style with this title: “From the center to the periphery, from the church to the world, from the ecclesial to the social, from the clerical to the lay”.

Several OMI missionaries involved in parish ministry participated in the conference. Father Saverio Fabiano from the Sant’Elia district of Cagliari; Father Nicola Parretta from the parish-shrine of the Assumption of Santa Maria in Vico (Ce); Fr. Adriano Titone from the central parish of San Nicolò da Tolentino in Palermo; Fr. Tito Mulongi of the parish of the Immaculata of Cisternino (Br); Father Maurizio Vella, assistant parish priest in Messina in the parish of Maria Regina degli Apostoli. Numerous lay people from Pescara were present at various moments of the Conference. Meaningful was the presence of Mons. Tommaso Valentinetti, Archbishop of Pescara-Penne who celebrated the final mass.

A hope expressed at the end of the Conference was the drafting of a Vademecum which illustrates and regulates the parishes entrusted to the pastoral care of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and which highlights the missionary character of the parish. The parishes served by OMI missionaries have some shared characteristics: openness (also towards the mission ad gentes), hospitality, attention to economic and existential poverty, availability for the sacrament of reconciliation.

Some Oblates and lay people from Italy and Spain worked on the preparation of this Conference, focusing on the objectives, drawing up the program and organizing the logistics. Father Mattei and the brothers of the Oblate community of Pescara welcomed the participants with great joy.

In the provincial document Chosen to evangelize (1 March 2021) we read these reflections on the theme of the ‘missionary parish’: “Our parish territories should be the first recipients of a permanent missionary action that involves not only the community and the local Oblate family but also external resources. It is desirable, therefore, that they be increasingly considered as spaces where forces can converge and guide for missionary actions, brief or prolonged, aimed at keeping alive, consolidating or supporting youth and vocational pastoral care, family pastoral care or some activity aimed at specific situations of necessity. Among the various contributions, the popular mission should also be considered”.

The Oblates in the parishes entrusted to them carry out excellent and demanding work. The understanding of the present time marked by social and international tensions and the development of the dimension of synodality to which Pope Francis invites were directives equally present in the work of those days.

The Marino Conference

From 21 to 24 September, the conference on the itinerant mission was held in Marino, where the OMI have been present for more than fifty years. A School of the mission, that is, a laboratory for sharing field experiences, reflection, formation and pastoral creativity. Oblates and persons from the Oblate Family worked for its realization. The proclamation of the Gospel is a task of the whole church and, as Pope Francis reminds us, all Christians are “missionary disciples” that is, they follow Jesus Christ whom they wish to proclaim with their lives and words. The aim of this conference was to reflect on how to proclaim the good news today in Italy by means of the itinerant mission.

A Conference that is part of a history of evangelization that has seen OMI missionaries as protagonists on Italian territory since 1903. Since that date, missions have been held every year from the North to the South of the Peninsula, including the islands: unique in the Oblate congregation! In the history of the Italian OMI there have been Oblates who have fully dedicated themselves to this ministry and who have set a precedent. Let’s think of the Ferri fathers, Conti Guglia, Torriani, Andrich, without forgetting many others. In the past there were also communities expressly dedicated to the itinerant mission: Maddaloni (Ce), Atessa (Ch), Pescara, Nesso (Co), Verona, Passirano (Bs), Catanzaro and Messina. Today we work in a network of itinerant missionaries distributed in various religious communities on the Peninsula. We also remember books and articles written by the Oblates on the theme of the itinerant mission.

The Marino school conference was in continuity with the conference held in Florence from 7 to 9 October 2022 which saw 45 participants. On that occasion there was a much-appreciated speech by Msgr. Michele Autuoro, Auxiliary Bishop of Naples.

The Marino 2023 Conference had a diverse participation both from a geographical point of view (Lombardy, Veneto, Tuscany, Lazio, Abruzzo, Puglia, Calabria) and from a demographic point of view. The states of life of the participants were also diverse, from the OMI missionaries to the consecrated women of the COMI and the OMMI, from the lay people of the AMMI to numerous young people.

Saturday, 23 September was very intense. In the morning, Dr. Antonella Fornaro, a psychotherapist from Rome, presented a reflection and a workshop on the topic of interpersonal relationships for evangelization. In the afternoon of the same day, the conference participants had a field experience of street proclamation in Lanuvio (Rome). “The presence of God that we are called to bring is already effective even in the people we go to meet,” said Michela, reflecting on this evangelizing activity.

In the final phase, many of the participants hoped that this conference could become an annual event. The proclamation of the Gospel is an authentic service to today’s world which is looking for certainties and hopes. For decades, OMI consecrated persons have shared this commitment with lay people and young people who live the charism of Saint Eugene de Mazenod.

To conclude

The two 2023 conferences were a concretization of the proposals expressed in the document of the Mediterranean Oblate Province Chosen to evangelize: “In the context of evangelization we need to be wise enough to understand how we can carry out significant action; we need to challenge ourselves and reflect, to focus on premises, paths, resources, strategies… Hence the usefulness of organizing seminars, conferences, formation workshops on the theme of evangelization, on the instrument of popular and youth missions, and on how, with the help of all the resources available, to make our parishes increasingly missionary”.

OMI missionaries: “wayfarers in this world”

“You have chosen to be pilgrims, to rediscover and live your condition as wayfarers in this world, beside the men and women, the poor and the least of the earth, to whom the Lord sends you to announce his Kingdom. Your founder too was a wayfarer, at the origins of your religious family, when he would go walking with his first companions in the villages of his native Provence, preaching the popular missions and restoring to the faith the poor who had turned away from it, and that even the ministers of the Church had abandoned. It is a tragedy when the ministers of the Church abandon the poor.” (Pope Francis to participants in the 37th OMI General Chapter, 3 October 2022)

During the Conference in Pescara

Both conferences were attended by Father Gennaro Rosato, provincial superior and Father Giuseppe Rubino, provincial vicar.