General Councilor, Canada & U.S. Region

In the annals of missionary life, the spotlight often shines on the courageous deeds of missionaries braving adversity to spread the Gospel. Yet, behind every missionary’s tale of heroism lies a lesser-known narrative – the support and inspiration provided by the local laity.

Jim BROBST, OMI, General Councilor for Canada & U.S. Region, reflects on the profound impact of the laity in the lives and ministry of missionaries, particularly in the context of the former Central U.S. Province’s missions in Recife, Brazil. Through stories of sacrifice, resilience, and mutual admiration, Jim highlights the essential role played by the laity as the unsung heroes who strengthen the efforts of missionaries.

Inspiration from Elder Oblates

As a young Missionary Oblate candidate in the former Central U.S. Province, I was often inspired by the older Oblates returning from our own “Most Difficult Mission” in Recife, Brazil. Some of them had endured prison, even torture, at the hands of the government who could not tolerate such actions as bringing potable water pipes into slums, of teaching the poorest of the poor of their own dignity as God’s children, or of giving shelter to abandoned, disabled street children. One Oblate, even confronted a police force who were armed with bulldozers.  The forces were ready to flatten the shanties of the poor yet again before they legally achieved “squatters rights” in the garbage dump where they were living.  The Oblate missionary’s weapons of defense?  The parishioners behind him, and a broom in his hand.  Such was the price of teaching the Gospel, with the values of St. Eugene de Mazenod. 

L-R: Unknown non-OMI; Ed Figueroa, OMI, (living); Jim KOHMETSCHER, OMI; Archbishop Dom Helder Camera; Lorenzo Rosebaugh, OMI; Bruce Heit, OMI.

Continued Ministry and Legacy

Many of these heroic Oblates have passed on, some still live – and continue this kind of ministry.  Many of these Oblates, when returning for visits or for new assignments, spoke of the Brazilian faithful whose example of faith and love inspired the Oblates to remain firm in their own call.  A big portion of their hearts always stayed with those who remained when the Missionaries returned. 

On my recent trip to Brazil for the Latin American Joint Session, I met many people in Brazil who still recall the Oblates I knew in my younger years. A tremendous gift I was able to share with the laity of Brazilian missions was to affirm how their stories were told, and are still told, by the Oblates who served them.  They were, and are, “the heroes of the heroes!”

These people in turn remembered the specific Oblates I named and mentioned with great love and admiration.  I witnessed a beautiful new church building rising on the grounds where a lanky priest, backed by the poorest of the poor, faced down the Brazilian army with a broom – and won.  (Talk about David and Goliath!)  That parish is currently led by new courageous, dedicated Oblates in community.  

Honoring Sacrifice and Support

Most Oblate units have sent men to difficult missions. Places and missionaries all throughout the Oblate world are worthy of personal and collective sacrifice, and it is important to honor the Oblates and those who send them.  They are truly heroes to all Oblates. But as heroic as these missionaries are, I hope to honor other heroes here – the laity who inspire the Oblates who serve, and who remain when Oblates move on. Every Oblate who has spent time in difficult missions knows countless persons whose faith and courage and tenacity outshine our own.   No truly great missionary becomes great without the support of Oblate community, and of the often-humbling faith of those whom we are called to serve.

Laity: The Heroes of the Heroes.

The laity are often “the heroes of the heroes.”  You know who you are, and so do we!  Thank you and God bless you for your faith and example, and for helping us to become the kind of missionaries Jesus and St. Eugene de Mazenod would have us be.