Stefano Dominici
Coordinator for Lay Associations and Associates

From March 15 to 17, the Oblate Foundation House in Aix-en-Provence became the venue for the first face-to-face meeting of the European Commission for Animation of the Lay Oblate Associate (CELA) with local coordination teams responsible for representing lay members across the region.

The hospitality of the Aix community was profound, making us feel deeply connected to the place, which still echoes with the spirit that once inspired St. Eugene and his first companions. The meeting, a significant departure from our previous online interactions, was embraced with both emotion and joy by every attendee. It was a cherished opportunity for us to come together, enhancing our bonds and operational efficiency. My role as the Coordinator for Lay Associations and Associates for the congregation took on a new dimension as I had the privilege to engage with lay members and the Oblates from an entire region for the first time.

Our sessions proved immensely productive. We reflected on the laity’s journey post-World Congress and General Chapter, sparking meaningful discussions about the vital role of lay members in each unit and across the broader European Region. The emphasis was on effective communication and collaborative strategy development, which was explored in both small group settings and the larger collective.

The meeting also served as a platform for me to elucidate the responsibilities entailed as the Coordinator of the Laity.  I shared how closely I work with lay members and Oblate priests from various regions and my regular engagements with the Central Government. Insights from Pauline Thomas (Anglo-Irish Province, co-president of CELA) and Fr. David Lopez (Mediterranean Province) further enriched our understanding, highlighting the collaborative spirit that defines our mission in Europe.

Aix – Foundation Room

Beyond the structured discussions, we were afforded precious moments to strengthen our communal bonds. Prayers in the foundation room, a meditation on “lay-oblate values” led by Fr. Paolo ARCHIATI, Superior of the Community in Aix, and the sharing of food representing the diverse cultures of our units underscored the fraternal spirit of our gathering.

I wish to express my profound gratitude to CELA and all attendees for their dedication to the animation of the Laity. This commitment fosters a community of faithful witnesses, and missionaries united in our shared charismatic family as Laity and Professed Oblates. Together, we are pilgrims of hope in communion.

I am glad to report below the article about the same meeting, published by Anglo Irish Province website.

 Gerard Bennett, On behalf of the Anglo-Irish Province Coordinating Team

Over the last few days, there has been a gathering of lay people and vowed Oblates from different countries of Europe – Italy, Spain, Germany, Czech, Poland, Belgium, France, Great Britain, and Ireland – to share with each other what has happened in our Provinces, since the Congress and to consider what could be our next steps to move forward with the task given to us by the General Chapter of the Oblates.

In Europe in each Province, there is a local coordination team, a continuation of those who prepared the Oblate Lay Associations Congress for their Province, and at a European regional level, a Commission that is in service to the local teams.  The gathering in Aix was to bring these entities together, face to face.  There were two phases to our meeting.  First, each Province or Unit shared with those from the other Provinces and Units, what has happened in their area since the Congress including near-term plans for activities planned and which will happen this year.  The second phase was to consider how to progress from here and how the European regional team (CELA – Commission Européene pour Animation due Laïcat Oblat Associé / European Commission for Animation of the Lay Oblate Associate) can support and enhance the work of the local teams.

Aix – Chapel of the First Vows

We are all very conscious that this work is best characterized as a journey, not a destination. The meeting acknowledged the uniqueness of each Province and Unit and accepted that what can work well in one place might not easily translate to the same success elsewhere.  We live in different cultures, different experiences, and our goal must consider this local context in all that we do.

The key conclusions from our time in Aix-en-Provence was threefold, viz.

  • That we must provide opportunities for the lay in our Province to learn and understand more about St Eugene and the charism on which the Congregation, and all that it does, is founded.
  • Maximizing the opportunities for communications is critical. We mustn’t hide our light, our good news, and all that is happening, under a bushel!
  • There is a need to provide times for people to gather face-to-face. The experience of all in Aix was that we are energized by being together, and we then go back to our own place, renewed with that energy and motivated to be part of what is possible with the Oblates and their congregational commitment and desire to work more closely with lay people, in all their missions, wherever they may be.
  • The value of the connection between the local, regional, and worldwide levels is clear. However, the importance of what happens at the local level was recognized as being of paramount importance.

Of course, it would be unfair to end this summary by speaking only of the work that was done – and it was a lot.  We had a time to socialize with our European counterparts, we tasted their food, tried their drinks (!), danced their dances (!!) and played their games.  Some of this will remain in our memories for a long time to come!