- The Founder's conviction
- Who are the poor for De Mazenod?
- The poor in O.M.I. writings of recent years
Evangelizare pauperibus misit me…pauperes evangelizantur (“He has sent me to evangelize the poor”). This quotation from Luke 4:18 which is the motto of the Oblates, sums up the motive that led Eugene de Mazenod to the priesthood, and to found a society of missionaries in Provence in 1816. It is the one expression that best describes the specific character of the Oblate: missionary of the poor. The poor are the preferred objects of the Oblate’s missionary and pastoral activity. Evangelization of the poor is their distinguishing and specific character, not specifically because they are poor, but because they are abandoned. Such was the conviction of St. Eugene. Such has been the conviction of Oblates down through the years.
THE FOUNDER’S CONVICTION.
The very root of his priestly vocation is his conviction that he is sent to the poor. When he writes to his mother in 1808 to tell her of his decision to enter the seminary he says: “As the Lord is my witness, what he wants of me, [… is] that I devote myself especially to his service and try to reawaken the faith that is becoming extinct amongst the poor…” 
As a seminarian at St. Sulpice he is given charge of catechism instruction for some of the poorest children in the parish, a task that he found completely to his liking. We find his thoughts on the experience in another letter to his mother.
“These are the poorest in the parish… but I am not concerned with that, and I am very happy to find myself in the middle of these poor verminous lads, whom I shall try to win over to ourselves” .
In the summer of 1810 having been impeded from returning to Provence for the summer holidays he regrets missing the opportunity to give instruction to the poor of St Julien where his grandmother lived. “I had intended to go and see grandmother in St. Julien, and I was thinking of giving a little instruction to these poor people who are so abandoned. I was already quite enjoying the idea of the fruit these instructions might produce. Poor Christians without the least idea of the dignity that is theirs, for want of meeting someone to break the bread of the word”. 
WHO ARE THE POOR FOR DE MAZENOD?
In this last quotation from his letter of July 1810 to his mother we see joined together the expressions “poor peoples” and “abandoned”. These two expressions “the poor” and the “abandoned” come back repeatedly in his writings, “the abandoned” more than “the poor”. They are sometimes used almost interchangeably, though the latter is broader in perspective than the former. The fundamental idea underlying all these statements seems to be the abandoned state of the Church especially as it is manifest in certain categories of Christians, namely poor people.
Returning to Aix as a newly ordained priest in 1812 this deplorable situation is uppermost in his mind. He asks his bishop not to be assigned to a parish, but to be left free “to serve the poor and the children” . He begins his priestly ministry by visits to the prison, the sick, and ministry among the youth of Aix.
Lent of 1813 finds him preaching a Lenten series early in the morning at the church of the Madeleine, for the servants and domestic help. His choice of audience is noteworthy, and his notes for the occasion provide a list of these poor.
“During this holy season, numerous instructions will be given to the rich and the educated. Will there be none for the poor and the unlearned? […] The poor, that precious portion of the Christian family, cannot be left in their ignorance” .
The text of this Lenten instruction, which is one of the earliest written texts we have of his preaching, appeals to the “artisans”, “servants”, “farmers”, “peasants”, you “needy, who are obliged […] to beg for your pitiful subsistence”.
At the climax of the passage his sonorous voice certainly echoed through the vault of the Madeleine and stirred the hearts of his listeners.
“The poor of Jesus Christ the afflicted and wretched, the sick and suffering and covered with sores, etc., whom misery overwhelms, my brethren, my dear brethren, my dear respectable brethren, listen to me. You are the children of God, the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, the co-heirs of his eternal Kingdom…” .
Today we would say that he chose by preference the marginalized, those in society which the established Church touched least – literally the abandoned. He chose them as the object of his ministry not because of some humanistic motive nor primarily because they were materially poor, but especially because they were abandoned. Following the example and in the spirit of Jesus Christ the poor and the abandoned have a right to hear the Gospel of salvation. The young preacher of the Madeleine makes this clear in the introduction to his Instruction.
“The poor, that precious portion of the Christian family, cannot be left in their ignorance. So important did our divine Savior consider them that he took it upon himself to instruct them; and he gave as proof that his mission was divine the fact that the poor were being instructed: Pauperes evangelizantur“. 
Such was his personal choice at the outset of his ministry, and such was the purpose he had for the society of missionaries he founded, as we can see from his retreat notes of 1831.
“Will we ever have an adequate understanding of this sublime vocation! For that one would have to understand the excellence of our Institute’s end, beyond argument the most perfect one could propose to oneself in this world, since the end of our Institute is the self-same end that the Son of God had in mind when he came down to earth. The glory of his heavenly Father and the salvation of souls. […] He was especially sent to evangelize the poor: Evangelizare pauperibus misit me. And we have been founded precisely to work for the conversion of souls and especially to evangelize the poor” .
The evangelization of the poor and abandoned will be the driving force that will carry Eugene de Mazenod and his band of preachers to the poorer rural villages of Provence and finally to the farthest corners of the globe. In his writings we find a variety of expressions to describe the preferred objects of his ministry: “the poor”, “the common, ordinary folk”, “the uneducated”, “inhabitants of the rural areas”, “all of those city dwellers wasting away in spiritual anguish”; in the foreign missions they are referred to as the “infidel”, the “heretics”, the “prisoners”, the “dying”, or in other words, the “most abandoned souls”. Abandoned refers especially to their spiritual distress. However a spiritual poverty which is nevertheless incarnated in a poverty of the natural order . In the Founder’s time the most spiritually abandoned were in fact materially in bad straits. The two words are readily used interchangeably under his pen. However, as Émilien Lamirande points out, the underlying idea seems to be the notion of abandonment.
“First and foremost, it seems to us that the idea of abandonment is the most basic. The Founder was moved by the anguish of the Church and of souls. The poor, the ordinary, common folk, are those who are the most deprived of spiritual help. Consequently, it is to them that the Congregation will turn to first of all. Above all, the Congregation will focus its attention on the spiritual devastation it sees, but she will always keep in mind the outcasts of every kind as having a prior claim on her tender care” .
This initial inspiration of the Founder became codified in the first two articles of the Constitutions and Rules in 1826: “praecipuuam dent operam pauperibus evangelizandis” (they devote themselves principally to the preaching of the Gospel to the poor). Article 2 of the 1826 text describes the subjects of this preaching: “ut spiritualia auxilia praebeantur populo per rura, necnon pagorum villarumque incolis isto spirituali cibo maxime jejunis” (In order that spiritual help may be provided to the people the length and breadth of the rural area as well as to the people of the villages and country estates with their inhabitants starved to the highest degree for this spiritual food”.)
THE POOR IN OMI WRITINGS OF RECENT YEARS
As the Congregation grew and expanded, and its members, in keeping with the spirit of the Founder, became involved in all “the works of zeal which priestly charity can inspire” (Preface), they always bore in mind that they were first and foremost “missionaries of the poor” and of the abandoned. Our history, however, does not hide the fact that the Oblates struggled to define the terms in different times and different places, and wrestled with the priority of materially poor or spiritually poor. There was often a tendency to join the two terms without scruple. The immediate successor of the Founder, Fr. Fabre, seems to regard them as synonymous. “That is the objective our venerated Father set for us. We are to evangelize the poor, the most abandoned souls…” 
In the midst of the Congregation’s foreign missionary expansion in 1926, Fr. Émile Baijot, in a brief commentary on the Oblate motto, praises the Oblate missionaries in far distant lands as true “missionaries of the poor” .
About twenty years later an article by Marcel Bélanger lets us sense the questioning and the struggle of Oblates who are not directly involved with the materially poor: the Oblate in educational institutions, in various chaplaincies, in OMI formation houses, in administration.
Bélanger stresses the dimension of abandonment. The poor who are the object the Oblate’s attention are not solely, nor primarily “the wretched, those living in extreme poverty, the crippled” . Such an interpretation, he holds, would be to beg the texts and actual conduct of the Founder. It is, he insists, the spiritual distress of the poor, a problem very particular to the working masses that seem to be the dominant preoccupation of the Oblate, the spirit that is definitely characteristic of the Oblate vocation .
Understood in this way the poor and their problems will always question the conscience of the Oblate. No matter what field of apostolate is his, it is the “feeling for the poor” that will fill it, give it a special character, like a magnetic pole that attracts, a higher goal that finalizes and molds a particular frame of mind and exterior attitude.
While such soul searching and questioning did not resolve the dilemma, nor the debate of the primacy of material poor over spiritually poor, it reveals the honest desire of the Oblate to seek to remain faithful to the Founder’s spirit and to the preion of article 1 of the CCRR, “praecipuam dent operam pauperibus evangelizandis” (devote themselves principally to the preaching of the Gospel to the poor).
1. THE 1966 CONSTITUTIONS AND RULES
In 1966, just over 100 years after the Founder’s death, we are a long way from the little band of missionaries preaching missions in the poor rural areas of Provence. The membership of more than 7000 is spread over all the continents, and involved in a variety of ministries. The interest in parish missions is beginning to wane due to new social realities. The concerns of the Church reflected in Gaudium et Spes and other Second Vatican Council documents are being felt by the Congregation gathered in General Chapter.
The spirit of the Council and its concern for the growing phenomenon of worldwide poverty was not without its effect on the Oblates in this “ad experimentum” revision of the CCRR, as the numerous references to Council documents in the margin of the 1966 text show.
The revised text of 1966 preserves intact the original 1826 formulation of the Congregation’s aim: “We commit ourselves principally to evangelizing the poor”(C 1). It must be noted that through the various revisions of the text the expression of the original Article 1 has remained unchanged. The 1928 revision had added unbelievers and heretics to the list of those most in need of spiritual succor (art. 2). The General Chapter of 1966 reformulates in modern terms the 1826 Article 2 and its emended version of 1928: “Its principal aim is to help those souls who are most in need” (C 3) . It groups the “most in need” into two categories: “those who have not received [the Gospel]”, and “where the Church is already established, to those regions and human groups further removed from its influence”(C 3).
While the same Constitution 3 ends by stating that the Congregation will try to respond to all the needs of the world and of the Church, Constitution 4 singles out the “poor, those who are harassed by hunger or by the fear of insecurity” as special objects of the Oblate’s affection, and encourages a missionary presence where the future of the world of the poor is being planned: “They will strive to be present, in various ways in all areas where, in fact, the future of this world of the poor is being planned, shaped and decided”.
This is an innovation which goes beyond the Founder’s vision, but which is very much in consonance with the concerns of the post-conciliar Church. This last concern will become more explicit in the coming years and will find its way into R 9 of the 1982 revised text which states that action on behalf of justice is an integral part of our work of evangelization .
2. 1972 GENERAL CHAPTER: THE MISSIONARY OUTLOOK
The six years following the 1966 Chapter were years of great stirrings within the Church. Paul VI had issued two strong “calls to action”: Populorum Progressio (1967) and Octogesima Adveniens (1971). The ground swell of the Medellin Conference (1968) had crested with the Justice in the World statement of the Third Synod (Nov. 1971). The XXVIIIth General Chapter opened in the spring of 1972, only six months after the Synod. The Chapter statement, Missionary Outlook shows that the Pope’s “calls to action” were being heeded far and wide, and that the stirrings within the Church were being felt in the hearts of Oblates.
The specific purpose of Missionary Outlook is to redefine in terms of a new world reality the mission of Eugene de Mazenod and his sons to “the most abandoned”.
Eugene de Mazenod looked upon the world of his day and saw people whose lives had hardly been touched by the message of Christ… He set out with unbounded confidence in God to serve the most abandoned… (no. 1).
The first part of the document, A Look at the World, describes the evolving social situation in each Region (nos. 2 – 8). The situation varies from one socio-cultural milieu to another, but the picture that emerges is one of political and socio-economic exploitation, massive chronic poverty and underdevelopment, nationalism, racism, dehumanization, secularized social structures, and violence. Each situation presents new challenges, and requires new ways of evangelizing and of being present to the poor and abandoned of our times.
Part II points out some of the new mission demands arising from these challenges: in some areas new forms of apostolate; in others, a presence more clearly responsive to injustice; in others a more explicit solidarity with the poor (no. 9). The Chapter reaffirms our basic charism of “preaching the Gospel to the poor”. Then it goes on to affirm the need for each Province to have a definite missionary policy that includes a “clear policy favoring the mission to the abandoned and a life shared with them” (no. 13b). The overall context and deion of the world situation lays stress on the materially poor and exploited masses of the southern hemisphere, without overlooking the newly alienated peoples of the secularized societies of the north.
Part III proposes three lines of action that should orient decision making in the entire Congregation: a preference for the poor; solidarity with the men of our times; and greater creativity. One originality of Missionary Outlook is the introduction of a broadened concept of who the poor are today. They are “the abandoned poor with their many faces”. There is a specific reference to C 4 (1966) and a more explicit listing of who these people are: “the weak, the unemployed, the illiterate, victims of alcohol or drugs, the sick, the marginal masses… immigrants and minority groups… who are excluded from the benefits of development” (no. 15a). The worst form of poverty is still recognized as not knowing Christ (no. 15b).
Missionary Outlook is careful to point out that we will not restrict our mission to the materially poor in some kind of social action or relief service. There is a renewed call to be present in vital international bodies where the destiny of the poor is planned and decided (C 4) (no. 15c).
The concept of the “poor with their many faces” and the need to influence the structures of society with the Gospel will remain constant concerns in future Oblate documents. They will eventually be incorporated into the 1982 revised Constitutions and Rules .
The last section of Missionary Outlook calls for greater creativity, re-evaluation of our commitments, and for “the courage to make those concrete decisions demanded of us if we are to remain faithful to the Spirit who speaks to us through the most urgent needs of the poor” (no. 17a). Recognition, encouragement and support are given to those who may be called “to work directly in secular professions or to participate in the political struggles of the working class” (no. 17d). The same is pledged to those Oblates “who feel themselves obliged in conscience to take a clear and definite stand in favor of the oppressed, the victims of injustice, war or violence” (no. 17c).
The 1972 Chapter does not hide the fact that there were “great diversities” of opinion (no. 2), nor that the dialogue at Chapter was sometimes very difficult (no. 13). But it is aware that this is an important moment in our history (no. 14). Prudence is called for, since what seem like “minority tendencies”, may be tendencies indicating the future direction of the Congregation. The Chapter did not want to impose too quickly a superficial unity that might silence an important contribution to our common missionary outlook (no. 11).
The Chapter’s challenge to re-evaluate present commitments in keeping with the movement of the Spirit who speaks to us through the most urgent needs of the poor (no. 17a) was well heeded. It marked the turning point for many Provinces in redefining their commitments and moving into ministries directed more to the new “poor with their many faces”, thus leaving to others certain well established ministries which no longer met the criteria of a mission to the abandoned and the poor.
3. THE YEARS FROM 1972 TO 1980
The Congregation faces the challenge of integrating action on behalf of justice into its charism of missionaries to the poor.
a. The 1974 General Chapter:
This Chapter was convened less than two years after the previous one as a result of the Superior General’s (Fr. Hanley) resignation. This event sent shock waves through the Congregation which was still struggling to define its mission in a secularized and changing world. It raised questions about our identity and our ability to confront the new challenges facing our mission. This questioning, however, was not a phenomenon particular to the Congregation, though the Superior General’s resignation and departure may have accentuated it.
The Church was also in a period of transition and questioning. Paul VI had asked the Third Synod of Bishops to clarify the relationship between evangelization and action for justice. The Synod issued just two brief declarations, one on evangelization and the other on human rights. Unable to agree on a comprehensive statement, the Synod left it up to the Pope to formulate the results of their exchange. The Chapter opened only days after the Synod closed.
The capitulants felt the need to address the sense of malaise pervading the Congregation. They informed the Congregation about their reflections in the form of a letter . This letter reaffirms our commitment as religious missionaries in a world that still questions and challenges us as it did in 1972.
Among the long list of challenges, which touch upon all the aspects of our ministry, there are two that concern social involvement. “How do we witness Christ the Savior in a world where economic and political structures first create, then quietly shunt away and hide, the poor, the marginal, the silent ones, those in revolt?” 
The Chapter’s answer is rooted in the heart of our charism. “We are called by Jesus Christ to evangelize the poor. We believe Him to be the only Savior, the One who now and for all time will liberate men. His liberation is neither solely political nor solely spiritual. It is total [….] . Our answer, then, to the questions put by the world lies in the authenticity and radicalism of our apostolic religious (vowed) life, both individual and communal: in encountering the Lord… in incarnating the Good News in the world” . The prophetic vigor of our vocation lies in being authentic having, “the courage to speak and the courage to live” .
This Chapter made important steps toward a better integration of mission and religious life. It also gave further impetus to the integration of ministry for justice as one important and valid dimension of our mission to the poor. In so doing the 1974 Chapter planted the seeds of two future Chapter documents, Missionaries in Today’s World and Witnessing in Apostolic Community.
b. The Charism Congress of 1976
One of the priority-tasks entrusted to the General Administration by the 1974 Chapter was the evaluation and renewal of the life and mission of the Congregation. This was reflected in the Chapter’s call to continue seeking greater authenticity of life and to maintain the prophetic vigor of our vocation .
Feeling the need to have clear reference points, the new General Council decided to organize a congress on our charism. Its major objective was to identify the Founder’s charism and then to situate it in Oblate life and mission .
The Congress singled out several elements as characteristic of the Oblate charism: personal love for Christ – living in community – as religious – for the evangelization – of the poor -love for the Church – nihil linquendum inausum.
Without excluding or minimizing any of the above, four elements were retained as presenting a particular urgency for the evaluation and renewal of the Congregation’s life and works: Christ – evangelization – the poor – community .
The Congress is much broader than the Chapter of 1972 in its definition of the poor. “It is to the POOR that we want above all to bring the message of liberating joy: to the most humanly destitute, to those whose situations cry out for justice before God; in no way does this exclude our wanting to share this message with all who are in pressing need of the good news, even if they are not materially deprived” .
There seems to be a consensus reflected at the Congress that the poor and abandoned of the 70s, without being exclusive, are considered to be “the little people”, “those oppressed by our modern societies”. In a further elaboration of the “Most Important Elements for the Evaluation and Renewal of the Congregation’s Life and Works Today” the Congress states: “Our motto comprises two words that are inseparable to us: Evangelize the Poor…. We are sent to the most destitute, to those whom no one looks after, the most deprived of the Good News. We are sent especially to the little people, those oppressed by our modern societies, without forgetting that destitution does not pertain only to one social class, and that it may vary according to time and place” .
The Congress’s main focus was our total identity and mission and the unity of life and mission. To remain true to our motto, “He sent me to evangelize the poor”, and to be qualified to do so, the Congress insisted on the need to re-become poor ourselves and “to enter into the various areas where are lived the humblest existences, to hear their appeals, to discern their aspirations” .
4. THE 1982 CONSTITUTIONS AND RULES
As we have seen, the Oblate mission vision has evolved along with the Church’s understanding of its mission in the modern world. By the time the Chapter opened, the Justice in the World statement of the 1971 Synod had been confirmed by the 1974 Synod, and explained by Evangelii Nuntiandi. The Puebla Conference of Latin American Bishops (1979) and John Paul II’s Redemptor Hominis had conscientized the Church to the need for greater solidarity with the poor and oppressed. The term “preferential option for the poor” and its implications for life and ministry were gradually becoming accepted throughout the Church. The Congregation had already accepted in 1972 a broadened concept of “poor”, the “abandoned poor with their many faces” .
The General Chapter of 1980 approved a text that leaves no doubt that it sees the Institute’s mission of evangelization of the poor in terms of the new understanding of “option for the poor”.
The first article of the revised Constitutions states our principal service in the Church using the Founder’s formulation of 1826: “We commit ourselves principally to evangelizing the poor”. Constitution 5, which is a revision of the 1966 article 3, describes our principal service in Church as the proclamation of Christ and his Kingdom to the most abandoned . The same article, echoing C 3 of the 1966 text, describes the abandoned in a tri-level ascending order of abandonment: those who have not yet received the Gospel; those groups which the Church touches the least; “those people whose condition cries out for salvation and for the hope which only Jesus Christ can fully bring”. These are “the poor with their many faces. We give them our preference”(C 5).
The aim of the proclamation of the Gospel is to bring people to know who Jesus Christ is, and in the light of that knowledge to see their own dignity as human beings created in the image of God and redeemed by Jesus Christ (C 5).
It is in this context and based upon this Christian vision of man that the Oblate is called to take an active role in another dimension of the evangelizing mission of the Church, that of action on behalf of justice (R 9).
The 1982 text stresses the unity of life and mission. The Oblate is not only a preacher of the Word, but a doer of the Word. For this reason later articles emphasize solidarity with the materially poor and suffering.
The vow of poverty is described as a way of solidarity with the poor and a way of contesting the causes of injustice.
“Our choice of poverty compels us to enter into a closer communion with Jesus and the poor, to contest the excesses of power and wealth and to proclaim the coming of a new world freed from selfishness and open to sharing” (C20).
This concern for solidarity with the poor is expressed in daring terms in Rule 14.
…. The community… will not hesitate to make use of what it has, even of what is necessary for its sustenance, to benefit God’s poor (R 14) [R 22a in CCRR 2000].
Constitution 122 [C 150 in CCRR 2000] goes even further: Since we are a missionary Congregation, the temporal goods of our Institute are, above all, at the service of mission. While meeting our member’s needs, we will look for ways to share what we have with others, especially with the poor (C 122)
“Look for ways to share” (C 122) linked to “even what is necessary for their sustenance” of Rule 14 is definitely a mandate for very active solidarity with the materially poor.
In listing the requirements for entrance into the novitiate, Rule 40 says: “they should show signs…of love for the poor” (R 40) [R 54a in CCRR 2000]. Furthermore, novices are called upon to “adopt a simple style of life that will make them sensitive to the needs of people, especially the poor” (R 42) [R 56b in CCRR 2000]. As part of their training for mission after novitiate, newly professed “will have an opportunity to work with the poor” (R 54) [R 65c in CCRR 2000].
The repeated use of ‘poor’ and ‘especially the poor’ leaves no doubt that the 1980 Chapter in revising the CCRR sees our charism and mission today in terms of a preferential ‘option for the poor’ and all that this implies. The Chapter did not hesitate to include an article like Rule 9 on ‘action on behalf of justice’. Neither did it hesitate to include preions for acceptance and formation of candidates, as well as administrative directives for the use of community goods, that make the link between mission, life and solidarity with the poor and oppressed. The next General Chapter in 1986 continues to spell out the demands of the Oblate mission today in the same vein with a marked concern for an evangelical action that promotes justice.
5. THE GENERAL CHAPTER OF 1986: MISSIONARIES IN TODAY’S WORLD
The main theme of the 1986 Chapter was the mission of the Congregation in today’s world. Of the six challenges or calls discerned as demanding a particularly urgent response, the first to be listed in the Chapter document, Missionaries in Today’s World, is the mission to the poor.
“We believe that our mission must be ever more: a mission to the poor, one in which ministry on behalf of justice is an integral part…” (MTW 5).
This concern is woven throughout each section of the document. The Chapter sees each of the six calls as part of one evangelizing mission to the poor and the most abandoned.
The title of the first section links mission, poverty and justice, and opens with a stark statement: “The ever-widening gap between rich and poor in today’s world is a scandal to which we cannot remain indifferent” (MTW 10). The section goes on to describe the depressing world situation which is giving rise to many new groups of “poor and voiceless”: the unemployed, political refugees and minorities who are rejected (MTW 10). It points out some of the many causes of unjust economic and political structures. Viewing the world in the light of the Gospel, we see Jesus who “identifies himself with the hungry, the sick and with prisoners. He wants us to find him in those who suffer, in those who are abandoned or are persecuted for their stands in behalf of justice” (MTW 13).
Where does the Oblate stand before this situation? The Chapter answers with a concise statement that describes the varied dimensions of the evangelizing mission of the Church singled out by recent papal statements.
“We Oblates are sent to evangelize the poor and the most abandoned, i.e. to proclaim Jesus Christ and his kingdom (C 5), to be witnesses of the Good News to the world, to motivate actions which might transform individuals and society, to denounce whatever is an obstacle to the coming of the kingdom”. (MTW14)
Referring to the vow of poverty, “we choose to be poor to enter more perfectly into communion with Jesus and the poor” (C 20) (MTW 16). Only in this way can we: “learn to see the Church and the world from their perspective… we are evangelized by them and we become for them better witnesses to the presence of Jesus, who became poor to liberate the human person and the whole of creation” (MTW 16).
Witness to Gospel detachment is only possible by constantly challenging one another to conversion (MTW 17). It must be apparent in our personal and community life. Our communities must be seen as places where the liberation we preach is a living fact, if our announcement of a liberating God is to have credibility (MTW 18). We will support the poor wherever they try to take control of their lives (MTW 19). And furthermore, “we are ready to accept the consequences of our stands in behalf of justice” (MTW 20).
The section closes with six recommendations: (1) to reflect in prayer on the call to serve the poor and abandoned (MTW 23); (2) to evaluate individual and community lifestyle and use of material things (MTW 24); (3) to establish communities in poor areas (MTW 25); (4) to share the community’s resources in money, personnel and various skills with the poor (MTW26); (5) to act on behalf of the poor, and to discern whether our attitudes, values, lifestyle, and political and social decisions might not be part of the causes of poverty (MTW27); (6) to study the causes of poverty (MTW 28).
6. 1992 GENERAL CHAPTER: WITNESSING AS APOSTOLIC COMMUNITY
In describing the present-day need for salvation, the 1992 Chapter statement, Witnessing as Apostolic Community, shows a world that is beset by many ills, characterized by fragmentation, violence, oppression and injustice (WAC 2). The Oblate response to “people’s need for salvation” (C1) – especially the poor – is “to seek to gather around the person of Jesus Christ so as to achieve solidarity of compassion” (WAC 6). That is why Oblates choose community as a way whereby they can be continuously evangelized and can be effective evangelizers (WAC 7).
The pursuit of quality in our community life and being is seen as “the first task of our evangelizing activity” (WAC 7). It is the community we create together that challenges in a prophetic way present-day individualism and the arbitrary use of power “that is responsible for the plight of so many poor people” (WAC 8).
Rather than the transmission of a doctrine, our role “is that of taking concrete steps towards peace based on justice and truth” (WAC 17). In order for our style of life to correspond to the values we profess by our religious vows a “life-long conversion renewed daily is indispensable if our witness is to be credible” (WAC 18).
The Chapter calls for regular review and evaluation of the quality of witness in all the elements of our life, among which is listed our commitment to justice and peace (WAC 19). “Because the credibility of our witness depends in part upon our commitment to justice, the Chapter invites the General Administration during the next six years to challenge our commitment to the weakest in our midst” (WAC 21).
Concerning the implications of the choice to deepen the quality of our life and being, both as individuals and as community, the Chapter insists firmly that we put Missionaries in Today’s World into effect, that we be consistent in regard to living our Constitutions and Rules and our vows. It is only this that constitutes us as witnesses, credible signs and apostolic communities (WAC 24). The end of No. 24 summarizes well the spirit of the 1992 Chapter and is worthy of repeated prayer and meditation.
“That which animates, sustains and justifies this whole process is our missionary concern for the needs of the world. ‘Because we are missionaries, we need to listen to the cries of persons and groups who hope for salvation, to be challenged by these cries and to respond by our prayer and our availability, and to re-echo this cry wherever we hear it’ (Superior General’s Report to the General Chapter, no.12). These words of Father General have resonated deeply within us. For this reason we choose to be close to the poor to whom we give our preference (C5), while we do not shun the rich who often make decisions that affect the world’s destiny. In solidarity with persons of goodwill, especially those […] who are dedicated to the pursuit of justice and peace, we commit ourselves to a dialogue with society. We take the risk of both seconding and challenging our world, of acknowledging the good within it, even as we also prophetically confront it. Such is our way of accompanying the world on its painful journey in search of reconciliation” (WAC 24).
Saint Eugene de Mazenod was struck by the spiritual abandonment of the poorer classes of his time. He founded a band of missionaries to evangelize them. Generations of Oblates, seeking to remain faithful to his inspiration, have sought to discern who were the abandoned of their times. Their discernment has led them to give their preference to the materially poor and marginalized. Especially in recent years there has been a marked concern for active solidarity with these people, a solidarity which is manifested in both lifestyle and choice of ministries. As in 1816, the “poor with their many faces” are the preferred subjects of the Oblate’s contribution to the evangelizing mission of the Church.