1. The Founder
  2. The Oblates today

The term “urgent needs” is closely associated with a number of other key concepts in the Oblate tradition and derives much of its richness from these. For example, the term could be explored from the point of view of the Founder’s own sense of ‘impatience’, as when he chides his missionaries for apparently not focusing their pastoral priority on the conversion of the pagans. [1] The term ‘zeal’, as understood and used by de Mazenod, also throws light on our subject: when he calls for “men filled with a burning zeal for the salvation of souls”, clearly a sense of urgency is implied. [2] The same can be said of the Founder’s use of the expression “the most abandoned”. In more recent times, one would also have to examine the importance and pride of place that Oblates have given to such key notions as “signs of the times” and “regional priorities”. Both of these translate into a call and a commitment to the urgent needs of the world as recognized by the community of Oblates in the five regions. Both imply a readiness to abandon previously held positions and to travel new paths in order to make Christ a more living reality among the most abandoned. Our main focus in this article will be the way de Mazenod envisaged the “urgent needs” of his day, and how the Oblates of today attempt to discern the urgent needs of our times. It will quickly become apparent that ‘urgency’ is very much one of the characteristics of our Oblate spirituality and mission.

The Founder


Like beauty, the perception of any urgent need lies in the eye of the beholder. It is something subjective, something that one perceives inwardly, at the existential level or what might be called the level of felt-conviction. What may be urgent for one person need not necessarily be so perceived by another. For de Mazenod, there was first and foremost, the urgent need “to make progress in the paths of ecclesiastical and religious perfection” [3] (1818). The compelling nature of this need is everywhere present in the Founder’s writings, especially in his Preface to the Rule: “They must become saints”. In the eyes of de Mazenod, no other need will overshadow or take precedence over this call to personal holiness; nor will any require more immediate and more on-going attention – both in season and out of season, or as he himself puts it, “as much out on mission as when in the house” [4] (1818). “Whoever wishes to become one of us must have an ardent desire for his own perfection”. [5] “In the name of God”, he will insist, “let us be saints”. [6] “Let all Oblates be well imbued with what the Church expects of them. Half-measure virtues are not sufficient… Hence they must hasten to become saints, if they are not yet such as they should be”. [7]

What makes this call to holiness so urgent in the eyes of de Mazenod is the “deplorable situation” in which the Church found itself in his day. It was the dire needs of the Church that gave special urgency to his quest for personal holiness, the missionary task that dictated his spiritual task. In fact, the urgency of the one is never divorced from that of the other; they form the fabric and hue of the same urgent need: to know and love Christ. “The more you are holy”, Bishop de Mazenod would tell his missionaries, “the more will good abound”. [8] De Mazenod clearly perceived the basic unity between personal holiness and missionary endeavor. And it was out of this deeply perceived unity, in fact, that his Institute would come into being and flourish. His sense of spiritual urgency would henceforth be inextricably linked to a sense of missionary urgency.


In the eyes of de Mazenod, the most urgent missionary need existed wherever “the salvation of souls is at stake”. [9] The Founder is very explicit on this point in the Preface: “It is supremely important, it is urgently imperative, that we lead the multitude of lost sheep back to the fold, that we teach these degenerate Christians who Jesus Christ is, that we rescue them from Satan’s power and show them the way to eternal life”. [10] A certain theology of the times – that of salvation and damnation, in particular – informs and gives added urgency to the Founder’s outlook. For him and his times, it was a question of rescuing souls from the clutches of the devil and saving them from their own “gross ignorance” of everything pertaining to one’s salvation. Also implied in the Founder’s pressing appeals is the question of God’s salvific will, which becomes truly effective only through the zealous work of missionaries. For him, it was urgent to reach out to and evangelize those whom today we would call the alienated and the unchurched, those who were in a real danger of losing their faith, or who, for all practical purposes had lost it. In short, those who really did not know Jesus Christ and who had no one to proclaim him to them. Analyzing the reasons for this situation, he wrote: “We can break it down to three main headings: 1. the weakening, not to say the total loss, of faith; 2. the people’s ignorance; 3. the laziness, indifference, and corruption of priests. This third cause must be considered as the main one, the root of the other two”. [11] It was against this background and with this understanding of the “deplorable state of things” that de Mazenod’s sense of urgency was first ignited. Nor was he ever to lose it. The Oblates, he said, “have as their principle mission the conversion of unbelievers and the instruction of those ignorant people who call themselves Christians, but are not so either in principle or in practice”. [12] These were the ‘poor’ and the ‘most abandoned’; these were the ones who were being deprived at the deepest level of their dignity. And it was with these in mind that he would write to the parish priest of Barjols on August 20, 1818: “Our duty is to rush to where there is the most urgent need”. [13]

For de Mazenod, evangelizing the poor was not only an option that he deliberately chose for himself and his Society; it was also a compulsion, something that impelled him from within. As a realist and very much a man of his time, the urgency that he experienced stemmed in part from the objective needs of his time; but as a man of faith, burning with a great love for Jesus Christ crucified, his sense of urgency was also fired from within. In this respect de Mazenod reminds us of St. Paul who described his own apostolic office in terms of being under a divine constraint which he could not escape: “For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” (I Cor. 9:16). The content of this compulsion, this sense of urgency, is that a part of the divine plan of salvation is committed to him, and its seriousness consists in the fact that he cannot evade it if he is not to bring on himself the woe of eternal perdition. How true this was of de Mazenod.

It is in the light of this faith-filled compulsion that many of the expressions from de Mazenod’s writings must be understood: for example “Nihil linquendum inausum”, “Our duty is to rush to where there is the most urgent need”, “[We are] always ready to move quickly at all times and at the least sign to that place where obedience shows us that some good is to be done”. [14]

This sense of urgency explains why de Mazenod, even as a young priest, requested that the diocesan authorities not assign him to a parish but allow him the freedom to give himself completely to those who were not being touched by the parish structures. It also explains why the principal target of his first apostolic initiatives were those who remained outside the pastoral life and parish structures of the Church. As Father Jetté pointed out in his address on Blessed Eugene de Mazenod, these included: “the domestic hired help, the artisans, the little people who were, practically speaking, being kept away both because of the time of the religious services and because of the language being used therein […]; the youth: the parishes had nothing to offer the young […]; the prisoners: both the great criminals and the petty delinquents […]; the sick, the dying, the country people whose religious ignorance was even greater than that which existed in the cities”. [15]

Such were the urgent needs in the Church as de Mazenod first saw them. For him, the above list of disparate groups of people had one thing in common: they were all poor because they were deprived of Jesus Christ. And to be deprived of Jesus Christ was, in his eyes, the most urgent need that could possibly exist, whether this need existed in the Church or far beyond its visible boundaries and membership.

Hence it is easy to understand why the Founder never wanted his missionaries to be reduced to “ordinary” parish priests, that is, priests who spent the major portion of their time and energy ministering to those who already knew and loved Jesus Christ, the practicing’ Christians. “It is okay to help the pastors on a temporary basis”, he would write to Fr. Courtès, “but we cannot let our missionaries become pastors”. [16] The same missionary sense of urgency was behind his decision to withdraw his missionaries from Algeria: they were not given the work of converting the Arabs, as the Founder had hoped but rather were put in charge of a parish as simple parish priests – parishes, he felt, “where there is practically no good to be done”. [17] Even his initial reluctance to send missionaries to the United States was based on this same premise: “I was never in favor of establishing ourselves in the United States because it seemed to me that there were nothing but parishes there and the project of New York seems to be nothing more than that”. [18] Here, as elsewhere the Founder’s policy was both consistent and clear: to establish, as he put it, “a community of missionaries who could fulfill the duties of their vocation which are not precisely to be parish priests but real missionaries going from place to place to preach the truths of salvation and bring souls back to God”. [19]


In order to fully appreciate the Founder’s acute sense of urgency, one should be aware also of the high demands that any urgent need places on an individual. Or, to put it in a slightly different way, what are the personal qualities that enabled de Mazenod to identify and respond to the urgent needs of his day? Any light we can shed on this area will be especially helpful for us today as we endeavor to meet the more urgent missionary needs of our day.

a. A Man of Discernment

In the concrete circumstances in which we live, there is always considerable room for self-deception, hidden motives, and misguided zeal. The task of assessing the urgency of any real need in the Church is no exception. Hence the need to be vigilant, and to know how to discern properly. If we take a close look at the way de Mazenod exercised the virtue of discernment, three things or elements become immediately apparent.

Firstly, he would always pray for divine guidance before reaching an important decision, especially one that involved an urgent need or request to send and commit his missionaries to a new mission.

A typical example of this is when he was invited to accept a new Vicariate Apostolic in Natal. The need was certainly urgent: “The salvation of souls is at stake”, he would write in his Diary. [20] Yet his dilemma was also very real: he simply did not have the available personnel and manpower to accept this mission. And so he sought “light from above” through prayer. “We must place ourselves in God’s presence before we answer”, he said. In the same entry of his Diary, he adds: “I have prayed God very much to grant me the grace to know his will and abide by it”. His decision to withdraw his missionaries from Algeria and send them to Natal was finally reached, he says, “during the visits we made in the churches on this Holy Thursday”. [21] It was a bright idea, an idea that he could now confidently claim to be inspired by God. And so it would be with all his other important decisions: he would pray over them, listening to the voice of God and trying to understand the signs of the presence of God in history.

A second important component in the Founder’s method of discernment was his heavy reliance upon and thirst for news and details from his missionaries in the field. De Mazenod never liked to be in the dark about anything. He sought light “from above” through prayer; but he also sought light “from below”, that is, from the informative letters and reports which his Oblates in the missions would send him. If the Founder’s huge correspondence reveals anything it is certainly his consuming desire to be well informed and constantly in touch with events in an objective way. This insatiable thirst for information was not only de Mazenod’s way of sustaining the zeal and renewing the courage of his sons; it was also crucial for his method of discerning the most urgent needs in the missions.

Without sufficient facts and information, he felt vulnerable: “You must not be afraid to query me”, he told Fr. Jean-Baptiste Honorat, “when you believe I have given a decision which presents some problems. It will probably be because I have not been sufficiently informed”. [22] Often he would defer making an important decision for the same reason, as with the proposal to send some Oblates to New York and Toronto: “I am not well enough informed to decide the questions”, he candidly admits. [23] Hence, also, his ever-recurring complaint: “It is absolutely intolerable that you remain three months without writing to me”. [24] To discern well one must be well-informed, and no one knew this better that the Founder.

There was yet a third element in de Mazenod’s method of discernment which should not be overlooked, namely the voice of the Church. Among the innumerable urgent needs and requests that came to his attentions those which came from Rome, from the Propaganda, were favored and given special urgency. “It is a matter of preferring a mission”, he would say, “which is offered us by the agency of the Head of the Church.” [25] The urgency of these calls was all the greater because, for him, they seemed to come more directly from God. In a very real sense, the Founder was saying vox ecclesiæ, vox Dei [God calling us through the voice of the Church]. In all such instances, the call was clearer and the need more compelling, thus pressing him into more immediate attention and action. [26]

b A man of courage

It is one thing to “flag” or identify an urgent need, it is quite another matter to find within oneself the necessary courage to meet that need. Simply put, de Mazenod was a man of remarkable courage. Once he had clearly discerned an urgent need he left no stones unturned to meet and respond to it. He was ready to take risks, make sacrifices and face the future in the confidence that God’s plan would somehow work out. It was his extreme daring and courage, in fact, that gained the Oblate Congregation a rapid and very extensive development. Father Jetté sums it up well: “In a period of ten years, we have a whole series of foundations in every direction and, humanly speaking, in the case of nearly all of them, each one more imprudent than the other. Natural wisdom would have suggested establishing oneself and taking solid root in France before sending missionaries abroad. Apostolic daring won out over natural wisdom”. [27]

The Founder’s courage coincided with his trust in divine guidance. He believed that the future, though unknown, is not strange, not hostile, but is arranged and ordered by God. The Bible speaks of kairos, of the present moment, which offers us unrepeatable opportunities to further the Kingdom of God. For de Mazenod, who possessed this openness full of confidence, even difficulties and hardships became a kairos, a challenge received, in such a way that he did not permit himself (or his missionaries) hesitation and half-hearted measures. Thus he reprimands Mgr. Jean-Francois Allard for not giving the example and for being too sedentary. [28] Thus he becomes visibly vexed at Fr. Honorat’s timidity and hesitation in sending the Oblates to start the mission of Bytown (Ottawa): “This was not something tentative to be tried. You had to go there with the firm resolve to overcome all obstacles, go there to stay, take root there! How could you hesitate? What more beautiful mission than this! Ministry in the lumber camps, missions to the Savages, establishment in a city which is wholly of the future. But it is the beautiful dream coming true and you would have let it escape! The thought makes me shiver! Take all your courage in your hands once more and establish yourself there properly”. [29]

c. A Man of Vision

One of the real dangers in committing oneself wholeheartedly and unreservedly to an urgent need is the danger of becoming too exclusively absorbed by it. It is possible to become so engrossed, so wrapped up in the immediate urgency of a need that little else is seen or attended to. We see the tree vividly, as it were, while missing the forest. One of the characteristics which escapes no one who is familiar with the Founder’s writings and letters is his remarkable sense of, vision and his “sense of possibility”. We cannot fail to be struck by the fact that he is fully a part of the real world of his day, while observing also that he is not fully absorbed by it. He is a man of his time yet also very much ahead of it.

Despite the many pressing needs that confronted him and vied for his immediate attention, de Mazenod never lost sight of the bigger picture, the bigger dream. He was forever looking beyond what had thus far been achieved and dreaming about new challenges and new possibilities. With God all things are possible, and de Mazenod took this to mean that any given situation no matter how deplorable or dismal it might first appear, could indeed be changed. He had the vision and the élan of a person who seeks greatness in all situations of life, who does not allow himself to be imprisoned by anything or anyone, but always finds a way out. Hence his magnanimity. “I am not a prophet”, he would say, “yet I have always been a man of desires”. [30]

Even as early as 1818, in the first edition of the Constitutions and Rules, we see that de Mazenod already envisaged the unlimited possibilities that God’s love would open up for him and his Society. He wanted men who, like himself, were men of vision and great dreams: “Their ambition should, in its holy aspirations, embrace the vast expanse of the whole world” [31]. De Mazenod’s magnanimity can also be seen in the following:

– Although he never left the continent of Europe, through his prayers and mighty correspondence the Founder was always at the side of his missionaries in whatever far reaches of the world they found themselves.

– While he could write in his Mémoires: “My own concern was solely centered on the deplorable condition of our degenerate Christians” [32], he was equally capable of writing to one of his missionaries in Ceylon: “I always thought the idea was to convert the pagans. More than anything else, this is what we are made for”. [33]

– Although he lived each day with an intensity that still astounds anyone familiar with his heavy schedule, he still found time to pray, receive visitors, hear confessions and make parish visitations.

– Although he was a Frenchman to the core, he was never caught in the parochial worship of that culture in which he was born. He would insist firmly and repeatedly that his missionaries adapt and learn the languages of the people they served.

In short, de Mazenod had the ability to transcend the narrow limits of his immediate environment and see the bigger picture. And in almost every letter that he wrote to his Missionaries, we find him making a conscious effort to stretch their imaginations, broaden their vision, and have them come to see, as he did, the unlimited possibilities of God’s merciful love. To be ahead of one’s time is to suffer a great deal from it. Yet Saint Eugene de Mazenod still preferred to love the Church “with the eyes of those not yet born”.

The Oblates Today

To this day, the sense of urgency remains one of the characteristic elements that define the Oblate missionary outlook. In this area, certainly, there is a loyal recognition of the Founder’s profound “sense of urgency” and a genuine attempt to evaluate Oblate works and ministries in the light of what we might call “the criterion of urgent needs”. The impulse of this charism is clearly evident, for example, in the official commentary and reading guide for the 1966 Constitutions and Rules. In this document, entitled, The Congregation Renewed, we read the following: “If there is any lesson to be drawn from this living history, written by the Spirit of God, perhaps it is the evident duty Oblates have, in virtue of the charism which is theirs, not to settle down comfortably, not to interrupt their forward march, not to copy complacently what was adequate for other times and for other situations, not to retire behind the protective walls of well-secured posts. It is a law of life and of a world in evolution that what seemed urgent and critical in former times, may no longer be so today. Since the charism proper to the Oblates relates them to present events, they must, as is pointed out in Rule 2, “constantly be aware of what is going on in the world and in contemporary society”. They must, when all is said and done, continually re-write the Preface with the same accents of actuality: What are the really important situations today? Which regions are critical now? How can we be present there, leaving to others the enjoyment of ground already secured, posts which from now on require only the ordinary pastoral care of the Church?” [34]

These and similar soul-searching questions were not just a rhetorical ploy; from the mid-1960s to the present day, they have formed the crux and basis of an extensive on-going evaluation of Oblate life and mission in the five regions of the Congregation. They surface in virtually every Province Report of the past twenty years. [35] In all these renewal efforts, the Founder’s own sense of missionary urgency is never lost sight of: his charism will mark an intensity of focus in the psychic and faith-filled energies of the entire Congregation. Thus in paragraph 17 of that slender yet powerfully inspired document, Missionary Outlook, which the General Chapter of 1972 gave us, we read: “We will seriously re-evaluate our present commitments in the light of the Gospel and of our missionary charism. Have our institutional works maintained their original missionary fervor? Having made this examination at the Provincial level, we will have 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. With the mobility proper to a group of missionaries, we will be ever more free to commit ourselves to the service of the Church and the world. This was our original charism and is still fundamental to our life as a Congregation. It must be maintained at all costs”. [36]

Another important event in the renewal of the Congregation was the Congress on “The Charism of the Founder Today” which was held in Rome from the 26th of April to the 14th of May 1976. Here again the sense of missionary urgency was identified as one of the main elements of the Oblate charism. Not only did the participants of the Congress probe the deeper meaning of this “fundamental Oblate value”, but they also tried to understand it in terms of its biblical origins and its borderline implications. [37] In its final declaration the Congress concluded: “We remember that our Founder wanted us to attentively discern the most urgent needs of the Church and of the world, without fear of being troubled in undertaking with saintly daring whatever we have recognized, in community and in the Church, to be the immediate call which God makes in favor of his poor”. [38]

Since the expression “urgent need” was taking on such importance in the renewal of the Congregation, further study and clarification of this fundamental Oblate value was clearly called for. In fact, several important articles soon appeared in Vie Oblate Life, and each in its own way attempted to shed some light on this very topic. One such article was by Marcello Zago, O.M.I., entitled “Appels et nouvelles missions”. [39] In this study, the author explains the various steps which led the Congregation, between 1972 and 1979, to accept nine new missions throughout the world, and the reasons why it refused eleven other urgent requests. The article is significant for several reasons: it focuses on the multiple criteria that were invoked by the General Administration in either accepting or refusing new missions; it gives us a good insight into the actual decision-making process of the Congregation and the complexity of the problem of responding to certain urgent requests; and it is an excellent reminder to us that our Oblate charism of urgency belongs to the concrete order of existence and is not of a purely theoretical nature.

Another very significant and insightful article to appear was that of Roger Gauthier, O.M.I., entitled “Les réponses d’Eugène de Mazenod aux appels du Seigneur sur la Congrégation”. [40] This is a survey-study of the different motivating factors that actually prompted de Mazenod to accept or refuse new apostolic fields. The author suggests that one of the most important factors that influenced the Founder’s decisions was “the necessity of giving priority to those critical situations which were not being attended to”.

It is not surprising therefore that by the time our Constitutions and Rules were rewritten and approved in 1982, not only had the term “urgent need” definitely entered into the official language of the Oblate Congregation, but it had now become one of the fundamental categories of our missionary program of action. The term is used explicitly four times in our present Constitutions and Rules:

– “Our mission puts us on constant call to respond to the most urgent needs of the Church through various forms of witness and ministry…” (C 7).

– “Our celibacy allows us to be present where the most urgent needs are to be found…” (C 16).

-“We must lose no opportunity to let people see how urgent are the needs of the Church and the world and come to know the way in which our Congregation responds to those needs” (C 52).

– “The living tradition of the Church and the needs of the world today will guide them [Oblate formation personnel] in their work” (R. 35) [R 51a in CCRR 2000].

What is most significant about the above texts is the way in which the term “urgent need” is extended beyond the statement of our mission (C 7) and is now presented as a further justification of our consecrated celibacy (C 16), a further incentive and means of attracting vocations (C 52), as well as a guiding principle for those in formation ministry (R 35) [R 51a]. In short, we may now speak of urgent needs as a truly fundamental value of the Oblates, that is, one which has direct bearing on every aspect and dimension of our life and mission.


It should be clear by now that the notion of “urgent needs” is very much in the vocabulary and the general consciousness of Oblates today. Indeed it has become a real ‘working principle’ in the discernment of Oblate options and commitments. Yet it should also be noted that several new developments have taken place in recent years that alter the way Oblates perceive and approach urgent needs today. The following is not an exhaustive list of these new developments but an attempt to draw attention to the more obvious ones.

a. Discernment “in community”

In every Region and Province of the Congregation, considerable effort has been made and continues to be made to evaluate present works and ministries. What makes the present situation so poignant is that in many Provinces, Oblates are becoming older and fewer in number. This decrease in available personnel gives added urgency to the question: “Which apostolic commitment should we retain and which one(s) should we abandon?”

Nevertheless, more and more Oblates today recognize and acknowledge the differences that exist from Region to Region in the types and degrees of poverty which are prevalent among those whom we serve. In response to the urgent needs of the poor, therefore, each Oblate Region, Province and local district has tried to determine for itself, by a study of its own environment, what the greatest needs are. The result of all this has been an increased community discernment. Today, more participative and collaborative structures exist then ever before: seminars for planning and revision, extraordinary Provincial chapters, Provincial congresses, local district meetings, and corporate reflection workshops on the interprovincial as well as interregional level. The fact that more and more Oblates are participating in the planning process of each Province provides a greater experience of community and corporate responsibility.

Thus what we now call “regional priorities” is but another name for “urgent needs” as perceived by a majority of Oblates in a given Region. In matters of apostolic commitments, the “rugged individualism” of earlier pioneering days is giving way to a more common vision and commitment.

This new trend was not only sanctioned but encouraged by the General Administration. Writing to the Oblates on October 19, 1976, Father Jetté said: “It is up to each Region and-to each Province to analyse objectively the needs and appeals of the poor in its area; and to see by the light of the Gospel, the Oblate Constitutions and the Founder’s spirit, how the Congregation can effectively answer those needs while remaining true to itself. In this matter, each and every Province has a duty to reflect and discern as a community. [41]

b. “Long-term” endeavors

A second significant trend in the way Oblates today envisage “urgent needs” is a question of focus, or what we might call the “long-term” perspective. While the needs of the poor are very real and retain all their urgency, the prospects of meeting these needs satisfactorily now appear more complex and therefore more remote, less immediate. A more systematic analysis of the causes and perpetuating factors involved in the poverty that does exist has necessitated this shift in perspective.

Today we are acutely aware that the lives of men and women are controlled by the socioeconomic and political structures of society, some of which are hostile even to the work of evangelization. It has thus become part of the Oblate task of mission to identify, critique and, wherever possible, transform these forces and unjust structures for the benefit of authentic human liberation. There is a recognized and accepted commitment to get at the cause of these social injustices, and not merely attend to their symptoms. Thus when we speak of the “struggle” for peace and justice, the implication is clearly that the obstacles will not easily or quickly be removed. Hence the reason for long-suffering and “long-term” hope.

Along with a more realistic appreciation of the magnitude and the complexity of the problems of poverty and injustices there is also a sober awareness of our own limitations and poverty. To paraphrase Yves Congar, we suddenly have the feeling of being “a small religious community in a large world”. This flash of awareness, in turn, has prompted the Oblates to cooperate and collaborate more readily with other groups and communities that also seek to respond to these contemporary needs – whether it be apartheid in South Africa, the conflict against the faith in Poland, or the agrarian reform conflicts in Brazil. There are no quick solutions to any of these “burning issues” and any group committed to them must be sustained by a “long-term” hope.

This new outlook was again captured by Father Jetté, in the address he gave at the 1984 Inter-Chapter Meeting in Rome: “My own deep conviction in this matter”, he said, “is the following. The real apostolic response to the needs of today’s world will be made gradually. It will be made by the younger generations, by those who follow us, who are gradually being formed in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Poland, Italy and the Provinces which have vocations”. [42] There is nothing short-sighted about this perspective, and once again we can detect in it the Founder’s own spirit and forward-looking vision.

c. Oblate sharing

Another dimension of the contemporary Oblate response to “urgent needs” is the significant increase in Oblate sharing. In both the general consciousness of Oblates today as well as in the administrative structures we now have in place, the question of “urgent needs” has become inextricably linked with the idea of genuine sharing. Rarely is the one ever considered independently of the other; they form two sides of the same coin, so to speak, two inter-locking issues.

Perhaps the most telling and direct symbol possible of this new trend was the creation of the Oblate Sharing Fund (OSF), made possible by the sale of the International Scholasticate on Via della Pineta Sacchetti in 1972. Over and above the substantial financial assistance that it provides every year throughout the Congregation, this service structure has a powerful symbolic value. And like all living symbols to which we surrender, the OSF releases untold hidden potentialities within the Congregation and brings out into the open the deeper resources at our disposal.

The Constitutions and Rules speak at various times of sharing resources and of solidarity. [43] The Founder was also very clear on this subject: “We are all members of one body, let each one strive by every means and by making sacrifices if he must, for the well-being and growth of all its potentialities”. [44] Presently the common desire of solidarity and of sharing is made concrete at many different levels – in financial help, in personnel, in services.

Sharing is also evident in the concerted efforts being made throughout the Congregation to promote lay ministry and lay leadership – a call that has been given top priority in several Oblate Regions. Our response to an urgent need today almost invariably seeks to include the laity as co-partners. The Oblate task of mission and the laity’s collaboration are so linked and joined together that it is difficult to see how one can stand without the other; together and each in its own way they seek more effectively to meet the particular need in question. Such collaboration with the laity begins – as charity often does with those closest to us: our lay associates, the honorary Oblates, the M.A.M.I. members, and all those with whom we work closely the world over.


In conclusion, it may be well to point out two specific outstanding needs that have recently been brought to our attention, needs which have not as yet received a concerted response by the Oblates. Since both of these challenges seem to fall well within the scope and domain proper to the Oblate mission, one might expect (hope) that more attention and resolve will be given to these in the future.

The first concerns the growing problem of religious indifference unbelief or atheism. This is the way Father Jetté voiced his concern to the Oblate Provincials on May 10, 1984: “I would say that, in general terms, our ministry taken as a whole responds to the appeal of awakening or reawakening the faith in those to whom we are sent. On the other hand, if we limit the question to the precise problem of religious indifference, unbelief or atheism, we have very few Oblates directly dedicated to this apostolate and few Provinces, if any, oriented in this direction… I often have the impression that we are not sensitive enough to this appeal if it is alone and not linked to a situation of material poverty”. [45]

A second outstanding concern, also very complex but a great challenge, is the need to evangelize cultures. Here again, Father Jetté shared his concern: “I have the impression”, he said, “that we are moving forward more rapidly in the charity which prompts us to defend man than in the study which would enable us to penetrate new cultures”. [46] Pope Paul VI had already raised a prophetic appeal in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi: “The split between Gospel and culture is without a doubt the drama of our time… Therefore, every effort must be made to ensure a full evangelization of culture or, more correctly, of cultures. They have to be regenerated by an encounter with the Gospel”. [47]

Why is this so important, so urgent? Because we realize now that if the work of evangelization is to succeed, it must be addressed not only to individual persons, but also to the entire patrimony or culture out of which the person lives. The dialectic between faith and culture is a very sensitive matter, but one that can no longer be ignored. In this context, evangelization seeks to get to the very heart and core of a culture, the realm of its basic values (whatever they may be), and to bring about a change that will serve as a basis and guarantee of a transformation in the structures and social climate of that culture.