As our Father General Louis Lougen OMI reminded us in his opening address: “The last time we gathered as a Congregation to reflect on our Charism was in 1976 (…) I hope that this present Congress will assist us in living more faithfully the Oblate Charism in each of our many diverse contexts.”
Fr Fabio Ciardi OMI responsible for Oblate studies and publications used a scriptural parable of the seed sown in the soil to give us an insight into the reality of the charism. According to Fr Fabios’ explanation the death of our Founder was like the fulfilment of the Gospel’s parable that a seed must fall into ground and die in order to bear fruit. St Eugene’s death ended an experience of the Holy Spirit and at the same time proved to begin a new fertility. We could hear in these reflection the echo of Jesus’ words to his disciples: “It is good that I go away, or else the Spirit will not come to you.” (John 16:7) It almost seems that for the charism to unleash its all creativity, the Founder must offer the supreme sacrifice of his life.
I also struck by Fr Fabio’s quotation of the address given by Bishop Bergoglio who as auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires attended the Synod on the Consecrated life in 1994. The future pope said the consecrated life is a gift to the Church, was born in the Church, grows in the Church, and is directed to the Church.” I think that every Oblate can hear in those words the passion for the Church our Holy Founder had.
An insightful talk was also given by Fr Alberto Ruiz from Rome on “The Challenge of secularization.” I am still digesting his insight that “secularization is our travelling companion.” Fr Alberto moved our attention to recognizing secularization not as a problem but as a challenge for us. The challenge which leads us to seeking the essence of our faith. If we do so we will discover that the Gospel and thus our mission, will remain valid and necessary. Today, as in the past, we continue being summoned to give response to the needs of salvation.”
The Congress was a fabulous platform for mutual sharing, listening and praying. Fr Ciardi from Rome remarked that live streaming as a means of connecting Oblates wasn’t envisaged by Eugene but still the Founder has offered us a different “live streaming.” It is a flat TV or a projector screen but the Blessed Sacrament. 200 years ago St Eugene de Mazenod already envisaged that it would be an efficient means of connecting Oblates with each other. Fr Ciardi reminded us how important the practice of oraison is (half an hour of silent prayer the Oblates have together every evening).
Another uniting aspect was highlighted by a young Canadian Oblate who described us, Oblates, as men of desire. He asked first: “What do we desire as Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate?” and in the course of his presentation, drawing from the writings of our Founder, he identified it as perfection. He said that “we strive for perfection, and that perfection is not a theory or an ideology, but a person – Jesus Christ (…) we desire Christ. That’s what unites us, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.”
I will conclude this post by summarizing the final address of our Father General. Fr Lougen observed that in Pope Francis we can see our Oblate charism incarnated. Fr General reflected the Holy Father loves the poor, he is close to the people, he is approachable and he speaks the language of the ordinary people. The Pope has also filial love for Mary, the love in which we can recognize the sentiments of our Founder. From this reflection Fr Louis draw two conclusions:
1. People love the Holy Father and are touched by his ministry, his style appeals to the contemporary society.
2. It proves that the Church needs the Oblate charism.
In view of the coming up two hundred anniversary of our Institute Fr General made a prophetic request regarding the celebration of January 25 next year. He asked us not to go fancy with dinners and parties but to have a holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament and to have a holy hour with the poor. He also explained that the holy hour doesn’t need to have 60 minutes it can be two, three or more hours with Jesus present in the Blessed Sacrament and with the poor.
To conclude the whole Congress we all sang Salve Regina. I was deeply touched as the scenes from Rome, Mexico, Durban, Kinshasa, Obra, San Antonio, Colombo and Manila appeared on the screen. The Oblates from all corners of the world were united in the same fraternal way our first father were united singing Salve Regina at the passing of our Founder. They were singing to our Blessed Mother at the time “a seed was falling into the ground to die” but it was also the moment of grace when the life was being released from the seed, the life we witness now in the joys and struggles, community and mission, of our Oblate Congregation.
I hope I don’t lose this joy and excitement upon my return to the chilly Melbourne.