THE CHAPTER CALL TO CONVERSION
A letter of introduction
Dear Oblate Brothers and Fathers, Honorary Oblates, Oblate Associates, friends of the Oblates, and all persons of good will:
Praised be Jesus Christ and Mary Immaculate! Praised too be our beloved Founder, St. Eugene de Mazenod!
The 35th General Chapter of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate has just ended and, like the first disciples of Jesus bursting forth from the Pentecost room, we too want to proclaim in many tongues what we have experienced here.
We began our meeting with a Mass of the Holy Spirit on September 8th, a Marian feast on which many of us made our vows as Oblates, and ended one month later with a mass of Thanksgiving. Eighty-nine Oblates took part in the Chapter and more than twenty other Oblates participated as either resource or auxiliary personnel. As well, five Oblate Lay Associates, representing various Oblate Regions joined us for the first week of the Chapter. Our venue was again the Casa La Salle of the Christian Brothers where all of our recent Chapters have taken place. Three talented young Oblates, Filadelfo Estrella, Andriano Titone, and Hipolito Olea, served as our moderators. At their InterChapter meeting in 2007, the Oblate provincials had already designated as theme for the Chapter: Conversion: A new heart, a new spirit, a new mission. Brother Paul Michalenko, ST, was our overall facilitator and, in line with our theme, challenged us throughout the entire Chapter to empty our heads of judgments, our hearts of cynicism, and our wills of fear.
After the Mass of the Holy Spirit, we then spent several days getting to know each other through a number of small group interactions. Cardinal Francis George, OMI, joined us for part of that time and gave us an inspirational talk. We then entered the first major phase of the Chapter, receiving and processing information. This took place through a series of reports.
First, each Oblate Region gave a report on life in their region, naming both the strengths and the weaknesses of Oblate life there. This was followed by a report from the Standing Committee for Oblate Brothers. The Lay Associates reported next and challenged us to work more closely with them. The next two days were taken up in receiving and processing the report from our Treasurer General, Rufus Whitley. Among other things, he challenged us to be awake to a massive shift in demographics that is happening within the congregation and to what this will mean in terms of financial resources. This initial phase of our Chapter ended with a report from our outgoing Superior General, Guillermo Steckling, on the state of the Congregation. He ended his report by suggesting that four things now constitute the most urgent imperatives for the congregation: i) that we build Christ-centered communities; ii) that we truly love the poor and move towards them; iii) that we face up to the massive demographic changes that are reshaping the face of the congregation; and iv) that we recommit ourselves in our love for the Church. After some dialogue with him on his report, we entered the initial discussions on our Chapter theme, conversion.
Nearly an entire week was then spent on the next phase of our Chapter, examining and debating a series of proposals that had been submitted to us by a Pre-Chapter Commission that had been set up by the General Council to re-examine our Governmental structures. After much passionate debate, the Chapter voted, for the most part, to retain our present structures. The majority feeling was that, at this time, it is more important that we change our attitudes than that we change our structures. But there was also palpable disappointment among many of the Chapter delegates about this decision.
We then entered a third, and very important, phase of our Chapter: elections. Again, we began this process with a Mass of the Holy Spirit and spent a half day in silent reflection and one-to-one mumuratio. And the Holy Spirit sent us a very clear message: Fr. Louis Lougen was elected, nearly unanimously, on the first ballot. As Fr. Louis rose and humbly accepted the call to serve, the Chapter delegates rose to their feet, as one, and a thundering applause went on for several minutes. There were tears in eyes of many of the delegates and the feeling in the room at that moment -- the oneness of heart, the sense of the rightness of this choice, the warmth of energy -- will forever remain the highlight of this Chapter. The energy flowing from that moment carried us forward as we then elected a Vicar General, Paulo Archiati; two Assistants General, Cornelius Ngoka and Gilberto Pinon; and five General Councillors for the Regions, Miguel Fritz, Clement Waidyasekara; Warren Brown, Luis Ignatio Rois Alonso, and. Evans Chinyemba.
We then entered the fourth and final phase of our Chapter: the approval of various proposals that had been submitted to the Chapter and the shaping of a message to send out to the Oblate world. Once again, debate was spirited but the Chapter eventually refined and passed a number of proposals on issues of ministry, finance, higher education, and justice. The final days of the Chapter were taken up with discussions concerning what particular challenges this General Chapter wishes to send out to the Oblate world.
This discussion was not an easy one. A general feeling among the delegates was that the messages sent out by the last four General Chapters still contain the major challenges we need to face as congregation and that adding another document at this time would not serve us positively. What was needed, it was felt, was something brief, more specifically directive, focused on our theme of conversion, and highlighting very specific areas of conversion to which we feel we are called at this time. Our document The Chapter Call to Conversion is predicated on these premises. We state, almost apologetically, that we are not necessarily offering new challenges or challenges beyond those to which our Constitutions and Rules and past General Chapters have called us, but rather that we are offering some important challenges that need to be highlighted in our Oblate world at this time in our history. We leave these challenges with you, inviting you, as we were invited time and again at this Chapter, to empty our heads of judgments, our hearts of cynicism, and our wills of fear.
In conclusion, a word about the atmosphere of this Chapter: Despite our very spirited exchanges on the Chapter floor, the atmosphere of this Chapter has been wonderfully warm, deeply fraternal, free of virtually all politics, and deeply prayerful. Among other things, the delegates spent half an hour each day in common oraison before the Blessed Sacrament. One delegate, attending his third General Chapter, commented: “This Chapter was the most fraternal of all. I have never experienced anything like this at an international gathering before.” Another delegate, attending his first General Chapter, remarked: “This is my first Chapter and it has been a great experience. One of the things that impacted on me was to see so many Oblates from so many places. It is an experience of the great richness of our religious family. I see a good atmosphere and mutual caring.” This truly was an experience of Oblate community and warm fraternity.
Throughout the Chapter, the delegates kept listening, waiting for a particular biblical image to be given us as a key to help us more deeply understand both our experience at this Chapter and the Oblate and ecclesial reality within which we are now living. Again and again, spontaneously in our conversations, the image that came to us was the one given in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 24, where the disciples, dispirited and without heart because their religious world had been crucified, meet the resurrected Christ on the road to Emmaus, feel their hearts burning within them as he speaks to them, eventually recognize him and the new reality they are living, and go back into their religious lives with renewed vision, hope, and energy.
This General Chapter has been an Emmaus walk. We have examined our crucified worlds, met the resurrected Christ on the road, and leave here with our hearts burning with new vision, new hope, and new energy. Our wish is to share that with you!
Praised be Jesus Christ and Mary Immaculate.
The Oblate General Chapter of 2010
6th October 2010
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