Letter of the 1998 General Chapterto the Oblates
Evangelizing the Poor at the Dawn
of the Third Millennium
Table of Contents:
* * *
The Letter of the 1998 General Chapter to the Oblateswhich was written and voted during the Chapterreceived many amendmentsat the time of the final vote. For this reason the Chapter authorizedthe Superior General in Council to complete the work of editing this Letter.The Council set up an editing committee that reviewed the text takinginto account the amendments made. It submitted the present text whichthe Council has approved.
It is the Chapter’s wish that this Letter be readin the light of the Chapter’s two working papersInstrumentumLaboris and Young Oblates in Ministry and in Formation. Thislast document has already been published in OMI Documentation (Nov.1998).
The Chapter also prepared aLetter to those Personswho share with us the Oblate Charism. This has been published in theOMI Lay Associates newsletter The Link (N°5) and was attachedto the December 1998 OMI Information.
* * *
1. This Chapter is drawing to a close. It is the firstsince the canonization of our FounderEugene de Mazenoda man committedto the Churchwho brought new energy to the work of evangelization. Nowat the dawn of the third millennium we in turn are sent to bring the Gospelto our world. The intent of this letter is to share with you key elementsfrom the main theme which marked usand the points which require ourattention in the coming years.
We will do this around three major themes:
3. God loves the world (Cf. Jn 3:16); Christ saves it;the Holy Spirit lives in it. In the heart of the world the presence ofthe Kingdom of God becomes a reality through the Church. The Spirit ofGod teaches us to love this world. So how could it be an alien place forus?
4. At the same timewe see that our world is a mixedreality.
On the one handwe find in it rich springs of generositysinceritycreativityand imagination. A positive and growing interdependencepushes us to break down age-old divisions and invites us to live in anew solidarity with people all over the world. Daily we are witnessingprogress in knowledge and technology. News is accessible immediately allover the world; modern media is making education available to millionsof people; and men and women from all parts of the earth are able to meetspeaking with each otherand getting to know each other. Thisas weso often mentioned at the Chapteris the positive side of globalization
5. On the other handwe see that the world is alsofull of infidelityinjusticeand individualism. The image that spontaneouslycomes to mind is that of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem that he loved. Globalizationwhen driven by a neo-liberalism able to ignore virtually all frontiersmoral rules and spiritual valuesresults in more and more people beingmarginalised. New forms of poverty are arising and with them the disastrousconsequences of wars and massive migration.
We can no longer celebrate the dignity of the humanperson without being conscious of a deep tear within our communal fabric;we can no longer offer incense to the unlimited progress of science withoutthinking about the sub-human conditions within which the majority of theworld’s people lives. We can no longer benefit from technologicalprogress without denouncing its negative undersidenamelythe loss ofinterioritythe degradation of womenthe exploitation of childrentheever-growing opposition between rich and poorand the explosion of violencein our world.
Moreoverthe problems of countless young people needto receive special attention. Many sink deeper into poverty and becomealienated. They are joblessand seeing no meaning to life they are withouthope for the future.
6. Faced with thousands and thousands of women and menwhofor whatever reasondo not know Jesus Christnor even the waysof God – seeming to live without God – we experience a certainimpotence and weakness. We recognize our limitsour povertyand vulnerabilityand can be tempted to give up. Just like our confused sisters and brotherswe too are waitingwe too are searching for salvation. Howeverthe crossof Christ is planted at the centre of the world just as it stands in thecentre of our lives. The cross reveals to us the unceasing love of Godfor uswhose confidence in us never runs out. God’s plan for ushumans isindeedambitious.
7. This vision of the world is a reminder for us: ourcharism drives us to present the cross of Christ to the worldto proclaimthat the one who is rejected – the crucifiedpoorunnoticedinsignificant– is the cornerstone of the final triumph.
As Oblatesguided by the Spiritmindful of both thegoodness and sin in our worldwe stand with the poor and the abandoned.We provide a voice for the wisdom of the poor in dialogues and forumswhere our world takes shape according to the plan of God.
8. If God continues to believe in women and menhowcan we despair of them? Humanitystands tallalivefreeat peace withinitselfat peace with creationand somehow at rights with God. Theseare the people in our neighbourhoodscitiesand towns; everywhere givingus evidence that God still believes in us.
As witnesses toand prophets ofGod's lovewe wantto be men of hopereflecting the attitude of a God who never abandonshis people. As our Constitutions so aptly put it: "Members ofa prophetic Church ... we announce the liberating presence of Jesus Christand the new world born of his resurrection." (C. 9)
Hence the challenge is to work with thousands of womenand men towards something that might well be called solidarity on a globalscale.This Chaptereven as it asks us to take stock of both thereal pain that so often marks humanity today and of our limitsalso bringsto life in us an immense hope.
Through his WordJesus ChristGod wishes to revealhimself to the world as its Saviour. We are called to cooperate with Himin this endeavour of love. We have heard this call and are sent to announcethe Good News to the most abandoned. How do we do this? How do we creativelyrespond to today's situations and emerging cultures?
10. Experience and missionary practice in differentcontextsconvince us that in order to evangelize others we mustfirstof allbe evangelized through the word of God and contact with the poor.Simply putwe must first experience in our own lives the salvation weannounce to others. A decision to evangelizeas servants of the Gospelrequires attention to our own conversion.
11. In speaking of evangelizationa word that comesurgently to the fore isdialogue.
Dialogue means listening and speaking with attentionto and respect for the other. It also means welcoming and accepting theother in his and her history and truth. Beyond thisdialogue leads uson ways of self-disclosuregoing to the heart of who we are. To dialogueis to tell each other what we most cherishwhat is most precious to usand what inspires us. To dialogueas Scripture puts itis to be readyto give an accounting for our hope to anyone who asks it of us. (1 Peter315).
In this dialogueChristians are led to eventually nameJesus Christ whom they love and who gives meaning to life. At the sametimehoweverthey recognize and welcome that which is giving life tothe other.
To enter into genuine dialogue presupposes being closewith a certain sharing of lifeand the acceptance of the insights andquestions of one's contemporaries. This supposes a common languageinmore than one sense of the word common. Thusfor examplethe need forprecisely such a common language is what led our FounderEugene de Mazenodto choose to preach in the dialectthe patoisof the poor. Heunderstood thatif one wants to preach in a manner that is understoodone must have a language in common with the people. That challenge remainswith us.
The first place where dialogue is necessary is amongourselvesin our own communitywhere we evangelize one another. A wordis only true if it in fact reflects a truth within our own lives. Ourconviction that evangelization is not the work of lone rangersbut isa community effortof the Oblates and the entire Christian communityis grounded in the Gospel and our missionary practice.
It is the Church who evangelizesand sends us forthon mission. We enter the ongoing dialogue between Church and world. Wewant that dialogue to be open and confidentknowing full well that ourword is less credible when the wider ecclesial community and our own areperceived in a negative way.
In the Churchtrue dialogue finds its culmination inthe Eucharist which is the summit of evangelization. For in the Eucharistthe marvellous exchange between God and humanity attains its plentitude.
13. The Church who evangelizes is the people of Godincluding all its members – laitypriestsand religious. It isurgent that we accord to the laity their full responsibilities. It isequally urgent that we help form them for the mission. This must be apriority.
Everyone who is baptized is called to be an evangelizer.Today we realize ever more clearly how the laity are evangelizing ushow they are helping us to better understand the life of the poor andabandonedsince they often are closer to the poor. Moreoverby theirvocationthe laity stand in the front line of the struggle for justicepeaceand the integrity of creationeven as they are found in the newAreopagi of the mission such as the mass media. Within the mission ofthe laityyouth have a special role to playparticularly in ministeringto each other.
14. Ecumenism is also an important element in evangelization.We must continue journeying down the road of ecumenism sparing no effortto foster Christian unity. In the new millenniummay our mission to evangelizefulfil the desire of Jesus: "That they all may be one." (Jn17:21).
16. Rule 9 of our Constitutions and Rules states that"Action on behalf of justice is an integral part of evangelization."Hencebeing engaged in the struggle for justice and peace is a non-negotiablepart of the ministry of every Oblate. Granted that charitable deeds arealways necessarywe know full well that commitment to justicewhichis another expression of Christian charityrequires that we tackle thecauses of povertyinjustice and suffering in the fabric and structureof society. This goes beyond a reductionist interpretation of the GoodSamaritan parableto clearing the roads of the world of all bandits.Evangelizing the poor requires not only our presence in hospital caringfor the injured but also tackling the causes of suffering at their verysource.
Daring for theGospel
We need to have confidence both in the One who callsus and in our Oblate vocation. The Oblate charism is still alive.
18. Sensitive to the demands of our charismas Oblatesour first priority in mission is to be attentive to those on the marginsof society and to those for whom the Church is most distant. (cf. C.5)Pope Paul VI recognized that religious are often precisely "the avant-garde"as regards the movement towards the marginalized. (cf. Evangelii Nuntiandi69) Religious stand at the edges of society and the Church andfromthere challenge the centre on behalf of those on the periphery. They makethe cause of those on the periphery the concern of the heart and centre.
19. To evangelize requires a constant re-evaluationof our missionary practices. Hence our plea is this: at every level –personalcommunityand congregation – let us take the time neededto evaluate and discern as to whether our evangelization is in step withthe reality of today's world and with God's specific call to us throughour charism. Unhealthy shifts and bad habits can imperceptibly seep intoour missionary practices.
21. In the endinterreligious dialogue is a privilegedopportunity to participate in God's respect for human freedom and in God'spatience towards creation whereall people in their own way are searchingfor truth and salvation. Such dialogue calls each of us to open ourselvesto other ways of thinking and acting. It requires an attitude of humility.
Interreligious dialogue occurs at different levels:in the give and take of daily life and action in common; on the levelof religious experience; and among specialists in the work of theologicalresearch.
22. Today interreligious dialogue must become a wayof life. Irrespective of where we live and workthose who believe inother religions are becoming ever more numerous in our environment. Henceinterreligious dialogue is not just an activity for trained theologicalspecialistsbut a matter for all of us.
Simply putif we wish to live as apostolic religiousso as to be a readable sign to our worldit is urgent that we honestlydiscern what forms religious life should take today so as precisely tobe a credible sign to the world. This implies that we be open to new perspectives.This is especially true regarding the prophetic dimension of religiouslifewhich points to the Reign of God present in the heart of the world.We assume our prophetic missionboth brothers and priestswhen in communitywe livewitness toproclaim and celebrate Gospel values.
25. The Chapter gave special attention to the situationof Oblate brothers. Lived out in a great variety of services throughoutthe congregationthe vocation of the brother recalls us all to our consecrationas religious. In the light of what we said about evangelizationwe cansee how the brother’s vocation is both real and relevant. Througha life of apostolic activityhe evokes the primacy of mission. Througha life of professional activityhe is clearly involved in the world.He participates fully in evangelization which leads to and finds fulfilmentin the Church's celebration of the sacraments. The Chapter understandsthat the brother has a special identity and stands on his own two feetas a religious; he is not defined in function of the priest’s ministry.Moreoverthe presence of brothers enriches the life of our communitieskeeping us all close to the daily life of the people.
26. Given the truth and importance of all of thiswerecommend that the theologicalspiritualand professional formationof the brothers be as serious and as ongoing as that of the priests. Alsothe Chapter thinks it is important to conduct a probing theological reflectionon the place of brothers within a clerical congregation.
28. This conviction is further reinforced by our experienceof vulnerability and fragilityas spoken of in the Instrumentum Laboris.We truly believe that community is a great value and we invite you tomake it both a source ofand place forintegral growth. And it willbe thata place for real growthif it is built around Christ; if prayerpermeates its life; if the sharing of faith and life is its normal practice;if weits membershave the courage to live a healthy transparency; ifour lifestyles are simple and conformed to the vows that we profess; ifpardon and reconciliation are embraced as gifts of the Spirit and thefruit of discernment; if the ministry of each of us is shared and reviewedwith the others; if each person takes an interest in the work of the others;and if it is full of compassionsensitive to the trials of those arounditand actively engaged in trying to relieve their needs.
29. Understood in this sensecommunity embraces thefull span of missionary life. For the young Oblatesit will be the placethe familythat welcomes their generosity and creativity; for the agedOblates it will be the setting for their contemplation and their ministryof simple presence; for those Oblates living and ministering in the strengthand health of their middle yearsit will be what keeps them from fallinginto sterile activism; and for those passing through those crises thatinevitably attack our livesit will provide a support and a safeguardfor fidelity tempered by trial.
30. Community life lived this way is a prophetic statement.By our living in fraternal community we give witness to the world thata communion of life is possible. God is Trinity of personsGod is Love:The Gospel we proclaim is credible. Our lives of sharinggraciousnessand our discernment in community contest the ways of individualismofarbitrary powerof dominationand gives this world a reason to hope.
31. We encourage you therefore to esteem and cultivatethe great gift of community. In itwe are given a foretaste of the lifeof heavenGod's life. With our eyes fixed on this idealwe can seekways to embody it ever more faithfully in all areas of our liveswellaware that our local community holds possibilities for sharing and witnessingthat should not be sacrificed at just any cost.
32. The quality of a community depends very much onthe qualities of its members and particularly on the superior who is calledto animate it: "For this reasonthe Chapter considersthe formation of local superiors to be a priority and it asks Provincialsand the entire Congregation to develop appropriate instruments to rendersuch formation effective." (WAC 236)
We are already living internationality in various ways:through financial sharingthrough promoting meetings of Oblates in formationand by being available for the mission everywhere in the world. A worldwidebody such as ourselves can also be a powerful force to help protect andshield our confreres who are most exposed when they defend human rightsand work for justice.
34. Admittedlyhoweverwe have not yet taken fullstock of the promise of internationality. We are far from having exhaustedits rich potential. Deeper awareness of our internationality could leadus:
– to boldly face up to all the consequences ofour demographic growth in the southern hemisphere.
– to live a true conversion in this regard; avoidingbeing stuck in such terms as "my regionmy provincemy country"so as to become more Oblates for the whole congregationthe churchandfor the world.
– to be more adaptablegenerousand open to otherculturesin giving and exchanging personnel in function of the worldwideneeds of the mission.
– to learn at the level of formationto love ourown culturewithout making it exclusiveand at the same time to openourselves to other cultures and languages. This goal is well served byapprenticeshipthrough experiences such as time spent in another cultureespecially where one can learn in real contact with the pooror throughthe establishment of international houses of formation.
The lay associates
This sharing between lay persons and ourselves was anoutcome of the Chapter of 1992 and is a testimony to the road that boththey and wehave travelled since. Aware of what a gift it is to havelay persons help show us the depth and fecundity of our own charismwere-commit ourselves to continue the journey with them.
36. It will take time for us to fully digest what thisexperience signifies. Among other thingsit will take time to overcomethe resistance and the fears that can easily arise in us in the face ofthis new reality; it will take time to support and sustain those Oblatesmore directly engaged in the common journey and to learn from their experience;to cultivate the dialogue and reciprocity needed between the laity andourselves in order to share with each other how the charism of Eugenede Mazenod gives us life. It will take time to work out ways of beingin step together in missionassociates and Oblatesmeeting the greatchallenge of evangelization at the dawn of the new millennium.
In his address to the ChapterPope John Paul II explicitlyinvited the Oblates to "redouble their efforts in proposing theirideal to youth everywhere in the worldgiven that many young people aregenerous and have the desire to serve Christ and his Church."(No. 4)
When young men come to usthey arrive with the culturalbaggage of our agewith all its peculiar mix of richness and fragility.We wishhoweverto recognize in them the great generosity which motivatesthem to follow the Lord even when it means going against the dominantvalues of the time.
38. Many things surfaced during our discussions on formation.Clearlywe recognized the fundamental importance in formation of focussingon the central task of preparing persons for an apostolicvowed life.Nonethelesswe would like to highlight some particular points for specialconsideration:
– The necessity of discernment: The motivationof those entering religious life is often mixed - frequently includingless positive elementsnamelythe desire for securityprestigeandpower. A lasting conversion requires spiritual directionat the serviceof the Holy Spirit who purifies both heart and action.
– Towards true missionary involvement: Sometimesthe lifestyle in our houses of formation is more comfortable than amongthe people we serve. The Chapter recommends that every effort be madeto ensure that real involvement among the poor be part of formation. Twopractical matters stand out in this search for missionary involvement:a responsible use of community goodsand accountability for personalexpenses.
– An effort at inculturation : Formationshould initiate (in the fullest sense of the word) candidates in the Christiantradition and surrounding cultures. If we fail to do thiswe run therisk of forming young Oblates who arein effectstrangers in their ownland.
– Acquiring competence - pastoral and professional:Today's world frowns on mediocrity. Moreoverthe Gospel merits beingserved with the same level of effort and professionalism that is at theservice of most everything else in our world. In this regardthe Chapterasks that the various provinces re-examine their formation programsinrespect to the training both of brothers and priests. We need to ask ourselvesthese questions: Are we sufficiently demanding as to the level of educationand training we ask of our people? Do we evaluate and develop sufficientlythe gifts and talents of the members of our province? Do we have any kindof policy in this regard or is this left to individual whimluckandcircumstance?
– Formation for JusticePeaceand the Integrityof Creation: Since our charism directs us towards the poor we mustin the area of formationgive particular attention to this component.Thusour houses of formation should challenge those in them to have arespectful attitude towards all human beings and a love for the poor.(cf. Vade Mecum on Justice and Peacechapter 4). Moreovertheyshould give our young Oblates a thorough knowledge of the social doctrineof the Church. They should give them an initiation to the workings ofeconomic systemsand to ways of empowering the poor to take a hand inchanging their own lot.
– Proper use of media: The power of themedia in our world cannot be over-estimated. Therefore the Chapter recommendsthatin first formationwe familiarize young Oblates with the technologiesand techniques of the mass media. This for a double reason: First of allto insure that they are at ease with this new form of literacy; secondin the hope that they can in fact positively utilize some of the possibilitiesthat these powerful instruments offer for evangelization. As RedemptorisMissio puts the challenge: A contemporary missionary must learn tointegrate the message into a new culture that is created largely by themeans of modern communication. (37c)
– Pastoral internships for those in first formation:During the course of first formationwe recommend some pastoral internshipsas an important component within a missionary formation. These periodshelp reveal different aspects of a candidate's personality; they givea taste of both the joys and difficulties of ministry; they allow theyoung man to live within a community that is engaged full-time in otherforms of missionary work; and help open up the young Oblate to the internationaldimension of the congregation. The quality of these pastoral experiencesdepends very much upon proper preparationevaluationand supervisionby those concerned with his training.
– The importance of ongoing formation: Formationmust continue during the entire Oblate life. Ongoing formation must bea non-negotiable priority for us as Oblates. Its quality very much determinesthe quality of our community life and apostolate.
– The importance of the early years of one'sministry: We must pay particular attention to the early years of anOblate's ministry. The passage from the house of formation to an activelife in the ministry is a very critical time in a person's life. The Chapterrecommends that each province study this issuenamelywhat special thingsshould be done for a young Oblate during that critical periodnamelythe first five years of his ministry? Special help should be given toyoung Oblates to help them evaluate pastoral experiencesadapt themselvespositively to this new way of lifeand ensure that they become sufficientlyself-directed as regards their own continuing formation.
39. The Chapter wishes to thank all those Oblates whoare engaged in the ministry of formation. This includes everyone involvedright from those engaged in the difficult task of trying to foster vocationsdown to those responsible for continuing formation. In addressing theChapterFather General emphasized that the selection of formators andtheir preparationboth remote and proximatefor this ministry must bea priority for provinces.
41. At this Chapterwe examined again our need of renewal.In that light we pledge ourselves:
– To refocus on the essentialsnamelyon Christand his Churchand to do this through a renewed community life whichis animated by an ever-inventive missionary zeal.
– To review all of our missionary commitments inthe light of our charism.
– To pursue a fuller partnership with the laityand encourage their association with us.
– To commit ourselves wholeheartedly to ecumenismand interreligious dialogue and to be well-informed so as to be competentin the dialogue.
– To intensify our work for vocations and in thearea of formationgiving these demands their required attention.
– To live more consciously and explicitly the internationalityof our congregation with all the riches and challenges that this bringsus.
– In the face of a virtual explosion of povertywe commit ourselves to a more radical way of living working forjusticepeaceand the integrity of creation.
42. Finallyas Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculatewe want to recognize our Mother and Patron. Mary’s total transparencywithin God's workher human existence perfectly pure and without compromiseprefigures the final victory of God over evil (C. 10). She is trulythe glory of Jerusalem and the honour of our people. She embodiesour hope and sustains our missionary activity. As we approach the millenniumwe recognize and honour her as the door of our salvation and the dawnof our deliveranceeven as we rejoice in the knowledge that she is likeusa daughter of the common people and a humble disciple of God's son.
The capitulars of the 33rd General Chapter
* * * *
OMI DOCUMENTATION is an unofficial publicationof the General Administration of the
Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate
C.P. 906100100 ROMA-AURELIOItaly
Fax: (39) 06 39 37 53 22