Young Oblates in Ministry and in Formation
(General Chapter Working Paper)
Table of Contents:
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As part of the preparation for the 1998 General Chapterthe Precapitular Commission asked the young Oblates in their first fiveyears of ministryas well as those still in initial formationto respondto a questionnaire that sought to gather their contribution to the 1998General Chapter.
Their answerswhich were mostly collectivewere thebasis of a working paper prepared by the Precapitular Commission. Itspurpose was to make available to the capitulars the most typical remarksfrom the young Oblates.
Besides being sent to the capitularsit was also sentto the ProvincesDelegations and Missionsas well as to the formationcommunities. The thinking of our younger members was not without its effecton the members of the Chapter and will be reflected in the Chapter's Letterto the Congregationto be issued soon.
It was the wish of the Chapter that this contributionfrom the young Oblates be made available to the Congregation by OMIDocumentation with the hope that the challenges and questions raisedby our younger generation will help us in our ongoing reflection on mission.The questions at the end are offered as an aid for reflectionand forpersonal and group study.
1. The young Oblates in ministry ask that Oblatesgive real witness of being the apostolic men that Eugene de Mazenod wanted.They see this as the very condition for arousing interest in theirlisteners and of being able to speak to those who are looking directionand meaning in today's world. They say this in reference to society asa wholebut in a special way as regards young people.
2. In order to be apostolic menbeing is more importantthan doing: we may well achieve many deedsbut if our action is notrooted in a deep interior lifeit will have little impactand may belittle more than mere activism. In many placeswe can only counter indifferenceand abandon of religious practice - with its corollariessecularism andmaterialism - by renewing ourselves and by maintaining the initial zealthat led us to choose this life. Our life will have meaningand be ableto challenge peopleonly to the extent that the profound faith convictionthat inspires us can be clearly seen. This is what will give meaning toour lifewhat will make our presence challengingand what can give anew breath of hope to the disillusioned of our times.
3. The witness of our life is not only personalbutalso communitarian. The Oblate community itself is mission. But for thisto be trueit must be a real aposto1ic corps: our lifeand our teamwork can be prophetic signs that call into questionthe individualism rampant in the world today. The intenational characterof our communities can likewise challenge tribalism and ethnic egoism.
4. The young appreciate the experience and serenityof the elderswhich can help to improve the quality of our Oblate communities.But they regret their opposition to changewhich hinders them from renewingthemselves and from adapting to new situations. They attribute this wearinessto ageing and to the lack of personnelwhich lead to routine or to incoherentindividualistic activism. They expect their elders to offer clearsupport for new initiativesas well as challenges which are based ontheir knowledge of reality rather than on the fear of new things thatmake them uncomfortable.
5. Sometimes the older members manifest an attitudeof rejectionor of aggressivity and mistrust towardsthe younger members who are just entering the ministry. For their partthe young Oblates ask the older membersespecially the Superiorstolisten and understand themand to trust them.
6. They expect to be able to share in the apostolateand to evaluate it as a team; to be able to give and receive fraternalcorrectionas well as critical but sincere support from their Superiors.They feel that denying them all responsibilityunder the pretext thatthey lack experienceis harmful to their personal growth and to buildingup an authentic community. On the other handoverburdening them withwork and responsibilityby alleging that the hour has come for the youngmembers to go to the front and for the elder members to retireis alsoseen as harmful. This may crush them or wear them down prematurely. Neitherof these attitudes correspond to the model of community they long for:in community they expect to find elderswho like in a familyare concemedabout them in a brotherly waywith opennesstransparencyunderstandingmutual supportdialogue and sharing. Since all live and work as ateamthis trust between brothers shouldmoreoverbe such that it becomespossible for each one to fulfil a meaningful and complementary missionthat is in keeping with his talents and ability.
7. In the same veinthe young men in first formationask thatrather than watching to see that a strict schedule or externalstructures are respectedSuperiors try to create an atmosphere of dialoguewherein a member in formation can take charge of his own formation.Just like the young Oblates entering ministrythey want to share themission with the elders (in their casethe work of their formation)that isto be coresponsible.
8. One particular difficulty noted concerned financialtransparency. The elders are sometimes able to undertake financialprojects that are beyond the reach of the young members who lack the samemeans. They also point out that the older Oblates sometimes mistakenlyput their parishioners in a state of economic dependence: in factthemissionarywithout seeking local supportrealises projects and worksthat surpass the local Christians' ability to assume responsibility forthem. This makes the Congregation look like a big multinational charitableorganisation. It is a whole series of questionsthenthat they addressto their Provinces or Delegations asking that those situations be remediedby seeking justiceby forming and educating the people; they ask thatresponsibility be shared between younger and older Oblatesbetween Oblatesand the laityand also that there be accountability (to have open books).
9. The young Oblates in ministry do not speakso much of modernity as they do of the big crises in our societywhere moneysex and power are presented as essential values. This societywhich is governed by the principle of the profit of one to thedetriment of the othergives rise to the marginalisation of big sectorsof the populationwho become reduced to misery. These inequalitieswhichare sometimes aggravated by a caste system or by ethnic claimsare inturn the source of a series of other evils: violence and wars that disregardhuman lifemigrations in search of better living conditionsrefuge inalcohol or drugsthe destruction of the family fabricand the loss ofone's roots. Injustice and corruption are rampant even inthe better sectors of society. It is a world that has lost its wayandthat needs the presence and action of people who can bring it back toits senses.
10. In this worldthe young feel that the Congregationhas an important role to play in those places where it has a long historyof presence. But the Oblates must not let themselves be caught in thenet of individualism and technical competencenor be contentwith what is traditional and routine. They must be open and creativemen of sacrifice who effectively defend the poor. Their closeness to thepoor is best expressed by a simple lifethat makes no concessionsto a consumer society. They must seek out new ways to reach those whoare furthest awaythe excluded. They do not have the right to turn backto a more comfortable and bygone pastbut must open themselves to thefuture and take the path of social justice and of dialogue with the realworld.
11. If we are to believe some of our younger confreresthe older Oblates have sometimes become incompetent in their mission.The rapid changes of today's world have left them behind and they fallback upon their familiar world: they haveas it werelost the characteristicproper to their own vocation and become identified with the secular clergy.They find themselves unable to adapt and to update; they foresee a futurefull of problems that frightens them. Confronted with such attitudes theyoung Oblates insist on opennessconstant renewal and complementarity.That is the benefit they expect from Oblate communities that are unitedbut diversified according to talents on the laity. Our young confreresfind that we do not adequately prepare lay people to fulfil their rolein society. Lay people are often content to be involved in activitieswithin the Church or the Congregation. They manifest a certain divisionbetween their faith – which they live in a strictly ecclesiasticalenvironment – and their social and professional lifethathas nothing to do with faith. Moreoverthe young Oblates addwe do notprepare the laity well enough to accept our limitations and our mistakes.This is clearly seen in the surprise lay people show when we make a mistake.This surprise can be attributed to the fact that we have instilled inthem the principle that we are always right. Consequentlywe havenot given them any chance to become partners (a leftover of clericalism).
13. The young Oblates feel uneasy about a model of Churchthat seems to be trying to impose itself in recent years. They regretthe vertical and centralising dimensionwith its corollaries of submissionand obediencethat is asserting itselfinstead of the conciliar modelof communion and participation which favours coresponsiblityand subsidiarity. But on this pointour young confreres are not inagreement among themselves. Some advocate adherence to a Church and toa Christ with authority ("the same yesterdaytoday and always")adherence to a "total" Gospel that avoids "theologies ofdissent and "trendy" modern techniques.
14. In the midst of the ills of today's worldthe poorand marginalised have some gospel needsthat become Good News for usourselves. Generally speakingtoday's poor – the subjects of ourmission – are those with wounded liveswho need to discover theirdignity and the meaning of their lives by means of the authentic lovewe can offer them. The greater majority of young people have doubts aboutthe future. The social forms of poverty are accompanied by a serious spiritualpoverty : tossed about between the sects and illusions of happinesspeople no longer know where to turn to find something deep and consistent.But even if in some places people seem avid to deepen the Christian faith(youth in Senegal)the general situation is very different. Even in aChristian contextthe masses are alienated from the Church andseem inaccessiblethe youth are apathetic ("boredom")faithis without impact on life ("irrelevant"). In the developed Westernworldsocial and religious individualism and the ephemeral are the orderof the day: in this kind of context it is very hard to establish truerelations.
15. In all areasit is urgent that the culture orcu1tures present in society encounter a faith culture filledwith Christian values. From India to Franceand from South Africa tothe United Statesthere are many situations of cultural pluralism. Thesequestion the Church. The young Oblates know that they must adapt themselvesto cultural worlds that are not those of their childhood nor of theirformation. Concretelythis means first of all learning a people's languageknowing their customs and traditionsand also changing mentality –one's own and that of the faithful. Nextit is essential to grasp anddeal with the contradictions between social traditions and Christian valuesand to counter opposing tendencies in order to build a society and a Churchof fraternity and complementarity. The universality of the Church shouldalways transcend ethnic distinctions.
16. In the developed countries the young Oblates feelparticularly called to make the link between the emerging contemporaryculturewhich is already part of themselvesand the Christian cultureinto which they were immersed during their oblate formation. The youngOblates want to speak to the youth of today using their language in away that is meaningful to them. Pastoral care aims at re-translatingfor the people of today the primordial importance of the Christian event;of communicating to others the enthusiasm of faith; of giving back tothe world a taste for interior peace and the joy of being loved by God.
17. There was one specific question in the questionnaireabout the transition from the years of first formation to the fiveyears after. The answers unanimously underline the difficulty of the passagethe need to prepare for it in first formation programsand the need fora specific follow-up. Most of the young Oblates feel they have succeededin making the passagethough a few answers convey some remaining suffering.
18. There is first of all the joy of finding oneselfin the front line among the poor and the abandoned and their needs forsalvation. This is the vocation proper to the Oblate. It is the occasionto become more useful and creative in evangelizationto love more concretelythe people we meet. This brings abouta confrontation of nobleideals with the reality of the world and of people. The clarityand coherence of ideals is testedsometimes severely. Difficulties areoften more numerous than foreseenin the apostolate as well as withinthe Oblate family. The young Oblates"useless servants"needto learn humilityperseverance in work and in prayersurrender to God.They also need to be acceptedsupported and encouraged in order to continuehoping and believing in evangelization .
19. The answers as a whole ask that the passage andconfrontation be gradual. The young Oblates need some years ofapprenticeship. They are happy to get into what is already going on ratherthan finding themselves in a new foundation without experience and somethingto fall back upon. On the other handthey want to be able to negotiatethe freedom of the missionary as regards some situations that aretaken for granted or in the face of unwarranted demands by the local Churches.
20. As mentioned aboveadequate guidance is essentialat this stage. It requires a welcoming community where the young Oblateis acceptedand where there is support for his specific contributionto both the community and the apostolic work. Within the communitytheyoung Oblate tries to create closer and more personal bonds betweenthe memberswhereas the older members might be content with formaland external relations. In the missionthe young will break new groundespecially in their approach to the world of the youth. The older Oblatesmay feel out of place in these circlesand judge the innovations unfit.They tend to fall back upon well-known waysobjecting to young people'slanguageand consequently losing all meaningful impact on them.
21. In these first years of ministry it is useful tohave an older Oblate to personally accompany the young manon conditionthat he be sympathetic to the younger confrere and to young people ingeneral. It is not only a matter of spiritual directionthepastoral dimension also needs direction. He will help the young man withhis worknot by holding him backbut by giving him desirable guidelinesbased on his longer experience and better knowledge of the surroundings....The young Oblates can also help each other. That is why it is importantfor them to visit and meet each other periodically to share about theirexperiences and their personal lives. Such meetings could be broadenedto include young Oblates from neighbouring Provincesor those still infirst formation. They could focus on a themeor include a more specialisedstudy of some concrete aspects of the mission. They might even be forextended periods (for exampletwo weeks every year).
22. Well aware that they can be very demanding of othersthe young Oblates know how to look at themselves with a criticaleye. "Sometimes we young Oblates ourselves are not serious aboutlife" (Africa). "We are critical and yet caring about our confreresand their workas we are of our own" (United States). "Difficultiesare a good thing. We have to learn by ourselves and not always wait tobe taken by the hand" (Europe).
23. According to the young Oblates in ministryitis important that formation houses have a sufficient number of qualifiedformators. The answers received draw an ideal portrait of a formator:he is a man with an open mindalways availablewho has had a specialformation and personal experience of community life and the mission. Hemust be "first of all humanthen a saintand not the other wayaround". He should not be just a teacherbut an educatorand evenmorehe should be a witness. Formators should be encouraged to followa program of personal renewal. They should be able to learn ftom listeningto the members in formation and from those young Oblates who have finishedfirst formation. There should be transparency and truthopenness andmutual confidence between formators and the members in formation. Bothmust be faithful to their religious life.
24. The young men in formation speak in the sameway about the style of formation. The formators must accompany ratherthan control or simply observe. They should have a solid experience ofthe mission in order to avoid the pitfall of theorising. There shouldbe mutual confidence and sincere friendship between the formators andthe members in formation. Likewise formators should not be improvisedbut able to prepare themselvesto be above all men of dialoguewho knowhow to lead the young men towards a free and responsible self-formation:the young men in formation should become able to live and work out ofpersonal conviction and not in reference to an extemal structure thatrestrains them. Formators should be chosen for their ability to dialoguerather than for their academic qualifications. If they are truly men ofdialoguethey will know how to detect a lack of authenticity in the candidatewithout rejecting himand how to encourage him to overcome the negativeaspects of his personality. The young men in formation mention anothervery important aspect: the formation team. All the members of the teammust agree on the same model or guiding plan for formationin order toavoid contradicting each other and losing their influence over the youngmen. Moreoverthe team should be numerous enough so that each young membercan have personal attention. Finallyin as much as possiblethe formatorsshould be natives of the countryor at least there should be a sufficientnumber of local men on the team.
25. Concerning first formation itselfthe youngOblates in ministry insist above all on human and .spiritual formationseen as an integrated whole ("holistic approach"). The spiritualitythey learnt is often judged to be too theoretical and far removed fromreal needs. At all stages the young men are in need of a personalisedguidance that permits growth. In a context of interdependence in communitythe member in formation with his talentsneeds and weaknesses is at thecentre. He must become a man of interiority and prayerwho counts aboveall on Christ to be a good missionary. He tests the effectiveness of Christianvalues by first living them himself. He must learn to learn by himselfeven as regards prayer. He must learn to be a man of sacrifice who canface a world of violenceinjustice and religious indifference. He mustbe placed before responsibilities and encouraged to take them. He hasto learn patienceto accept tension and resistance from others ("trainingin opposition handling"). He has to learn to be a community manpart of a community where people know how to question each other and supporteach other. These principles apply equally to Oblate Brothersfor whoma professional formation is not sufficient.
26. The second dominant concern of the young Oblatesis the need for a missionary dimension for the whole of Oblate formation.There is much insistence on the realism of this formation.The members in formation must become aware of the realities of the Oblatemissionary vocation within the concrete context of a country and a culturewith its joys and demandsits rights and duties. They must be preparedto face the challenges these present. But this should be done withoutprejudice to an openness to the needs of the world and the universal Church.All pastoral formation must be closely linked to the pastoral projectof the Provincewith its diverse types of servicebut it should alsotake into account the reality of a changing worldnew challenges thatariseand teach how to read the signs of the timesand the meaning offlexibility and creativeness.
27. Missionary formation must integrate a theoreticalapproach with concrete experienceboth of which must be subject toguidance and evaluation. An encounter with the harshness of life and thedaily reality of the mission is indispensable. Exposure to meaningfulplacesespecially of povertyis essential. This should take place overextended training periods (according to some2 or 3 years)in pastoralsituations either at home or abroad. More generallyformation institutionsshould be open to the outside worldto collaboration with the laityto dialogue with other cultures and religions. Apprenticeship in the communitydimension of Oblate apostolate also begins in this period. Given the difficultiesmentioned abovethe young Oblates ask that nothing be hidden from themconcerning the lived reality within the Congregationwith its strongpoints and its weaknessesespecially in that which regards community.This is so that they "can grow in love of the Congregation and itsmembers" (Asia).
28. Various proposals were made concerning the contentof formation. In generalit was felt that the gap between intellectualformation (theological or spiritual) and pastoral formation must be breached.First formation should provide a solid doctrinal formation in view ofan in-depth evangelizationespecially in the areas of marriagefamilylife and anthropology. It should also set down solid roots in the theologicaland liturgical tradition of the Churchso as to prepare the candidatesto be able to face change. The members in formation should be preparedto do theological reflection on their ownso that they can adapt to theconcrete demands of the mission without being either rigid or lax. Particularattention should be given to the specific mission of the religious andthe priest in a Church where the laity are gradually taking their properplace.
29. The solidity of the theological and spiritual formationis ascertained when the young man in formation personally makes his ownthe knowledge received: it enriches his personal convictionsinspiresconversion and ongoing self-evangelisation. Well anchored to the rockof human maturitythe new knowledge permits the young man to take onresponsibilities. This is done graduallybeginning already during theyears of first formation. They don't want to remain "children forever".They express the same idea when they say that we should be more intenton being rather than on doingso as not to fall into "social activism"("to be Oblate" rather than "to do Oblate works").
30. More particluarly they ask for a seriousinitiation into present trends of pastoral theology and missiologywithspecial concern given to inculturationbecause of the confusion in thisarea (Asia). They also ask to be introduced to methods of social analysisapplied to the religious life and to ministry; to be made sensitive toquestions of justicepeace and law; initiation to special ministriesincluding rural ministry (Africa); a specific preparation for those whoare to be sent abroad; training in foreign languages...
31. The young Oblates in first formation addstill more items to the list of "subjects" or technical skillsthey feel are needed to face the present world: initiation to the mediato ecumenismto intercultural and inter-religious dialogueto missiologyto animation techniques and group dynamicsto computer technologytothe theory of values and its applicationto the implications of the neo-liberaleconomic orderetc. They also ask that each Province have some Oblateswho are specialists in detecting eventual problems of sexual identityand dealing with them in timeso that public scandals like we have witnessedin recent years can be avoided. They also ask that the formation processitself be so adapted as to avoid a useless and harmful rupture betweentheir own milieu and Oblate life. And finallythey ask that formationbe gradual and progressiveand respect the rhythm of each person.
32. The young in formation also speak of the physicalsetting in which formation takes place. Those who are living in poor neighbourhoodsand have a dwelling more or less the same as the houses in the areaspeakpositively of this 'insertion' which already permits them to sharethe life of the people to whom they will be sent. They value much thefact that there is no artificial separation between them and ordinarypeople.
33. To answer their desire for a formation that respondsto the needs of the missionit is not enough that their studies be directedto the mission: the young Oblates suggest they be given the possibilityfor a prolonged pastoral and missionary experienceeven at thecost of interrupting their studies for a year or more. They mention inthis respect the need to be received into authentic Oblate communitiesthat will support them in their workhelp them to integrate this concreteexperience into the global process of formationand to evaluate it. Alongthe same linesthey suggest that they be informed in advance of the placethey will be assigned toso that they might direct their studies (atleast at licentiate level) along more useful lines.
34. The young men in formation have a few other suggestions.They propose short term exchanges of both formators and Oblates in formationbetween Provinces and even between Regions. The contact with others willbe an enriching experience (both for studies and for missionary experience).They also recommend periodic meetings of Oblates in first formation atthe regional and sub-regional levels. They ask that a "second noviciate"program be organised as a preparation for perpetual vowsas well as aspecific formation program for Brothers: This latter to help the Brothersfeel usefulfulfilledand fully integrated and complementary in themission of the Oblate communities to which they are assigned.
35. As regards promoting Oblate vocationsthe youngOblates in formation and those in the ministry are aware thatall have a responsible role to play. Communities are invitedto open their doors (visitsmeals...).But most of all the communitiesmust live in a way that inspires young people. Our relations with themshould be sincere and transparent. We must trust them and givethem responsibilitiesespecially as regards their commitment as Christiansthus promoting leadership.
36. New ways of being present among the youthmust be found. Oblate schools – where they exist – have a potentialthat should be developed. We must know the world of youth and itsproblems. We must likewise be more dynamic in our workbe personallyopen to the young and ready to let them share in our mission. Whenthey feel they are a part of itthey often react positively. But if theyfeel excludedor that we do not take them into accountthey distancethemselves. In this sensetheir direct participation in Christianaction campaignsor even in youth or parish missionshas a big impacton them. We must be able to offer the youth an ideal of the Oblate missionthat is not limited to routine ministries (USA). The image of the OblateBrother's vocation needs to be enhanced.
37. Personal contacts are often the most effectiveway to young people's hearts. Besides the contacts in ordinary ministrythere is a need to create networks that have a typical Oblate tone. Whenwe launch new projectsthe young people's response may surprise us.
38. There must be a serious discernment in the choiceof candidates (Africa). We must not accept too readily spontaneousrequests that may be made by "strange or naive" persons (Europe).We must take the means to detect hidden motives or personal projects thatare foreign to the Oblate vocation (Africa). To do this it would seemnecessary to provide the candidate with some guidance in his familycontext before he enters the pre-noviciate. From the very first dayof the pre-noviciatethe Oblate ideal with all its radicalism shouldbe presentedin order to avoid deception later on. This also means presentingwhat is specific about us: that we are missionaries in apostolic communitiesand that we are an international Congregation present in sixty-fivecountries. In factother institutes or missionary movementsthat mightmeet young people's aspirationsdo not have the same characteristics(e.g. the priests of "Fidei donum").
39. Finallywe should be able to present a morebalanced image of the Churchwherever it is seen almost exclusivelyas a centralising power and an authority to be respected. The Church isalso all those communities of simple and poor peoplewith their leadersand catechists: they are the expression of the Church's life and of itsdynamism. These and similar images of the Church are certainly more appealingto young people. Our task is to know themand to propose them to theyouthinviting them to get involved.
Q 2. How can we help the laity to become involved asChristians in their work place and not only in internal Church works?How do we train Oblates to guide (accompany) these lay people?
Q 3. How to bridge the generation gap in ministry? Whatcan the young Oblates do? What can the older ones do?
Q 4 How to use modern technical means like computertechnologythe Internetthe media etc. and still be witnesses of a simplelifestyle and near the poor?
Q 5. Give some suggestions for the best presentationof the Oblate charism to the youth and the best ways to awaken new Oblatevocations. What are the most important criteria for discerning Oblatevocations?
Q 6. Is there enough missionary dimension to our formationprogrammes? Make suggestions regarding this (missionary experiences duringthe year or interrupting studies for thiscomp1ementary .subjects forstudy etc.).
Q 7. What do you think about putting Oblate formationhouses in poor neighbourhoods? What are the advantages and disadvantages?
Q 8. Make a list of concrete suggestions on how to trainyoung Oblates as regards responsible administration of temporal goodsand financial transparency.
Q 9. What might be the main lines of a guidance programmefor young Oblates in their first five years of ministry?
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OMI DOCUMENTATION is an unofficial publicationof the General Administration of the