236 - october 2000

Letter tothe Young Oblates
Wilhelm StecklingO.M.I.
Superior General


1 Awareness ofa changing mission

2 Our call as Oblates

3 Concluding: short-termsteps

4 A project for thewhole Congregation

Dear young Oblates

Greetings from Rome in thisyear of the Great Jubilee! Jubilee is a time of renewal. Every seven orforty-nine yearsor wheneverthere is a Holy Year. The people of Godstopsas it wereto take stockto become more aware of its dependenceon Godof its mission in the world and of its need to make a fresh start.The Great Jubilee of 2000 is coming to a close as I write this letterand on January 1st2001 the Third Millennium will really begin. Are weOblates ready to make a fresh start from where we are now and from whereour mission is?

Before we close the year2000I thought I should address some words specially to youthe youngmembers of the Congregation. It is you above all who are called to walkthe new paths which we need to take. Looking at the figuresthere arenow about 900 of youcounting those in the first five years of ministryand in initial formationand your numbers have been growing over thelast three or four years. So you are a formidable missionary force.

As I start composing theselines I am having a few days of rest at the place of my novitiate. Theenvironment evokes in me the idealism of my own beginnings as an Oblateand makes me aware of the changes that have taken place since. I havealso recently been at the meeting of the Superiors General of religiousinstitutes of men who come together twice a year. In several of our morerecent sessions we have reflected on “re-founding”. The wordpoints in the direction of what the Jubilee intends: a new startrespondingto the question of what would the Founder himself would do todayfacedwith the challenges of today’s world. The word “Re-founding”does not say that we are to begin a different congregation; it implieshoweverthat we are to renew the spirit of our beginnings in us if wewant to have an impact in our world. It changes so fast from jubilee tojubilee and without serious renewal we will not be able to keep its pace.

1 Awareness of a changingmission

The last General Chapterwas about mission. Its final message starts from an outlook on our presentworld“loved by God” (EPM 1). Those whom God loves most arethe poor with their many faces. The number of the materially poor is growingdramatically. In the period from 1999 to 2000 alonethe number of thosewho have to survive on one dollar per day has increased from 1.3 to 1.5billion people. New kinds of poverty emergefor instance through migration.So our Oblate mission of bringing Good News to the poor is becoming moreurgent than ever. This is one of the changesand a very striking one.But which form should our mission take in the present times?

The challenges are different according tothe parts of the world where our Oblate mission is present.

The changes in the Westare evident. Therethe Christian religion has lost most of its poweras a public institution. The Church is becoming a minority group. Clergyand religious are less respected in public and even among Christiansand vocations to this way of life are diminishing. On the other handevents such as the World Youth Days in Paris and Romewith one and twomillion youth participating respectivelyshow that there is an opennessto the Gospel. We put different names on the changed reality: secularismpost-modernismthe end of “Christianity”. From these changeslet us courageously confront the question: What should the future modelof church in the West look like? I am pleased that in the year 2002 theOblates will have a congress on mission specially in North Americawiththe title Missionaries to Secularity. The congress will focus onthe first world realitybut some Oblate experts from other parts of theworld will be invited since the changes that started in the West affectall of us.

The East has lived its martyrdomunder communism almost in silence. Many stories need still to be toldnow that the iron curtain is open. A book by a young Ukrainian Oblateabout religious persecution in his area has immediately become a bestsellerin his country. Being in contact with Oblates in the eastern countriesI realize the tremendous possibilities for the Gospel that are open nowe.g.in the east of Ukraine or in Turkmenistan. At the same timetheytoothe people of the Easthave to face the challenges of secularityand globalization. It would be good if the Oblate units of the East wereno longer to remain unknown. They are now sending out numerous missionariesbut some eastern countries could also receive a few Oblates from otherparts of the world. This has started happening in the recent foundationof Romania.

For some time now we havebeen hearing thatin the South there are new missionary approachesexpressedthrough basic Christian communities and liberation theologiespopularpiety and inculturationinterreligious dialogue and lively liturgies.In many parts the communities of believers are vital and growing and vocationsto religious and priestly life are numerous. The paschal mystery is presentin our southern missions where the Oblates are suffering from politicaland criminal violenceeven in conditions of outright war. In more recenttimesthe ways of being Christian in the South are having a growing influenceon the Universal Church. In a few years from nowthe Catholics of LatinAmerica will numerically constitute 50% of all the Catholics in the world.Our liturgy will be increasingly transformed by multicultural expressionswe will discuss the pluricentrism of the Churchwe will dialogue moredeeply with the religions to which two thirds of humanity belong.

  • Two consequencesof the change

Missionaries have alwaysbrought a certain model of the Church and of mission with them to areasoutside the Old Christianity. In the era since the foundation of the Oblatesthe churches in many countries and cultures have been shaped accordingto the pattern of the West. That the north is doing all the giving andthe south all the receiving is no longer the case.(1)

  • The need of finding new resources

Among the Oblatesfewerand fewer personnel is being transferred from the western countries tothe other churches. The East is now sending out missionaries in largernumbersand so too are the Oblate provinces in the South. Alsofewerand fewer material and financial resources will flow from the former Christianityand our bursars warn us that there might be a radical shift in five toten years. Both in the areas of personnel and financesthe changes inmission affect and challenge our lives as Oblates. I am always happy ifI find in youthe younger Oblatesan attitude of simplicity and modestyin facing the new missionary situation. Even in our material needs wewill have to rely more and more on the cooperation of the local peopleof the laity. In Christthey are our brothers and sisters and mothers(Mc 334) and they will not abandon us. I must also say that I would beapprehensive if the attitudes I found were as if a powerful "Christianity"were our model for the future.

  • The call to “reverse mission”

Young Oblates in the Southquite often ask me: but what is happening to the West? Why are there sofew religious vocations? The subsequent discussion quite often makes themrealize that the West might need some help. In this waytoothe declineof Western “Christianity” affects all of us. The vital forcesof the younger churches will have to bolster the failing number of theolder ones.. They already know what it means to have few prieststo havepoor meansto live in a minority situation and so they can contributeby using this experience. Moreoverin the East and the Southnew modelsof discipleship and church are arisingand they can become a means ofenrichment for all. Is the West ready to receive Oblate missionaries fromelsewhere? When the General Council had its joint session in May withthe European major superiorswe listened to the needs of Europe as theywere expressed. Some participants from the Southern hemisphere raisedthe question: have you ever asked us for help? Let all of us listen tothis new call that comes to us through the change of missionary patterns.

  • Whatkind of Church are we to build?

Every continentevery countryis so differentand we as Oblates must respond to the local needs ofthe poor. At the same timeas I travel aroundI realize that there area few realities which all of us have in common. The Chapter has pointedout some of these things that concern us all. It has spokene.g.aboutinterdependence and globalizationdialogue and integral evangelizationdaring for the Gospel and interreligious dialogue. So we have the followingquestions in common: How to proclaim the Kingdom and its justice? Whichlanguage to use in a society educated and transformed by the Media? WhichChurch must be built at the present time at the service of the Kingdomand as a sign of its presence?

The new model of the Churchhas still to be worked out. Some foundations of the new Church buildingare already visibleand we can construct on them. The African Synod of1992 said that the church we have to build will be like a big family.Recent Vatican documents speak of the communion and the variety of charismsthat have to characterize the Church of the future. It will be a big communitywhere different gifts of the Spirit are recognized and life accordingto different charisms is encouraged by the pastors. It will enable thelay people in their mission to the 21st century’s worldwhich is loved by God.

In this renewed Churchwhat can be our specific contribution as Oblates? The last General Chaptermay well have pointed out the way toward an answer. The Chapter saidafter its reflection on our mission: “The missionary task that facesus as we stand on the threshold of a new millennium ... is a task thatcalls us to our sensesto reflect on who we really are. ... ‘Ifonly we could understand who we are’ wrote Eugene de Mazenod"(EPM 23). So let us reflect not only on the changes in the mission field.Maybe there is still a more urgent challenge to respond to: the challengeto truly become who we are. Our missionary impact depends on how muchwe are aware of our callour identity.

2 Our call as Oblates

Sohow canwe Oblates define ourselves within the communion of spiritual forces andgroupings that make up the Church of the new century? Within a Church understoodas communion we need to be aware of our specificcharismatic identity asreligious and as missionaries. Each particular group has to follow its specificcall to encounter Christ and to contribute to the building of the Church.If every element were just the samethe new church building would fallflator in another imagethe body of Christ would lack some vital organs.

As Oblates we were foundedfor a specific purpose for which there was a great need back in 1816 insouthern France. The Founder perceived this call as coming from the Spiritand led us to live in a determined way to fulfill this mission. The Churchrecognized the new family under a distinctive Rule. The year 2001 willbe 175 years since the Constitutions and Rules of the Missionary Oblatesof Mary Immaculate were first approved. We have a right to exist onlyunder that Ruleaccording to our call as missionaries and religious.I always get a bit upset ifasking a young candidate: why do you wantto become an Oblate? I get the answer: because I want to become a priest.Probably he does not mean it literallybut there must be something morethan wanting to become a priest. Is he aware that he will be sent to thefringesto difficult missionseven outside his own country? Does healso recognize that we areas our mission requires (C 12)a societyof religious?Did he consider at all the vocation of a Brother?A group of Oblates that makes us aware of our condition as religious arethe Brothers. The Chapter has devoted special attention to them. Let usbecome aware in a new way of our identity as missionaries and religious.Even the sociologists tell us that minorities (like our congregation orthe Church) do better if they show clearly their identityrefusing toget simply integrated into the dominant culture. Why are new foundationslike Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s so prosperous? Because everybodyunderstands that there must be a response to people dying on the streets.Society is crying out for help in this point. Let us not be afraid tobe specifically Oblatelike Eugene in Aix. Let us re-found his groupof missionary religious in the context of today’s global villagelistening to and responding to the cry of the poor.

If only we couldunderstand who we are.” An important part of our identity isliving in community and working as a team. I really desire that the youngOblates would push us in that direction and I perceive that there is alonging for community life out there. I quote from what the young Oblatessaid before last Chapter: “it is necessary that the community betruly an apostolic body: our life and our work in a team can become aprophetic sign that challenges the individualism reigning in today’sworld” (2). I also quote from a letter that the General Council receivedand studied at the beginning of this year from three Oblatestwo of themin post-graduate studies: “We envision internationally constitutedhouse communities of five men dedicated to an intensecommon missionarythrust to the materially poor in a local area. ... Since our apostolicministry is participation in the mission of Christ we would dedicate ourselvesto an intenseregular prayer life. ... We would commit ourselves to aprolonged oraison each day. ... One day a week would be reserved for prayerand reflectionas well as community recreation”.

Vita Consecrata remindsus that as religious we are “experts in communion” (VC 46) andthe Holy Father goes on to say in the same document: “The Churchentrusts to communities of consecrated life the particular task of spreadingthe spirituality of communionfirst of all in their internal life andthen in the ecclesial communityand even beyond its boundaries”(VC 51). Here the different Oblate Lay Associations come into the picture.They share our charism and sometimes they wake us up by asking us whowe are. They also reach out to spread this Oblate spirit of familyofcommunion “in the ecclesial communityand even beyond its boundaries”.As sons and daughters of Saint Eugene we have inherited a special lovefor the Church. How could weas a communitytogether become even moreskilled experts in communion for the Church and the world?

  • Internationality

Youthe 900 young Oblatesto whom this letter is addressed in the first place come from about 50countries. Two thirds of you belong to the Regions of AfricaAsia andLatin America; the remaining third is equally split between East and West.These data mean that the Congregation has undergone a great changegiventhat 70% of the older partthe other 3770come from the West. In thefuture it will be up to the southern hemisphere and to the East to sendout the bulk of the missionaries. Are you ready to be sent ad extraad gentes? This is what many young Oblates are now asking as theirfirst obedienceand I consider this normal for us. Of the older generationabout 30% are working in a country other than their own; among youtheyounger memberswe have only reached 20% up to now. I would even considerit normal for a missionary congregation like oursif almost every scholasticor Brother passed at least one year abroad during his formation perioda practice which some provinces have now introduced. It could make usaware that as missionaries we have to reach outto go to the home ofthose culturally differentto learn to listen to them and to share ourfaith with them in their languages.

3 Concluding: short-term steps

Looking at our mission ina changing worldbecoming aware of our own missionary identityhow canwe get a new start at the beginning of the new millenniumas the Jubileesuggests? I propose for your consideration two concrete areas and a project.

  • Let uspractice mission together

One means of renewing ourmission is that we continuously undertake even small specifically missionaryinitiatives. According to the spirit of our Founder we must do it together(3).In first formation getting to know the poor more closelysharing ourlives and our faith with themand then bringing this experience to ourprayers and studies is an excellent way of studying theology. (cf. EPM38). For those in their first years of ministryspecial missionary endeavourse.g. with youthcould help to discover new ways. If young Oblatesduringtheir first five years of ministrymeet regularlythey will be ableto give each other human and spiritual support (cf. C 69).(4) If togetherand in dialogue with their superiors they develop some missionary initiativeseven if they are temporarythey will soon create a new dynamic in theirprovinces and even beyond.

  • Let usbuild community

A very concrete questionis the one of community life after first formation. During a recent visitto several provinces I had the impression that the district communitiesworked quite well. But I could not say the same of the small house communitiesthat I saw. The style was basically that the two or three Oblates wholived in a house prayed Lauds together and had their meals in common.The rest was a lot of activity. I hear of similar concerns with regardto places where larger house communities are in place. Younger Oblatesespecially seem to need and expect something more than a minimumnamelysuch things as faith sharingsilent prayerongoing reflection on missionand common planningas well as more leisure time spent together. Butthe young are not always as outspoken about this as in the letter quotedabove. Looking around the CongregationI find that everyday life in thehouse communities is among the most important challenges that we haveto face today. I have shared this view on several occasions and no onehas yet contradicted me. In order to bring more life to our communitiesall of us must become their active buildersincludingand even in aspecial wayyounger Oblates.

4 A project for the whole Congregation

I am writing this letterto you at a time when the Central Government is launching a major projectwhich is intended to involve the whole Congregation and which should carryus on to the next Chapter in 2004. It was suggested to us by the Chapterletter in these terms: “to evangelize requires a constant re-evaluationof our missionary practices ... let us take the time needed to evaluateand discern ...” (EPM 19); “we pledge ourselves ... to reviewall of our missionary commitments in the light of our charism” (EPM41). The General Council felt that this put into words exactly the newstart which the millennium suggests to us. Meanwhile we have spoken aboutthis project with the provincialsworked on it and it has received atentative name: Discerning Oblate mission - Bringing to life an immensehope. We are planning to propose more or less the same broad outline toall our 75 provincesdelegations and missionswith a lot of leeway totake into account the local situation. Let us entrust this important undertakingto the Holy Spiritand to youdear young Oblates. May our Oblate missionsfully correspond to God’s call as we enter the 21st century!Togetherwe are being sent to evangelize the poor.

RomeSeptember 82000
Wilhelm StecklingO.M.I.
Superior General

(1) Statisticallyin the whole world moremissionaries are now being sent from non-Western churches than from thetraditional mission-sending bases in the West. (Mission FrontiersJune2000p.23)

(2) Young Oblates in Ministry and inFormation (General Chapter Working Paper)1998OMI Doc. N·233no. 3

(3) See Fr. B. Dullier’s article “Thecommunity for St. Eugene de Mazenod” in OMI DocumentationNos. 230 & 231.

(4) Ongoing formation encompasses allaspects of our development. It renews and develops our spiritual lifeand its inner resources and favours our growth in emotional and affectivematurity. It increases our pastoral skills. It enables us to be criticallyaware of the integration of our life and mission at all stages of ourdevelopment. C 69:

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