239 - april 2001


Reflecting on mission
Fernand JettéOMI
Conversations with Godé IweleOMI


*Today we areliving in a very well organized world. At times I ask myself if weare not a little lost in it! The present challenges of the mission.. demand that there be in our ranks men who thinkand men who arethinkers about our mission. ( Fernand Jetté: 1978 Inter-Chapter)
*Remember yourleadersthose who spoke to you the word of God; consider the outcomeof their lifeand imitate their faith. (Heb137-8)


Atthe announcement of the death of Fr. Fernand Jettéformer SuperiorGeneral of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (O.M.I.) in Ottawaon November 62000I thought it would be good to make available thistext of an unpublished interview (recorded) that he was so kind to grantme. The interview took place in 1998 at the Roy Residence in Ottawawhere Fr. Jetté had retiredafter twelve years in Rome as headof the Oblate Congregation. Before his election as the ninth successorof Eugene of Mazenodthe Founder of the OblatesFr. Jetté hadheld the posts of professor of missionary theology and spiritualityat the University of Ottawa (1949-1967)of Vicar Provincial in Montreal(1967-1972) and of Vicar General of the Oblates in Rome (1972-1974).

I would likefirst ofallto give a word of caution. I borrow it from the Dialogues withPaul VIby Jean Guitton: “the reader would be disappointedif in this (booklet) he looked for curiositiesindiscretionsor anecdotes.Certainly the account is exact in all its detailsbut there is no secretunveiledno little storynor look behind the scene of contemporaryhistory."

To what availthen? Welleverybody who knew him knows that Fr. Fernand Jetté was goodas gold; but it was useless to expect to glean any indiscretions or“scoops” from him. This sage with the staid and measured speechthe soft and calm voiceand the heavy but sure stephad better tooffer than a cocktail of anecdotes. A conversation with him always dwelton the essential: he had the art of getting to the bottom of thingswith everyday words. And that is what he invites us to do in these interviews.

They bear upon a veryspecific questionthe need to “reflect on mission”.One should not therefore seek here an appraisal of the general stateof the Congregation that he directednor even a survey of the immensequestion of the mission of the Church. The aim of these interviews ismore limitedmore modest. I merely pressed Fr. Jetté to tellus more on the important question that he had raised and brought tothe attention of the Oblate Congregation about twenty years agobutwhich has in a way remained pending. Let's let him formulate it forus in his own words:

*In the pastI oftenheard it said: The Oblates are ‘ingenious improvisers!’This was meant as a compliment. It meant: ‘Put them in impossiblesituations where nothing is organizedand in no time they will organizeeverythingand as a rulevery well.’ Today we are living ina very organized world. I sometimes wonder if we are not a littlelost in it! The actual challenge of the mission (...) demands thatwe have among us men who thinkmen who are thinkers about our mission.We have plenty of excellent and very devoted missionaries; we havesome scholarsspecialists in the sciencesor in historyor in languageand that is good; but specialists in the service of the mission andof the missionary action of the Congregationhow many do we have?
*I have in mind problemslike these: our missionary attitude in regard to apartheid in SouthAfricaor to the evolution of the Indian and Inuit populations inCanadaor to Islam in North Cameroun or in Indonesia... How manyqualified men have we to study these problems with some authority?The same is true of the study of the Founderand of Oblate spiritualityand historywe are very poor in competent personnelso poor thatwe have trouble maintaining our one and only learned reviewOblateLife! The disappearance of the houses of educationespecially ofscholasticatesin the Institutehas impoverished us a lot on theintellectual level andif we do not take carethis weakness willincrease more and more.” (Acta Administrations GeneralisO.M.I.1978p. 65.)

Father Jetté made these remarks more than twentyyears agoin 1978. He was speaking as Superior General to the OblateProvincials at the Inter-Chapter meeting in Rome. Through themit wasto all Oblate missionaries and to the entire Churchthat he threw downthis gigantic challenge. Given the importance of this textI took theliberty to quote it in extenso. I hope it won’t be heldagainst mebecause all that follows revolves around this key textwhich we will seek to clarifyto deepen and to examine the implications.

While listening to theseremarks by Fernand Jettéone cannot help making a connectionwith similar words expressed one day by the one who is at the very originof the Oblate missionary adventureEugene of Mazenod. In a letter datedJanuary 31831addressed to Fr. Millethe superior in BillensSwitzerlandthe Founder of the Oblates wrote:


*I can never recommendtoo much that study must never be neglected. I do not mean only theologyand philosophy but also the humanities. We must fight the errors ofthe world with the arms of our time. I am always surprised to seeso many young people on the side of the enemy who write so well withso much skill and talentto uphold falsehood and deceptions of allsorts. We must train ourselves even for this kind of combat. Let eachone know his mother-tongue well and practice using it well. That istime well spent. Draw forth fire from the rock: for this you haveto strikefor a spark is produced only by concussion. (E. de MazenodSelected Texts related to the O.M.I. Constitutions and RulesRome1983p. 522)

For Eugene de Mazenodas for Fernand Jettéthis is not about intellectualism nor somekind of worship of diplomas. For both menthe fundamental questionis “the quality of the men” and of the tools with which oneintends to intervene where the fate of the poor is being decided. ForFr. Jetté the future of the Oblate mission of evangelizationdepends on the quality of its members. Mazenod himself did not hesitateto call “undesirable junk”the Oblate who did not take careto cultivate the interior life. In the same wayit was to stress thequality of both the tool and the tool maker that he invited them to“supernaturalize” their studies:

*“Never forgetthat you work for Godfor the glory of His holy nameand that itis the Church that requests this service from you. This means thatyou must supernaturalize your studiessanctify them by a great purityof intentionleaving all self-love aside and not seeking yourselfat all. In this way even secular authors bring you as close to Godas do the Fathers of the Church.”(Ibid.)
The 1986 General Chapter re-echoedthis call when it called for an openness to new fields of research:

“Besides providingour students with a solid theological and philosophical formationwemust open them to several other intellectual fields in order to helpthem prepare for missionary life in today’s world :

*to be missionaries among the poor: thestudy of the Church’s social doctrine;
*to proclaim Jesus Christin today’s world : serious reflection upon a secularized societyand technical training in the use of media and communications;
*to serve the Churchwherever there is an urgent need : the study of missiologyof cultureslanguagesan analysis of the Church’s situation in various countriesand an awareness of the Congregation’s commitments throughoutthe world;
*to collaborate withthose powerful movements and great institutions at the service ofthe faith : the study of the theology of the laityof ecumenismof the important non-Christian religions. (General Chapter 1986Missionnariesin Today’s WorldNo. 159).
The following General Chapterin 1992expressed the desire that Oblate centers of theological studiesseminaries and universities should be maintained and strengthened.(Acts of the 32nd General Chapter (1992)Witnessing in Apostolic Communityp. 45).

Isee in this request the same concern that Fr. Fernand Jetté hadthat isthat a missionary Congregation must endow itself with somecenters of reflection capable of serving as laboratories to think aboutorganize and orient its missionary activity. Only a very insidious personcould prove that good will and faith are sufficient to be a missionaryof the poor in a world where poverty has became the basic culture ofthree quarters of the world’s population.

After having converseda long time with the holy man and sage that Fr Fernand JettéwasI am convinced that a mission that is not thought out is a pointlessmission. Fr. Jetté reminds us that if we want to be equal tothe present challenges of evangelizationwe must give up seeing “improvisers”as a title of gloryalbeit “ingenious improvisors.” Withouta doubt a certain amount of improvisationof tinkering or resourcefulnesswill always be necessary in order to avoid stifling planning or playingthe prophet. That is not the problem. The real meaning of the call hemakes is that improvisation and resourcefulnesswhile good in themselvesand in some circumstancesmust not become the norm. In this complexand neat worldeach step must be weighed and calculatedbefore beingtaken.

I believe the topic broachedin these interviews will interest many. Although directed mainly toOblatesFr. Jetté’s subject will certainly not fail tointerest and challenge all those throughout the world who are interestedin the mission of the Churchthe evangelization of the poor and understandingthe faith. Didn’t Socratesthe father of philosophersoften saythat a life not thought out was not worth living? The starting pointis lived experience; but a fruitful experience is the result of reflectionon that experience. No matter whether one be an Oblate or nota missionaryor notone will surely find some food for thought in the well measuredand wise words of Fr Jettéwho was all his life a sought_afterspiritual guide.

I had the privilege—andthe great pleasure—to converse with this man on a topic thatinhis own words“can appear pedantic”. As for myselfI mustconfess to have found no pedantry in the talks we had. On the contraryit is clear that in his mind this call corresponded to something concretevery concrete : “to invest more in reflection” in order toavoid mistakes due to charlatanism and amateurism. If we indeed takethe poor seriouslywe must think as seriously as possible about theircondition. It is only after having listened to Fr. JettéthatI think I have finally understood what pushed Louis Pasteur to exclaim“a little science distances us from Godbut a lot brings us back.”

Because of the great simplicity for which he is knownFr. Jetté never laid claim to any special intellectual qualities.Yet he had some. And a lot more than his humility would allow him toacknowledge. It would sufficefor exampleto read the praise thatFr. Yves CongarO.P. made of the book Qu’est-ce que la missiologie?(What is Missiology?)in which professor Fernand Jetté makesa remarkable contribution to the analysis of the epistemological statusof missiology as a scienceto realize that this unassuming man whomone passed in the long corridors of the Deschâtelets buildinghad indeed his place among the great.

On the social levelFr Fernand Jetté was the right man for the right moment in thelife of many people. In facthad he not in a way played the same rolein the Oblate Congregation? The rather painful circumstances under whichhe inherited the leadership of the Congregation are well known...

I dedicate to his memorythese interviews that he so readily granted.

When he didn't have anythingto sayFernand Jetté was quiet; but when he opened his mouthto speakeverybody was quiet. Now that he wants to speak to usletus be quiet and listen to him.

Godé IweleOMI
Maison de l’Assomption
OttawaNovember 152000

1-- Investing more in reflection
*Father Fernand Jettéin 1978 you were the Superior General of the Missionary Oblates ofMary Immaculate (O.M.I.) in Rome. In that capacityyou gave an addressat the Inter-Chapter Meeting in April. You enumerated “five conditionsof progress" for the mission of the Oblates. I would like to dwellon the fourth conditionthat isthe need “to investmore in reflection.(1) In factyou exhort the Provincial Superiorsto form some Oblates “who thinkmen who are thinkers about ourmission.” Twenty years have passed since you made that appeal.Is it still true?
hen I askedin 1978that we invest more in reflectionI was thinking above all about the fact that with the disappearance ofmany scholasticates and schoolsthere were fewer and fewer active centersof reflection in the Congregation. Besidesin these times of religiouspluralism and the proliferation of spiritualitiesthere is a vital needfor Christians to deepen their own faith and their knowledge of otherreligions. If it is critical and perceptivethe contact with other religioustraditions can be a source of enrichment for the Christian. But the appealI made was especially an invitation to try to know well the times we liveinas well as the cultures and the civilizations to which we proclaimthe Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ

(1) The five “conditionsof progress for the Institute” that he listed in 1978 are:

* to believe firmly in our vocation;
*to strengthen the ties which hold ustogether;
* to insist on the quality of the men
*to invest more in reflection; to takemore interest in the christian laity
* to associate them more in our missionaryaction and in our life.

. Finallythe need foran in-depth reflection on all aspects of the mission is made pressingin part by the loss of interest in the faith. In the West as in manyother regions of the worldscientific progress presents the Christianfaith and the mission of the Church with some quite new challenges.Current debates among theologians on the inculturation of the Gospelshow the need to rethink the marriage between faith and cultureandthe way of their mutual fertilization. On the one handwe must thinkof ways to smoothly insert the Christian faith into a people's lifein a way that enriches their existence. On the other handcurrent debatesinvite us to look at how the faith could find a new vitality and expressionin the cultural medium of every people.

North Americafor exampleis going through a very serious crisis in religious practicesometimesdoubled with a crisis of faith. A radical doubt is taking rootsupplantingthe facts and the old certainties. Some of our contemporaries wonderif an educated person can still believe in the real presence of Jesusin the Eucharist. Others find scandalous the faith in a God who is apparentlyimpassive before misery and all the problems that beset the world. Certainlydemocracy is making progressbut there is at the same time a kind ofhuman abandonment. In several countries—even developed ones—therate of unemployment is constantly on the rise. Technical and professionalprogress brings with it a certain disenchantment: a lot of people arefrustratedrejectedif they haven’t become merely victims ofprogress. So many challenges that deserve the attention of Christiansand the solicitude of the Church. My question is the following then: how do we face this situation?

The need for reflectionremains. I dare say that it is even more pressing than ever. It is dictatedby the evolution of the world and the course of history. Everywherepeople are searchingquestioning; mentalities are changing and evolving.Some important mutations are taking place right under our eyes in variouskey sectors of both private and public lifethat oblige us to reconsiderour manner of being and doing.

*Practically speakingwould there be behind this cry some challenges born more directlyof Oblate missionary practice?

In thinking about the Oblates in particularmy attitudeis one of a deep adherence to the realities of the faith and the Gospel.Far from shaking my confidencethe big challenges of the world makeme adhere more deeply to the Oblate ideal. By living the Gospel andthe Oblate charism with convictionwe can help our contemporaries toeffectively find priceless resources for their own lives in the Gospelvalues.

There is in my opiniona fundamental question still without a definitive answer: how to presentJesus Christ to our contemporaries? How to give him to the worldsothat more and more people cannot only discover himbut also esteemhimlove himfollow himlive in him and for him?

*What means do yourecommend then?

Among the important meansI suggest that the first isthe holiness of the witness. The key is in the way Christians themselveslive their faith in Christ and bear witness to him. This is all themore urgent since we live in a world where the means of social communicationare a real powerand a even dangerous one.

To illustrate this pointI would recall the current situation in some Oblate missions of Canada— but it is actually a larger phenomenonthat is neither particularto the Oblates nor to Canada. The same kind of problems also existsin the United States. I refer to the accusations brought against someof our missionaries concerning sexual matters.

Certainlyhuman weaknesshas been and will always be a factor. But society reacts differentlyto the same problemsaccording to the times. In the pastsociety hada quite different mechanism to deal with the kind of litigations towhich I allude. The abuses were condemned but a community effort wasmade to help the people concerned without destroying them and withoutprejudice to the institutions that they represented or that endeavoredto support and help them. Todayon the other handas soon as a caseof this kind is knownit is immediately taken upmonopolized evenby televisionthe pressthe media and lawyersthat publicize it ona grand scale. It is blown upcommented on and the details so exaggeratedthat most of the time one finally forgets to put the facts in context.

Theresult is legal proceedings of which one can say that their only goalis not just to re_establish the victims rightsbecause in reality importantsums of money are at stake. This is true in Canadaand even more soin the United States of America. But with regard to Canadathe phenomenonhas grown in scale and it affects a considerable number of diocesesand religious congregations.

By evoking these painfulexperiencesI want to say : today the messengers of the Good News arecalled to live the Gospel and to bear witness to it openly and publicly.Otherwisethese situations will continue to exist.

We also need to recognizethat these are normal social reactions. These are normal not in theexploitation that is sometimes made of human miserynor in the lackof consideration of the common good to be preserved within the Churchand the Statebut as an invitation to seek a quality of life.I see therefore in these painful events an invitation to spiritualpurification for the people committed to the religious life andto the evangelization of the world.

*In view of thatyou advocate investing more in reflection on the mission. In structuraltermswhat conditions would make this possible?

AsI already mentionedthe disappearance and closing of our schoolsjunioratesseminaries and scholasticates was a big lossthat weakened us a lotas a Congregation. Let's take the case of Saint Paul’s Universityhere in Ottawa. In the pastthe Oblates played a key role there notonly in the administrative services but also and especially at the levelof theological and spiritual reflection. Todaythat role is much smaller.For mecenters of study are necessary at the heart of the Congregationas well as in those apostolic and pastoral areas that are growing. InAfricafor exampleit is crucial that the Oblates do not limit themselvesmerely to direct pastoral work; it is important that there also be acertain number who can stop to reflect with precisionhonesty and expertiseon our missionary practiceon that which is proper to us as Oblatesand also on that of the other missionary Congregations working in Africa.It would be good if such people could find within the Congregation centerswhere they can reflect and share.

The evangelization ofthe poor is and will remain the vocation and the main end of the Congregation.But how to carry out this missionif it is not nourished by a criticaland mature reflection on the world of todayand especially on the worldof the poor? In the Westwith the ageing of personnelthe Congregationexperiences enormous difficulties in reaching some levels of the populationespecially the youngest. Luckily the situation is not the same everywhere.In the countries to the southfor exampleor in Polandthe Congregationis blessed every year with numerous vocations; and they have severalhouses of formation and scholasticates. The challengehoweveris graduallyto make of these places centers for reflection on the mission. I saythis while also thinking of Latin America and Asiawhere the Congregationhas some houses of formation. Sometimes some of these centers are soto speak too openbut balance will come with time.

*It is often saidrefering to what a popular French dictionary saysthat the Oblatesare “country Jesuits.” The meaning is that the Oblate vocationin the Church is not first of all intellectual research or what onecommonly calls “studies”.

Formethat is an offhand definitionquite foreign to the nature of anOblate. The Jesuitsit is truehave the intellectual formation ofthe Christian as their main vocation in the Church. The Oblatesaccordingto themwere founded for ministry in the countryside and in the ruralareas among the poor and the abandoned. When I hear it said that theOblates are country Jesuitsit is often used as a pretext or an excuseto avoid reflecting or thinking. “A country Jesuit” most oftenmeansthat it is sufficient to be a good priestand no more than that.This is not exact. What is trueis that the Oblates are not Jesuits.The Oblate vocation orients them primarily to the evangelization ofthe poor and ordinary folkand not toward academic specialization.

Having said thatthereis no mission today without a reflection on mission. Whether JesuitOblateDominican or otherwe know that in a world as complex as theone in which we livean evangelization that is not thought out or plannedis already doomed to failure.

One cannotof courseask all Oblates to be professional thinkers. That there be a certainnumber of them among us is indispensable.

*Can it not be saidthat the foundation of the Association for Oblate Studies and Research(A0SR) in September 1982was an important step towards what you advocateeven though the AOSR research is more directed toward the historyof the Congregation?

Thefundamental question is maybe whether there are not grounds to haveanother organ of expression in the Congregationor another associationwhose goal would be more specifically to promote theological or missiologicalreflection on more current questions or starting from them. Some peoplecould think more not only on the mission as regards the establishedChurchbut also in relation to the Church being established or needingto be established.

A close look reveals thata country like Canada is becoming more and more a “mission territory.”The sociocultural evolution in Canada since the end of the war showsa considerable decrease of spiritual practice and of a culture markedby religion. The generation of grandparents (people my age) are stillchurchgoerspeople who remain firm in their faith and attached to theChurch. Their childrentoday about 40 to 45 years of agerepresenta generation of people marked by the quiet revolution in Quebec. Thisgeneration seems to be trained more in the sciences than it is in philosophyor in theology. It will be necessarytherefore thatthe collegesseminaries and juniorates progressively open up to welcome these youngpeople and offer them different possibilitiesand that all childrenbe given the opportunity to attend all the different levels of education(primarysecondaryacademic).

In the futurefindingwork will always require more of the youngbe it only because computerscience has become an inescapable part of all areas of our social andcultural life. Today the younger generation no longer knows much aboutreligion; after first communion and confirmationthe children abandoneverything. Since their parents are not practicing the faith anymoreit is difficult for the children to do otherwise. Yet these young peopleare called to live and to work with adepts of other religionssomeof whom are very faithful in their practice. A lot of young people todaysucceed very well on the professionalhuman or financial levelbutfaith plays practically no role in their life. How to give back a valueto the faith or to the spiritual life when social and professional successno longer depend on them? These are the questions that must feed orprovoke the reflection of theologiansthe missiologists and other agentsof evangelization interested in the western or North American context.

Besides this problem of spiritual povertythere is also the strictlymaterial povertythat the phenomenon of internationalization accentuates.In the context of the North American Economic Treatymore and moreCanadian companiesfor exampleprefer to manufacture their productsin Asia (Hong KongKoreaChina)in Mexico or in Latin Americawherethey exploit its cheap manpower. At the same timeit creates unemploymentin Canada where the wages are a lot higher. In spite of the fact thatan enterprise exploits some and puts others out of workits profitscontinue to run wildsometimes reaching exponential rates. This situationwill prevail until the moment whenin a country in the southa unionwill rise up and demand salary increases and a just salary policy. Thenthis companyin order not to lower its profitswill pack its bagsand go settle in another country. And so on...

These seem to me to besome of the problems that must draw the attention of Church people andupon which missiological research is called for. At some pointwe willhave to seriously reflect on all the questions inherent in the socialand technical evolution of the world in which we live and that we arecalled to evangelize. Whether he has done specialized studies or notevery missionary today must at least be aware of the stakes involvedin these problems which in one way or another affect the mission ofthe Church and the Congregation.

2 -- Occupationalhazards

*While inviting theOblates to reflect on missionyou are probably also aware of theoccupational hazards of a thinker in the Roman Catholic Church. Reflectingon mission and looking in depth at the challenges of evangelizationin the world of today lead one inevitably to formulate working hypothesesor to express theological opinions. Some of them can sometimes callinto question one or the other aspect of Christian doctrinewhichcan result in some more or less serious difficulties with the ecclesiasticalauthorities. The Oblate researcher is not safe from such risks....

Thecase of Tissa Balasuriya in Sri Lanka is an example of this. The questionshe raises are probably pertinentbut the answers given are not sufficientlytheological. When one does theologythe realities of the faith mustalways be present and centralat every stage of the process. Everyresearcher must always remember that he doesn't embody the truth. Orif he embodies itit is always and solely through a churchits dogmaand its tradition.

Having said thattheremust be place in the Church for a certain adaptation of doctrine tothe mentalities of peoplesto social evolution and to new realities.When it is said—and one hears it more and more often in a post-colonialcontext—that the Church as we know it today is westernthis istrue insofar as a good part of the doctrine of the Church was formulatedin the Westin a typically western cultural framework. The westerncultural and intellectual heritage was definiteif not major. Howeverthe essentials of the faith must be common to all Christians.

In saying thisI wouldnot want to ignore or to minimize legitimate differences and culturalparticularities. The Oriental Churchesfor exampleknew how to keeptheir specific traditions; and this is a fortunate blessing for theentire Church.

Since difficulties canalways occurwhat is important and what I would like to insist onis the fundamental attitude of the colleague in trouble and his community.For every Oblateafter the help that only the Lord can givethe communityis his main support. As soon as a situation of the kind that I evokedearlier arisesit is important that the person concerned be openthathe remain in close contact and in communion of spirit with his apostoliccommunityhis professional groupas well as with other Oblate theologiansand other Oblates. It is important that he listen to all of them.

There is a big temptationto form a kind of interest group with people who think as oneself. Sucha group is not precisely what is meant by apostolic community. In thelatterfraternal correction is both a moral and spiritual obligation.An apostolic community is something more than a group of which one alwaysrequires the assent or the approvalso that as soon as one sees oneselfcontradictedone cuts oneself off from it. A support group is necessaryif we see it as a community of lucid peoplegifted with a criticalmind and a balanced judgment and a keen sense of the Church; peoplecapable of questioningif objectivity requires itthe hypotheses orthe opinions of a member of the group. It is important that all canexpress freely and in conscience their opinions on the research of theircolleagues. A colleague in difficulty doesn't gain anything by listeningto people of a homogeneous group who share the same ideas as he.

*From your personalexperiencedoes the Congregation at its highest level do everythingthat is necessary to help and sustainif the case arisesthe Oblateresearchers or theologians who find themselves in this kind of difficultiesthat are at least in part inherent to their profession?

Experience shows that what is asked of the Superior Generalin similar circumstances is essentially that he establish and facilitatecontact between the concerned colleague and the ecclesiastical authority.The objective is to bring about a truestraightforwardhealthy andcordial dialogue at all levels.

As for myselfI triedto do this by involving as much as possible local authorities. The firststep consists in trying to re-establish confidencein order to attenuatethe tension. A current difficultyin this kind of mediationis thatsome provincial or local authorities sometimes take too much time anddon't act soon enough. These delays generally complicate things. Oftenin these casesthe press takes overand the matter gets out of hand.

It is necessary that thecolleague in trouble feel that we really love himthat we are concernedfor him and that we likewise love the Church. This love of the Churchobliges us to search for solutions that are in conformity with Christiandoctrine and the Gospelon the one handand that answer the needsof peopleon the other. There is a double fidelity at play here : tooneself and to the Church.

I would like to insistmore on the attitude of the theologian in difficultybecause accordingto my experience this is always very decisive for the outcome of theaffair. It is normal that problems arisethat there be dissension ordoubt about some point of Church doctrine. But some attitudessometypes of reaction or kinds of behavior are hardly likely to facilitatedialogue or reconciliation. It is good that the theologian in difficultyshow an attitude of deep affection for the Churchof respect towardshierarchical authority and prudence. That is what will make him carefulin his way of proceeding or reactingas well as in the stands he takes.Here againtemperaments vary.

Unfortunatelythere havebeen cases of stubbornnessof persistence and nearly of blindness.One doesn't want to change opinionto question onselfbut rather insiststhat the Church change its attitude. Thisof coursehardens positionsand makes dialogue difficult if not impossible.

3-- Saint-Paul University

*You mentioned earlierthe case of Saint-Paul University. What isin your opinionthe futureof this university as an Oblate institution of teachingresearchand reflection?

Toanswer this questionI will use an incident from the past. I remembera remark by Cardinal Villeneuve about the ecclesiastical faculties ofOttawathat is to say the present Saint_Paul University. “Formehe saidthis university is as important as an Oblate province.”

This means that a centerof reflection is just as important as missionary action in the fieldbecause of the influence that it can have on the life and the faithof people. It seems me that one can never insist enough on the importancefor a congregation or a dioceseto have a good center of reflection.This is not a refusal of the missionary vocation to the poorbut preciselybecause of it. The evolution of society demands it.

But let’s get backto your question. Honestlylooking at the present situation of SaintPaul UniversityI really wonder. In some aspectsthis university canagain be an important Oblate center of influence and reflection. I amthinking especially about the mission sciences. If we had enough Oblatepersonnel to reflect in a systematic and coordinated manner on the mission—notonly among Oblates but also with the assistance of non Oblate experts—therewould be a better chance of making it an Oblate center of missionaryformation and animation.

Wecould create a center of spirituality and spiritual life there. Whilekeeping one or the other specialist in theologyor in Canon Lawonewould put more effort into research on spirituality and mission. Bythis I do not mean to say that we disregard theology. I merely callattention to the need for a place for an Oblate influence on the missionof the Church and on Christian spirituality in a missionary context.

The Congregation doeshave some experts in missiologyin historyin theologyin Canon Lawin spiritualityand this is good; but there is not a center of Oblateinfluence as such. History explains this sad situation in part.

At its beginningstheUniversity of Ottawa was an “Oblate house.” In the centralbuilding lived the superior of the communitythe rectorthe personsresponsible for the university and about fifty Oblate professors. Therewas a true community life there and a constant reflection on the universityand its future. Some laymen involved at the university also made theircontribution.

As new faculties likethe physical and chemical sciences or civil engineering were openedthe financial burden became too heavy for the Oblates. The universitycould no longer meet its expenses. The government in Ontario providedvery little by way of subsidy to the universitybecause it was governedby the charter of a denominational university. In the faculty of medicinefor exampleif one wanted to assure the future physicians a high-levelof formationit was necessary that the doctors who were teaching therebe able to earn wages more or less equal to those of their colleaguesat other universities....

Thatis why we had to divide the University of Ottawa in 1965. The ecclesiasticalfaculties became the present Saint Paul University. It remained a denominationaluniversityfunctioning mainly with the capital received from the saleof the University of Ottawawith the interest on capital and the incomefrom the students’ tuition fees. With timethe number of ecclesiasticalstudents and seminarians decreased progressivelyas well as the Oblatestaff. The integration of the academic regulations in view of obtaininggovernment subsidies for the newly created faculties resulted in theapplication of the academic policies in effect in the province of Ontario.Thus the professors must leave full-time teaching once they reach theage of 65. This fact also explains why the Oblates have become numericallya minority at Saint Paul’s.

What seems important tome at this moment and given the circumstancesis that the few Oblateswho are still there become more involved not only in reflection andresearch as professorsof coursebut especially as guides to orientthe research. Because it is practically impossible to return to thesituation of yesteryear. The age of the Oblate personnel and the evolutionof the structures that govern academic life in the country are importantfactors with which we must deal.

All things consideredSaint Paul University still remains a possible source of influence forour Congregationprovided that we commit a certain number of qualifiedpeople who are determined to play a role of catalysts there. In themind of many people around usSaint Paul remains a Catholic universityand an Oblate university. How are we going to honor this kind of “contract”with society? Anywayon the financial sideit is true that the capitalof the university belongs to the Oblates.

*Considering thethorny problem of the lack and the ageing of Oblate personnelonthe one handand the difficultynowadaysto maintain an academicinstitution with a high academic and scientific levelon the otherhandsome are wondering more and more if it is absolutely necessaryto have specifically Oblate academic institutions. Rather than runthe risk of multiplying “second class” institutionsthisopinion proposes that the Oblates form and place their personnel inother highly esteemed institutions rather than holding stubbornlyto having universities and colleges directed by Oblates. What do youthink?

Icontinue to believe that having one or two centers of reflection andthought is a real and undeniable strength for the Congregation. We couldeasily send our candidates elsewhere to study; on an academic and scientificlevelthe studies would maybe be superior to that in Oblate institutionsbut I am not sure that the same is true when it comes to cultivatingthe spirit of a Gospel community. Besideswould the provincials acceptto send all their personnel to study in other universities or theologicalcenters for the cycle of fundamental studies? Such an option would bemore feasible at the level of specialization.

As much as possiblewemust insist on keeping some Oblate centers of studywith a certainnumber of Oblates committed to the teaching and research. The basicquestion that other academic institutions will never solve in our placeis the one of reflection on our own mission as missionaries of the poor.If we do not keep alive this flame of thinking—and of thinkingabout mission—even those that will have been formed in the bestuniversities will finish by not benefitting in the long-term. Becauseonce back in their provincesthey risk not finding other people interestedin research with whom to pursue their reflection. In any casean Oblatecenter of thinking capable of providing them with a good framework remainsindispensable. To decide these questionsthe provincials will haveto take into account at the same time the needs of the worldthe Churchthe Congregation and the general evolution of society.

The Congregation needsin its ranks people who are ready to pursue reflection on mission andon missionary spiritualitypeople ready to assume their responsibilitiesas thinkers with expertise. Because as excellent as it may bepracticalfield experience has its limits.

Byway of conclusion: A final word?

Presently my conviction is—and it has not changeda lot on this point—that the Congregation will continue and itwill pursue its evolutionbut maybe a lot more with the new territoriesin the foredifferent from its traditional centers of influence. TheUnited StatesCanada and Western Europe will continue to exercise someinfluencebut the groups of AfricaAsia or Latin America will probablyaffirm themselves more and more. All will depend however on the evolutionin each country. But in generalthe groups in the West will graduallybecome a minority as centers of influence in the Congregation. The orientationand the government of the Congregation will have to take more accountof respect for the mentality of others. Interprovincial and interregionalexchanges will then become an important means of fraternal communionand survival. We couldfor exampleinvite representatives of otherRegions of the Congregation to Regional meetingsin order to encouragethis fraternal communion and exchange. We are a universal and internationalCongregation. That is an advantagea strength and an opportunity.

Without being able topredict the futureI think nevertheless that all will depend on thequality of the men that we will have in the Congregation. If we manageto create some saints among usthen some remarkable people in the areasof ministry or mission or theologythe influence of our Congregationwill in a way be assured.

People like Mother Theresaof Calcutta are proof that holiness and the missionary ideal are stillvery much sought after in today’s world. When ministry to the pooris lived at such a level of radicalismit can challenge the conscienceof a lot of our contemporaries.

As for myselfI am confident.I tell myself that the Lord is with us. The Lord Jesus Christ is ourhope. We must keep hoping!

36th General Chapter 2016
36th General Chapter 2016
Oblate Triennium
Oblate Triennium
OMI Vocations
OMI Vocations
Links to Other Oblate Sites
Links to Other Oblate Sites