EUROPEUnder the Oblate banner in Lourdes
Every year almost 1000 people travel to Lourdes, under the Oblate banner, in response to Mary’s invitation to St. Bernadette that we should come in procession. Gerald Bennett, who took part in this year’s pilgrimage, shares his experience.
Not for the
first time in all the years of coming to Lourdes, the rain was pelting down on
our arrival in Lourdes this year. As Oblates, we make our pilgrimage to the
Shrine in September on the same dates each year, irrespective of the day of the
week. Being later in the season, rain is a risk and so this was our start this
Every year, we do the same pilgrimage exercises: Mass at the Grotto, the Stations of the Cross, the Mass of the Anointing, participation in the Blessed Sacrament procession and the Marian Torchlight procession, so you’d be forgiven for thinking that it must all be so routine, all the very same. But it is not, and that is one of the mysteries of Lourdes. What makes it all so different each year? For me, the answer is clear. It is the ‘special guests’ whom we have the privilege to bring there and to care for over five days each year. The deep desire of so many people to come to this Grotto in the south of France and to spend time there in prayer to Our Lady, and to bathe in the waters is something that is so very hard to describe. The late Fr Willie MCGONIGLE, who was, in his later years, Spiritual Director to the special guests, used to say about Lourdes at least once each year during the early morning Mass for the workers, that “for those who have not been, no words are possible; for those who have, no words are necessary.” What a wonderfully wise way to sum up the experience that so many of us have when we come here. People come here to confide in Our Lady, our Mother, knowing that she has a listening ear, and for the sick, and especially the sick, Our Lady has a most special listening ear.
And so, year in, and year out, the deep wish to go to Lourdes and spend time at the Grotto is fulfilled when we land at Lourdes airport. Despite the tiredness that will often accompany the arrival into Lourdes, one can see in the eyes and hear in the conversation of our guests, the excitement that very soon, they will be within metres of the Grotto and in the town selected by Our Lady and where she appeared to St Bernadette. The days go by quickly. The sun peeks out on the second day and after that, beautiful days. The pilgrimage itself does not have to be penitential in nature; it is intended to be fun, to give our guests the opportunity to meet and talk (and reminisce, as so often happens). For many of our guests, living at home may be a lonely existence so during these days in Lourdes, we want our guests to know that we care; that while we cannot change the lonely days that may be their life at home, for those days with us, they are the centre of attention; that they are loved.
As volunteers, we have a lot to do. Getting to Lourdes is a huge logistical challenge; making sure everything runs smoothly takes a huge amount of planning, cooperation and working together by every one of the volunteers. For some, it will be their first time; for others, it has been too long to remember. But we work together, with one purpose – to be of service. All too soon, it is time to head back for the airport once again. Where have the days gone? As we make the return journey to the airport, the anticipation of being home is obvious with our guests, but so are the wistful glances as we leave Lourdes for another year. Yes, maybe a tear or two in some eyes – and not just those of the guests! (Gerard Bennett in Oblate Connections, December 2011)
On January 12, 2012, Fr. Josef METZLER, Prefect-emeritus of the Secret Vatican Archives, died in Hünfeld, Germany. He was in his 72nd year of oblation and his 63rd year of priesthood.
In a website describing a book published in 1994 in his honor, Ecclesiae Memoria, these words describe the special ministry Fr. Metzler exercised for many years:
“Being a missionary in today’s Church can take on many diverse forms and activities. One of these is patiently and competently gathering, classifying, evaluating, making available, and exploiting documents and data that illustrate the evangelizing fields and zeal of frontline missionaries who have planted the Lord’s church among the peoples of this world. Father Josef Metzler, O.M.I., presently prefect of the Vatican Secret Archives, is such a discreet and specialized missionary…” (www.thefreelibrary.com)
Ecclesiae Memoria, was edited by Fr. Metzler’s Oblate confrere and then librarian at the Urbaniana University in Rome, Fr. Willi HENKEL.
Fr. Metzler was in charge of the Missionary Archives of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (Propaganda Fide) from 1966 to 1984. That year, he was appointed Prefect of the Vatican Secret Archives, a post he held until his retirement in 1996. Over the years, he was co-editor of the Bibliotheca Missionum and of the Bibliographia Missionaria and he wrote many scholarly works on the history of the missions. Noteworthy among his writings are two volumes on the Synods of local churches in Asia: Die Synoden in China, Japan und Korea (1570-1931); Die Synoden in Indochina (1625-1934) and the three volume work Sacrae Congregationis de Propaganda Fide Memoria Rerum of which he was editor.
Fr. Nino BUCCA, the Director of Oblate Communications Service and the webmaster of www.omiworld.org wrote a brief note of homage for one of his scholasticate companions who died recently at a very young age.
Father Angiolino DI LIZIA is the second of my scholasticate companions to depart for the community in heaven, after Father Giovanni SANTOLINI. He died at the age of 58, during the night of January 18-19, after a long battle with leukemia.
The first memories that come to mind involve a couple of months we spent together in Lourdes in far-off 1978 and some of our crazy attempts to put together some sentences in French; his passionate love for the Milan soccer team; and his impatience when confronted with fans of other teams.
As often happens for many of us, our apostolic life separates us for a long time. I met him again as parish pastor in a suburb, working with the poor and even constructing the church. Then I met him once more as I read his licentiate thesis when I had to write an article on our community in Marino which, in the 70’s and 80’s was bringing new energy to the Italian Province. His writings give a clear idea of how well he knew that experience: “The Youth Center of Marino is not a place for cultivating Oblate vocations; it is not a more open kind of seminary, but it is a place where a religious community offers to youth the possibility of having a community and gospel-centered experience in freedom and in participation, helping them in their search for and in the confirmation of their life project […] As the basis of the Marino experience, there are two fundamental realities: the discovery of one’s brother as a member of the Body of Christ, called to a common following of the Master, and the mutual love which the presence of the Lord engenders […].” Then we saw each other again, some years ago, in his final assignment, the community of Palermo in Sicily. Each time, I had the impression of a person who was growing ever more mature, ever more rooted in God.
During his illness, his parishioners were the image of their pastor: with affection and gratitude, together with the Oblate community, they helped him 24 hours a day. Since Christmas night of 2011, the day of his last Mass, until the end, the parish community stayed his course, trying to advance all of the programs developed by the pastor and the Pastoral Council.
At about 23:30 on January 18, a neighboring pastor joined the Oblates and some of the faithful who were present with Angiolino on his death bed. He too wanted to pray the “Our Father” and then, the “Hail Mary.” Right after the words, “pray for us now and at the hour of our death,” he gently breathed his last.
He had written: “What is left in life is an ever deeper and an ever more mature union with God which refocuses you so as to live every moment within the humanity of today, as persons who are in the world, but not of the world. It is a personal relationship with God wherein He is everything in our life and we are nothing, but He fills us with his Love so that we can be His living Presence among the people with whom we come into contact […] I have tried never to break unity with the brethren, but to bend myself so that this unity might not come up short among us […] In my ministry, I have experienced that what counts is not so much activity but being a living presence of Jesus, because it is He who touches hearts and we are only instruments in His hands.”
On January 14, during the
celebration of Eucharist presided by Father General, the house and the
community of the scholasticate in Vermicino were dedicated to the Oblate
The idea, which took shape
a few weeks after the beatification of the martyrs of Pozuelo, had grown ever
since the day on which the beatification was announced. The appropriateness and
the inspiration came from another Oblate scholasticate, namely that of Pozuelo,
which as a community offered their utmost witness to Christ Jesus, together
with their Father Provincial (Francisco Esteban Lacal) who remained with all
the members, scholastics and formators, as a real older brother, as well as a
layman (Candido Castan).
In the context of the
unification of the provinces of Italy and Spain, which in some ways has already
been anticipated in Vermicino, where Italian and Spanish Oblate students have
been living together for many years, this gesture seemed natural and not just fitting.
The title chosen, “Oblate
Martyrs,” is also meant to symbolize the bonds of the community with all the
other confreres in various parts of the world, those many who have offered
their lives for the mission. For the members of the scholasticate community,
all of our martyred confreres are true models of life and oblation.
In the Superior General’s homily, he said: “There is no doubt about the fact that we are missionaries and we are invited to proclaim the Gospel to the poor. But we are also servants and friends of Jesus, and the mission is His. It is essential and indispensable that we become passionate about God. I believe it is necessary that God takes hold of us and seduces us and takes over our very being so that we can belong to Him. This passion will be the motivation for our growing as mature persons from the human point of view, but also as missionaries who sacrifice their lives and who make of them an oblation for God, for the Gospel and for the Church. That was what motivated the Oblate martyrs.”
From now on, living in a community that bears their name will be a source of renewed motivation for our commitment to formation. (Scholastic Gianluca RIZZARO)