EUROPESigns of the times
In a letter to the members of the Italian Province in late 2011, Fr. Nicola PARRETTA, the provincial, made an announcement that is being repeated with some frequency in various parts of the Oblate world, especially in Europe and North America. He stated that in September of 2012, the Oblates will hand over the ministry of a parish to the diocese of Treviso and leave the city of Oné di Fonte in the foothills of the Alps. The Oblates have been there since 1920. From 1943 until 1983, they conducted a juniorate there. Many Oblates studied there and many relatives of Oblate missionaries reside in the vicinity.
Fr. Parretta gave the reasons for this sad departure from a beloved ministry site:
Last December, Lucia Borzaga, the sister of
Father Mario, whose process for beatification is in motion, received notice
from the Acilia district of Rome about some streets dedicated to Oblates. Father
Angelo PELIS asked for confirmation of this from the appropriate office in the
city of Rome. The person responsible for the committee that chooses names, Doctor
De Pascalis, responded immediately. It should be noted that in Rome, street
names in various parts of the city are reserved for particular groups. For
example, many of the streets near the General House are named after popes and
cardinals. In other areas, they are named for literary figures or politicians.
Dr. De Pascalis indicated that in an area not far from the sea, where place names are dedicated to “Religious and Missionaries,” she had chosen some Italian missionaries for this honor. The street signs have already been put in place in a relatively new neighborhood. They read:
Monsignor Lionello Berti: Missionario (1925-1968) - OMI Laos
Via Padre Natalino Sartor: Missionario (1931-1966) – OMI Laos
Via Padre Mario Borzaga : Missionario (1932-1960) – OMI Laos
Via Padre Giuseppe Di Marco: Missionario (1906-1949) – OMI Sudafrica
Via Padre Paolo Meroni: Missionario (1873-1939) - comboniano
Father Angelo was able to give Dr. De Pascalis further information about the three Oblates who had worked in Laos since he had been their companion in studies and in the mission. He pointed out that Fr. Giuseppe Di Marco died at the age of 43 in South Africa, as a result of a traffic accident.
A Missionary Oblate of Mary Immaculate in Chad for 45 years, Fr. Joseph SERGENT has become a “listener” at Fourvière (Diocese of Lyon).
After so many years, he realized it was time for the Africans to take over. At the seminary, Fr. Joseph had learned theology; in Africa, he learned the Gospel! “When we speak the local language, we need to get down to the essentials, and one finds that in the Gospels.”
Upon his return to France, he settled down at the Oblate house of Sainte-Foy. It’s not always easy to find one’s niche when returning from Africa.
One of his confreres suggested Fourvière to him and he discovered a new world there. He was surprised by so many people coming there, many of them tourists, but also those who come to pray and to meet with a priest!
And at Fourvière, they will surely find someone who will listen to them! As someone told him once, “For the first time, the priest is obliged to listen before beginning to speak!”
Each case is very different: people in the midst of a divorce and who find themselves alone; others looking for God in their lives; others who cannot forgive…
He also meets those who begin by saying: “I have never gone to confession; I don’t know what to say!” Fr. Joseph replies: “Tell me whom you love and whom you do not love.” He adds: “Beginning with that, you can help people reflect on their lives.”
The listeners have to adapt to each person. To the one who admits to being irritable, one can say: “Tomorrow, smile at everyone you meet.” To another, he recommends: “Tell your wife that you love her.” And to another who is walled up in loneliness, he advises: “Look at the people around you.”
He sometimes deals with people who want to tell him their whole life story. At a certain point, one has to cut them short. “But I have not finished!” He replies: “Anyway, God knows the rest; the essential is to recognize yourself as a sinner before God and ask for His help.”
Many do not yet know the God of Jesus Christ, this God who is full of compassion and mercy.
“The parable of the prodigal son lets one discover another face of God, this God who is first of all a Father. When the son wants to ask for pardon, the father stops him and says: ‘Come on, we are going to have a party.’ Many times, I have had the response: ‘I’ve never thought of that!’” That’s what Fr. Joseph Sergent has discovered at Fourvière, and it’s still only the beginning! (The editors of Église à Lyon, February 2012).
Over a hundred years, there have been many experiences and events. Would you tell us about something that stands out for you?
Yes, about Europe, the Church and the Oblates.
So let’s begin with Europe…
I want to clarify one point: they blamed Pope Pius XII
for remaining silent, but it was he who morally supported the Bishops of
Germany and Italy. Today, there is freedom to come and to go, to go or not go
to Church. At the time of Hitler, one had to hide in order to go to Mass.
Christian associations were forbidden. There was only one party. One should not
forget that one of the fathers of Europe, Robert Schuman, found asylum in
monasteries that hid him.
And the Oblates?
I entered the Oblates because of a juniorate student who did not stay with the Oblates. After the novitiate, I made my scholasticate at Burthécourt. Fr. RESLEY was the superior.
I preached many missions in Alsace-Loraine because I spoke fluent French and German. My community was in Metz with Fr. HAUBERT. I liked him a lot, even though he took jokes too seriously! I have good memories of Fathers DELORS and ROHR: they’ve been dead a long time.
Today, we have only one province in France. I knew the Eastern Province which was only Alsace-Loraine. Evidently, it was very small, but just the same, it was a family.