LATIN AMERICAGathering of Oblate Youth
Excerpts from the blog of Fr. Chicho ROIS, General Councillor, in www.nosotrosomi.org.
15 July: The YOMI gathering (Young Oblates of Mary Immaculate). That is what the Oblates of the Province of Brazil have called the meeting to prepare for World Youth Days. Young Brazilians who collaborate with the Oblates in their different missions have worked hard to accommodate more than 600 young people from around the Oblate world and to get ready for the gathering in Aparecida. They are excited about welcoming some 160 international volunteers who are already in Sao Paolo for this first leg of our pilgrimage. If you ask them who they are, they will tell you with a Brazilian smile on their face: We are Young Oblates!
18 July: Now we have one foot in the stirrup. We don’t have horses but buses that have begun the three hour and a half trip to Aparecida… We will all arrive at the Shrine before 20:30, the time for the opening celebration of the Young Oblate Encounter. Between Brazilians and those coming from 29 different countries, we will be about 1200 participants.
19 July - Day 1: Some of
the pilgrims had problems during their journey: late airplanes, misplaced
baggage and persons and various difficulties. The large group from Paraguay had
a real adventure, traveling far to get to Aparecida. But it seems that they are
all here and we rejoice to see them, especially Fr. Guillermo STECKLING who is
with them. We were saddened by the news about a group from France who had an
accident in French Guyana in which one pilgrim died and others are in serious
condition. The Provincial of Brazil, Fr. Francisco RUBEAUX, invited us to pray
for them and for their families during the opening ceremonies. It was a lively
ceremony with much Brazilian folklore, song and dance, which thrilled most of
the youth who, although tired from their journey, joined in the dancing; so
they were at it until almost midnight.
But in the opening ceremony,
there were other things. In particular, I liked two: first, there was the
appearance of St. Eugene. The Oblates of Brazil have prepared a film which will
premiere in these days. The actor who plays St. Eugene brought our Founder to
life for us, encouraging the youth to embrace the mission and giving us his
blessing. Secondly, there were the very moving words of the Provincial of
Brazil, Fr. Francisco Rubeaux, who, in welcoming us, also challenged us: after
200 years of activity with youth, today, we are St. Eugene de Mazenod, each one
of the participants, called to bring the compassionate love of God to the most
20 July - Day 2: The
enormous basilica which holds the tiny image of Our Lady of Aparecida was the
site for the celebration of the Eucharist with the Cardinal Archbishop of
Aparecida, Mons. Raymundo Assis, who is also the president of the Bishops’
Conference. In his homily, for more than 10 minutes, he spoke of the Oblates
and of St. Eugene de Mazenod. He reminded us that our mission is to proclaim
the love of God to the most abandoned and that, since the beginning, our
missionary charism was tied to young people. Four bishops concelebrated, among
them the Oblate Archbishop of Johannesburg, Mons. Buti TLHAGALE.
Later, there was the catechesis of Father General. The central message that he wanted to give us was that the missionary charism of the Oblates is born of a personal experience of the love of God. Without this experience, there is no mission and there are no missionaries. He developed three points: how to grow in this love of God as young Christians; how to live an intense community life and with a group; and what are the new courtyards where youth must make themselves present as missionaries.
Of course, the patron of the Youth Encounter is Mauricio LEFEVRE, a Bolivian Oblate who died because of his commitment to the poor. While they were presenting his life story, they carried up the aisle a cross covered with pictures of Oblates who have died violent deaths for their witness to God, those already beatified such as Cebula and the Spanish martyrs, and those who are venerated as martyrs on the various continents and who inspire our own oblation.
The Congregation of Jesus, sisters founded by Mary Ward, joined our YOMI days. These youngsters are taking part in our entire program. And they prepared a Way of the Cross to conclude our day. They managed to remember the journey of Jesus to Calvary and at the same time, to make this mystery alive with current events. The prayer, the singing and the mimed scenes were accompanied by readings from the Gospel and with reflections on “the crucified of our own day,” the victims of so many things: hunger, violence, abuse, injustice, contamination of the earth, lack of hope and attacks on life…
21 July - Day 3: This morning, as well as for most of the day, we participated in the diocesan program with other groups of youth who are preparing for WYD in Rio de Janeiro. We began by visiting the city. Right after lunch, we went to take part in the afternoon program which was an encounter with the other groups, a lengthy music festival where we did not all persevere because we were so tired, and then the celebration of the Eucharist, again with the Cardinal of Aparecida, the bishops and the youth who are taking part in the pre-WYD missionary week of the diocese. In the evening, there was the icing on the cake: the premiere of the film which the Oblates of Brazil sponsored on the life of Eugene de Mazenod. It’s called: “Memories of the heart.” A copy was given to the representative of each country so that subtitles can be inserted in the various languages.
21 July - Day 4: “The Eucharist is the center of our life and of our mission.” We could say that the center of the YOMI days in Aparecida was the International Mass which we celebrated this morning. It was a day for the Oblate family. Oblate religious men, Oblate religious women from Spain and Paraguay, and a COMI from Uruguay and all the lay men and women from various parishes and communities in Brazil, came together to celebrate our charism. And the auditorium that served as a chapel for us began to vibrate with emotion. Led by our Superior General, we thanked God for our common charism and we asked for God’s blessing and that of Our Lady of Aparecida so that we might be faithful to this gift of the Spirit.
The organizers had prepared a beautiful liturgy, taking into account the international character of the assembly. Everything was well planned and very beautiful. The songs, the dances, the way of proclaiming the Word…everything aided and prepared our encounter with Jesus. To see more than 80 Oblates concelebrating is already a grace from God. To welcome the Word of God with the dances and songs of the youth of South Africa is to recognize a Word that is alive and that gives joy and liberates.
Fr. General called our attention to the Christ that hangs above the altar in the Basilica of Aparecida. It is a young Christ, who serenely gives up his life. In its silhouette can be seen a heart torn open, from which flows “living water.” It is an image of the Oblate charism. To encounter this Christ and participate in his mission of making his mercy reach the most abandoned is the crux of our charism, it is our missionary calling.
In the afternoon, they had us work in small groups to discuss the talk given by Fr. Guillermo Steckling, our former Superior General who is also taking part in this gathering. His talk was an invitation to the youth to take to heart what it means to be part of the “Young Oblates”, that is to say, a youth who lives the Oblate charism.
Later, we had the Festival of the People. Each of the 29 countries represented (some with only one or to participants but others with more than 130) had prepared a small presentation about their country and its customs.
22 July - Final day: Everyone is getting ready for the journey to Rio de Janeiro. We all came together to celebrate the Eucharist presided this time by our Oblate Archbishop Buti and animated by the songs of the large delegation from South Africa. Archbishop Buti, in his homily, encouraged us to take seriously our resolve concerning our vocation and mission.
After the Eucharist, some 80 Oblates met with Fr. General. He gave us a challenge: how can we get youth to take part in the Triennium to celebrate the 200 years since the beginning of Oblate community life in 2016? He insisted on the need to work as a community with the young people so as to follow in the footsteps of Eugene de Mazenod in his style of doing ministry with youth.
We had our final visit to Our Lady to entrust to her what we is in our hearts. We met for an hour of Eucharistic Adoration. Yes, young people know how to dance and express their joy at a party, but they also know how to pray in silence. After the adoration, we prayed a rosary for the mission of the whole Oblate family throughout the world. I cannot stop praying for a young man who told me: “Father pray for me. I believe God is calling me to be a missionary in the poorest of countries.”
After the rosary, we had the closing celebration that began with a dramatization of the Good Shepherd, portrayed by Fr. General. The Good Shepherd gives all that he has to the young people: his coat, his hat, his calm demeanor, his sandals, his eyes, his mouth, his feet, his compassionate heart... now the young people must be the eyes, the staff, the heart of the Good Shepherd in order to continue his mission. With the final blessing of Fr. Louie, which he gave with the cross of the Founder in his hands, we were sent into the Mission. At the end of this ceremony, some of the youth read the “Letter from Aparecida” addressed to all Oblate Youth.
Having completed the Oblate World Youth Days in Aparecida, it’s time to take stock. How can we do that any better than by listing to the youth themselves? They prepared a letter which they wanted to send to those who could not come. It is the best expression of what they experienced in those days.
Dear friends, greetings from Aparecida,
Since you did not have the
opportunity to be with us, by this letter, we want to share with you our
experiences. We gathered here in Aparecida, Brazil, as young people coming from
all over the world to celebrate and to live more deeply the charism of the
Oblate family. We were together from 18-22 July 2013. During those days, we
interacted with youth from different countries, cultures and social classes,
but were united in the same faith and in the spirit of Saint Eugene.
This experience was full of a dynamism that inspired us, enriched us and also challenged us. Our Superior General called us to live our faith more actively and to give flesh to the Oblate charism in our day to day lives. It greatly encouraged us to see the many ways of expressing our Catholic faith, especially by singing and dancing and dressing in traditional clothing during Mass. Our celebration of the Eucharist helped us to take better notice of our spiritual unity as we lived together in the same hotel like a family.
Dear young persons, we are trying to help you understand this great love, a love that does not exclude anyone and which reaches out to all. During these last days, as the great Oblate family, we constantly and in different ways experienced a saving encounter with JESUS CHRIST. From different cultures and races, together, with the same spirit, we shared the great gift of our Oblate charism. A young Christ, energetic and joyful, was present in every moment. We experienced the welcome that made us feel at home; the multicultural conviviality; a Way of the Cross that invited us to commitment and action as Missionary Oblates. And there was the transforming catechesis in which Father General reminded us that the center of our charism is in feeling loved by God so as to treat our neighbor as our brother or sister.
Saint Eugene reminded us daily to seek to serve our neighbor without limits, just as Jesus announced the Good News to all people, especially the most needy. Attracted by his charism, Oblate youth come forth in the midst of daily difficulties. To preach the Gospel, we must be victorious in the daily battles imposed by the busy lives we lead. One of the greatest challenges is to overcome ourselves, overcome our own obstacles. Recognizing that we are sinners is the beginning of a true path to conversion, handing ourselves over to the infinite love of God and to an experience of community life which develops in a freely given love that renews our lives.
We wish to conclude our letter by giving thanks, first of all to God, to Saint Eugene and to Mary Immaculate who poured down upon all of us an abundance of graces. Thanks to all the Oblates and lay persons of Brazil who worked so hard to welcome us and to organize our gathering. THANK YOU! Thanks to our Father General who gifted us with his catechesis, his homilies and his presence. We carry in our hearts what he told us and we want to make it real in our lives. Finally, thanks to each and every one who prayed for us and to all of your young people. With you and with Saint Eugene, we want to embrace Christ and his mission.
We pray to Saint Eugene: that we too might experience that selfless love for the Holy Cross; that we might receive the courage to experience with charity the gifts we have received, even from before our birth, and that our Mother, Mary Immaculate, might strengthen us to be faithful to Jesus Christ. That Saint Eugene, whose heart embraced the whole world, might help us to be a great missionary family that announces the Good News to the poor and the abandoned so that they might know the power of God’s love. Amen.