EUROPEFr. General’s visit
The Oblate Superior General, Fr. Louis LOUGEN,
made his first visit to the Delegation of Ukraine in mid-March, 2014. His
visitation was part of the celebration of the 25-year presence of Missionary
Oblates of Mary Immaculate in Ukraine. The first Oblate to arrive, Fr.
Krzysztof BORODZIEJ, came to the town of Bar near Vinnitsa in September of 1989;
he was soon followed by Fr. Jacek PYL. At that time, the OMI mission was in the
Ukrainian Soviet Republic; now, it is in the independent state of Ukraine.
Fr. Lougen arrived in Ukraine on March 11 and then made a brief detour to Belarus. From March 14-25, he met with the Oblates in Ukraine, visiting seven out of eleven houses in the Delegation (He did not go to the one that is in Russia). His visit had been planned long ago and no one could predict back then the tense and dramatic time the country would experience in March. During his stay, Father General witnessed some consequences of the recent Ukrainian revolution; he visited Maidan Nezalezhnosti, the main square of Kiev and the site of protests and fights in January and February. Fr. General had planned to visit the Oblates in Crimea: Bishop Jacek PYL in Simferopol and the OMI community in Yevpatoria, but he could not do that since flights to Crimea had been cancelled.
He made visits to most of the other parishes run by the Oblates, such as Chernigiv, Slavutych, Gnivan, Tyvriv and St. Nicholas parish in Kiev. “I’ve been in liturgies, in meetings with people from parishes and different ministries and I see an interest in our Congregation, an interest in mission, what we are doing, how we are growing. It’s been fascinating to see the interest that the lay people have in our work. It strikes me also the number of young people in the church”, he stated.
During his visit, the Oblates gathered to hear him preach their retreat at Obukhiv, near Kiev. The fact that Father General was together with his fellow Oblates made this retreat a special time of grace and not just another spiritual exercise. The Oblate Brothers and priests who gathered in Obukhiv felt that the Superior General came as the Father of the Congregation, as their Father. “That fatherly love could be heard from what he was saying and seen, even from the way he smiled. I like his humanness, warmth, concern, and the atmosphere of trust that he creates,” said Fr. Sergij PANCHENKO, who ministers in the Catholic Media Center in Kiev.
Two of our confreres, Frs. Krzysztof BUZIKOWSKI and Kamil ZYNDA, who live
in Yevpatoria in Crimea, could not come to the retreat because of safety concerns
and the very tense political situation after the referendum on the peninsula.
They decided to stay in their house but participated in the retreat in Obukhiv
by the means of the internet. They watched and heard talks by Fr. General
online a few times every day. Both Oblates were closely united spiritually and
emotionally with the rest of the Oblate group and vice versa.
At the beginning of the retreat Superior General blessed a new icon of
St. Eugene in the chapel of the Obukhiv community. On the last day, March 21, there
was a reconciliation service with the possibility to approach, forgive and
embrace one another. Later that day, there were Vespers with a ceremony to
receive the new Constitutions and Rules from the hands of Superior General, a
very touching moment for everyone.
Also on that last day, there was a solemn Eucharistic celebration presided over by Archbishop Mieczyslav Mokrzycki, President of the Ukraine Conference of Roman Catholic Bishops, and Archbishop Petro Malchuk, the Ordinary of the Kiev-Zhytomyr Diocese. Almost 50 priests, guests and Oblates, concelebrated. Many lay faithful from different parishes, Oblate associates and prominent guests attended the Mass. After the Eucharist, all were invited to the basement of the Obukhiv church to watch a new film about Oblate missionary work in Ukraine. Then, the Superior General, along with Superior of the Delegation, Fr. Pavlo WYSZKOWSKI, expressed their gratitude to lay and religious associates for their outstanding support to the OMI mission over the years.
Brother Sebastian JANKOWSKI who works with homeless on the streets of Kiev, after having met Fr. Lougen, said: “The visit of Father General gave me a lot of joy and encouragement for my apostolic ministry and community life. I especially liked his conferences on poverty, respect for one another in community and on missionary commitment. It was very encouraging when Fr. General underlined the important role of Brothers in the Congregation and the witness of their faith”.
At the end of his stay in Ukraine, Fr. Lougen shared his impressions about the Catholic Media Center run by the Oblates: “I have all kinds of good impressions. First of all, we’re living in a moment right now that is difficult for Ukraine, so that’s always in the background: what is happening in Crimea, what would the future be, etc., but the people have been very warm and welcoming wherever I’ve gone.
“I found some small communities where the Catholics have told me the history of their life and Church and I hear so much about a Church that has been suffering. I’ve also found out that my brother Oblates are extremely available to the people; I’m happy to see them close to the people they serve and also to see that they’re trying to live a good community life which is always a challenge for us”. Fr. General concluded with a smile, “The food has also been wonderful. I have to say I put on a few kilos!” (by Cyprian CZOP; photos by Bernard FELCZYKOWSKI)
To give us an idea of how much the area around Bravetta Street has changed, compared to 30 years ago when the parish of the Most Holy Crucifix was begun, the parish priest, Father Giuseppe SORRENTINO shows us an old tree, adjacent to the church. This old tree trunk still has the “nibble marks” from goats. This shows what the open countryside was like before urbanization swallowed much of the green space. However, unlike other areas of Rome, the district has maintained a degree of tranquility and the 18 thousand inhabitants can benefit from urban services, at a reasonable proximity to the city center and the Vatican. The population is quite diverse: in some areas, mostly upper middle class, while in others, mostly ordinary people. One aspect, however, is common to all the people: high participation in parish life. Father Pino (as he is called by parishioners) remembers one clearly distinguished parishioner: the former president of the Republic, Oscar Luigi Scalfaro. “Scalfaro,” the priest remembers, “was one of the most faithful parishioners that we had. Every morning, even when he was president, he came to Mass and in the last years of his life, when he was unable to get out, he asked that communion be brought to his home, so I visited him personally.”
As already mentioned, strong participation is a hallmark of this parish, and not just by famous people. Father Pino continues: “This is a booming parish. This year alone we have had 53 confirmations and about 100 First Communions. For Sunday Mass, the church is packed and often we lack seats.” The parish is also the reference point for families, defined by the parish priest as “the real engine of society.” Available to the families, in fact, within the compound there is a large playground for children, an oratory, and rooms for prayer meetings and other things. In this regard, in one of these gatherings, the families are directly involved in what can be considered a very special catechesis. “For six years,” said the priest, “we have had this project in which the parents are directly involved, following appropriate evangelization, in the Christian formation of their children.” It is an interactive process, within the bosom of the family, which helps both the little ones and their elders to grow. Another source of pride for Father Pino is the very active Filipino community. “These people are well integrated into our community. They are a beautiful presence and are well-liked by everyone.” Every Sunday, they participate in Mass which is sometimes celebrated in their own language.
But Father Pino is a pastor decidedly “tech savvy” and in step with the times. Every week, in fact, he sends to all parishioners a verse from the Gospel, with a message and a little story attached. “People greatly appreciate this service which has started a buzz among relatives and friends of parishioners who belong to other parishes. The word is out there so much so that those who come to the church for the first time ask to leave their email address.” Finally, there is no lack, even in this case, of charitable services. There are in fact 50 families who are assisted periodically with food packets and other aid. Many of these families, in the past almost all foreigners, are now mostly Italian. There is also a very active assistance for the elderly who are often left alone, and “who have no one, apart from the parish, to ask for help.” (Ugo Cataluddi in iltempo.it)
“We are cut off from the rest of the country,” the Auxiliary Bishop of Odessa-Simferopol, Missionary Oblate Msgr. Jacek PYL, writes to Aid for the Suffering Church, concerning the actual situation in Crimea.
He continues: “We communicate only by telephone and e-mail. Even the aid packets are blocked at the border.” In spite of the very few resources available, the Catholic Church, which has only about two thousand faithful, is taking care of so many families in difficulty. After the referendum that sanctioned the annexation of Crimea to Russia, the Ukrainian banks closed to make way for those of the Federation; Russian money has just begun to circulate and during the transition, the people could not touch their bank accounts nor receive wages and pensions. “We are trying to respond to the emergency, handing out food and medicines, with special attention to large families. We also help the Greek-Catholic families who are participating in our liturgical celebrations because all of their priests have left Crimea.”
The members of the Roman
Catholic clergy have remained on the disputed peninsula, but it is not yet
clear if they will be able to stay. It seems that the government in Moscow will
require a visa of Ukrainians not born in Crimea; many of the religious who work
in the Diocese of Odessa-Simferopol are of Polish nationality with a long-term
residency permit issued by the Ukrainian government. The separation has also canceled
years of negotiations with Kiev for the restitution of Church properties taken
during the soviet era. “The church in Sebastopol, turned into a theater under
communism, was on the verge of being returned to the Church, but past efforts
are no longer valid.” Also construction and restoration permits already
obtained are now useless, but Bishop Pyl does not let himself be discouraged:
“We have restarted many times from zero and we are ready to do it again. The
important thing is that no one put obstacles in our path.”
Some weeks ago, in a letter
addressed to the people, the bishop invited the people of Crimea “to not permit
that the brotherhood among the people of the peninsula be broken.” An identical
appeal was later made by Metropolitan Lazarus of Simferopol and Crimea of the
Russian Orthodox Church. “Christians of every denomination have prayed in
spiritual union so that there be no fratricide. The fact that there was no
blood shed during the passage of Crimea to Russia is a sign of the strength of
Many Orthodox priests, tied to the Kiev patriarchate, have left Crimea for fear that Moscow intends to absorb their Church or even forbid its presence on the peninsula. Deprived of their own clergy, the Christians of the Ukrainian Church have preferred to turn to the Catholic Church rather than the Russian Church. “Their faithful have expressed the desire to pray with us and I immediately agreed. We are all children of the One God.”
Relationships with the Islamic community are stable for the moment, although the media speak of the arrival in Crimea of militant groups coming from Chechnya and the republics of the former Yugoslavia. “The situation is still calm but the news that we get from the media is alarming.”
Considering the uncertain future of the region, Bishop Pyl repeats the great need for prayer. He says that in Crimea, they survive only thanks to the Christian virtues: faith, hope and charity. “Faith allows us to look at what has happened through the prism of God’s providence; with hope, we look to the future, because we know that God is near us in this difficult moment; and charity, toward God and our neighbors, helps us to avoid fostering hatred in our hearts. (9 April 2014, www.acs-italia.org)
Fr. Angelo DAL
BELLO lived many years of his life as a formator on various levels, both for
his Italian Province and at the International Scholasticate in Rome. He was
revered as a confessor and a spiritual director, especially of young religious,
not only of Oblates but of various congregations.
So respected was he by the late Archbishop Marcello ZAGO, that in 1998, he was invited to live with the former Superior General when the latter was named Secretary for the Sacred Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and moved to the Propaganda Fidei building at Piazza di Spagna in Rome. He was with the archbishop when he died in 2001.
At the end of 2012, however, he was diagnosed with lung cancer. This did not keep him from his ministry of spiritual direction until he was finally confined to his bed. In his diary in late September, he wrote: “I’m experiencing physical pain. Love has taken away the pain; it is not mine, but that of the Bridegroom. These days I see Life, real, incarnate, because here is the Bridegroom and his Mother. Magnificat! I write this with effort...physically. So it is His will. For me, there remains God; there remains the Eucharist. There remains the expectation of Paradise revealed. It’s my all and this is enough for me. Magnificat!”
He died at the Provincial House on the night of 20 November 2013. A few days later, his Provincial, Fr. Alberto GNEMMI wrote to the Oblates of the Mediterranean Province: “I think it is important to consider in our prayers the person of Fr. Angelo Dal Bello. (...). His life of faith, centered in the supernatural, has allowed him to have a gospel-centered soul, open to trust and hope in terms of being and acting. A pure man, abandoned to the will of God, which made him a companion of many consecrated young men and women as a confidant, spiritual director, confessor. I believe that we can entrust to him, sure of his intercession, our prayers for the gift of Oblate and missionary vocations.”