A SUCCESSFUL “CYBER-CONGRESS”A successful “cyber-Congress”
"For years, I have dreamed of this Congress. Now I can tell you: the reality has been more beautiful than the dream!” These words were spoken by Father Fabio CIARDI, Director of the General Service for Oblate Studies, at the conclusion of the recent Congress on the Oblate Charism in Context. The groundbreaking event took place on June 30-July 3, 2015, on two levels: local and intercontinental.
Thanks to the cooperation of many, the creativity of the organizers, and the forward-looking use of such modern means of communication as streaming video and Skype, as many as 1,000 Oblates and their associates were able to participate in all or a part of the proceedings.
The Congress was organized so as to respond as much as possible to its very title. A "Congress on the Oblate Charism in Context” had to be held… in context! Thus there came the idea to hold the Congress at the same time in all the Regions of the Congregation, in eight places, via internet connection: San Antonio (USA); Mexico City (Mexico); Rome (Italy); Obra (Poland); Kinshasa (D.R. Congo); Durban (South Africa); Colombo (Sri Lanka); Manila (Philippines).
Every day, the Congress was held in two time frames: a moment of connection among all the places where it was being held; a moment at the local level, with presentations prepared at the regional level and dialogue among the participants.
There had been a preparatory meeting in Rome in March 2015, called by Fr. Fabio to bring together the local organizers: Frank SANTUCCI and Fernando VELAZQUEZ (San Antonio); Francisco MARTÍNEZ (Mexico City); Romesh LOWE (Colombo); Federico LABAGLAY (Manila); Jean Baptiste MALENGE (Kinshasa); Neil FRANK (Durban); Pawel ZAJAC (Obra). The ongoing contacts among this group, in ensuing months, created a strong bond among them. A worldwide network has been created, in the service of the Charism.
On the local levels, there were Oblates and lay people associated with the Oblate charism, from neighboring countries, in various numbers, from 30 to 70. The focus of the four half-days was around the contextualization of the charism in their geographical area. Final reports from these levels are yet to be received, but a participant from Durban summed up what could very likely be described as the experience of all the areas: "Something very special happened at the Durban local meeting. Despite the simple, low-budget organization all those who participated were enriched, inspired and experienced even a sense of inner healing by our open fraternal sharing.”
On the intercontinental level, the connections worked well, from the technical point of view as well as for the dialogue. From every corner, it was possible to follow and interact in an easier and more active way than foreseen. After every presentation, there was open dialogue among all the geographic areas. The main language was English. When there were talks in French or in Spanish, the participants had the English translation available.
In his conclusion, Fr. Fabio stated: "My intention, in preparing this Congress, was also to reach out to the young Oblates and to instil in them a passion for our life and mission and to encourage them to take up the systematic study of Oblate history, spirituality and missiology. I think the Congress has aroused great interest among some of them, especially because of the way in which it was held.
"The Congress experience, in addition to the deepening of the topics discussed, was an instrument of great communion within the whole Mazenodian Family.
"Dialogue bounced from one part of the world to the other. It is as if the world was all in one room (contextualization?). Or perhaps better still, maybe it is the room that has spread throughout the world (inter contextualization?).
"As it has been said by many during these days, ‘We felt really one family; the distances are no longer a barrier’.”
The many reactions, communicated by e-mail or with other social network instruments were all extremely positive -- above all, the surprise and the joy at being able to live directly an event that gathered in the same arena Oblates of the whole world, overcoming the barrier of space. Someone compared it to the event of the canonization of the Founder which brought together 800 Oblates from the whole world. Hence the experience of a sense of family in seeing familiar faces and meeting people hitherto unknown. This has strengthened the sense of belonging and the joy of being Oblates. Also appreciated were the content and method of wide-ranging dialogue among the participants from around the world.
Fr. Frank Santucci OMI
At the end of the Congress, Fr. Frank Santucci expressed very well the sentiments of many of those who had participated either directly or via the internet in the Congress: "During this week of our Congress, I have understood what St. Pope John XXIII meant when he said, on the occasion of Vatican II, that the windows had been opened to let in a new life-giving wind – and after 50 years there is no closing them. Thank you, Fabio and your helpers, for being instruments to allow God and Saint Eugene to blow new enthusiasm and immense hope into our experience of the charism. Thank you for having had the courage to impel us into the 21st century cyber world and allowing the charism to touch so many during these days. I hear the words of St Eugene when he embarked on the adventure of foreign missions echoing again as he looks at our use of the media: ‘Here is a vast field that is opening up to our zeal’.”
The proceedings of the entire Oblate Congress on the Charism in Context will be published in several future editions of Oblatio.
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