LATIN AMERICAFirst Latin American Vocation Congress
"Master, where do you live? He answered: Come and see.” (John 1:38-39) That was the inspirational text for our first Latin American vocation congress at Aparecida, Brazil, where we Oblates took part representing 9 Units of our Region, coming from 14 different countries, in all 27 men and 3 women missionaries, two of whom were Lay Oblate women.
"Vocationalize” our communities and our mission was the proposal of the congress. To do this, several ideas for the OMI Vocational Year in 2016 were suggested. The eight days were beautiful experiences of encounter among ourselves as Oblate brothers, for revisiting our first love and reflecting on our own Oblate missionary vocation. We shared many events, experiences, prayers, songs, dances, jokes and the joy of being missionaries in the world of today and tomorrow.
To "encounter another" means sitting down with him, face to face, to know him, to love him and to receive his love. To encounter the Risen Jesus means to open one’s eyes to His loving person and opening one’s heart to His gospel, the Good News. Mary Magdalene and Simon Peter, Zacchaeus and Bartimeus, Martha and Mary of Bethany, Mathew and Thomas, Philip and Andrew, the rich young man and the bent over woman, John and James, Nicodemus and the grateful leper, Saint Eugene and all the men and women He met on His way are witnesses to this. Their "encounter” with Jesus touched the lives of each one of them and in a definitive way. Everything began with that encounter. "To seek” and "To find.” Those are two very meaningful words.
Pope Francis, in the Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, invites all Christians to immediately renew their personal encounter with Jesus Christ or, at least, to decide to let themselves be encountered by Him, to try to do this each day without a break (n. 3). The OMI, each one personally and in a very concrete moment, must also wish to know about Him, about His crucial world, about His plan, and ask Him: "Master, where do you live?” For us Oblates, his presence must be found, in a special way, in the poor.
At this time, our Vocational Congress coincides with the beginning of the year dedicated to mercy and the bicentennial of the founding of our Congregation. We also want it to be a invitation to all those who want to know the Oblate missionary spirit better and to experience "come and see.”
"What are you looking for? Where do you live?” "Come and see….they went with Him, they saw where He lived and the spent that day with Him. It was about four in the afternoon.” (John 1:38-39) That was the experience of Saint Eugene and of the Blessed OMI Martyrs. They discovered, in their ENCOUNTER with Jesus, that He was calling them to live in service of the Plan of the Kingdom of God, making it reach the poorest people on the earth.
Our Founder’s journey of encounter with Jesus was a long process…until, like the Samaritan woman, he encountered a different way to satisfy his thirst and he gave himself over unconditionally to the plans of God. Today he inspires us in our way of FOLLOWING, so as to respond to the dreams of God for us and for this world.
In all of our proposal to "vocationalize” our life and mission, we are invited to listen to the voice of God, the "bells of today”, amidst the many "noises of the sea” which go by us in our daily lives (an allusion to a story about hearing the bells of a church that had been covered over by a lake). We are invited to spread to today’s new generations that which excited and captivated us in our Oblate missionary vocation; to share with fervor and enthusiasm our spirituality and our charism with all those who will be in contact with us, so that they too might also be able to have this unique experience of an encounter with Jesus Christ through that fundamental question: "Master, where do you live?” Perhaps Jesus will say to them: Go with the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and there you will see me; there you will encounter me; and when they see us in our communities and missions, He will inspire in these youth that exclamation: see how they love one another and I too want to be one of them! (Fr. Hector ORTEGA, Uruguay)
Recently, the provincial of the Mediterranean Province, Father Alberto GNEMMI, and the Vicar Provincial, Father Ismael GARCIA, visited two Latin American Oblate missions, Venezuela and Uruguay. Fr. Gnemmi wrote this about Uruguay in his account of the visit:
Living in the different communities with these confreres, one discovers the value of fraternal friendship, shared at the various moments of the day. Every Monday, the Oblate Martyrs community comes together to share what they are living and doing in their ministry. There is harmony among them and benefitting from this are the laity who see themselves as partners with our men in carrying on the ministry.
We cannot deny that the cultural context, marked by the progression of secularization begun at the birth of the country in the 19th century, does not make their pastoral ministry easy. Here, I synthesize the content of some conversations I had with the Fathers of the Delegation:
"Not only the progression of political secularization, but also ‘modernity’ has entered into the veins of the this country: the links of solidarity have been broken. There has been economic growth in these last five years after the serious crisis of 2001-20013, but individualism and social uncertainty have also grown.
"It is not easy to foster Christianity in the daily lives of these families with their thousand faces. Generally, with regard to parish ministry, we are moving from a classic method, i.e., the spiritual care of those who attend and sacramental action, to a more missionary approach, aimed at accompanying the people humanly, many of whom are hurting from the many hardships of life. People have religious sentiment, but they have no sense of a faith celebrated, lived. Secularization shapes the country that has not found its religious character. On the positive side, at the diocesan level there is a new air with the work of the new archbishop, Daniel Sturla, Salesian, whom Pope Francis chose to name a Cardinal in the consistory of last February. One breathes a new climate, with the Church more open towards civil society and the many positive events of this time. There is good collaboration between the priests of the big city of Montevideo: the restructuring into four pastoral zones, desired by the Archbishop, has helped this, relative to the past, where the division into ten areas was less effective.”