CANADA-UNITED STATESOMI Partners address Christian-Muslim Relations
The 2017 De Mazenod Conference of the Missionary Oblate Partnership was held February 10-12 at the Oblate Renewal Center in San Antonio, Texas. The theme of this year’s conference: Christianity & Islam: Can We Talk? provided opportunities for enlightened conversations on a highly-charged and often emotional topic.
Friday night’s keynote presentation, A Survey: What Catholics Think About Islam, was an instructive and often surprising snapshot of opinions held by U.S. Catholics regarding Muslims in the U.S. and around the world. Mark Gray, PhD presented the results of a comprehensive survey conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA). The attitudes revealed in the survey, shows that much work remains in order to bridge the gaps in the knowledge and understanding of Islam by U.S. Catholics. The survey clearly shows that beliefs of the Catholic (and broader U.S. populations) are often based erroneous information and headlines filled with terrorist activities of a small number of political radicals. A lively question-and-answer session followed with presenter, Mark Gray providing more details and analysis of the results of the ground-breaking survey.
Saturday’s presentation, Preparing to Dialogue with Our Muslim Brothers & Sisters, began the process of providing the education and understanding of Islam. Scott Woodward, D. Min., of Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio led the discussion focusing on two topics: Basic Principles of Islam: Pillars of Faith and Nostra Aetate & Our Tension With Islam. Throughout the presentation Woodward took questions and provided an excellent capsule understanding of the Islamic Faith and official Church teachings.
The afternoon was devoted to a visit to the Muslim Educational, Cultural & Children’s Center, San Antonio. The visit and dialogue arranged by Scott Woodward allowed for face-to-face interaction between Partnership members and the local Muslim Faith Community. In addition, a panel was led by Imam Beytulla Colak, of The Islamic Institute, and Mrs. Sarwat Hussain, President of the Council of American Islamic Relations, San Antonio Chapter. Many issues, assumptions and misconceptions were addressed by a welcoming Islamic community. The lovely weather allowed for additional fellowship outdoors along with refreshments and food provided by our hosts.
That evening after a liturgy celebrated by Fr. Louis STUDER, the group witnessed Muriel and Bob Klosterman receiving the Blessed Joseph Gerard Award for service to the Oblate Partnership.
"If it is true that ‘to dialogue is missionary,’ then we can gratefully conclude that the 2017 De Mazenod Conference was a much-needed missionary effort in service of increased understanding and kinship with our Muslim brothers and sisters,” said Partnership President and conference director, Artie Pingolt. (Willard Shaw in www.omiusa.org)
The story of Oblates in Canada cannot be told without talking about our presence among the First Nation communities. As a matter of fact, four years after the arrival of the Oblates in Canada in 1841, Fr Pierre FISET, visited Sept-Îles, in the Northern Coast of Quebec, to meet the Innu First Nations people. Five years later, in 1850, the Oblates were charged with all the First Nation missions of the Northern Coast of Quebec, from Tadoussac to Labrador.
This mission grew with time, drawing many Oblates, both Brothers and priests, to all the nooks and crannies of the vast territory of this North Shore. Though the mission had its glories and weaknesses, it remained a mission where the First Nation people and the missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate walked together in the vast field of evangelization.
The missionaries worked with the communities in the systematization of their language, in the recording of their ancient histories and traditions, in the translation of many important documents, etc. But after many years of glory, the number of missionaries started seriously to dwindle. Fortunately, the communities are already on their feet; they have their linguists and professional translators; their anthropologists and ethnographers; their own teachers and school directors, etc. The missionaries are thus relieved of their social pastoral programs.
But then the communities that had missionaries dwelling permanently among them started finding it difficult to have even a visiting missionary. And true to our love of the First Nation Mission and the First Nation people, the Oblate province of Notre-Dame-du-Cap made a missionary choice of assuring a qualitative pastoral presence among the Innu Nation of the Northern Shore of Quebec.
Today, we are four missionaries, from four different countries, in charge of seven communities. Our communities are not as they were a few years back. In most cases, the average age of those who come to our activities is above 70 years. And this reality affects our relationship with the younger generation.
But the community of Matimekush-Lac John has proven that they can transform the life of their Church. At the beginning of 2016, the community decided to reinvent its pastoral organization. Without a pastoral team, we gave ourselves two years to go through an unending list of youths who have not yet received their first Holy Communion. Once the challenge was launched, up to 13 members of our community decided to volunteer in teaching catechism. Recently, they proved their preparedness by presenting forty youths to receive Holy Communion. It was a community activity since the last time half of this number participated in such a celebration dates to 22 years ago.
During the celebration, the women expressed their desire to assure a continuous accompaniment of our youth in the preparation of sacraments and in showing other Innu communities how to be a Church in this era of laity empowerment. (Ali NNAEMEKA)