Past Issues - 6 - 2013/3
The Intercapitular Meeting is a gathering of provincials with the Central Government; it has a threefold scope: evaluate the implementation of the decisions of the previous Chapter, encourage further implementation and assure the remote preparation of the next Chapter. (cf. C. 128e) One of the most important events for our Oblate family during 2013 was undoubtedly the meeting in Bangkok which was attended by the provincials, the superiors of all our delegations and the superiors of the Missions of the Asia-Oceania Region.
The meeting took two weeks (22 April - 3 May): the first began with a remembrance of the Spanish and Laotian Oblate martyrs and with a talk by Father Firth who spoke on the theme: “The Oblate missionary: what kind of man?” Then we got into the substance of our work by listening to reports from the five Regions, each followed by a time for group discussion. The report of the General Treasurer, including an appeal for a renewed solidarity with the poor but also among ourselves, preceded a day of retreat animated by Father Nallappan. At its conclusion, there was a colorful liturgy whose principal goal was the distribution of the new Constitutions and Rules to all the Oblates who were present. Father’s Firth’s text is found in this edition.
From listening to the reports of the five Regions and from the exchange in the various groups, many themes emerged relative especially to Oblate identity and mission.
This first part of the Intercapitular Meeting was characterized by listening and by dialog. The many things heard and said had as a central theme the question of how to respond adequately to the situation in which we live and, related to that, to the call of the Chapter to conversion. In some reports, there was a sharing of experiences in this regard.
We spoke about various areas of conversion: community life, poverty, healing and reconciliation in our relationships. We spoke about conversion in relation to the mission, about the kind of life that should precede the mission, about being before doing. We spoke about the Church and the Kingdom of God, about the Church in relation to the Kingdom, about conversion to Christ crucified. We spoke about sharing as an aspect of conversion: sharing money and personnel, so as to have everything in common.
Invited to imitate the example of Jesus, who emptied himself of his being God to become similar to humans, the Oblate is called to walk the same path toward a continual metanoia, a daily emptying that allows him to bypass frontiers and thus become a man of human encounter, the Advent man, the man with the cross, salt and light for the world.
The reports from the Regions emphasized such aspects as the community – especially in relation to individualism and narcissism – selfsufficiency at various levels, religious life related to diocesan priesthood, the laity who become involved in our mission in so many different ways, leadership and authority as service, transparency in accountability, interreligious dialogue as a name for the mission, in a world where Christianity is a minority.
We spoke about hope and reconciliation, about the transition from the “I” to the “we.” We spoke about the communication needed for community; we emphasized the urgency to redefine our mission. We spoke about formation, especially about formation for community; if we often speak of the relationship of formation and mission, the relationship between formation and community is no less important, a community called to be formational.
From the very first day, we experienced a good degree of family life. It is something that grows, from the first to the last day, in experiences like this where family ties are really experienced. We spoke about sharing, not only of our material resources but also in relation to our concerns and our lives. We spoke about community which is a task that remains to be accomplished.
Particular attention was given to the importance of having a common project. The Superior General, speaking to the Major Superiors of the Asia-Oceania Region the week before, had underscored the importance of finding a common denominator, a common basis so as to experience being one family, one Congregation, brothers committed to living the same mission.
We talked about the importance of creating a new mindset. Someone added: less ideological, more evangelical. This too is a call to conversion.
A new style of leadership, a more real relationship between community and mission, lifelong learning, Oblate identity as the heart of our mission. And again: justice, peace and integrity of creation, restructuring as a positive challenge to accomplish the mission, having the entire Congregation on one’s horizon.
The difficult issue of secularization was touched upon several times. We saw this phenomenon as an external factor: we live in a secularized society. We said that we should consider for a moment in what manner and to what extent this reality has penetrated even our religious houses, our mentality, our way of thinking, for the good and bad. It is a topic that deserves further exploration.
Also the issue of formation came up several times. As for our material resources, so too for our candidates, we can say that they belong to the Congregation and to the poor. We live in a broken world; we wonder if the formation we give our candidates prepares them to heal these wounds. Is our formation able to transform these, our injured young people, into courageous missionaries for the mission that is entrusted to them? A huge task, difficult, delicate.
Someone once said that to follow Jesus Christ is a risk, and it truly is. When we begin this journey, making ourselves his disciples, we realize that we must also accept our weaknesses, our vulnerabilities. The Chapter dealt with this issue in 1998, inviting us to develop a culture of being a Congregation that learns, a family that learns, an apostolic corps that learns.
The jubilee that we are preparing will be for us the year of the Lord, the Holy Year, a year of grace. We are privileged to be able to celebrate and enjoy this great event; it will be a kairos that we cannot and we must not let pass us by. So the kairos must be “received” as a gift that could end up not being very useful if we don’t take advantage of it…
We talked about unity among the Oblates, in relation to individualism on the one hand and communion for the mission on the other. It is a journey,
slow and sometimes laborious, from individualism to communion, to mission. It is a daily journey: every day we have to leave our ego behind us to build the community with our brothers and to be sent out as missionaries. Communion could be considered the new name for interdependence.
The theme of Oblate identity was certainly a recurring theme. When we ask ourselves who we are, we respond with a certain ease and by mutual agreement: we are the missionaries of the poor. We find this an apt definition: we are called to evangelize the poor; this is the heart of our charism, our identity. The difficulty arises when we ask what it means to be missionaries of the poor. Who are the poor; what does it mean to evangelize? A question that can be answered, and in fact is answered in a thousand ways, with the risk of losing the unity and communion within the family.
We talked about the importance of having roots, going back to our roots, to the sources. This seems particularly important at this juncture in which we are preparing to celebrate the 200 years of our history.
Speaking of roots makes us think spontaneously of the image of a tree. A tree lives from its roots, not moving and not walking. It just remains rooted; its lifeblood runs through it, coming from the roots, passing through the trunk and the branches and the leaves, so as to bring life.
Growing is not changing nature, but maturing within the same nature. Desiring to return to our roots as Oblates, we will better understand what our nature is, what the Spirit calls us to be in the Church, at the time of Eugene as well as after two centuries of history.
Our roots are Jesus Christ and St. Eugene. Every true conversion must bring us back there. There we will find our inspiration and the answer to our questions. The first question for a journey of conversion should therefore be this: am I still rooted in Jesus Christ and in Eugene? Have I really met Jesus Christ and St. Eugene? Do I have a real, living relationship with them? What kind? The answer to these questions may be, in my opinion, the beginning of something new. Someone talked about refounding, about revitalization, about a new beginning. Whatever we want to do, it should always start from there: a tree lives from its roots; the energy always comes from there.
During the retreat day that preceded the conclusion of the first week, Father Nallappan reminded us that to recover from an illness – we have often spoken of wounds, healing – it is not enough to have a prescription: you need to take the medicine! This could be, just to take one example, the word of God that we proclaim. To evangelize is to tell the people, especially the poor, who Christ is, and what better way to achieve this than to use his own Word? We are called to make the Word the center of our lives. At the beginning of his experience, Eugene wanted his men to spend, between one mission and another, long periods in their own community, meditating, studying, sharing the Word which they would then proclaim during the popular missions . We, the Oblates of today, are still called to tell who Christ is, in a different world, in a different context, but the mission is the same.
Identity is belonging. The Intercapitular Meeting began with a reminder of our martyrs: they were able to give their lives for Christ and for the Church because their sense of belonging was stronger than any other attraction. What Tertullian had to say about the blood of the martyrs in relation to the Church, we too can say about our martyrs: that their blood is the seed of new Oblates. From that seed, from the bloodshed, we have grown to be what we are now, and this too is part of our return to the roots, to the sources. Oblation, a life given. I think it’s really a journey of conversion. On every level we are called to another encounter, a personal one, with Eugene, and together with him, with Christ crucified, because that is where it all began. On this depends the quality of our being, of our life, of our mission, of our formation, of our ability to share what we are and what we have.
The second week of the Intercapitular Meeting opened with a presentation of the Superior General that touched on various points about our lives and our mission: we live – he said among other things - very different situations from one Unit to another. Some Units have many young Oblates and face challenges in the field of formation; other Units are facing overwhelming challenges in the field of finance; some Units would like to have the presence of older Oblates to help them in their journey or simply with their wisdom, self-confidence and clarity. There are Units that are suffering the effects of a lack of vocations and the aging of the majority of their members. Some Units have been heavily affected by the scandals caused by cultural abuse, physical and sexual abuse, or they live in a context where the Church itself has been affected by these events. In some Units, the Oblates are struggling to discover or rediscover the sense of their missionary vocation while others are immersed in countless missionary challenges. We live in a widely diverse reality and it is important for us to find out what are the common challenges we face in today’s world. The rest of Father General’s talk is published in this edition.
The work of the second week continued with interventions by other members of the Central Government on matters of various kinds, including the presentation of the new community of Aix-en-Provence with its members and the activities that are resuming after the renovation of the house. The last days of the meeting were devoted to a remote preparation for the next General Chapter. Having closely followed what was happening, the secretary of the meeting prepared a synthesis in the form of a final message of the participants to all their brother Oblates and the whole Oblate family. In this message, whose main intention was to share what was lived in Bangkok, it is emphasized that the Intercapitular experience was a powerful and joyful time of fraternal life, of prayer and reflection; a time when together we experienced the richness of the Congregation, its life and its missionary efforts in the world.
Listening was the foundation of the whole meeting: listening to the Lord and His Word, listening to the brothers, listening to how we live in the Congregation as a response to the calls to conversion of the last General Chapter. This listening has led us to discover the various contexts of the mission of today and the concomitant demands: secularized societies in which Christians are only one voice among many others; situations of injustice and violence, poverty and despair; but also a world where one senses a thirst for love and truth. And starting from these contexts there is born in us the question: we Oblates, what kind of men are we called to be so as to live our mission in this world? There seemed to us to be three priority areas in our journey of conversion in view of the mission, fields navigated and animated by Oblate spirituality: community life, formation and mission.
Looking to the future and wondering what theme should have priority at our next General Chapter, it seemed that from the meeting in Bangkok, two trends emerged: the first emphasizes the urgent need to reaffirm our Oblate religious identity with particular reference to the vow of poverty as a way of life in service of the Kingdom; and the second highlights the urgent need to define a common approach for the missionary activity of the Congregation and the Church in a world that is rapidly changing. We find here, in my opinion, the two most important aspects of our lives that were gradually taken up in the last General Chapters: one concerns our “internal” life and includes issues such as Oblate identity, religious consecration, the community viewed as one heart and one soul, a reality summarized in the first part of the testament of St. Eugene “charity among yourselves.” The second is our commitment to the Church, to the world, and particularly to the poor. It extends to the reality of the mission of evangelization, to the preaching of the Gospel, to the community as inspired by the model of the Twelve formed and sent forth by Jesus, as summarized in the second part of the testament of St. Eugene, “and outside, zeal for the salvation of souls.”
We cannot live one of these aspects without the other. They are like the two moments of a breath, both essential for life. Eugene, who shows us the path to follow, help us to follow it too!
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