Past Issues - 7 - 2014/1
Théophile Didier, omi, Cinquante ans chez les Inuits (1935-1986). Corrispondance à sa famille, [s.l., s.d. 2013 ?], 140 p.
Fr Théophile Didier has contributed in an eminent way to the apostolate among the Inuit of the Hudson Bay area. It could be said of almost every missionary who faithfully gave his life for the Gospel, but probably it is even more appropriate when one speaks of somebody who made an effort to translate the Bible into the language of the people he was sent to serve as a missionary. Fr Didier spent 50 years in the Canadian Arctic and his life ended tragically in 1986 in a plane crash near Rankin Inlet, an Inuit community located on the shore of Hudson Bay. This event was an unspeakably tragedy for the Oblate and the diocesan community of the Canadian Arctic. Together with Fr Didier the plane crash took away the lives of bishop Omer Robidoux omi, sister Lise Turcotte, the pilot and his friend. The bishop with his collaborators was on the way to Pelly Bay, for a meeting of the Inuit catechist families. Their pastoral efforts of the preceding decades were focused on the ministry of inculturation of the Church among the Inuit. The publication Cinquante ans chez les Inuit (1935-1986). Théophile Didier OMI. Correspondence à sa famille brings together over 100 letters and postcards written by Fr Didier to his family, especially his brothers, Marie Didier, his sister in law, and François Didier, his nephew. Apart from one short letter written in 1949 and three others dated 1957 and 1959, the majority belong to the decades of 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. They were written in many locations, mostly in the Canadian Arctic: Repulse Bay, Rankin Inlet, Coral Harbour, Chesterfield, Churchill, Pelly Bay, Igloolik, Baker Lake, Eskimo Point (today’s Arviat). Others, usually shorter notes or postcards, were sent from southern Canada, Montreal, Winnipeg, etc. The editors have also included in their book a short speech of Paul W. Fox, on the occasion of the ceremony of the Doctorate honoris causa at the University of Toronto in June 1986, a discourse of Fr Didier on the same occasion, and two texts published after the tragedy in Rankin Inlet together with a short notice of a prayer service for Fr Didier’s intention. The letters are simply transcribed, without any major commentary (there is only a brief introduction), and the book lacks the date and place of publication.
The edition is not scholarly, but it is nevertheless precious. Fr Didier in his letters spoke not only about the facts understandable by his family, but shared much information concerning the progress of the Oblate missions among the Inuit of the Hudson Bay area. He described his travels in the far Canadian North, some interesting events making news in the Arctic, the evolution of the pastoral ministry and growing involvement of the Inuit catechists, the changing social and economic situation of Inuit settlements (e.g. building of the airports and the more frequent flights in the early 70s). He didn’t lack a sense of humor and a philological awareness, like in the following passage from one of his letters: “Bonjour à tous et toutes! Je ne sais pas si c’est en France comme au Canada, mais de plus en plus les dames veulent qu’elles soient mentionnées expressément à côté des messieurs et gare à nous si on a le malheur de l’oublier. Pour les esquimaudes cela n’a aucune importance vu que la grammaire de leur langue ne comporte ni masculin ni féminin et je trouve que c’est beaucoup mieux ainsi quoi qu’en pensent les dames blanches, jaunes ou noires” (letter written in Churchill, dated 18 mars 1985). The relatives of Fr Didier should be appreciated for sharing their personal correspondence with the broader public, thus giving access to the unique sources illustrating the daily life and preoccupations of a missionary. In recent years more and more professional anthologies of missionary sources are being published by the scholars in the field of Church history, missiology and religious studies.
It is to be hoped that publications like Cinquante ans chez les Inuit will encourage more initiatives of the same nature – even if possibly improved from the academic point of view – concerning Oblate history and heritage. (Paweł Zając, omi)
40 Tahun OMI Berkarya in Indonesia 1972-2012. 20 Tahun Provinsi OMI Indonesia 1993-2013. [Pauperes evangelizantur. Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the Indonesian Province & 40th year of the Presence of the Oblates in Indonesia], Provinsi Indonesia OMI, 2013, 236 p.
Evangelizare pauperibus misit me is at the soul of the groups of Oblates from different nationalities and which is becoming fully present in Indonesia. A group of Australian Oblates came and started working in Java in 1972, in the diocese of Purwokerto, and a couple of years later, also settled in the Archdiocese of Semarang and the Archdiocese of Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia. In 1977, the two separate groups of Oblates, namely French and Italian, set foot on the island of Borneo: one in the East, in the Archdiocese of Samarinda, and one in the West in the Diocese of Sintang. Most were Oblates who had been expelled from Laos, due to political reasons. They were searching for a place similar to Laos within Asia and found Borneo/Kalimantan to harbor their missionary hearts (p. 44-52).
Separately, in their respective delegations, they worked hard with and for the people until they began to discern the possibility of merging and forming a single Oblate province. The processes began with several sessions, meetings, and retreats. Finally, with the approval of the General Administration, a vice-province of Indonesia was born on May 21, 1993. This solemn moment was realized in the presence of then-Father General Marcello Zago, and Father Angelito Lampon, at that time the counselor of Asia-Oceania (p. 53-62).
What is the core mission of the Oblates? Our Founder, St. Eugene de Mazenod, invited all his sons to live in community as brothers and then work zealously outside of it for the salvation of souls. By living together as a community the Oblates were able to live “charity, charity, charity among us..” and so set out to spread the Gospel for the salvation of souls. Living the charism of the Founder, the Oblates choose to become “the servant and priest and brother for the poor” and give their lives wholly to them. The Oblates lead people to act like human beings, first of all, and then like Christians, and finally help them to become saints. With this mission, the Oblates live and work in countries spreading to the five continents, including within Indonesia (p. 25-43).
What are the works for the souls in Indonesia? The Oblates work in two of the main islands of Indonesia in six archdioceses. They collaborate with the local Church as well, since most of the Oblate works are basically parish ministries. It is true that the Oblates live as parish priests; but they came as missionaries, and the Oblates’ missionary spirit is clearly revealed in their ways of doing ministry. Thanks be to God that the bishops have seen and truly appreciated the presence and works of the Oblates in their respective dioceses (p. 11-26).
Within parish ministry, the Oblates work wholeheartedly for the poor. In the context of Borneo, with its jungles, rivers, and groups of tribal peoples, the Oblates work tirelessly in reaching out to the people to bring them the Good News of salvation. In both the West and the East, Oblates encourage families to send their children to school. The Oblates provide lodging to children from various isolated villages in boarding houses connected to the presbytery or under the guidance of some trusted families. It saves a lot of young women and men or teenagers from a “culture of marriage” at a young age. Many of them are even able to continue their studies at a higher level either in the university or any of the vocational schools. It takes a long time to change the mentality of the people and continues to be so even now.
Visiting families is another option for the Oblates in doing their ministries. Riding by “motor” in the muddy roads, travelling by small boats in the unpredictable weather, and staying overnight with people with limited facilities and sanitation provide the background for their “art” of being close to the people. We have lost two zealous Oblates in road accidents. Despite this cost, Oblates also enjoy the harvests such as hundreds of youth achieving various higher levels of education, thousands of people who know and follow the Savior, great contributions toward preserving local cultures, the works of JPIC, and of course, great missionary witnesses for the sake of the Church which our Founder loved so much - the glorious inheritance purchased by Christ the Savior at the cost of his own blood. The Oblates have done a lot of church-building as pioneers in order to pave the way for a future ministry of faith among the people (p. 127-186).
The island of Java is the most populous island in the world (the UN census 2013 notes its population as 135 million persons). The Oblates from Australia arrived in Cilacap, Central Java and then spread their wings to the west of Jakarta for more ministries and to the east of Yogyakarta to begin houses of formation. The Javan Oblates have tackled some significantly different challenges compared to the Oblates in Borneo. The main issues are poverty and unemployment. People have no money to improve their living standard or to send their children to school. Right after their arrival in 1972, the Oblates became involved in some social projects for the benefit of the people by building roads, sanitation facilities, schools, micro-credit, and empowerment of the housewives to raise incomes for the family. All those projects are done in the context of parish ministry. The Oblates work for the poor without neglecting the original mission with in the Church. Cultivating faith by administering the sacraments, visiting families, and opening a national Marian Grotto in Kaliori, Central Java, have been expressions of the Oblate religious charism. Moreover, Oblates engaged in parishes are conducting ministry to youth such as Roses, Antiokhia, and Oblate Youth Encounter every two years, and show their concern for the support of families in ways such as encouraging couples to join Marriage Encounter weekends. Building churches are also part of the missionary zeal among the Oblates engaged in parish ministry. By doing all of these, the Oblates have been much involved in the local Church as well as in the broader society of Indonesia, their appreciation for the Oblates being notably expressed when Fr. Charlie Burrows received the Ma’arif Award from a prominent National Islamic Institution in 2012 (p. 64-107).
The future of the Oblate congregation lies at the heart of formation. The presence of the Oblates attracted some young men to join, which gave hope to the continuation of the mission as well as presenting the need of setting up formation houses. In 1982, after some discernment involving the delegation of France and Italy, the Australian Oblates began a joint construction project for the scholasticate and novitiate in Yogyakarta, an autonomous region well-known as a city of culture and study.
In 1990, the novitiate moved to the new location, about 3 kilometers north of the scholasticate. The number of vocations is always up and down but they were prosperous during the time of the unification of the three delegations. Although the number of novices and scholastics were fantastic, the number went down dramatically after several years; but, thanks be to God, the number has recently been going up again. The future looks brighter and brighter for the Oblates in Indonesia. The average age of the Oblates is between thirty seven and forty five. The vocation of brotherhood has also increased in recent years, which gives more hope for doing ministries in a broader context and variety (p.108-126).
What are the challenges of the mission in Indonesia? The issue of transferring to a new generation and continuation of the mission is one of the major concerns among the Oblates. The magnificent works of the expatriates (former three delegations) is slowly being handed over to local Oblates, which requires both trust and accountability among all of them. Despite the differences in backgrounds, way of being missionaries, and the lack of personnel, the commitment remains the same: the Oblates will carry on the mission of the Founder, bringing the Good News to the poor and abandoned. The Oblates serve the unserved: the poor among the rich in the city, the isolated people in the jungles, the dynamic-modern youths, the issues identified by JPIC, and, of course, the service to the Church. With one heart and one soul, cor unum et anima una, and through congresses and meetings, the Oblates as a community, holding hands with an abundance of faithful lay men and women (p. 199-212), look forward to firmly assuring that the poor have received the Good News. Many have received and many more will receive. (Henricus Asodo, omi)
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