As we journey towards the 2nd Oblate Lay Associations Congress: July 2021
Fr. Peter Stoll, OMI
Councillor for Asia-Oceania Region
Portfolio Lay Associations in the Internal Mission Committee
To begin, I quote from the Introduction written by Fr. Louis Lougan OMI, the Superior General, to the revised Directory of Oblate Associations (D.O.A.rev.) during this 200th Jubilee of the foundation of the Missionaries of Provence.
“Before Saint Eugene de Mazenod brought together the first Missionaries of Provence on January 25, 1816, he was collaborating with lay people in his ministry to prisoners, in his work with young people and in charitable works. From the very beginning of his ministry as we know, Saint Eugene lived a special quality of closeness to the poor and to those lay people who were collaborating in his apostolic works. There was a deep sense of respect for the diverse gifts that lay people brought to the various ministries and he regarded them as real co-operators in mission.” (D.O.A.rev. pg.3)
This certainly is true, the Oblates have kept this tradition, and we use the motto, “The Oblates always close to the people!” What is this closeness? To be close to people is good but the call of the General Chapters calls us to be close to people so that the Oblates can mission with people, empower them and with them grow in holiness and witness to the Kingdom of Jesus.
Pope Francis explains clearly, that “around each religious family, every Society of Apostolic Life and every Secular Institute, there is a larger family, a “charismatic family”, which includes a number of Institutes which identify with the same charism, and especially lay faithful who feel called, precisely as lay persons, to share in the same charismatic reality.” (cfr. Pope Francis’ Apostolic Letter to All Consecrated People, III, 1)
The Oblates do not have a Third Order similar to some other Congregations / Orders. “The situation of the organization of the Lay Associations in the Oblate Congregation is complex, because in some Units, there are different groups of lay collaborators, such as Missionary Association of Mary Immaculate (MAMI), Oblate Associates, Oblate Collaborators, Oblate Partners, Lay Associates, Friends of St. Eugene, Mazenodian Family, etc. and in some places, they include sections of Youth Groups. In some Units, these Associations overlap with each other and they do not share the same objectives.” (D.O.A.rev.p.4) This is seen as a reality and also a great richness.
The first international congress of lay associates was held in Aix-en-Province from May 18 to 21, 1996. It was attended by 32 lay people and 11 Oblates. The laity came from 13 countries, representing each of the Oblate regions: 11 from Europe, 8 from Canada, 5 from the United States, 4 from Latin America, 2 from Asia-Oceania and 2 from Africa-Madagascar. A final document was drafted and voted on: “Impassioned for Christ, the Church and the Mission.”
In tune and feeling with the universal Church, the 35th Chapter (2010) wished to state the following and I quote only several points:
- We encourage all Oblate Units and Regions to work closely with lay groups to identify priorities that consider especially the poor of today and engage in a process of mutual personal and communal conversion to the values of God’s Kingdom.
- We call on all Oblate Units to work together with the Associates in promoting the ministry of Oblate missionary vocations.
- We wish to persuade all Associate groups to live the specific characteristics of St. Eugene’s charism as enunciated in the 1996 Aix Congress through Regional Congresses, regular meetings with Oblates and encounters in daily life. We draw inspiration from our common charism, which strengthens the spirit of the Oblate family.
- We support the laity in their efforts to invite others to live and share the Oblate charism. (2010 Chapter Document, Conversion, Chapter 5, C, “Declaration to Oblates and Associates”)
The good news is that Chapter members of the 36th General Chapter (2016) wanted to follow it up and a recommendation was made:
“That the Central Government facilitate and call an international gathering of members of various lay groups within the Mazenodian Family.”
At the Interchapter meeting in Obra last July, the plan for the second Oblate Lay Associations’ Congress (2 ObLAC 21) was launched, and the Superior General and Council has fixed the date of the Congress to July 16-18, 2021.
✤The Aims of this Congress
- To revisit and develop the wonderful spirit experienced at the Oblate Congress of Lay Associates in Aix on May 18- 20, 1996: “Impassioned for Christ, the Church and the Mission”;
- To deepen some themes (capture the spirit and enthusiasm) that rose up through the Charism Congress 2015;
- To strengthen and deepen the identity of Oblate lay associations;
- To encourage youth to be an important part of the Oblate family;
- To celebrate our close relationship with the laity in all our ministries;
- To spread and deepen the Oblate charism amongst the laity that are together with us in ministry;
- To share locally, regionally, and at the congregational level, the depth and variety of ways of connecting as a big family joined together through the charism of St. Eugene de Mazenod;
- To ensure that the Oblates themselves are aware and see the Oblate family as truly family and partners in mission and not merely recipients or minor players in the whole Oblate mission.
It will be similar to the Congress of Oblate Charism in Context in 2015. There will be centres in each region where Oblates and lay people will gather for a program of animation and celebration, at some point of which there will be a connection by internet and live streaming to share across the Congregation the richness, inspiration, and fruits of our charism.
✤What needs to happen at the Unit level
- In the one-and-a-half years leading up to this weekend in 2021, there can be meetings and gatherings on a local Unit level of their various lay groups (MAMI, honorary Oblates, co-workers, etc.). This can be over several weekends or other types of sessions.
- The content will be basically around the themes of our Oblate charism.
- There are many resources available, especially the Oblates who have gone through the De Mazenod Experience in Aix.
- A second stage could be a unit-wide weekend for representatives from the centres.
- October 2019—June 2021: local Unit gatherings and animation of Oblate lay associations; preparations for 2 ObLAC 21 by a designated committee
- July 16-18, 2021: 2nd Oblate Lay Associations Congress 2021 through regional gatherings connected by live streaming
- Post-Congress animation through a designated charism animator in each Unit or Region
- Our goal is not to achieve some uniformity of organization but to inspire each group in the wonderful charism of our founder.
I conclude with quoting our Superior General, “I would like to encourage all vowed Oblates to deepen the mutual relationship between us and all those who share in the Oblate charism. This communion in the charism of Saint Eugene will strengthen the mission to preach the Gospel to the poor and most abandoned.”(D.O.A.rev.p.3)
*For further information: contact Peter by email – firstname.lastname@example.org