Father General’s dream was before us: lay association as a new reality in the congregation. “How ever were we going to get there?” I wondered. It was up to General Counsellor Father Szmydki to tell us: over three days of work and one day of celebration, he told us, we were going to create a document.
The 1992 Chapter, Szmydki told us, had set the objectives. We were there, we heard, because the Congregation had been directed to organize a gathering for individuals to share their experiences and give an orientation for the future for the development of new forms of association around the missionary charism. My reaction, was “Yikes!”
But the Oblates had a plan which they followed, in my mind, flawlessly. I never saw ‘behind the scenes,’ but from where I sat, each session was well-organized and the process flowed smoothly. Divided into seven working groups and over the course of three working days, we described what it meant for us to share the Oblate charism and we identified our expectations for the future. On the fourth day, we celebrated!
Interspersed with the working sessions were keynote presentations, specifically designed, I think, to broaden our perspective. Along with the theological underpinnings of association, Father General Zago reported on the practices of other congregations, both historically and in the present day. Father Rene Motte, the resident Oblate guru on Eugene and his charism, explored the charism of the Founder as it related to the laity.
We learned of the solid theological underpinnings for association and of boundary-breaking possibilities for new relationships. We heard how this all fit within Eugene’s understanding of church and, allowing for historical differences, his treatment and hopes for laity. We heard all of this in the context of living in the Foundation House, praying in the Mission Church, and strolling through the streets of Aix. It cannot have failed to influence our thinking!
On Day One, we shared our stories of the various lay/oblate collaborative experiences we were living. From that, we focused on two fundamental questions.
1] What is the relationship between an Oblate associate and the charism?
2] What must we do in order to develop new modalities? The first question focused on identity and the second on practical considerations.
As we worked, a committee took the fruits of each session and prepared draft texts for further discussion and input. A text gradually began to take shape and on Day Three was presented as a final text for debate and amendments. On this day of conclusion, the entire assembly, led by Father General Zago, discussed and ratified, paragraph by paragraph, the final text.
We have it today as the 1996 Aix Congress document.
Sandra Prather, HOMI