8 Days to go before Congress –

Fr. Ryszard Szmydki OMI reflects back on the first Congress and meetings in 1995 – 1996

Lay Associates Congress, Aix-en-Provence 1996

Ryszard Szmydki OMI

            The Seminar on Oblate Lay Associates, held in Rome in September 1995, in one of its final proposals recommended “to hold a congress of the Lay Associates”. The first International Oblate Lay Associates’ Congress took place in Aix-en-Provence, from May 18 to 21, 1996, in the very site of the foundation of the OMI Congregation.

            There were 43 participants: 32 lay Associates and 11 Oblates; several other Oblates were part of the support staff. The Associates came from each of the six 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, representing about 600 Associates and Lay Oblate Co-operators.

            The working sessions of the Congress took place in the historical Oblate chapel, where Fr. Eugene de Mazenod and his first Companions were gathering for prayer, since 1815. The chapel had been somewhat adapted to the needs of the Congress.

            There were three main objectives of the Congress: to share experiences between the Oblate Associates; to spell out what it means to be an Oblate Associate; to give some guidelines for the future.

There were three working days and one day of celebrations, with following objectives:

  1. 1st day: to get to know each other; to share experiences; to learn more about the charism of Eugene de Mazenod;
  2. 2nd day: to spell out “what it means a lay person associated with the Oblate charism?” and to specify “What should be done to develop new modes of association of the laity with the Oblates?”
  3. 3rd day: to elaborate a final document with conclusions of the Congress;
  4. 4th day (May 21): celebrations in Aix, in the morning, and in Marseille, in the afternoon.

            In preparation for the Congress, various Associates and groups of the Lay Oblate Associates throughout the Congregation received a questionnaire. The following questions were addressed: 1) What attracts you to the Oblate charism? 2) How do you participate in it? 3) What do you think of the recent Oblate documents on Lay Associates? 4) Are you expecting something more? In what form? 5) From your experience, compared to the “Final Proposals” of the Seminar of September 1995, how do you describe the identity of a Lay Associate? 6) What do you expect from the international Congress in Aix-en-Provence?

Over twenty reports arrived from various parts of the Oblate world: from Australia to Corsica, from Paraguay to Canada; one even came from a group of Hmong catechists in French Guiana. Those reports, forming a file of about fifty pages, have been synthesized into six pages. This summary of responses to the questionnaire has been translated in three official languages ​​of the Congress: French, English and Spanish.

The feedbacks from the participants of the Congress confirmed that the synthesis of the reports reflected faithfully what is lived at the base among the laity associated with the Oblates. There are some common fundamentals which constitute the identity of an Oblate Associate: impassioned with Christ; passionate for the Mission; loving the Church; being in communion with the Oblates; simple life style. At the same time, there is a diversity of forms of Association and commitments, taking into account the diversity of cultures and sensitivities. Amazingly, the same gift of the Holy Spirit is generating a great variety of fruits, accordingly to the cultural contexts and social circumstances.      

The Congress took place six months after the event of canonization of St. Eugene de Mazenod. The atmosphere among the participants was that of gratitude and of joy, of a great communion between the Associates and the Oblates, of willingness to contribute to the growing of the Oblate Charism in the Church. Visiting the historical sites related to St. Eugene de Mazenod, listening different stories about him and his first Companions, helped the participants to know more deeply our Founder and, as some have confessed, to fall in love with him for the first time.

Ryszard Szmydki OMI

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