Hundreds of Roman Catholic youth from across North America have descended upon the San Fernando Valley in July for the Oblate Youth Encounter (OYE), a week of reflection, prayer and celebration orchestrated by the Oblates there. Arriving youths sang hymns and exchanged greetings in many languages as they gathered in the San Fernando parishes of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate to celebrate faith and generate energy for commitment in the spirit of Saint Eugene.
The Encounter was born from the lived experience of the International Oblate Youth Encounter (IOYE) in Australia in June of 2008 for World Youth Day, when several young people and adult leaders working in Southern California participated in the IOYE in Melbourne, Australia. During that week they met and shared faith with more than 700 youths and leaders from Oblate parishes in every part of the globe.
As friends and partners they traveled together to the World Youth Day with Pope Benedict XVI and Catholic youth of the world. Upon their return, The Oblate Youth Encounter was envisaged as a forum in which youth from Oblate parishes across the country might gather with similar commitment, organized by The United States Province (USP) of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, led by Fr. Stan Zowada, OMI.
“While in Australia last summer Father Stan met, talked with and witnessed the world’s youth from Oblate parishes and ministries and he was deeply impressed by their knowledge of and love for the Oblates and their Founder, Saint Eugene de Mazenod,” said Very Rev. Louis Lougen, Provincial of the USP. “When this zealous young Oblate returned from World Youth Day he began to meet with Oblates and youth leaders in the San Fernando area to see how, here in the United States, we might imbue the youth in our parishes, shrines, ministry sites with as real an appreciation and passion for St. Eugene and the Oblate charism as Fr. Stan experienced among the Australian youth.”
Over the course of the last year, the young American priests shared their experiences with the Oblates and parish communities, and conceived an idea for an American OYE in which youth from Oblate parishes across the country, in areas as diverse as Alaska and Florida, might assemble this summer.
The idea was adopted enthusiastically, in particular, by the active San Fernando community of Oblates at Santa Rosa, Mary Immaculate and St. Ferdinand, orchestrated by Fr. Zowada who, in the words of his Provincial, became “fired up” with other young Oblate priests at that last World Youth Day.
“All the elements of the Oblate charism – preaching the Gospel; love for Christ crucified, the Church, the poor; the missionary spirit; the special place of Mary; outreach to those not touched by the Church such as ministry to youth, prisoners, etc.- will be part of this Oblate Youth Encounter,” continued Fr. Lougen.
The theme of this OYE is “Cry the Gospel” and the logo features the California Mission Trail, a Mission bell tower and the Oblate Cross. Another objective of this program is to generate excitement in the youth as, receiving a favorable response from other Oblate youth leaders, this can lay the groundwork for the International Oblate Youth Encounter preceding the 2011 World Youth Day in Madrid, Spain.
“The program for the event will be based on St. Eugene de Mazenod’s triple objective for the missions of the oblates,” said Fr. Salvador “Chava” Gonzalez, OMI, one of the bi-lingual leaders of the OYE. “Saint Eugene was very specific that we must bring people to be genuinely human, fervent Christians and then Saints.”
The program is being put together and directed by the tri-parish Youth Ministers of San Fernando and youth leaders in all of the areas in which the Oblates are present. Participants for the OYE have also been preparing not only with fundraising activities, but with a comprehensive spiritual preparation of prayers for the encounter, different novenas, and biblical readings for each month leading up to the event. Participants will get to listen to speakers and panel discussions but will also have an opportunity to share with the larger group their regional realities, their mission projects and how they live out the Oblate ideals.
“Father Stan- with the San Fernando Oblates and laypeople preparing this encounter- want the OYE to be an event that will be full of good content, community fellowship, prayer and enjoyable fun,” added Fr. Lougen. Father Stan has emphasized that, in the spirit of Oblate apostolic community, this event is not his personal project, but a collaborative effort of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, so that the spirit of Saint Eugene will spark the lives of the young people to assume their mission in the Church,”
The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and Crossroads recognize the need to spread the message of life and love through the means provided by the modern world. The congregation actively participates in radio, television and newspaper interviews with mainstream media as well as religious media outlets. For photos/video or media requests, please contact Stephen Cooke, Communications Director, at 646-717-3894.