In this second and final part of our interview with Superior General Louis Lougen, OMI, he discusses his hopes for the upcoming General Chapter Meeting, his appointment by Pope Francis to the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, what he would like Oblate Associates, employees, donors and friends to know about the work of the Oblates world-wide, and an experience that had a profound effect on him
Q: The next General Chapter Meeting will be held in 2016. From your viewpoint, what makes for a successful chapter? Are there specific areas the chapter will address?
What makes for a successful Chapter? The short and easy answer: the Holy Spirit! A General Chapter demands a lot of preparation and we began in 2013. We are called to read our lives, to reflect on our mission, how we live as Oblates, what we are doing and not doing, so that we can hear the Spirit’s call and discern where the Spirit is leading us in the years ahead. It is important for the success of a Chapter that as many Oblates as possible take the Chapter seriously and decide to participate in its preparation. We are invited to prepare first of all by prayer for the success of the Chapter. Then we are invited to reflect on specific points, to share these with our communities and to forward these to the Province, Delegation or Mission to which we belong and eventually theses contributions come to the central government of the Congregation to prepare an agenda for the Chapter itself. The process invites collaboration and participation at all levels and the more participation there is the richer the Chapter will be. It is important that each Oblate is aware of his responsibility and takes it to heart by doing his best to contribute.
Another element of a successful Chapter is the meeting itself and that the climate established be one of fraternal dialogue, respectful debate and honest searching for the voice of the Holy Spirit in the midst of all the deliberations. Ultimately it goes back to the Spirit working among us and our openness to listen, share and respond to the Spirit. One of the most important elements is the inner freedom to listen to others and hear a different idea with openness and respect and allow it to question you.
Another essential element for the success of a Chapter is the Congregation’s resolve to put the results or conclusions of the Chapter into practice. Sometimes we have a prophetic challenge, such as with the call to conversion of the 2010 General Chapter, and this is very demanding to accept and make real in our lives so the resolutions do not remain simply on paper.
The 2016 Chapter will address specific issues. The theme has recently been proposed and is our Oblate motto: “He has sent me to preach the Gospel to the poor. The poor are evangelized.” This is a special Chapter marking our 200th anniversary and the Oblate motto embraces everything about our life and mission. We are just now gathering different specific topics for discussion and we do not have those collated to speak about now. We will continue t work on those throughout this year.
Q: What should employees, Associates know about the work going on around the world?
I would like them to know first of all our profound gratitude for their support. In many ways employees and Associates are helping Oblate priests and Brothers spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world. You are always present in our prayers with thanksgiving. Your prayers, your sacrifices, your generosity, your personal interest and support are making it possible for the mission of Jesus Christ to continue and to spread on earth.
Our Associates and friends should know that what you help us with financially is a great help without which we would be severely limited in preaching the Gospel. Where we are working is generally the remote and poorest places where the local people have little or nothing to support us. Everywhere the missionaries are working there is a new awareness of how we must avoid creating dependency of the people on the missionaries or on the friends of our missions who make donations. Because of this the local people are always invited to participate in the best way they are able. They may offer a small monetary gift which for them is substantial. They can often give their labor and so they will cut down bamboo and deliver it to a construction site. Women may prepare food for workers. Young people may help with painting buildings. The local people’s involvement is essential.
Because of the good relationship of Oblates with local people, the presence of Oblates and their goodness energize people and help them to be part of a project and they get involved. This helps build self-worth and the dignity that comes from contributing in a positive way to the building of a chapel, a sports field or a clinic. Today the missionaries are very conscious that it is not helpful simply to give out things or to do things for the people. We need to be partners with the local people. Then they recognize and own what they have done. They say: “We built this.” Or “This is ours.”
It is also clear that the missionaries who receive any material goods or financial contributions must be accountable and transparent with all that is received and report on it to the donors. The great generosity of people who share with the Oblates and help our missions must be reciprocated with our responsible use of what has been received. What is given should always be done in an open way through the local leadership of the Oblate Unit.
It is also important that people know some of our greatest needs and for which it is very difficult to find help. The formation of seminarians and for the elderly and infirm Oblates is presently a very great challenge. People’s hearts are readily touched to assist poor children and quickly they organize to send school materials, dental products, etc. Grant-funding agencies are also often disposed for such needs. However, when Oblates in poor countries have seminarians it is often very hard to find assistance to build a house for them to live in, or for food or educational supplies for them. With the older men in the houses for the elderly we also find the medical costs very high and it is difficult to receive donations for this kind of missionary assistance.
I would like our friends and employees, Associates and relatives, donors and co-workers to know just how grateful Oblates and our people around the world are for the assistance. Whenever I visit a mission, the Oblates and lay people take pains to show me what was done through the assistance of foreign help coming from Oblates in other countries. It is a great work for the Lord that you are involved in! Thanks! You are in the prayers of Oblates around the world every day.
Q: Can you talk a bit about a visitation or an experience in your travels that particularly touched you?
When I was with a young Oblate for many hours in the car, he told me all about the conflict his country suffered. He also said that while he in the seminary he was strongly tempted to enter a revolutionary group to fight for the liberation of his people. He saw the suffering, the violence, the savage cruelty that his own family and friends were experiencing. He thought he could do more if he were in the paramilitary group defending his own people. He felt guilty and useless in the relative safety of the seminary with food and some comfort. His friends who were in the revolutionary group called him to join forces and he went to speak with his brother who was in a high position of the paramilitary group. His brother told him to stay in the seminary because he would do much more for his people as a priest than in the revolutionary group. So he stayed and he is a strong pastoral presence, a real missionary who brings healing to families who are lost in the violence and whose lives have been shattered. I was moved by this young Oblate’s struggles and by his brother’s good advice, filled with faith in what an Oblate is for the people of God.
The world youth day in Spain was my first experience of such an event. I took with me the missionary cross of Saint Eugene for the Oblate Youth gathering prior to the World Youth Day. We were in Malagá, some thousand or more young people, Oblates and Associates from around the world. At the first gathering it was announced that I had Saint Eugene’s cross with me and if any one wished to reverence it, they could come up to me and ask me. From that time on, I could hardly walk through the streets because groups of young people would come up to me and want to kiss or hold Saint Eugene’s cross. They would ask me to bless them with the cross and we ended up praying on a bus, in a park, on a sidewalk, in a diner, etc. I was impressed by what the cross meant to the young people. It needed no explanation. The young people had a very strong attraction to Eugene, to his charism, to the Oblates, to the mission. The young people were driven by the Spirit.
In Madagascar the mission of the Oblates has many challenges. The climate, malaria, the lack of decent roads, the enormous distances between the outstations, the poverty, lack of educational resources and health clinics, etc. make for a “mission impossible.” Yet I met with Oblates who are out in the wilderness for 25 days, carrying everything on a motorbike or on foot and bringing the people the Gospel and the sacraments, some medical care, counselling and humor. One of the Church community leaders that I met in an outstation told me how difficult their lives were and he said, “Sometimes we think that God forgot us because we are so abandoned by our political leaders and every aspect of our lives is so difficult. But, Father, the Oblates are the only sign we have that God didn’t forget us. They keep coming back, fully covered in mud, at times they come down with malaria, a hurt leg, a broken arm because they slipped over on their motor bike; but they keep coming back!” Then, with pleading eyes, he said to me, “Father, don’t ever take these Oblates away for us. Never!”
Q: You are now a member of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, what will you be involved in in that position?
I have been appointed as a member of this Congregation which currently consists of 49 members: 35 Cardinals, 4 National Directors of the Pontifical Mission societies, and now, with my appointment 4 Superiors General.
“It pertains to the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples to direct and coordinate throughout the world the actual work of spreading the Gospel as well as missionary cooperation…”
It presides over the administration of the missions and examines all of the questions and reports send by local Ordinaries and Bishop’s conferences. Societies and Institutes of Consecrated Life established for the missions also fall under the competency of this Vatican Dicastery.
The Congregation also administers its own patrimony and other goods destined from the missions through its own special office.”
It will be at the end of this year that I will participate for the first time in the meeting of the C.E.P. Then I will be able to tell you more about it. I have received a lengthy questionnaire in preparation for the meeting which reviews the situation of the Church’s missions around the world today. We will study the challenges the Church faces in seeking to announce the Good News and the methods, approaches, solutions, etc. that have been tried. It looks like an exciting topic and exactly the questions we as Missionary Oblates are discussing as we try to respond to the call to evangelize today.
Living here in Rome, I have become much more conscious of the great respect the Church has for the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate as missionaries in the field, as generous missionaries, as competent missiologists, formators, experts in many fields and upon whom the Church has called and continues to do so in service to the missionary demands faced by the Church. One feels a great deal of pride in our reputation as missionaries! Recently when I met the Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Archbishop Hong, he thanked me several times for the generous missionary work of the Oblates around the globe. I believe that the 2010 General Chapter, the 200th anniversary of the Congregation and the 2016 General Chapter will be fundamental in our rebirthing of the Congregation on the Spirit of Saint Eugene, with his vitality, audacity and prophetic vision.
Father Louis Lougen OMI
February 13, 2015