By Fr. Giuseppe Mauro Rubino, OMI
General Formation Committee (Representative of Europe)
Thanks to the long path of renewal inaugurated by the Vatican Council II, today in the Church there is undoubtedly an increased awareness of the real importance of ongoing formation at all levels. Also, and above all, formation for those who are entrusted with the service of authority, which entails, moreover, the responsibility of promoting the ongoing formation of the brothers entrusted to them (cf. C 70). Although they are recipients of a “grace of state” by virtue of their ecclesial mandate, are not superiors the first candidates for this formation, precisely because of their delicate and crucial task in service to the internal communion and the mission of individual communities? R 83c reminds us of this: “The Superior’s role is so important that suitable ongoing formation is necessary “.
The need for ongoing formation of superiors and of those in leadership in the Church is an explicit invitation from the Spirit who has certainly not forgotten to knock repeatedly also at our door. It is certainly no coincidence that in the last Chapter of 2016, “Evangelizare pauperibus misit me, pauperes evangelizantur“, the need for the formation of superiors is recalled: “Each Unit will ensure the formation of superiors and leaders to animate community life.” (n. 51.2). This brief sentence, made up of a few words, seems to summarize the repeated invitation of the Spirit addressed to us several times through the last General Chapters.
For example, the final document of the 2010 Chapter, “Conversion”, states that “conversion in government and authority requires that we adequately train and constantly animate present and future leaders in the various spheres of government and authority in the Congregation”. In n. 8 of the Document of the 2004 Chapter, “Witnesses of Hope,” it is stated that the important and delicate ministry entrusted to local superiors, understood as the “ministry of hope,” must be “assured of necessary formation.” And also, in the 1998 Chapter’s, “Evangelizing the Poor at the Dawn of the Third Millennium,” n. 32, it states: “The quality of a community depends very much on the quality of its members, especially the superiors who are called to animate it. For this reason, the Chapter considers their formation as a priority and asks the Provinces and the whole Congregation to equip themselves with adequate means so that this may be effective.
The General Chapter of 1998, in fact, does no more than reiterate what was “strongly affirmed” by the Chapter of 1992 in “Witnesses in the Apostolic Community”. In the final document (n. 23 § 6), we read: “The Chapter strongly reaffirms the importance of the local superior. He is the pastor of his brothers. He brings the community together so that it can evaluate its experience, to give itself objectives for its common life and mission, and he ensures the implementation of the same. The quality of the local superiors is a determining factor for the Congregation’s life. For this reason, the Chapter considers the formation of the local superiors to be a priority and asks the Provinces and the entire Congregation to develop appropriate means to render such formation effective.”
I would like to conclude by quoting a text by Fr. Jettè, which seems to me to be prophetic, if we look at what the ecclesial Magisterium does not fail to repeat today on this subject: “An apostolic body is worth what its men are worth. If the superior does not take care of the men, if he does not care about their health, their spiritual and human growth, their happiness, if he does not support them in their work, the dynamism of these men will fade away and the apostolic team will eventually disintegrate” (F. Jetté, Le Missionnaire O.M.I., p. 266).
This passage not only reminds us of the various dimensions of the “care” that local superiors are called to exercise towards their brothers, but also that ongoing formation (that of each Oblate and primarily that of superiors) is “a global process that involves the whole person in its human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral dimensions and opens the Oblate to new creativity; its effects will be felt not only in his person but also in the community” (NGFO no. 270).
For us, building solid communities in affective and effective communion, which are fruitful from a missionary point of view, is of fundamental importance. More than twenty-five years ago, the Chapter document “Witnesses in Apostolic Community” reminded us of this: “Community life is not limited to the creation of a group that functions well together; it tends to establish a mutual interdependence, a profound communion”. Further, it specifies the reason for this: “Our common life does not exist in the first place for itself; it is ‘flesh’ for the life of the world. The community we form around Christ is the table to which we invite humanity.” That is why the service of the local superiors is most precious and their ongoing formation requires constant attention on the part of the major superiors.
Mission (im)possible? This is certainly a demanding task, given the complexity of the internal and external situations that we are called to face today that often make us feel really unprepared. But perhaps for this very reason, it is important to be aware that we need help and that ongoing formation is a real necessity from which – today more than ever – we cannot escape, especially if we are also “pastors of our brothers”. We are encouraged by the awareness that the Spirit continues to precede and accompany, not only our missionary commitment, but also that of formation. We have the task of responding generously to His heartfelt invitation, appreciating both the internal resources of the Congregation and of our Units, as well as the richness of many ecclesial initiatives.