Pope Francis' message to Oblates
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The Sala Clementina in the Vatican was completed by Pope Clement VIII in 1595. To get there this morning, the Oblates had to climb many, many stairs. But the climb and the wait for Pope Francis were well worth the effort. The smiling and gracious successor of Peter first greeted the Superior General, Fr. Louis LOUGEN, with a fatherly embrace and then he spoke to the Oblates gathered there, including the capitulars, the auxiliary personnel, scholastics from the International Roman Scholasticate and the Mediterranean Province Scholasticate and Oblates from the General House.
Among other things, he reminded us of the canonization homily of 1995: "On the day of his canonization, St. John Paul II defined Father de Mazenod a ‘man of Advent’, docile to the Holy Spirit in reading the signs of the times and aiding the work of God in the story of the Church. May these characteristics be present in you, his children. May you also be ‘men of Advent’, capable of discerning the signs of the new times and guiding your brothers on the paths which God opens in the Church and in the world.”
Perhaps the pope was thinking of his own letter, ‘The Joy of the Gospel” when he said to the Oblates: "May the joy of the Gospel shine above all on your faces and make you joyous witnesses. Following the example of the Founder, may ‘among yourselves practice charity’ be your first rule of life and the premise of every apostolic action; and may ‘zeal for the salvation of souls’ be the natural consequence of your fraternal charity.”
It is with particular joy that I welcome you, who represent a missionary religious Family dedicated to evangelization in the Church. I greet you all with affection, beginning with the newly-elected Superior General and his Council. You are here for the General Chapter, in the year in which you celebrate the bicentennial of your foundation through the work of St. Eugene de Mazenod, a young priest eager to respond to the call of the Spirit. At the beginning of its history, your Congregation labored to reignite the faith, which the French Revolution was extinguishing in the hearts of the poor in rural Provence, overwhelming also many ministers of the Church. In the space of a few decades, it expanded throughout the five continents, continuing on the path begun by the Founder, a man who loved Jesus with passion and the Church without conditions.
Today you are called to renew this twofold love, remembering the two hundred year lifespan of your religious Institutes. Your jubilee, for a fortuitous and providential coincidence, occurs in the Jubilee of Mercy. Indeed, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate were born from an experience of mercy, lived by the young Eugene one Good Friday in the presence of Jesus crucified. May mercy be ever at the heart of your mission, of your efforts of evangelization in the world today. On the day of his canonization, St. John Paul II defined Father de Mazenod a ‘man of Advent’, docile to the Holy Spirit in reading the signs of the times and aiding the work of God in the story of the Church. May these characteristics be present in you, his children. May you also be ‘men of Advent’, capable of discerning the signs of the new times and guiding your brothers on the paths which God opens in the Church and in the world.
The Church is living, together with the entire world, an epoch of great transformation in the most diverse areas. She needs men who carry in their hearts the love of Jesus Christ, which permeated the heart of the young Eugene de Mazenod, and the same unconditional love for the Church, which seeks to be a house ever more open. It is important to toil for a Church for all, ready to welcome and accompany! The work necessary to realize all this is vast; and you also have your specific contribution to make.
Your missionary history is the history of many consecrated persons, who offered and sacrificed their lives for the mission, for the poor, to reach distant lands whose people were still ‘without a pastor’. Today, every land is a ‘missionary land’, every human dimension is a missionary land, which awaits the proclamation of the Gospel. Pope Pius XI defined you ‘specialists in difficult missions’. The scope of the mission today seems to expand every day, embracing ever new poor people – men and women with the face of Christ who plead for help, consolation, and hope in the most desperate situations of life. Therefore, you are needed: your missionary daring and your availability to bring to all the Good News, which frees and consoles.
May the joy of the Gospel shine above all on your faces and make you joyful witnesses. Following the example of the Founder, may ‘among yourselves practice charity’ be your first rule of life and the premise of every apostolic action; and may ‘zeal for the salvation of souls’ be the natural consequence of your fraternal charity.
During these days of work at the Chapter, you have expanded your vision and hearts to envelope the expanse of the world. May this fraternal experience of prayer, confrontation, and communitarian discernment be a stimulus for a new missionary drive – a point-of-departure for new horizons – to reach new poor people and bring them together with you to encounter Christ the Redeemer. Adequate, evangelical, and courageous responses to the questioning of the men and women of our time must be sought. For this reason, look to the past with gratitude, live the present with passion, and embrace the future with hope, without becoming discouraged by the difficulties you encounter in the mission but rather be strengthened by faithfulness to your religious and missionary vocation.
As your religious Family enters its third century of life, may the Lord allow you to write new and evangelically fruitful pages, like those of your brothers who throughout these 200 years have testified – at times with blood – to a great love of Christ and the Church. You are Oblates of Mary Immaculate. May this name, defined by St. Eugene as ‘a passport to Heaven’, be for you a constant commitment to the mission. May Our Lady sustain your steps, especially in moments of trial. I ask you, please, to pray to her also for me. May my Blessing, which I wholeheartedly impart upon you and your entire Congregation, accompany your path. - POPE FRANCIS
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