Cornelius Ngoka, OMI, Assistant General
In the Apostolic Letter to all consecrated persons during the Year of Consecrated Life, which coincides with the second year of the Oblate triennium, Pope Francis explains the objectives of the year for each religious institute and for each consecrated person: look at the past with gratitude, live the present with passion and embrace the future with hope. For us Oblates, the three invitations are a kairos moment, inviting us to renew ourselves in our charism on the eve of the 200th anniversary of the Congregation. From the earliest moments of the Congregation, St. Eugene de Mazenod was convinced that the future of our mission as Oblate missionaries could be assured only by well-formed Oblates, imbued with the spirit of the charism. The emphasis was not only on first formation for young people who were preparing for Oblate missionary life, but also on formation that lasts a lifetime. In the request for authorization, addressed to the Vicars General of Aix, the Founder specifies what can be considered the dual purpose of the Congregation, namely, on the one hand, the preaching of missions and, on the other, the sanctification and personal renewal of the members.
Formation seeks the integral growth of the person. It continues throughout life … It involves a constant conversion to the Gospel (C.47). Since the call to conversion, renewal and integral growth is not limited to first formation, ongoing formation needs to be well organized and prepared so as to accompany each Oblate and every community in their journey. In the Congregation, we have first formation structures that work well on the whole, and provide a good accompaniment to formandi during their formative journey, which lasts between 8 and 12 years. In contrast, little has been done for the ongoing formation of Oblates. Yet it is a formation period that lasts longer and accompanies the various phases and seasons of the life of an Oblate. As Constitution 69 reminds us, ongoing formation helps the Oblate to examine how he achieves unity between his life and his mission at all stages of his development.
One call to conversion from the 2010 General Chapter is that each Unit put together a good formation program to allow all Oblates to renew themselves for the good of the mission. This formation program must consider the five pillars of Oblate formation for the good of the whole person: the spiritual, human, community, intellectual and pastoral/missionary dimensions, and all of that in the light of our charism. To carry out this program, it is necessary that someone be appointed, together with a team, for coordination and monitoring.
Over the years, some Units have managed to build a good program for ongoing formation and some Oblates have been designated to organize it, according to the different stages of Oblate missionary life. In some places, updating programs are held periodically at the Unit level or between Units, while in others, it is the local communities that organize ongoing formation for their members. The experience of sabbatical programs or other specialized formation, well planned and according to specific needs, are another way for recharging and renewing oneself. The De Mazenod experiences and other updating sessions in Aix offer all Oblates the opportunity to plunge back into the founding experience of our Congregation and go home renewed.
However, it seems that the need to stop from time to time is not easily a part of our missionary passion. To look at our religious and missionary experience, to take stock, to share our faith and to refresh ourselves, to make a better start, as individuals and as a community. But “the very life and future of our Congregation, indeed the success of our mission, depend in large part upon our willingness to look to our own renewal. ” Ongoing formation cannot be considered as an optional addition to a program of missionary life that is already loaded. It is an integral part of our missionary life. What does Jesus do in the face of the harshness of his apostles’ missionary activity? He invites them to come apart into a deserted place “to get some rest.” (Mark 6:31) In the face of every kind of challenge in missionary and religious life, in a world in constant motion, and more and more demanding, given the routine of daily life, in the face of fatigue, discouragement, and propaganda, and all kinds of difficulties encountered and lived in the mission and, which gradually reduces their taste for Oblate religious life, it is essential that Oblates have time for reflection, for spiritual and human recharging, for exchanges of ideas and listening, so they can take stock of their lives and renew themselves. The context of a good ongoin formation is fertile ground where a healthy and successful first formation may continue.
The call of Pope Francis to consecrated religious to wake up the world implies that first of all, we be people who are happily awake, in step with the cries and true expectations of the world of our time.
(OMI Information No. 554, April 2015)