Wednesday, May 27, a few days after the Feast of St. Eugene, the Mazenodian Family came together to respond to the invitation given them by the Oblate International Community in Aix. During the prayer time which introduced the meeting, the participants listened to a reading from the letter of St. Paul to the Philippians (2, 1-12), as well as to extracts from the Oblate Constitutions and Rules on the value of poverty and personal responsibility for the Oblates to reform themselves throughout their missionary life.
Fr. Krzysztof ZIELENDA then recalled the essential points which were developed by Fr. Gilberto PIÑÓN during his speech of February 15, 2015. The Identity of “lay associates” was then clarified as “a response to the call from Christ that lay associates live their baptism enlightened by the Charism of St. Eugene de Mazenod. In a family spirit they share among themselves and with the Oblates the same spirituality and the same missionary vision.”
However, to organise such a group and to give it an autonomous structure, it is important to take into consideration our proper culture, as well as the wishes of those interested. The Oblate community of Aix made two proposals to the participants. Firstly, to continue to consolidate around the Oblate community those who, directly or indirectly, are linked with it, i.e. the Mazenodian Family. Secondly, to gather into a new group of “lay associates” those wishing to know more about the charism of St. Eugene and to live it. This new group of lay associates would be autonomous from the Oblate community, nevertheless it would remain linked to the Mazenodian Family.
After reflection in groups, we arrived at the conclusion that we were not yet ready to become a group of “lay associates” autonomous from the Oblate community. We will continue to live as the Mazenodian Family, attentive to the call for the creation of a group of “lay associates”.
To mark the 189th anniversary of the approval of the Congregation of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and its Constitutions and Rules, the Mazenodian Family of Aix held an encounter with the Oblate community on Sunday, February 15th, 2015.
During this encounter, we welcomed Father Gilberto PIÑÓN, Assistant General, who presented the history of the Oblate lay associates. In his presentation, Father Gilberto PIÑÓN first showed that for two centuries, the laity had been always with the Oblates in their mission of evangelization, according to the charism of the Founder. Indeed, Eugene de Mazenod, sensing the magnitude of the task ahead and before founding the congregation, had gathered to help the laity to pray and organize missionary activity: it was already a real cooperation project with lay people! After the Founder’s death in 1861, various general chapters of the Congregation evoke an association with the laity. The idea of cooperation and shared fraternity made its way as well as the creation of an organization to help the mission of the Oblates.
In 1907, the term of “lay associate” is used for the first time. Then the assertion of the association with the laity is specified as “an extension of the Congregation among the faithful”; taking part in the joys, successes and failures of the religious family. They support the oblate communities, the whole congregation and missions, and become the “auxiliary apostles” of the Missionary Oblates.
With the Vatican II, the laity becomes more aware of their vocation. The number of lay people who involved in the life of the Church strongly increases and the new forms of collaboration with the Congregation come up. The 1992 General Chapter states that the laity is called to share the Founder’s charism on mission with the Oblates. In 1996, a congress of Oblates Lay Associates was held in Aix-en-Provence, the cradle of the Congregation. Their identity is then specified: “It is in response to a call from Christ that lay associates live their baptism, enlightened by the charism of Eugene de Mazenod. In a spirit of family, they share among themselves and with the Oblates the same spirituality and the same missionary vision”.
Lay associates are passionate about Jesus Christ, the Church and the Mission, in following the example of St. Eugene. They have trust on human dignity. They deepen the charism of St. Eugene. Fr. Gilberto asked the Lay Associate to be always linked to an Oblate community and also in communion with the family of the laity. It’s the sharing of the same vocation, the same mission, in the spirit of St. Eugene de Mazenod in following Christ.
Then Brother Benoît DOSQUET reminded us of the Oblate Triennium. That is to say the 3 preparatory years to the jubilee which started on the 8th of December 2013. The theme of the 1st year was: “A new heart: life in the Apostolic Community”. That of the 2nd year is: “a new spirit: a lifelong training”. The 3rd theme will be: “a new mission: zeal to leave nothing undared”.
Father Joseph BOIS then recalled the circumstances, the conditions and the reasons that guided Eugene de Mzenod to buy, in 1815, the Carmelite Convent at the top of the cours Mirabeau. After careful consideration, Eugene de Mazenod realised that, to help the poor, to intervene in the abandoned countryside, and to be there to help the unemployed youth of Aix, his isolated effort would not be sufficient. It is with Father TEMPIER that he found real support and with 3 other priests that he installed in the building recently acquired. The 25th of January 1816 thus marks the birth of the “Missionaries of Provence”. The 25th of January 2016, the Community will celebrate the 200th anniversary of its foundation.
Father Krzysztof ZIELENDA then outlined the path to be taken until this date and gave details of certain projects already envisaged. To celebrate the bicentenary of the Oblate foundation, several leads have already been proposed: a solemn mass at the Cathedral of Aix on Sunday the 24th of January, on the 25th a celebration between Oblates followed by a simple meal open to the youth and/or to the poor, an exhibition on the history of the Oblate Missions and without doubt other activities to be found, to be created or to be invented… From this point of view, participants at the meeting were asked to give their advice, and to share their ideas.
A meeting will held in February to specify what the Congregation understands by “lay associates” or “the Mazenodian Family” and also to advance the plans envisaged for the year 2016. A moment of warm hospitality around a brotherly meal closed the evening.
In October, Father Joseph BOIS gave a preached retreat for the Oblates and Mazenodian family. The highlight was held in the house of 60 cours Mirabeau and the theme of “the apostolic community”.
On the first day, the tone was set by the reading of Psalm 62, “God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you at dawn: my soul thirsts for you …”.
During the week, everyone was in silence, deepening the Word of God illuminated by the comments of Fr. Jo, share prayer time together, and walk to Aix and Marseilles in the footsteps of St. Eugene de Mazenod.
At the end of those days, during which Oblates and laity have been a long road together, participants were able to say how much they appreciated a formula that combines prayer, silence and pilgrimage.
The reception of the Oblates, quiet and comfort of the house helped to foster an atmosphere serene and confident in the group. People came to live this very moment had the desire to find time for God, to listen, to look, to be interviewed by his Word. This retreat in the house of the Oblate Founder enabled each and every one to leave a greater assurance to the discovery of the Lord and to meet the other, in other words, be more “disciples-missionaries”.