The new international oblate community of Aix-en-Provence is a dream come true of the 2010 General Chapter! This new community is still less known within the congregation, and the International Eugene de Mazenod Centre Association, briefly referred to as CIEM, even less known. However, these two intimately linked realities have been in existence for some years now. It is with joy that I speak to you today of the Oblate community of Aix. My presentation will have two parts. In the first part, I will briefly present the historical context within which the community has been constituted, and in the second part I will present to you its mission.
Canonically established on the 25th of January 1816, the Oblates community of Aix is the oldest community within the congregation. Situated within the old Carmelite convent on 60 Cours Mirabeau, this community had St Eugene de Mazenod as its first Superior. This community is in the historical centre of the congregation, and it is today the headquarters of the International Eugene de Mazenod Centre Association.
Here are the most important steps within the foundation of this community:
The new project of the Aix community which was approved by the Provincial of France and the Superior General in council was proposed to the General Chapter of 2010. In order to have this new project realised, the Oblate house of Aix, which was the property of the Oblate Province of France, and known to the French law as de Mazenod Foundation, had to be at the disposition of the General Administration.
In order for this new project to take place, an association in conformity with the French norms had to be created. It is for this reason that in November 2011 International Eugene de Mazenod Centre was created. Fr. Paulo ARCHIATI omi, Vicar General, is the current president of this association.
Immediately after the house had passed from the jurisdiction of the Province of France to the General Administration, the house renovations that were conducted by Bro Benoit DOSQUET omi began. The renovations were supposed to take a period of two years; however, the official inauguration of the renovated buildings only took place on the 28th of October 2014.
The new community was composed almost at the same period as the beginning of the renovation of the house. The passing through of the Aix community to the jurisdiction of the Superior General dates from the 1st October 2012.
Today, the new community of Aix-en-Provence consists 5 Oblates coming from 5 different countries: Krzysztof ZIELENDA (superior), Poland; Benoit DOSQUET (bursar), Belgium; Joseph BOIS, France; ASODO ISTOYO, Indonesia, and Bonga MAJOLA, South Africa.
In his brief speech of the 21st of February 2013 addressed to the new community of Aix on the day of the installation of its superior Saverio ZAMPA , the Superior General said: “I would like that this new community helps each one of you to become a saint… Your communal life must be characterised by a profound communion with Jesus Christ, and consequently a profound communion amongst yourselves. This communion is not something closed or turned within itself. Our communion of life is a means of stability and efficacy for the mission, for the service and the announcing of the Gospel to the poor and the abandoned. I am convinced that if you live the commandment of charity given to us by the Founder, you will be enflamed by the missionary zeal. May all your activities flow from a united community searching always the Will of God today and discerning, reflecting, discussing, drawing its plans and evaluating its practises together. You therefore will be a prophetic call for the Congregation and the society.”
The dream of the 2010 General Chapter is therefore that of an apostolic community in Aix, which lives according to the Oblate Charism, a community rooted solidly within Christ, assiduous to prayer, a community capable of bearing witness to the Gospel in a radiant manner within its environment, and of a community fervent in exercising its mission.
The mission outlines of the Aix community are expressed in the foundation texts. In his speech of the 28th of June 2013, the General Vicar of the Congregation, defined the mission of the Aix community as follows: “the mission of this community is that of animating the Oblate Charism. All will be done to help this community of Aix fulfil its mission.”
However, the Oblate Charism must not only be taught, it must be lived as well by the community itself. For, the Oblate Charism animation finds its favourable environment when it is accompanied by the missionary exercise within the Church. In speaking of the latter, the Superior General said: “I would like that this community (…) serve as the basis for an effective mission for the animation of the charism, the ministry around the Mission Church, and the discernment of other missionary activities to come.”
The new community of Aix is well equipped by an internal regulation within which an important place is given to spiritual and fraternal life. The spiritual life of the community is marked by the rhythm of daily prayers, monthly days of recollection, and the annual retreat. The community follows a rhythm of two weekly meetings, of which one concerns work, and the other is of fraternal sharing on what was lived by each community member throughout the week.
The primary mission of the new community of Aix is the service of the whole Congregation and to those (lay associates, members of consecrated life Institutes linked to the Oblates and others) who desire to deepen their knowledge of the work and spirituality of St Eugene de Mazenod. This is done through initial and on-going formation meetings, retreats, sessions, expositions, conferences and other means.
The Aix house as the cradle of the congregation filled with history is the most suitable place for the animation of Oblate Charism. For Oblates, this house plays the same role that the “Holy Land” plays for all Christians; a place of pilgrimage to the source. Within a place such as this one, each item tells our foundational aspect: foundation room, Church of the Mission, First Vows chapel, Founders’ room, etc.
The priority in the Oblate Charism animation is without doubt the De Mazenod Experience which is a time of spiritual renewal lived in Aix.
The recipients of this program are the Oblates of the whole congregation having at least 10 years of perpetual vows. To this day, 40 De Mazenod Experiences were held in Aix. There are nearly 550 Oblates who have participated in this program. Currently taking place in Aix is a De Mazenod Experience in French, 16 Oblates are participating in this session.
In March 2015, the De Mazenod Experience program was redesigned in the light of the call to conversion of the last General Chapter.
Here are some elements of the new programme:
Progressive integration into the group, sharing, community prayer experience, pilgrimage on the footprints of St Eugene de Mazenod.
History of the Congregation and of the first Oblate community.
Three steps allowing each participant to evaluate his life in view of personal and communal conversion.
15 days retreat according to the exercises of St Ignatius de Loyola.
Actual missionary vision of the Congregation, with a member of the General administration. Foundational Question: What are the challenges within my mission which makes of the mission of the Congregation?
The experience is concluded with the renewal of vows and missionary send-off
The dates for the next De Mazenod Experience are the following:
18 April – 16 June 2017 in English
5 September – 3 November 2017 in Spanish
Apart from the De Mazenod Experience, other forms of spiritual renewal programs are proposed by the General Administration or by the Aix community itself.
For example, in the course of 2016, the following Oblate Charism activities took place in Aix: a session for the Oblate students of Rome, for the Oblates of the Mediterranean province, for the Oblates of Byelorussia, etc. We have also welcomed the Permanent Committee of Brothers, the General Committee of the Oblates engaged in Higher Learning, the Congress on the Oblate Youth Ministry, Congress on Oblate Vocation, the council of the Assumption Province, Scandinavian Oblates, scholastics from Europe for a summer session, the novices of France, the inter-chapter of the COMI, etc. In going over this calendar, we can quickly make calculations and note that up to the present, in the course of this year, there has been close to 185 days of animation within the house in Aix in which, directly or indirectly, the whole community participated, and 2016 is not yet over!
To this we can add visits having different durations varying from a single to several days, such as, for example, the Oblate Lay Associates from Canada, from the United States of America, from Belgium, from Japan, from Germany, etc.
In the course of the bicentenary year, we organised the celebrations on the 24th and the 25th of January, the expositions on the history of the Oblates, and a series of conferences on the life and missionary works of some great Oblate figures of our foundation.
During this year some animation activities that were asked outside of Aix also added themselves: participation and animation at the Anglo-Ireland provincial assembly, and a retreat given to the Oblates of the Province of France, and another one to the Oblates of the Mediterranean Province.
In a permanent manner, from a year to another, the community also exercises pastoral work in the Church of the Mission. This pastoral work consists, above all, the Eucharistic celebrations, welcoming for prayer and the celebration of the sacrament of Reconciliation. It is worth noting here that from the time of the Founder, the Oblates gave a great importance to this ministry.
The community of Aix exercises, equally, ministry to the Mazenodian Family which is made up of all those who, in one way or the other, are in contact with the Oblates i.e. friends, associates, volunteers, benefactors, etc. This ministry, set apart the meetings of all the members of the Family, consist of small groups of Christian formation and spiritual accompaniments.
The community of Aix, faithful to the Oblate Charism, exercises a youth mission. The most important component of this mission is the accompaniment of the “Frat Oser”, a group of students living in our house, and of Mazenodians, a group made of students and young professionals who are attracted by and wish to live the Oblates’ missionary spirituality and participate in our community mission. On Sunday the 4th of September, two members of the “Les Mazenodians” made their commitment in the Church of the Mission, this commitment consist in living for a year according to the spirituality of Saint Eugene de Mazenod in order to deepen their faith through prayer and service to the poor and their relationship with Jesus Christ. The third component of the mission with the youth consists of the community’s engagement in pastoral work exercised at Saint Mary’s high School.
In addition to these missionary activities of the Aix community, there is chaplaincy at Montperrin, the oldest psychiatric hospital of Aix served, it seems, by the first community Oblates of this town, and the activities led by a group known as Veilleurs de fraternité which are organised in favour of the poor. These two activities have a proper Oblate Charism element in them.
Musical concerts and some art expositions organised in the Mission Church or in the house cloister equally occupy an important and vital place in our mission. A glance towards the ad gentes mission exercised within the modern times areopagus.
The mission scope in Aix within the spirit of the Oblate Charism could still be even more extensive. The expectations from the local Church and the missionary challenges still to be discerned by the community are still many.
Is the new community of Aix-en-Provence a place of resourcing for the Oblate Charism? In the realisation of the project called International Eugene de Mazenod Centre, nothing was neglected by the General Administration, they have given everything towards the success of this project! We owe them all our gratitude! We deeply thank the General administration! For. their administrative tactics, the directives, elaborated during numerous long meetings, whose implementation has taken even longer and has involved a significant number of people because of the magnitude and specificity of this project. For it is all about a community that lives and exercises its mission within the Oblate Charism while doing its best by its life-witness, which is the most important means of transmitting the Oblate Charism. This is lived within the historical framework which is offered by the cradle of the Congregation, the “Holy Land” of the Oblates. Thus, the Oblate house of Aix is not simply a place built for sessions or spiritual retreats, but a place where Oblates who are ready to share their oblate life experience live and work.
The new community of Aix is like a well loaded boat which navigates to the wide. It is probably not going to discover a new world, the latter is already discovered! It will simply accomplish its mission by allowing itself to be led by the Holy Spirit where it would want to bring it.
Krzysztof ZIELENDA, OMI