Chapter Report - installment 6: III. THE FUTURE

The State of the Congregation
Report from the
Superior General to the 2010 General Chapter (Public version)
Installment 6: III. THE FUTURE


III. Our responsibility at present, in view of the future - Conclusion

Are there any conclusions to be drawn from our recent history as a congregation, are there any inspirations we should take up? Any invitations directed to us to "be converted and believe" (Mc 1) ?

The Church is a sacrament, that is, a prophetic sign which effectively communicates God's grace, and as missionary religious we participate in a special way in the Church's quality of being a sign. Somehow, the God of Love should become visible through us, so that people may discover some features of Jesus the Christ through our help and then receive the Spirit of the Father and the Son. If this happens, it means that we have been prophetic.
Signs have to adapt to the people and cultures who are to interpret them and therefore they undergo modification when the surrounding world changes. Today cultural changes seem to be accelerating. Our own Congregation experienced them as it has been in a demographic transition for some decades now, a transition which has become very visible and incisive.
What is our historical responsibility as Oblates today? Different views have been expressed during the Chapter preparation; for instance it was said:

    • We must take a clear direction for the Congregation for the next 25 years and not just for the next six years. Let us look towards the distant future and act accordingly in the immediate future.
    • Let us make sure that the strong provinces occupy their place. It is important that the younger Oblates, from wherever they may be, now take on more responsibility.
    • We must continue the Immense Hope process to face the changes persistently.  

A world view

To interpret the challenges of today we need some kind of world view, some kind of analysis of the reality. In recent years there has been a certain resistance to move into such analysis, and that resistance seems to be related to a generational change. 

In the secular world, the late 80's and early 90's marked the end of most dictatorial regimes and with it, of some of the dominant ideologies. The increase of communication technologies led to the awareness of a very complex reality, globalized but not unified. Everything seemed to be relative. A vacuum in the interpretation of the world appeared. The post-modern mentality seduced many people to be content with a private happiness, enjoying just the here and now. Within the globalized, unregulated market, social problems became more difficult to address; poverty in this context originated less from direct oppression and more from exclusion for which nobody seems to be responsible. The local cultures reaffirmed their identity in opposing globalization. Religious beliefs, but also fundamentalism, were gaining strength in opposition to secularism.

Humanity has today been freed from some ideological systems. We have also become more realistic about the emptiness of a world in which everything becomes relative. Sometimes we have experienced confusion ourselves and cannot make sense of it all. The poor are still around to challenge us to respond to their needs.

Can we draw a picture of the Church of these recent times, of the new millennium?

Christians, like everybody else, are affected by globalization and lack of global justice, threats to the environment and to peaceful living, secularism and on the other side, religious fanaticism. In a time of global communication, if someone finds a prophetic response to these challenges it will become widely known. At the same time, the inner problems of the Church and its scandals become very visible.

The Church is very diverse according to the context. In the West, we tend to think that our concerns about liberals and conservatives, about lack of priests, about child abuse, etc. are also primary concerns in other parts of the world. In regions where Christians are a small minority, in situations when corruption is a decisive factor in daily life, or when food and safety are not guaranteed, the focus of the Christians is on other things. As Oblates, we have the chance to be present in many contexts which should help us to relativize the concerns of our local churches and to find out what is essential for our faith life. This may be part of the very mission God entrusted to us within the Church.

How do we Missionary Oblates respond to the present situation of the world? How does it call us to conversion? At a time when we no longer think in terms of two opposed blocks, when we have become allergic to ideology but also have not found many of the answers we want, we still can see that human nature continues to be in need of redemption and the poor are longing to receive the Good News of the Kingdom of Christ. Today it is time to make again an option for Christ, the first representative of the new human being, called to full communion with God and among each other. Christ's way of being human must shape our life; we must learn to love the world with his own heart, caring especially about the poor whose cries are reaching our ears. "God loves this world", we said at the 1998 Chapter. In all this, the emphasis will be more on what we live as communities than on what we teach as individuals.

Today is also a time to live our being Church in new ways. Often we Oblates, as Christians and as part of the institutional Church, have failed, and this is now being made public. The Church's moral authority is seriously damaged and we cannot blame anybody for it but ourselves. Our place as Church members must be on the side of the victims of any abuse. As a special group of religious and missionaries we should be in the frontline of those who want a change for the better, in the line of what we have said in earlier General Chapters. Let us dream of and work for a Church that "mirrors the unity existing between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit", as Cyprian says, and fully responds to the challenges of its mission in a changed world, a world very much loved by God.

Four imperatives

Based on these general considerations let me come to the end of this report listing four specific points, which in my perception, are imperative for us Oblates today: Christ-centered communities, love of the poor, facing of the demographic change and love of the Church. I think, here concretely lie for us areas where we need conversion more than elsewhere.

Christ-centered communities

As religious missionaries we must learn new ways to speak to the people of today, learning with them a new language. This will only come about if we can speak out of a personal and communitarian experience. As a consequence of this Chapter, our conversion must bring about a new quality of our common life. We have a vocation to live in fraternities where "the call and the presence of the Lord among us today bind us together in charity and obedience" (C. 3). Praying together, reading the Scriptures and celebrating the sacraments as local communities will lead us to a new quality of missionary presence. The spiritual atmosphere we create at home must be open to the world and respect its autonomy - we have learned that from secularity - but at the same time grow very intense so that Christ and His Word become again the center of our lives and the presence of God's own Spirit can be felt.

As we said at the beginning of this report, St. Eugene considered Jesus Christ our Founder and the apostles to be our forefathers. Let us therefore gather anew around Christ, who in a true sense is the first Oblate and our founder. Should we ask our mother Mary to show us ways and means how to do it? She played a role in the community of the apostles after the Ascension and on Pentecost, and she formed a household with the apostle John. Her attitude will make us discover concretely how to become communities that follow Christ today when so many things tend to distract us. Our timetable must show that He is the center. Only with Him at the center can we live the life of the apostles. There is no danger that we may become too monastic through that. After a new Pentecost, at home with the Risen Christ, with Mary and all our fellow apostles, we will reach out in new ways to the ends of the earth.

Love of the poor

Pope John Paul II said: "It is manifestly unjust that a privileged few should continue to accumulate excess goods, squandering available resources, while masses of people are living in conditions of misery at the very lowest level of subsistence." He adds that this is "contrary to the order of creation, an order which is characterized by mutual interdependence."

From my traveling throughout the Congregation and the information coming in at the center of the Congregation, I have become a witness to the massive reality of poverty, often ignored even by those who geographically live very close by. But we Oblates know only too well where to find the poor: in the areas torn by war and strife in Congo or Southern Philippines, in the slums of Sao Paulo or among those suffering from AIDS in many countries, among the indigenous or the displaced people and incoming migrants, among the disoriented youth and the abandoned elderly.

We also know that Saint Eugene, right from his conversion, took special care of the poor and that during his whole life, as a young priest and as a bishop in his later years, he loved them and kept being close to them. He and his missionaries evangelized the poor, speaking to them of their dignity as sons and daughters of God, and risking their lives among them in more than one epidemic in Aix, Marseille and elsewhere, thus becoming martyrs of love.

Today, do we discern God's will as to our congregational mission to evangelize the poor or just keep doing by inertia what we are used to? Our own saints will show us the right way! When it comes to solidarity with the poor, we have many martyrs of love and even of blood among our confreres, and they all have in common that they loved the poor with God's heart.

There will be a personal and communitarian benefit from this for our conversion: The poor can in a true sense become a sacrament of God's own presence for us.

Facing the demographic change

In our congregation there is a huge demographic change just around the corner, the many new faces show it. We must respond to this change with courage and with joy. In which ways?

Let us recognize how weak we are! Someone suggested during the Chapter preparation that our elders need to know of the situation of the personnel in their Units in a realistic, but positive way. We also should not ask them to do work beyond their age. Where the average age is high we must simply make whatever structural changes are needed to serve our mission best.

Let us recognize how strong we are! I know through my visits that we can count on excellent Oblates and in good numbers in many parts of the world. Some are still young but many could already be entrusted with leadership responsibility.

To the logic of demographic statistics, we should add the logic of the lighthouse. Are we too much used to measuring our relevance through numbers; is there not also a reality that works in another way? It is the gospel alive in us that counts! One can see lighthouses from many miles away, and their one light, put in the right place, offers more orientation to the seafarers than the sea of light of a whole city. It takes just one saint to make all the difference in the world!

Personally I believe in the inestimable value of every single vocation. I trust those vocations that come in great numbers as a gift to us, and I also believe in the Gospel value of the just one or two vocations that may join us elsewhere. We have chosen to love the Church in celibacy, like Christ, and this also means that we cannot control the number of "children" we will have for the next generation of Oblates. However, a believer will never remain barren - God can make children of Abraham out of stones and can set a lighthouse wherever people need it!

Love of the Church

Saint Eugene started off his Rule book, in the Preface, with two words: "the Church", so let us conclude with the Church. It is nothing less than the Body of Christ; through it Christ continues to be identifiable in history. We Oblates are part of this body. Through our charism, we are also especially attached to its priesthood; we are, priests and Brothers together, heirs of a Founder who wanted to give the Church excellent priests to heal its most painful wounds. The Preface reads later on: "if priests could be formed … apostolic men deeply conscious of the need to reform themselves, who would labor with all the resources at their command to convert others …".

We Oblates may sometimes not be aware of the important role we play within the Church; priests, Brothers, associates, friends - we all contribute to mother Church our passion for Christ, love of the poor, sense of global justice, closeness with the people, inter-culturality, sense of hospitality, familiarity with Mary, loyalty to the Church herself and many other values. We are responsible that this charism continues to shine with strength for the glory of God, the good of the Church and the salvation of people.

A word of thanks

Let me express my heartfelt thanks to all I was so privileged to closely work with: the General Council, all the members of the General Administration, the major superiors and those who served the Congregation in each Unit and at large in many capacities. Thanks to all Oblates who made it possible that the Congregation continue its journey.

I thank the Congregation which entrusted me with the office of creating bonds of unity between the Oblates through representing somehow Saint Eugene (whose character was very different from mine), and of being a caretaker of Saint Eugene's charism among the members of our different lay associations and within the Church. God has given me enough good health and many graces to fill the post but unfortunately, I have not responded to the full; I ask forgiveness for the many times I have neglected the common good and have lacked attention to persons.

I conclude thanking God, the giver of life and the giver of every single Oblate vocation. I feel a deep gratitude for all Oblates who respond faithfully every day anew to their call as humans, Christians, religious and missionaries. We can all be proud of them.

Rome, July 2, 2010 - Fr. Wilhelm Steckling, OMI

[End of the installments. The appendix is available in the full text as published on, - Please download here.]