Fr. Louis Lougen, OMI, with Pope Francis during an audience on 7 October 2016 Fr. Louis Lougen, OMI, with Pope Francis during an audience on 7 October 2016 

Fr. Lougen: Oblates must leave ‘nothing undared’ to serve Christ’s Kingdom

As the Oblates of Mary Immaculate hold their General Chapter, Fr. Louis Lougen, the outgoing OMI Superior General, praises the work of Oblates across the globe and says his successor needs to be a man of hope and prayer to face the difficulties of the mission.

By Devin Watkins

The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate are holding their 37th General Chapter in the Italian town of Nemi, near Rome, from 14 September to 14 October, under the banner “Pilgrims of Hope in Communion”.

Seventy-eight delegates from provinces and missions around the world are working to renew the mission of the Congregation, which boasts nearly 3,500 professed priests and brothers, including 1 Cardinal, 7 Archbishop, 36 Bishops, and 2 Apostolic Prefects.

After two weeks of consultations, the delegates begin voting on Thursday to elect the next Superior General, who will serve for an initial 6-year term, which can be renewed once.

The man they choose will take over from Fr. Louis Lougen, who has served since 28 September 2010 as the Superior General.

Missionaries close to the people

In an interview with Vatican News, Fr. Lougen reflected on his 12 years of service and explored the challenges and opportunities that face Oblates throughout the world.

As Superior General, the 70-year-old American-born priest—who celebrated his birthday on Wednesday—has visited around 68 countries where OMI missionaries are present, calling the chance to see the men in the missions a “great privilege and joy.”

“I have seen the Oblates—whether in huge cities, in poor neighborhoods, in the jungles, or on top of mountains—close to the people, friends to the people who are serving the people. And that has been a beautiful affirmation of our charism.”

Oblate priests and brothers have a special dedication to serve the poor and “to be close to the people”.

Some Oblates, noted Fr. Lougen, teach in schools, seeking to better their lives through education, while others work to protect people’s rights to fair compensation, decent housing, or access to electricity and drinking water.

Listen to the full interview

In the strength of community

The OMI Superior General also highlighted the community spirit which he has witnessed in Oblate communities everywhere, as men who turn to God and the Blessed Virgin Mary—to whom they have a special devotion—in prayer frequently, despite the struggles of their mission.

“Living together as brothers in community: that has been a special light that has drawn other young men to want to join us.”

In some parts of the world, the missionaries face persecution—whether from governments or because they represent religious minorities.

He is especially worried about the safety of Oblates who have remained in Ukraine to stay close to people as they seek shelter from bombs and food to put on the table. Other priests and brothers must literally hunt for their own food each day and grow vegetables to survive, just like those whom they serve.

“These 12 years have been greatly inspiring for me, to see the closeness to the people, the gift of self for the Gospel, for God's kingdom, and the brotherly love among our men who live together,” said Fr. Lougen.

Facing challenges of today

The soon-to-be-former Superior General also pointed to three main challenges for the Congregation which is present on every continent except Antarctica:

“The financial sustainability of our missions, the financial sustainability of our elders, and how to prepare our young men for the future, for the mission in a Church and a world that is constantly changing.”

Financial sustainability poses a constant challenge, said Fr. Lougen, because the Oblates have many missions in poorer communities, while there are fewer people in developed nations who share their wealth with the Church.

A particular problem in North America and Europe is finding the means to take care of ageing priests and brothers, since many are retired and their sources of revenue have dried up.

Yet, throughout the world, a major challenge is how to prepare men for consecrated life, when they face so many challenges in a constantly changing society.

To be trusting men of hope and prayer

As the Chapter delegates vote for the next Superior General, Fr. Lougen offers a word of advice for the man who would be his successor.

“Be a man of hope, a man of prayer, a man with friendship and intimacy with God to sustain your responsibilities, to sustain our faith and our hope in the midst of so many challenges.”

He said the Letter to the Ephesians (3:20) has offered him immense spiritual support over the past 12 years. St. Paul affirms that the Spirit at work in us will do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine, “infinitely more, not just a little more,” said Fr. Lougen.

The Spirit continues to work in the OMI Congregation, he said, adding that “we have to live in hope, knowing that God is in charge, that God is leading us in the mystery of the Resurrection to the fulfilment of the Kingdom.”

Leaving nothing undared for Christ

In conclusion, Fr. Lougen offered his brother Oblates a final word of encouragement, citing St. Eugene de Mazenod, the 18th century French priest who founded the Congregation.

“Leave nothing undared to extend the reign of Christ, the Kingdom of Christ.”

Oblates, said the Superior General, must have the courage and vision to creatively and faithfully live out their profession and mission.

“My brother Oblates,” concluded Fr. Lougen, “have that courage, that vision, and also the charity that St. Eugene called us to: charity among us, and zeal for the salvation of God's people.”

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28 September 2022, 17:16