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