Fr. Louis Lougen, OMI: “The Missionary Mandate of the Congregation Today”

By Fr. Roberto Carrasco, OMI, Originally Published by El Trochero

Click here to see the article en Español

It is a surprise of the Holy Spirit: Interculturality, Social Media, the Islam world.

To understand in depth the meaning of interculturality for the Mission and our life

ROBERTO: Fr. Louis Lougen, OMI, he is the Superior General of the Congregation of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate here in Rome. And today, after a few months of the General Chapter culminating, we are going to talk a bit about the effect, what would be the consequences, the post-work, the fruit that is expected to reach with this Chapter that took place in the months of September and October of last year here in Rome, together with representatives from around 70 countries where the Oblates of Mary are present.

LOUIS: Thank you, Father Roberto. Good morning, everyone. It is a very good opportunity for self-reflection. And I appreciate the opportunity to talk a little about the General Chapter.
Our first meeting in January of the General Council was to study ourselves the document and the Acts of the General Chapter. We spent five days studying and sharing our impressions about the General Chapter. These months of April and May we will return to the theme of the Chapter, to begin to see how we can carry out the mandates, the recommendations of the General Chapter.

A: Perfect, let’s go to the first point.
After the culmination of the 36th General Chapter of the Congregation, what expectations do the Oblates have for these three challenges they have decided to work on: Mission and Interculturality; Mission and Media; and Dialogue with Islam?

L: The expectations are very great. In my experience, the Congregation is showing great interest in this Chapter because the theme was the Mission. We are men of Mission. So the theme of the Mission has attracted attention … I have seen a great interest in these issues. I think this is a surprise of the Holy Spirit, because I thought that the theme of the Chapter as a Mission is going to be very important, very interesting for the Oblates.

Mission and Interculturality, why? … It’s a surprise! Because there is one thing, one reality, I can say that we do not understand very well. Already people were saying: we live interculturality because in our community there are four people from different countries. This is a multicultural, pluricultural community. But interculturality is a more. And this reality of interculturality if we understand and embrace it, I think it will demand changes in our life. Deep changes in the way we live and how we realize our Mission. So I think we pick this topic without knowing exactly what we’re doing. I think it is the breath of the Holy Spirit … We have to understand very well the meaning of interculturality, for the Mission and also for our life as Oblates in apostolic community.

The other priority is also a surprise of the Holy Spirit. Social media. The Oblates if … I do not know since when. We have evangelized with the press, television, movies, books, magazines, drama, theater, music. The Oblates were always in one or the other. But not as a Mission in common, a common missionary challenge. They were only individuals committed to the Mission. More in our Oblate world there was and there is much interest in the Media throughout the world. Now the Congregation is saying that it is a commitment of the Congregation itself. A common commitment; We have to see together the area of Social Media.

So I think in two ways. We had spoken in the Chapter and we need to go deeper into one sense: how to use these new means to evangelize? If we can say that we have web site, we are present on YouTube, WhatsApp, etc. But the Oblates are present without professionalization. We now have Oblates like yourself and Shanil and others in the world, specializing to help the Congregation embrace how to use the Social Media to proclaim the Gospel. This is one way.

The other way I see it is that the media themselves today are like a new continent. How are we going to bring the Gospel to this new frontier of Social Communication? There are really so many questions I do not know. I think that you who are studying this area have to help us to understand better and give us training. I was reading about the virtual Mass. That’s a big question. Another issue is honesty. These days we have seen an act of terrorism. And the privacy of sending information about an act of terrorism. And how the police and the government want to take this information. It is a big debate, like the confidentiality of storing information that leads to an act of terrorism. There are many new questions that require a theological reflection and open areas of evangelization.

A religious sister has told us, that often religious and priests are thus negative about the Social Media. She has told us that the Social Media is a great network of communications, they are a sign of the desire for communion, of connection; It is something deeply spiritual. How can we not only use the medium for evangelization, but how can we evangelize, bring spiritual and theological understanding to this area?

The third priority is the Mission and the world of Islam. I think this challenge is enormous. And in a reality like Asia or Europe this is much more different. Within each country the realities are diverse. During the Chapter the question was proposed by a person from Europe, who has placed how are we here to see the presence of Muslims in Europe? There are two extremes: to accept it or to reject 9it; or to be indifferent.

If we go to other countries for example where Muslims are the majority, it is another reality for the Mission facing the world of Islam. We have many experiences like in the Philippines, Pakistan Bangladesh, Indonesia. There is much concrete practice of interreligious dialogue.

A: Father Louis, in the sense of this theme of how to involve the entire Congregation in the challenge of Communication, in a society that demands immediate answers:
What are these steps that must be followed, specifically when we talk about this challenge of Communication?

L: Yes … it’s a very important question. And it is sometimes a frustration with the general chapters. We are 84 Oblates being together for a month. The number of ideas and missionary inspirations are endless. And after generating so many missionary concerns, we have to choose priorities, organize ideas and express them well for the whole Congregation. And after choosing the priorities, of which we are talking, we have to elaborate some missionary paths, as we can work them: Interculturality, Youth, the world Islam, Social Media. How are we going to achieve them? How are we going to organize a job? I think the organization starts with the General Council, which we are working on now. We have the organization of the Congregation, the General Council, the General Chapter. The first action is to send the document, the Acts of the General Chapter to all the Oblates in the world. I do not like so much to say “document”. We must say “the missionary mandate” of the Congregation. We have the mandate as a central government to spread, propagate and preach in our visits to the Congregation so that the base of the Congregation will welcome, study and deepen within its reality this missionary mandate that comes from the General Chapter.
Now each unit, province, delegation or mission within each Region should also make a planning from the mandate. How can we apply the reality of interculturality to our Oblate life here, to our Mission here in this unity? This can not be just us here in the General Administration or the Central Government that commands the others to do. We want everyone to read, study, embrace the Chapter’s mandate to see from the bottom up how we can embody recommendations, resolutions, etc.

A: Father Louis: Speaking of the work done by the Oblates in the field of Interculturality:
Are you satisfied with the answer given by the Oblates in this field?

L: I think and I speak in a simple way, with simplicity: We have to go through a process of awareness of the reality of interculturality.

First of all, yes. I say there is a lot of interest and there are some practices. We have to take a step forward. I think that by the fact that the Chapter has chosen this theme we want to do. I’m afraid, Father Roberto, when people say: “Our community is already intercultural.” I think we still do not understand. Interculturality will demand mutuality among cultures. I can give an example: in a region where I was, in a joint session. The region was talking about the Oblates who come “from the outside.” And how these Oblates have to prepare themselves to enter into the reality of the region. And that they need to understand reality. They need to change, they need to grow, to welcome reality … Yes … but this is a part of our missionary life since always. However, an Oblate after having heard this conversation enough had the courage to speak. An Oblate who was “from outside”, who is a missionary from another region, who has come to this region, who was talking about the need of those who come from outside, to understand reality. This Oblate had the courage to say that the Oblates, most of this region, also have to change because an Oblate “from outside” comes. We do not think so. We think that if you are from Peru and you come to the General House, you have to adjust yourself, get ready to live here. Because there is a dominant culture. We do not know what the dominant culture is eh … Because we are a mixture. But if you are Peruvian and you go to the United States you have to adapt to an American reality.

And interculturality is demanding that it is not just a road or a single direction. They are two senses.

A: To know how to dialogue, to know how to enter into respect.

L: Yes. Respect, dialogue. I really like the word mutuality. That my culture is not, should not be more dominant. We know how to change and to dialogue.

A: With a face-to-face dialogue. A horizontal, fraternal dialogue.

L: Amen …, yeah …, ya! It’s not about superior versus inferior. It’s not that one culture is better than the other … It’s just diverse. Sometimes, I see that people despise a culture. Even in the missionaries. “Ah … the people here … in my country it’s different, it’s better” …
Do not…! Yes, it is true that my culture has good and bad things. And the other culture also has them. For there is a level of respect, of openness to know before despising, diminishing.

A: This field of interculturality requires all Oblates to work within a specific field. We as missionaries have a strong work on the theme of Justice, Peace and Care of Creation. There is a strong presence at the UN.

So how can we develop a missionary strategy that will put missionaries in action to work together to work fruitfully, for example with the Muslim world?

L: With the Muslim world! There is a keyword that is Network. Together with communication. I think that, in particular, the Oblates in the world have interreligious dialogue with Muslims in daily life. I always hear this when I visit. When we fight together for water in our neighborhood, Muslims, Christians, evangelicals, Catholics are together. When we seek to end the exploitation of a mine company that is contaminating the water we need for fishing, for food; We stay together for concrete action. The Oblates have done formidable work in education, in schools where the absolute majority is Muslim. We have educated to the university level. It is incredible what we have done. Today there is a little mistrust with education. Muslims sometimes think we want to use the school to convert them. But our story is different. Our Oblates have made schools only for the good of the Muslims. These practical things are a form of interreligious dialogue.

I think the Oblate path is more at the core with poor people where we are working together on joint projects. And this grassroots work receives important support from groups like VIVAT at the United Nations, which can support the struggle for a better life for the people. For example, the problem of mining today is very large. Working together with other entities we can have more strength, there is more pressure to help people at the base. So there are two levels: the base and also at the big levels where we can be working together giving the pressures to get the rights and opportunities better for the lives of the poor.

A: I can say that too, because when I was in the Amazon, I had that help and support, also from VIVAT as from the Oblates of Justice and Peace of the United States. It was when the Oblates of Peru had presence in the Amazon. I am also convinced that this work of Red is a fundamental thing.

L: The word that I really like is: I SUPPORT. There is in this work an endorsement.

A: Father Louis … a very special question. Each year looking at the numbers, not only in the Oblates but at the level of all the congregations, there is a situation of little increase of vocations, and on the other hand there is an aging of the members in missionary activities,
Did the Oblates start looking for another way to maintain this charism of Saint Eugene?

L: Father Robert … I do not like the question. But I say: I tried to show in the General Chapter, and here I am thinking of Pope Francis because it is not my idea, he is saying: “We have to look at the world not only in Europe or Canada or the United States.” Because if we look at the world from India, or from Indonesia, or from Vietnam, or from Senegal, Madagascar, we see a Church that is too young, growing a lot. But in Europe the discourse is often the death of the Church, the death of the Oblates, the death of the Jesuits, the Franciscans, the Salesians, but I think we have to have another look at the world of the Congregation or the Church . As I said, if we look from Asia or Africa is another reality. I also think of Latin America, I always say that I want to see more force in Latin America. Brazil is growing in vocations and new groups. Latin America is the first region to celebrate an impressive Vocational Year, and there are several fruits that come from working with young people.

There are new things in Europe, yes … We do not have novitiates with 200 novices or more, it’s true. Decline and aging in Europe, Canada, United States, Australia. Also the Oblates of Poland are going to say that it is not whole Europe, because Poland continues in a strong way. This is a little homily! But what I mean is that there are other ways in which the Holy Spirit brings forth people who love the Oblate Charism. There are in our Congregation many and diverse groups of laity who are passionate about St. Eugene de Mazenod and are excellent forms that make more present the Charism of Our Founder. Sometimes, more than the Oblates themselves, they love the Founder, they love the Charism. They want to work alongside the poor. Not as welfare, but rather in working with the poor. We have so many groups that are emerging in the world and we do not have a uniform organization of these groups. There are also other religious, such as the Oblates of Spain and the Oblates of Paraguay who are new groups of religious women who are passionate about the Oblate Charism.
I think and affirm that it is important, as they are enriching the Charism. And this way of how lay people live the Oblate Charism, is a mutuality – again this word. With us, they enrich us and we enrich them. I also want to emphasize that still with the groups of laity and religious living the Oblate Charism, we have to work hard for vocations of consecrated Oblates. Indonesia, has now placed as a province missionary priority, vocational work and training. Because if we do not have vocations, we have no Mission.

I know we have lost a little faith about our future … “Oh … yes! We are going to die and the laity will live the Charism. ” I do not accept this! We are going to live, and we will live the Charism in a richer way because of the exchange with the laity who have many things to show, to teach, about the Charism of St. Eugene. I think the future will be very beautiful, very good. Not with numbers of large houses, hundreds of scholastics … No, no … step, step! Oblates committed to the poor living in intercultural communities. Living with lay people committed to the Mission. Living with young people in the service of the Mission of the Church. This I see. If we have in Europe, in America or in Australia, living communities, communities as lights, missionaries.

A: This force that the Chapter itself has placed as one of the priority points: the Mission with the Young. Today for example, there are countries that are working JOMI, which means, Oblate Youth of Mary Immaculate. This for example is a new style.

L: Yes, it is a new style that is the work of the Holy Spirit, I think. And it is like a fire in Latin America, in Australia, in Poland, in the Central Province of Europe. Now a community has begun in northern Germany, in the Central Province of Europe, is a new way. But for me the novelty is: not we who are going to convert the young people. They are young people on mission to the young. And we are in Mission with young missionaries. And not as objects of Mission, but as subjects of the Mission. So it is a new way for young people to be missionaries with us.

A: Father Louis: Taking advantage of this awakening of vocations in some regions:
Is there a specific country where the Oblates will begin a new missionary experience?

L: It seems to me that the Oblates of Zambia are going to enter Malawi. The interesting thing is that the bishop wants to have missionaries. He wants the missionaries first to know the reality of the people where they are going to work. The missionaries will go through an intense preparation for inculturation, study of culture, languages, history of the country and the Church. The diocese wants the Oblates to work together with the other pastoral workers. He does not want us to come and make Mission “our way” without a preparation and connection with the local Church. The bishop wants us to live our Charism, to enrich the diocese with him, but within a set of ecclesial charisms. The diocese does not want the Oblates to develop “our mission.” The bishop wants the religious for his charism, even the testimony of a life of apostolic community, of fraternal communion. It is very interesting and almost unknown for a bishop to have this broad vision, to want missionaries, respecting his charism and paying close attention to how the religious charism will be inserted in the diocese.

A: One last question Father Louis. New needs require new means,
With which of them are we counting? Because it is very important to know, for example how to respond to these demands.

L: I have thought a lot about this question. For me the first thing is the Social Media Communication. We have to know how to use them well. And not as people who are half distrustful or who are afraid of them, or ridiculing or mocking these means. We have to prepare ourselves knowing well what we are doing. I am glad that you, Father Shanil and others in the Congregation are preparing to help us understand and use these means well.

I think of new media. Because in the General Chapter, Father Bernard Keradec, OMI has told us: “You put this new word. New heart, new spirit, new mind, new mission, but what does it mean: NEW? “Then, in the question, perhaps what is old must be new, renewed. There is one essential thing that we know, there is no new thing, because it is the community life, the apostolic community life.
A situation we have many times is this: there is a person, an Oblate in the vanguard with something. He is alone, he does a good job, it has no effect on us. It has an effect on people … very well. And when he grows old or dies – there is no continuity. I think that the things we know about St. Eugene, and the ever new thing of the means of evangelization, is the personal witness in and by a community. And a community – as to return to the beginning – which is intercultural. Where there is dialogue, where we can spend time together to know and understand each other, and not just to work. Because, our life is the message we want to announce. Acts of the Apostles teaches us: “Let Christians see how they love one another.”

Excuse me, but I come back to a simple thing. We need, we have to use the Social Media Communication, vehicles, radio towers, television, we have graphic press. We have to have the structure of the Communication congregation. We have to strengthen our structure. The web page, the communication between us. I think that deep down there is a need for communities that live the Gospel as a fraternal communion. It is the most essential medium.

A: Thank you very much Father Louis Lougen, OMI for giving us this valuable time to develop this interview.

Rome, Sunday 23 April 2017

Interviewer: Fr. Roberto Carrasco, OMI


Traslator: Oblate Communications Service – Rome

Original in Spanish in