Over my years of working with the Oblates, it has been a real pleasure and privilege to be invited into their various communities. Whether it was Oblate houses in Aix-en-Province, Rome, Ireland, San Antonio, or the various Canadian and US Oblate retreat centres, the Oblates have always been warm and gracious. As the Oblate director of the Anglo-Irish retreat centre said to a group of us, “You are very, very welcome here,” and we truly felt that we were.
Oblates are noted for their hospitality. It’s an integral aspect of their charism: they seek to ‘draw near’ to those among whom they minister. Their Founder, Eugene de Mazenod, even as Archbishop of a major diocese, maintained regular pastoral visits to the sick in the backstreet slums of Marseilles, joked with the fish wives in the open air markets, and held open office hours every morning in his offices. Forgoing the upper-class diction of the rich, he spoke in the patois of the common people, scandalizing his family and the Church hierarchy, but endearing himself to the people.
Today, the Oblates are still to be found among the people. Their mandate is to go where the church has not yet been ‘planted’ or, where it is present, to serve those whom the Church touches least. Thus you can find them establishing churches in mission countries, working with First Nations people in remote Northern missions, reaching out to people in inner city parishes, and ministering to HIV and AIDS sufferers, among other things. Their ministries are as diverse as the people who need them, and wherever they are, they will be saying, “You are very welcome here.” And they mean it.
It’s a very special thing to find a real welcome in this world of ours. Mother Teresa once said “We’ve forgotten we belong to each other.” Oblate hospitality helps us remember.
Sandra Prather, HOMI