Superior General’s Newsletter – 6 – December 2008


Pastoral Visit with Our Confreres

During four weeks, in November and December, Fr. Konrad Esser and I visited our confreres of the South American Province. Our travels took us to Haiti, Equator and the northeastern Brazilian state of Bahia. These three places have a lot in common. Each has a predominately hot climate the whole year around. But what is their common denominator is the shared situation of their people's poverty.

All of us have heard something about the poorest country in the Americas: Haiti. Seeing the total misery in which thousands of this country manage to survive breaks one's heart. We were most impressed and made proud to see how our confreres are dedicating their lives on behalf of these suffering masses.

We left filled with hope from what we had experienced. It has been only a few years since the present South American province began to accept young Haitian candidates into initial formation. Today the presence of 5 scholastics, 3 novices and 7 postulants, besides a number of other candidates, is a reason for hope and thanksgiving.  Besides their specific formation, these young people are engaged in pastoral work in Cité Soliel, one of the poorest slums of Port of Prince.  Our missionary confreres and the Haitians in formation need our prayers. I ask that you remember them in your prayers to God.  
In some places, such as Equator and Bahia, the people's faith is contagious. It was deeply moving to participate in the run-rise rosary prayed during the feast day novena in Manta, Equator in which some 500 persons processed, sang and praying from 5:00 to 6:00 AM. The great number of children and young people who actively participated in these celebrations is 'strange' to someone who is arriving from the European church. It was very encouraging, as well, to witness the dedication of our confreres in Bahia, enduring horrible roads while offering alternatives to their people through community directed projects.

Evidently such wonderful pastoral work does not happen without a large share of challenges. Fr. Esser and I are deeply grateful to God that we were able to witness to the huge participation of the people in the communities, their enthusiasm and their vitality. We are thankful for the reception and the eagerness with which our confreres minister in the mission confided to them. May the Good Lord bless them and keep them faithful in the service.

The new Southern-African Region: Unification Celebration

After a long and challenging process, the Regions of Keetmenshoop and Upington have become one single region: the Southern-African Region. The unification occurred officially on December 16th in a solemn celebration in Majieskloof. Fr. Esser represented me at this important event. A beautiful unity celebration was presided over by Bishop Risi of the Upington Diocese. Fr. Esser described the celebration in these words: “We went in a great procession into the church. Leading were the two "former" Regionals with lighted candles. At the entrance of the church they lit the "Unification Candle" and all of us, in turn, lit our candles from this unification candle. Then we went into the church with candles burning. Our confreres were asked, if they had come "freely and without reservation" to this celebration and if they were ready to bond together into one Region. Father Jan then made a "profession of faith". This beautiful testimony reveals the spirit with which the ceremony was conducted.

The government of the new Region is made up as follows: Regional Superior: Fr. Jan Mostert; Regional Council members: Fr. John Charles Goliath, Fr. Albert Jacobus Josseph, Fr. Reginald van Schalkwyk, Fr. Gavin Atkins, Fr. Joseph Ovis and Fr. Fransiskus Swarbooi. The last two councilors cited were regional Superiors of the now extinct regions. They are ex-officio members. Therefore, the new Regional Council will have a membership of six.

            An extraordinary chapter with membership from both outgoing regions preceded the official unification. Besides deciding to include for the next four years 6 members in the Regional Council, the chapter decided that the central theme for the new administration should be community life and reconciliation. The chapter set forth the goal of the new region as the reinforcement of fraternal bonding among all the confreres and the involvement of the whole regional community in the process of continuing formation.

            Fr. Brian Williams, a South African priest, along with Fr. Koos Walters, performed a wonderful service for our confreres, mediated the consolidation process. I wish to thank them and all the Oblates who contributed to this process, demonstrating their openness to dialog and to the workings of the Holy Spirit.

            In my letter addressed to the members of the new region, I said that they could truly celebrate Christmas early this year. They have initiated a new beginning in the history of the Desales Oblate's presence in Africa. May God who was born and walks among us, continue to guide our confreres of the unified region. I ask for your prayers that the ministry of our confreres on Africa soil be blest abundantly. May God bless you!

Swiss Oblates are integrated into the Austrian-South German Province

Last August in Fockenfeld, the members of the Swiss community were formally received as members of the Austrian-South German Province. Historically the Swiss Province developed from the Austrian province. Now the child has returned home! Father Franz Aregger is presently residing in the community of St. Anne in Vienna and Fathers Josef Huber and Johannes Föhn are living in Kriens, Switzerland.

As I expressed myself in Fockenfeld, I wish to reiterate my thankfulness to Fr. Konrad Esser who worked very hard during these long years as a channel of communication and articulation between the Swiss community and the General Council. I wish to thank, as well, the provincial Administration of the Austrian-South German province as well as its membership for the welcoming that they have extended to our Swiss confreres.

One of the notable qualities of the Swiss confreres was their generosity in contributing financially to Oblate formation in different parts of the world. Therefore, it has been agreed that part of the economic resources of Switzerland will be designated to the Chablais Fund in the future.

One of the last works supported by the Swiss Oblates was the construction of a new novitiate house in Eluru, India. Work on this house is presently underway. The Congregation will be forever grateful to our Swiss confreres for their spirit of mutual help and assistance.

            Consolidation Process of the Austrian-South German and the German Provinces

The consolidation process between the two German-speaking provinces is advancing well. Last August in Fockenfeld there occurred an assembly made up of members from the two provinces. Some sixty Oblates were present. In the debates and reflections, while open and frank, were marked by a spirit of profound mutual respect. The entire membership is actively being involved in the questions that are being discussed: formation, missionary spirit, our Oblate mission today, ecology, financial concerns and the contribution of the province toward the Congregation etc. In the coming months of February, March and the beginning of April, I will be making a canonical visitation to these two provinces. We are looking forward to the first of July 2009 as the date for the celebration marking the formal consolidation of these two Provinces.

May we keep these confreres in our prayer. May the consolidation process bring about new inspiration for our mission as Oblates within the challenging reality of evangelization in today's Europe.

Oblate Provinces in the United States

We may truly say that we are in a time of bringing together our energies toward a common goal. The Wilmington-Philadelphia and the Toledo-Detroit provinces are also working in this direction. Some months ago I was informed that the two Provincials and their respective Councils met to share recent developments within the provinces, and specifically to discuss common initiatives. Some of these initiatives are already underway: common novitiate, Mission Procurator, Salesian Leadership Workshop and others. This meeting was very positive, fraternal and Salesian. The two provinces have agreed that the provincials and their respective Councils will meet once a year.

2009: Fourth Centenary of the Introduction to the Devote Life

Some four hundred years ago the first edition of St Francis de Sales famous work, the Introduction to the Devote Life, was published. It was aimed at offering a help to laypeople on living their faith in the midst of daily activities. The Church, starting with Vatican II, has become aware once again to the importance of the laity. We, as Oblates, possess this precious work, whose extraordinary value transcends time. It is a treasure for us to and for the laity.

I invite all to use our creativity in an effort to make good use of this opportunity to help the laity, especially those who work with us. They need, just as we do, solid spiritual nourishment. Let us offer them what we have graciously received from God.

The Meeting of the Major Superior next year will take place in Annecy.  Two days of this meeting will be dedicated to the Introduction. I know that there are various initiatives underway with the objective of rediscovering the treasure that is ours. May this be taken as an invitation to all to use our creativity and to offer to the laity this salesian nourishment.


I am presently in Southern Brazil and will remain here until the end of January. I have been asked to give the annual retreat of our Brazilian confreres in January in the days just before St. Francis’ feast day.

During the first week in February we have set up a meeting of the General Council in Monaco. After that, in February, March and April I will be making the canonical visitation to the Provinces of Austria-South Germany and Germany. Fr. Konrad Esser will accompany me. Also in March, in Rome, there will be a meeting of the Salesian Education Committee, which is taking the first steps in assisting our schools in the mission of spreading salesian spirit. At the end of April and the beginning of May, again with the company of Fr. Esser, I will be visiting our Indian confreres. I know that I can count on your valuable prayers for these travels.

Merry Christmas!

I am writing this letter on the 19th of December. Christmas is in the air. What I am mindful of, however, is that this is an important day in our Founder's life. It is the day of his priestly ordination. On this day in 1840 under terrible weather conditions with temperatures below – 27 C (-17 F) he began his priestly ministry. We know that this intense cold was not the greatest challenge that he had to confront in his priestly life. During 2008, the year dedicated to Father Brisson, we learned to understand better his life and his teachings. His novena helped to accomplish this. As a priest he struggled to discern the will of God during the often difficult meetings with the Good Mother; he faced stiff opposition from the Bishop of Troyes while trying to guarantee that the congregation might be under the Propaganda Fidei; and he dealt with the hard experience of seeing the Oblate Sisters and the Oblates expelled from France. In all this our founder revealed himself as a man of strength: strong in discerning the will of God, strength in his faith, strong in his perseverance, strong in his fidelity. And more than anything else, Father Louis Brisson showed strength in his love. On January 24 of 1908, a couple of days before departing this life for the Father's heavenly home, he clearly manifested this love. Surrounded by his beloved sons and daughters and, almost unable to speak, he managed to exclaim: ‘I love you with all the my heart!’
May the celebration of Christmas renew our forces. May God who came to us and remains with us, make us strong in the face of today's world. In the midst of worldwide economic crisis, religious persecutions of Christians in India, and so many other human miseries, as well as the many challenges of evangelization, let us turn to the fragility of the Christ-Child. Let us be renewed in Him. May He make us strong in love, hope, humility and fraternity. May He renew is us the joy of the gift received: the gift of being an Oblate of St. Francis de Sales.

Merry Christmas!

Fr. Aldino José Kiesel, osfs
Superior General