Superior General’s Newsletter – 8 – September 2009


Symposium on the Introduction to the Devote Life and
the Meeting of the Major Superiors

         In Annecy, at the end of last July, a two day Symposium was held on the Introduction to the Devote Life, remembering and celebrating the 400 years of this work's publication. Five enlightening presentations were given about Francis' work from differing viewpoints: Dr. Wendy Wright approached the Introduction as a Classic; Fr. Joseph Chorpenning focused on the theme of Images and Spiritual Formation; Fr. Lewis Fiorelli developed the theme of Spiritual Direction and Formation; Bro. Daniel Wisniewski treated the question of Spiritual Friendship; and Pe. Michel Tournade offered insights on how to modernize the Introduction's message for contemporary use, specially with young people. All of the Symposium's reflections are being edited and will be published in book form. Once again, I wish to express my appreciation and thanks to all who made the symposium possible.
         The meeting of the Major Superiors followed right after the Symposium. Much of the time of the Major Superiors was dedicated to sharing above the present situation of each of the congregation's nine units present at the Assembly: namely, the seven Provinces, the one Region and one Mission area under the General Administration. Each Major Superior responded to questions based on his annual report that was written for the meeting. It was a good opportunity for all of us to become aware of the many wonderful things that are happening in the differing parts of the world where we minister.  Challenges and uncertainty as well make up part of our lives and our mission. So these were also present. However, meetings such as this of the Major Superiors, enable us to realize that we are not alone, and that we possess a spiritual treasure on which we can count on in order to be able to face the challenges before us. During these meeting days, our liturgical celebrations touched all of us and helped  us precisely in that they centered our heart and our mind on God, who with His loving and powerful care, guides all life and history - that of the church, the Congregation and the individual Oblate.
         Other reports followed including those of: Fr. Mark Mealey, as General Procurator; Fr. Joseph Költringer, on the Chablais Fund; Fr. Joseph Chorpenning, as Director of the International Commission of Salesian Studies; Fr. Lewis Fiorelli, as General Coordinator of Formation; Fr. Joseph Morrissey, as General Treasurer, and Fr. Shaju Kanjiramparayil, on salesian education of youth. Various discussions occurred on these reports.

         These days were, also, were noteworthy for a fraternal and salesian spirit. I heard several confreres openly express their sensing of the spirit that united us. It may be that the very difficulties that we are undergoing, especially for those Provinces in which the number of members are decreasing, are helping us to unite, to support one another and to collaborate with each other.

Restructuring and the Appeals that the Spirit is making today

         During recent years, the restructuring of many Congregations has been an issue that has had to dealt with by religious life. This has been true, as well, for us Oblates. We have not been exempt. The most visible sign of this is the consolidation of two units of the Congregation: the two Regions, (Keimoes Upington and Keetmanshoop) have been united into the South - African Region; and two Provinces (German and Austrian - South German) now make up the present German Speaking Province.

         No one doubts that these restructurings were necessary, and in the future there will certainly be further changes in the Congregation's present structure. In making such decisions, the number of members and the outlook for the future for each unit of the Congregation will always come into play.

         Even though necessary, restructuring in itself is insufficient and does not constitute our most important challenge. In other Congregations, just as in ours, it is easy to notice that the advent of new structures did not resolve the major and most profound challenges. Just as the human person needs a minimum structure for living, we, as a group, need it as well, in order to live our charisma in an organized way. But experience has shown that directing oneself to internally reorganize the structure of a Congregation produces little or nothing in lasting results unless it is accompanied by an absolute oblation to God, in the service of the mission that the church has confided to the Congregation. As anyone may verify, today's crisis in the religious life continues. Therefore, it may be a good moment to move from one focus, centered on restructuring of religious life, to another focus on the person of the religious. Instead of asking about the institution, we might ask about the members of the institution. For we Oblates, this might mean: in an attitude of listening to the appeals that the Spirit is making today, paying close attention to those questions that have importance in our daily life, our identity and mission.

         There are clearly different ways of renewing religious life. Some go in direction of a more laissez faire approach, simply leaving the boat adrift, with the superior doing little or nothing to interfere with possible outcomes. The other extreme is the attempt of renewal by establishing newer and clearer rules, and more rigid norms of group discipline in the hope that such things will produce better results.

         Within present circumstances one even hears it said that certain church movements, especially the ones with a strong pentecostal characteristics are going to occupy the space that the religious life has occupied for centuries. One never knows. We are not fortune tellers. However, it is our duty, yes, to look at how the quality of our religious consecration is going. It would not be honest to ascribe to the will of God the extinction of a Congregation, if the members did not work at living authentically according to the spiritual patrimony that was confided to them by Church.

         Here, then, are some dimensions of religious life that, in my view, deserve to be reflected upon:(1)

1. The Human Dimension

         We know that human sciences, especially after Vatican II, have made big contributions to religious life. We are aware today that a consecrated person constantly faces daily challenges. The need for the members of religious life to possess a solid, human maturity is increasingly clear. A mature person is revealed in his capacity for donation. This donation is expressed in his gratuitous service to others, by the overcoming of self-centerness, and by accepting and committing himself to common causes. “From hearts of humanized persons arise gestures of mercy, of compassion and of solidarity (Fr. Jaldemir Victorio). In an inhuman world, marked by cruelties, religious communities should be an oasis of humanity, in which relationships, marked by love, are their predominant trait.

         Human immaturity manifests itself in different ways. Difficulties with dialog; rigidity in insisting on secondary questions; absolutizing one's own opinion; not speaking charitably in relation to others. All these represent expressions of immaturity.

         Clearly the breakdown of the family is reflected in dehumanizing attitudes by the children. One of the points in which those responsible for formation need to pay attention to is precisely this: to what degree is the candidate mature, and to what degree does he allow himself to be humanized, in the positive meaning of the word. Let us remember that Jesus Christ was fully human, to such a point that it was said of Him: So human was He, that He could only be God!

         On this dimension we, as Oblates, are privileged. St. Francis of de Sales is known as a great humanist. Maybe the time has come for us to seek insights and inspirations from him, as a fountain for growth in our own human dimensions.

         There are a number scholars who have done research on the humanism of St. Francis de Sales (2). But it isn't necessary be a specialist in order to sense the wealth of his humanity. His docility in treating others marked all his relationships. In illustration of this, we need only to recall the testimony of Saint Jane of Chantal during his canonization process: “I do not believe that it is possible to describe the grandness of the gentleness and goodness that God poured into his soul. His face, his eyes, his words and all his actions breathed only goodness and gentleness; he touched the hearts of those with whom he came into contact".

2. The Christian Dimension

         It may seem strange to say that we ought to (re)christianize religious life. In any case, it has not been very long from the time when access to the Sacred Scripture was, at least, difficult for religious people.  One of the results of the Council of Trent was that catechism became directed towards catechetical manuals and not towards Sacred Scripture. Even today we can feel the effects of this. Historically, the Christian Churches, often focused more on church norms than the requirements of the Gospel. Consequently, for a good many Christians, gospel values were absorbed only superficially. A simple, but opportune question arises here: to what extent have we fully absorbed the Christian values? I have in mind the words of St. Paul to the Colossians that can serve as a mirror for us: “Put on therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, a heart of compassion, kindness, lowliness, humility, and perseverance; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, if any man has a complaint against any; even as Christ forgave you, so you also do.
Above all these things, walk in love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful” (Col 3,12-15).

         “Study of the Sacred Books must be the soul of Theology” (DV 24). This affirmation of Vatican II reveals a new consciousness of Church: the centrality of sacred scripture in the Christian's personal and ecclesial life.

         It would be well to recall some essential aspects in life of those who are following Christ. These elements can direct us to the fundamentals of religious consecration: a) Prayer as an experience of a personal encounter with Christ; b) The experience of the Triune God's merciful love; c) Centering our heart and our acts on the Kingdom of God and His justice; d) Solidarity with and service to the poor and marginalized; e) The ecclesial dimension of faith: commitment to the Church that is both saint and sinner.

3. A Convincing Consecrated life

         Beyond restructuring of the Congregation as a whole, would be good to keep in mind the challenges within the various Provinces: closing out of traditional works and leaving places where we have been present for decades. These are painful questions that are unfortunately present in many of the Provincial Council meetings held throughout the congregation.

         Another permanent challenge for us is the question of vocations. To deal with this question, it is not enough to discuss whether it is necessary to have, or not have, a confrere freed for vocational promotion. We must ask ourselves other questions, such as:  Is our manner of living and relating attractive to young people? Besides the God's gift of a vocation, the young person also needs to know and to live with religious whose consecrated life is convincing for him.

         I would like to suggest some elements that contribute in making Oblate life convincing today:
a) Having clarity about our identity as Oblates. Without this clarity, the sense of belonging becomes fragile and we run the risk that any banal difficulty can become motive for abandoning everything;
b) Keeping in mind our congregational objectives, as they are expressed in the writings of the founders, the Constitutions and our tradition
c) Recovering the value and the joy of living in community. This will require mature persons both deeply humanized and humanizing. In addition, such persons will need to have a profound commitment to their Christian faith and the spirit of the Congregation. 
d) Faithful living out of our religious vows within the framework of their finality: “To free our life for a greater love for God and for all mankind C. 91);
e) Maintaining alive the preferential love for the poor, who are special to God;
f) Keeping oneself ever open to God's will in each moment of life, through our uninterrupted communion with Him.
 (1) In part these reflections have been inspired by an article of Jaldemir Victorio, Jesuit priest, published in the magazine Convergence, Brasilia: Brazilian Religious Conference, July / August 2009.
(2) Certainly one of the most detailed resources on this subject is the work of Morand Wirth, sdb, titled “François de Sales et l’education. Formation humaine et humanisme intégral”  Paris: Éditions Don Bosco, 2005. The work has more than 600 pages.

The Death of Bishop John Baptist Minder, osfs

         Death is an unexpected visitor. Sometimes it comes when we least expect it.  Such was the case when we heard the news of the death of our confrere, Bishop John Baptist Minder on August 13 of this year.  I decided right away to be present at the funeral held in his memory. He was buried in the cathedral in Pella, at the end of a celebration in which thanksgiving and praise to God for the life of Bishop Minder as an Oblate, missionary and bishop, were clearly evident. I would like to share with you part of the reflection which I gave to the worshiping community at that celebration:

“My Dear Sisters and Brothers,

I would like to express my gratitude to God who has given us such a precious gift in our brother. John Baptist Minder was an Oblate of Saint Francis de Sales, a priest, a missionary and a bishop who served the people of God both in Namibia and South Africa during many long years. He was a faithful confrere, a pastor, a man of leadership and of great influence in the diocese of Keimoes-Upington, where he was the ordinary for more than thirty years. He was one of the many generous Oblates who had the courage to leave everything: his own country, his beloved friends, his family, his own culture, in order to undertake in a total different country, the challenge to be a missionary. His life itself is a message for us all.

At this moment, I would like to express the deep appreciation that our entire Congregation of the Oblates of Saint Francis de Sales holds toward our beloved missionaries. Bishop Minder, and so many others, have finished their journey as missionaries. But there are other Oblates among us still who also have left their own culture, their own country, and are dedicating the best of their lives to the beloved people of God here in the diocese of Upington and in Keetmanshoop, Namibia. I direct my thoughts now toward them: we appreciate you, we love you. You have been a gift of God to our Congregation; you have been and continue to be God's gift to this people. You are a blessing for us; you are a blessing for them. We are proud of you.

I wish also to express my solidarity with all our confreres in the Southern African Region. Let us continue the work that our late bishop, Jean Marie Simon, started here almost 130 years ago.

To conclude, I would like to express my gratitude to each and everyone of you, beloved people of God, who have supported and have shown your kindness to Bishop Minder and to all our missionaries. May God continue in you the work that has been started."

Province Italian: Pe. Giovanni Cannone receives a second term

         At the beginning of September, the confreres of the Italian Province reelected Fr. Giovanni Cannone as Provincial Superior. The members of the Provincial Council are: Fr. Andrea Giovannini, Fr. Ennio di Giampasquale, Fr. Vincenzo Fantasia and Fr. Gianni Cianfanelli. This latter is also the Assistant Provincial. The General Council has ratified the election of this leadership.

         Let us pray for the leadership and for all of the confreres of the Italian Province. May the Holy Spirit inspire and guide them on their mission as Oblates.

General Statute Number 6

         Our General Statutes, number 6, reads - "After the death of an Oblate, the Superior Provincial / Regional will immediately inform the Superior General and all the Superior Provincials & Regional". I know that some Major Superiors do this. But this information does not always reach all of the Provincials/Regionals. I would like to I recall the importance of this communication to all of the Major Superiors. I would like to remember as well that the same statute calls for each Oblate, when possible, to celebrate a Mass for the departed confrere and keep him in our prayers. In addition, I like to add that Mr. Hans Angleitner (e-mail: ) should always be informed as well, so that he may maintain our information on the Internet page up-to-date.

Workshop on the subject of Salesian Formation and
the meeting of the  Major Superiors in 2010

         A few days ago, I sent a letter to all of the Major Superiors. This letter contains some information about the meeting next year in Fockenfeld, Germany. First, the meeting is directed toward those involved in formation. It will last 6 days and its format will be that of a Workshop on the subject of Salesian Formation, focusing on the novitiate year. Fr. Lewis Fiorelli, General Coordinator for Formation, along with the General Council, are responsible for the preparation of this Workshop. We would like to involve the formation people as well in this preparation by having them respond to a questionnaire that Fr. Fiorelli will send out.

         After the conclusion of the Formation Workshop, there will be a three day meeting of the Major Superiors that will touch upon the usual range of topics.  

Visitation Order:  Established 400 years

         We are all well aware of the importance that the Visitation sister, Mary de Sales Chappuis, exercised in the foundation of our Congregation. The desire of God, that had been a dream of St. Francis de Sales, came into being thanks to the strong stance taken by the Good Mother. She was clearly God's instrument at the beginning of the Congregation. Beyond that, as we know, the Visitation Sisters have been closely linked to us more than at the moment of our foundation. They have been a historical instrument in our locating in many places where we are and work today. These facts alone are sufficient reasons for us to be united with the Sisters from Visitation of Holy Mary during their celebrations of their 400 years of their existence what will occur in 2010. While in Annecy we were informed about the program that is planned in France for the coming year. The high point of these celebrations will be a Solemn Liturgy in the Basilica of St. Francis de Sales on June 6, 2010. This celebration will be broadcasted by television. I know there are Oblates already involved in those jubilee celebrations. Let us not forget to express our spiritual closeness to them and the Visitation. May we keep them present in our prayers and celebrations.

>>>Our Lady of Light

         Our Generalate chapel in Rome has been gifted with a painting of Our Lady of Light, fruit of the creativity and artistic expression of our confrere, Mickey McGrath. The work represents the Mother of God and of the Church on Pentecost, when the wind and fire of the Holy Spirit filled and surrounded her.

         Reproductions of this image (size: 12 x 12, priced at $ 15.00 USD, plus postal expenses) will soon be available at the web page . You may also contact our confrere, Bob Drelich at the address: .


         From October 14 through 30, I and Fr. Konrad Esser will be in India visiting our Indian confreres. On this occasion we will bless the new formation house in Eluru. In addition, new leadership for our Mission in India will be selected.
         During last week of November, I will participate in the meeting of USG (Union of the Superior Generals) in Rome.
         During January of 2010, the General Council will meet in Mariental, Namíbia. The date will coincide with the celebration of Saint Leone Aviat's feast day.
         Again in January, from 17 through 22, I will participate in the annual retreat of our Brazilian confreres.

         I thank you all for accompanying me with your invaluable prayers.


Fr. Aldino José Kiesel, osfs
Superior General