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Monday, Jan. 1st 2018

Summary of the Oblate World Congress held in 2017

Below is the entire summary of the Fourth World Congress of Benedictine Oblates which was held in Rome in November 2017. It was written by Ann Cole and George & Barbara Appleby who attended as representatives from Conception Abbey.

As you know, in November 2017, we attended the Fourth World Congress of Benedictine Oblates in Rome as delegates from Conception Abbey. We’d like to share with you a summary of this event, as this was a gathering meant to include all Benedictine oblates everywhere.

The Congress was held at a retreat center, Fraterna Domus, in the countryside outside Rome and was attended by more than 220 oblates from around the world, with all continents (well, maybe not Antarctica), 36 countries and over 50 monasteries represented. The Congress was conducted in 6 languages: English, German, French, Portuguese, Spanish and Italian with interpretation provided. (It felt like attending a meeting at the United Nations!) A leadership team of those gathered from previous congresses, and headed by Fr. Edward Linton, O.S.B., had been preparing the event for more than two years and planned six days packed full of addresses, panel discussions, small group discussions and a day in Rome at the Vatican and Sant’Anselmo. The Congress theme was “A Way Forward—The Benedictine Community in Movement” with its goal of crafting a vision for oblates for moving into the years ahead, as well as encouraging an oblate response to Laudato Si. Our typical schedule was to start with meditation or group lectio at 7 am, followed by Lauds, and to finish with Compline at 9:30 pm.

On the first full day of the Congress, Abbot Primate Gregory spoke and also presided at Mass. It was a great joy for the three of us to have lunch together with him and time to visit. He sent warmest greetings to all at the Abbey and our oblate group. In his address, Abbot Primate Gregory spoke to us about the oblate’s relationship to their monastery and to God, which he envisioned as the three points of a triangle. He asked us to consider how our relationship with God is deepened in our oblate-monastery relationship and how that impacts our lives. He spoke of how our spiritual intimacy with God comes through to those in relationship to us, as individuals and communities, and of our task of listening with the heart whenever we are hoping to attract someone to the Benedictine life. During the next day, Abbot Primate Emeritus Notker Wolf celebrated Mass for the Congress and was honored at a lunch ceremony. Abbot Wolf had initiated the congresses in the past and the idea of a global network of Benedictine oblates. The first World Congress of Benedictine Oblates was held in 2005.

One of the most interesting presentations was a panel of oblates discussing oblate life in various parts of the world. We learned that oblate groups vary greatly from monastery to monastery and country to country. In Korea, there is a 6-year formation program to become an oblate, and they pray and work weekends once a month! Many European groups of oblates meet regularly with all the oblates from their country. Oblates in the Philippines (numbering 500 from only three monasteries) do hands-on outreach of feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, visiting prisoners, helping those involved in natural disasters. Oblates in Africa face astonishing challenges with courage, as they seek to rebuild ruined churches, shelter refugees, and protect lives in situations of violence. It was mentioned that one of their works is to dig graves for those killed in the violence. The twelve oblates from Nigeria had to cancel their trip as their country would not grant them visas to attend.

Sr. Joan Chittister gave the keynote address. She challenged us to “have a dream bigger than ourselves.” She spoke of those of us who are lay or vowed Benedictines as holding the Benedictine charisms in trust for the church, but that the purpose of a charism is not to hold it to ourselves but to give it away as quickly as we can. She said that these charisms are not static, but always alive, needing to be rediscovered and expressed constantly. She discussed challenges and adjustments facing a church “that is just learning to learn from the laity.”

Daily, we had sessions in our work groups, which were comprised of 10-12 people with as much diversity as possible (but able to communicate in one language). Barb was the only American in her group with people from Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, Wales, Germany, Belgium and the Philippines. These groups offered the opportunity to discuss topics related to oblates and the future in more detail. And from these group discussions, five “emerging vision statements” were identified, in areas of the Rule, prayer and contemplation, oblate formation, an oblate response to Laudato Si, and networking of oblates. (We also had an afternoon panel discussion devoted entirely to Laudato Si.) These five statements are meant to be considered by all oblate groups, discussed, and expanded upon in preparation for the next Congress, to be held in 2021. Our final session also included a truly wonderful and intimate discussion of monastic and oblate living out of our Benedictine vision by Fr. Edward.

Day 5 of the Congress provided us the chance to attend the weekly audience of Pope Francis. Fr. Edward had secured us tickets for seats near the dais from which the Pope spoke, so we were thrilled! That evening we had Vespers with the monks at Sant’Anselmo, Abbot Primate Gregory’s home in Rome, a truly beautiful place. The three of us also had the opportunity for more touring in a three day add-on trip offered by the Congress, which took us to many more sites around Rome, including St. Peter’s and the Basilicas of St. Mary Major, St. John Lateran and St. Paul Outside the Walls, and to Montecassino on our final day in Italy.

All three of us have many more memories to share. Ask any of us and we can talk your ears off about our adventures. This was certainly a trip of a lifetime for each of us, and we are so grateful to have gone! The plans for the next Congress are already underway, so we encourage any interested oblate to begin thinking ahead to 2021. And we look forward to all of us being able to discuss as an oblate group the five vision statements of this Congress and to give input to that planning for the upcoming Fifth Congress.

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