From The Desert To Rome

What a difference a day makes.

On September 28, Fr. Luis Ignacio (Chicho) Rois Alonso, OMI, was ministering in Western Sahara, one of smallest and most remote missions of the Missionary Oblates. The next day, he was headed to Rome, Italy, to become the leader of an entire religious congregation of over 3,500 priests and brothers ministering in 70 countries.

After being elected Superior General of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Fr. Chicho told Vatican News that focusing on the needs of the poor will be his primary concentration over the next six years.

“Poor people can teach us about hope and life. So, we must work with poor people, with lay people, with indigenous peoples, bringing new life to the congregation,” said Fr. Chicho. “For me, this means bringing holiness to the congregation, and the best way to do that is to be a missionary, to be a saint.”

Father Chicho’s journey to Superior General did not follow a traditional path to a leadership role in the Church. He was born in 1963 in Madrid, Spain. In 1982 he professed his first religious vows and was ordained in 1988.

His first assignment as a priest was to serve as a Vocation Director. He then was named the Superior of the Scholasticate in Pozuelo, Spain. In 2000 he was named the Provincial for the Oblates in Spain and four years later was elected to serve in Rome as the General Councilor for Europe, a position he held for 12 years.

In 2016, Fr. Chicho decided that he needed a break from Rome and leadership positions with the Oblates. His decision was extreme. He became a missionary to Western Sahara, an area where 99% of the population is Muslim.

Father Chicho was one of three Oblates ministering in Western Sahara. There are just a handful of Catholics in the area, a small number of local Catholics as well as people from other countries who are in the area for work or who are travelers.

In addition to meeting the needs of the small Christian community, the Oblates also reach out to their Muslim brothers to promote dialogue between the two religions where mistrust has existed for many years. Father Chicho said his prayer life has improved thanks to his Muslim neighbors.

“They have something of the gospel in their tradition, and I can learn from that,” he said. “They have a special gift of the Holy Spirit. So, we can apply the same to any other context where we are working as missionaries.”

A few days after arriving in Rome, Fr. Chicho attended an audience with Pope Francis for the Oblates who had attended the General Chapter. The Holy Father joked that Fr. Chicho was “a poor man, taken from the desert and brought here to Rome.”

Pope Francis described the Oblates as: “pilgrims and wanderers, always ready to go, like Jesus with His disciples.” Father Chicho fits that description to perfection.