Serving Our Neighbors During a Pandemic
More than 200 years ago, the founder of the Missionary Oblates, St. Eugene De Mazenod, held a retreat for his small band of missionaries. At the conclusion of the retreat, St. Eugene summarized the overall purpose of his new congregation:
“We must, above all, become really convinced that we are doing the will of God by devoting ourselves to the service of our neighbors.”
Today, St. Eugene’s simple instruction is being followed by Missionary Oblates around the world. The Oblates are meeting the physical and spiritual needs of so many people during the Covid-19 pandemic. Here are just a few positives that the Oblates, in partnership with friends like you, have been of service to their neighbors.
In Tijuana, B.C., Mexico, the Oblates are at the service of their neighbor, Maria.
Maria was pregnant at the beginning of the pandemic. The pregnancy was difficult and she was unable to work. Her husband lost his construction job and also could not find work.
Every two weeks, Maria walked two miles each way in order to pick up a food basket from the Oblates at their parish. Late in her pregnancy, she occasionally asked the Oblates for a ride to and from home.
One day while waiting in line Maria asked if she could get a food basket right away as she was in a lot of pain. The Oblates offered her a ride home but she declined.
When Maria got home she went into labor and took a taxi to the hospital. They didn’t make it. The baby was born in the car with the driver flagging traffic and the dad doing the delivery.
Two weeks later Maria was back in line at the Oblate parish to get her food basket. She brought along her newborn daughter and in addition to food she received diapers, baby formula and other items for the newest member of the family.
“During just the first few months of the pandemic we distributed 2,500 food baskets thanks to our generous donors,” said Fr. Jesse Esqueda, O.M.I. superior of the mission. “But ‘man does not live by bread alone,’ so we have also helped by providing money for transportation, healthcare, funeral services and spiritual support.”
In Zambia, the Oblates were at the service of their neighbors from the very beginning of the pandemic, and they are credited with helping to reduce the impact of the deadly virus.
When the pandemic began, there was much confusion about how the virus was spread and what safety precautions needed to be taken. This confusion was especially prominent in rural parts of the country.
The Oblates run Radio Liseli in Zambia. The radio station broadcasts religious and educational information to a vast area in the western part of the country and reaches some of the country’s most remote villages.
The Oblates at Radio Liseli began broadcasting accurate information continuously about the virus. Government officials credit Radio Liseli with minimizing the impact of the virus on the population. In the first eight months of the pandemic, there were less than 400 Covid-19 related deaths in the country of 17 million people.
In addition to their education work during the pandemic, the Oblates also began streaming Masses and religious services in order to keep their churches closed during the crisis. Daily Mass was broadcast from the Radio Liseli studio and Masses at several Oblate parishes were broadcast on Facebook.
At the Oblates’ Sancta Maria Mission, the parish youth group identified the most vulnerable members of the community and ensured that they had the necessary masks and sanitation products to stay safe during the pandemic.
At the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows, Oblate seminarians had to adapt their ministries in order to be of better service to each other and their neighbors.
Most of the Shrine’s events and liturgies either had to be cancelled or go virtual in order to maintain social distancing. But that didn’t stop the seminarians from having a positive impact on Shrine pilgrims.
“Outside of our home we had to adapt to additional realities in our formal ministries,” said Pablo Henning Manrique, a pre-novice. “We organized masked liturgical events, assisted in carrying out new retreat realities, attended socially distanced young adult gatherings and worked to increase the Oblates’ digital outreach.”
Oblate novices and pre-novices are currently living temporarily at the Shrine. Their knowledge of technology helped the Shrine staff expand their reach tremendously during the pandemic.
For example, the Annual Healing and Hope Novena could only accommodate a few dozen people in person. But with the help of the seminarians, thousands of other virtual pilgrims were able to attend the novena over the internet.
The seminarians also took the negative of increased isolation and turned it in to a positive, by using the additional time spent indoors to learn more about each other’s background and culture and to make their time of discernment more enriching.
As future Missionary Oblate priest and brothers, the seminarians will face many future challenges in service to their neighbors. The Covid-19 pandemic has given them a head start on of fulfilling St. Eugene De Mazenod’s desire for his men to truly devote themselves to the service of their neighbors.
Many years ago I attended a retreat presented by Fr. Tom Singer, O.M.I. During the retreat, Fr. Tom gave us “Ten Commandments For The Long Haul.” I have kept a copy of these commandments with me ever since.
Father Tom described these commandments as helpful ideas to get us through life better. They consist of rather simple reminders, like to be non-judgmental, be available to others and value the opportunity to always improve yourself.
I have thought about these long haul commandments in recent months in light of Covid-19. During the pandemic, we have focused on mostly short-term issue, and we truly made a difference in the lives of the people we serve in our ministries. We distributed protective equipment, turned our buildings into quarantine centers and found new ways to minister digitally.
But now, maybe it is time we begin to look at the long haul again. As we deal less with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, we are reminded that we still need to feed the hungry, provide shelter for the homeless and educate our next generation of missionaries.
One way you can be a partner with the Oblates for the long haul is to remember the Oblates in your will. Your support in this way will truly leave a legacy of healing and hope for generations to come.
Father Tom’s first “long haul” commandment is my favorite: “Thou shalt ask God to give you a ‘new chance’ each new day.” Today I ask that you to help give the Missionary Oblates a chance to make this world a little brighter for people in need.
Chris Streetman’s current home is the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows. When he arrived last summer as an Oblate novice, it truly was like coming back home.
“I grew up in Breese, Illinois which is about a half-hour drive from the Shrine,” said Chris. “My mom has always loved the Shrine and would find any excuse for us to go there. As a child, I visited the Shrine many times, including events like the Way of Lights and various cultural programs.”
Faith has always been important to the Streetman family. When Chris was born, he had numerous health problems and doctors didn’t expect him to live past his first birthday. His parents prayed daily for their young son – and he survived.
When Chris was young, his family moved from Texas to Illinois. Mom discovered the Shrine and it became a frequent destination for the family. Chris was particularly drawn to the Shrine and the Missionary Oblates.
“When Chris was eight years old he told me that he wanted to be a priest,” said Chris’ mom, Monica. “I’m sure those visits to the Shrine had a lot to do with that decision.”
After high school, Chris spent a couple of years exploring a variety of career options. He earned a degree in English Literature/Writing from McKendree University. He also worked for a couple of years in the retail and food service industry. But the calling to religious life was always present.
“I was involved in TEC (Teens Encounter Christ) and Quest retreat programs and it was at one of these retreats that I heard the call to religious life,” said Chris. “I attended the diocesan seminary for a year before I realized that my calling was to become a Missionary Oblate, the people who had helped to foster my faith at the Shrine throughout my childhood.”
Chris attended the Oblates’ pre-novitiate program in Buffalo, New York before beginning his novitiate year last August at the Shrine. The novitiate year is a time to get away and to deeply discern through prayer and study if one wants to commit to a life as a Missionary Oblate. At the end of the novitiate year, the seminarian makes first vows.
Today, Chris is just down the road from his family, but he hasn’t seen his parents for more than seven months. Mom hasn’t even been to the Shrine since she dropped Chris off. She loves her son and the Shrine too much to visit.
“It’s hard on me not seeing him,” said Monica. “But I have to let him be, because he needs to be with his Oblate family now.”
When I reflected on the cover story in this newsletter, I couldn’t help but think back to when I was a seminarian. My classmates are now overcoming many difficulties in their ministries caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Father Felix Nyambe, O.M.I. and I spent a year together at our Oblate Novitiate. He is now an important part of our team at Sancta Maria Mission, one of our largest missions in Zambia. Father Juan Gaspar, O.M.I. was a classmate of mine when I was a student at Oblate School of Theology. He is now in charge of our pre-novitiate program located at the National shrine of Our Lady of the Snows, helping young men discern if they are called to religious life. And in 2014 I was ordained alongside Fr. Jesse Esqueda, O.M.I., who is now superior of our vast ministries in Tijuana, B.C., Mexico.
When Fathers Felix, Juan, Jesse and I were ordained, we made the traditional vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. But as Oblates, we also took one additional vow – perseverance.
Oblate perseverance has been needed every day during the Covid-19 pandemic. And please know that we can only persevere in our ministries because of the prayers and support of friends like you.
“I can do all things through Him Who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13.
Let us continue to be strengthened by our faith, and let us continue to persevere together.
In Jesus Christ and Mary Immaculate,
Fr. David P. Uribe, O.M.I.
Oblae Chaplain Director
The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic will last long after life returns to normal for us. The difficulties caused by the pandemic will be long-lasting in places where the Missionary Oblates call home like Zambia, Tijuana, B.C., Mexico and the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows. The Oblates are making a real positive difference today in these places and many other missions around the world, but we need your help to continue this vital work.
Please consider making a gift today so that the Oblates can address hardships caused by the Covid-19 pandemic in the months ahead. Your gift truly will speed up the recovery process, and allow our missionaries to have the greatest impact on the lives of the people in their ministries.
Here are a few ways that you can co-minister with the Oblates as we serve our less fortunate brothers and sisters around the world:
• Outright cash gifts are the easiest to give. You can donate by check, credit card or monthly pledge payment. You can also make a gift by using appreciated stocks, bonds and/or mutual fund shares.
• Use your IRA to make a charitable gift. When you reach age 70½, you can take advantage of making a qualified charitable distribution from your IRA. You can make a gift up to $100,000 annually from your IRA to the Missionary Oblates and avoid income taxes on the distribution.
• Make a gift through a Donor Advised Fund (DAF). A DAF is a simple, flexible and tax-advantaged way you can make charitable donations that have the biggest impact. You can quickly and easily designate a grant from your DAF to the Oblates through your financial institution.
To learn more about making a gift, contact your Gift Advisor or call the Office of Charitable and Planned Giving at 1-800-233-6264 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Rest in Eternal Peace…
The Missionary Oblates are grateful to our friends who have remembered us through a bequest or charitable gift annuity. Please join us in prayer for these benefactors who have been called to their eternal rest with the Lord.
Anna Marie Harris
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