We have been in contact with the Oblates since 1973. In 1986, we participated in a workshop on “Personality and Human Relations” directed by Father Lomer Laplante, OMI. Through personal reflection and sharing with the other members of the group, we discovered a profound and nearly urgent desire to live a “missionary experience“ which led us to our first trip to Bolivia in 1987. We remained in Bolivia during 10 out of 15 years, because we also wanted to spend time with our family in Canada.
In 1989, when we were in Bolivia, we received a letter from Fr. Alain Piché, OMI. who was at the time Provincial in Manitoba, inviting us to become associates of the congregation. This was a surprise and an honor which we took seriously. Fr. Louis Jolicœur guided us during a time of preparation and on October 9, 1989 we made our first commitment in the Oblate chapel in Cochabamba, Bolivia.
We worked with abandoned children who entered the Amanecer institution. We learned that very little is required to make a child smile, just a few words or actions are needed to make him feel protected and valued.
In the fall of 1990, we were in the rain forest in the tropical region of Bolivia where the heat and humidity are tremendous. Louis was in a state of extreme fatigue and arthritic pain when he went to Santa Cruz to buy a tractor for the farm we were managing. He stayed with the Oblates. When the tractor was purchased and he was ready to leave, Fr. Henri Bujold said:”Stay one more day, you can rest a while before returning to your workplace.”
Every year, the Oblates would invite us to their annual retreat. That year, at the time of the offerings at the closing mass, Fr. Bujold presented a pair of sandals, symbolizing the hard labor we were doing in the hot and humid climate of the tropics.
During our time in Bolivia, we had been invited to accompany Fr. Roberto Lacasse, OMI as well two other associates and a few Oblate scholastics who regularly went to the distant rural communities. There, we discovered a totally unknown universe, roads that were barely passable even by jeep, the stinging cold on the high plateaus of the Andes, the meager vegetation, the poorly nourished sheep, the people who were so destitute, but we also saw their smiles and visible friendship the next morning as we shared the breakfast we had brought especially for them. We appreciated the courage of the Oblates to maintain this mission, bringing to these far away people some comfort and hope.
In July of 2009, Fr. Lacasse was visiting family in the state of Maine, USA. Since it was our 50th wedding anniversary that year, we invited him to come and celebrate with us. The presence of a missionary Oblate at our anniversary was a special gift.
Back in Canada, it has become easier for us to approach those who are lonely, hurt, handicapped, to listen to them, to accompany them on their sometimes difficult path. That is surely one of the benefits of our time in Bolivia.
In our experience as Associates, we have lived wonderful moments of friendship, personal and spiritual growth. On the other hand, we have also known tensions, apprehensions, including total rejection on the part of one Belgian member of the Congregation in Bolivia. Those were hardships but also opportunities to forgive and grow as persons and as Christians.
One way of becoming more visible as Associates and Oblates working together would be to create projects in common, but that seems to be somewhat difficult because of different lifestyles, age, health conditions, travelling distances etc. Possibly it would not be necessary to accomplish “great things” but to function as associates where we are, to be present to the most fragile, to participate in the life of the Church according to our talents and capabilities etc. Regular encounters with other associates are also very important.
By Armelle and Louis Molin