You guys are just different!
Often in conversations with new parishioners at our St. Patrick parish in Hamilton, ON, after asking what attracted them to this faith community, they would say, “You guys are just different!” I believe that that “difference” is expressed by our attitude and witness formed by the Oblate charism.
It is so important to make an effort to learn about the social and cultural background of the people we are called to serve. “In his relationships, he will keep in mind the customs of the country and the sensitivities of the people among whom he lives and works.” (R. 18b) When I was assigned, with another Oblate to the inner-city parish, we certainly didn’t have much knowledge and understanding of the reality of this ministry. So, we researched the studies that had been done about regarding the issues and concerns of our new neighbourhood. We also invited the author of the study called: “Code Red” to lead a workshop with our pastoral leadership team, to share with us deep insights about the reality of life in our neighbourhood from the perspective of homelessness, health care, education, mental illness etc. It became clear that despite many social agencies in the city, there were many gaps where people became marginalized and abandoned. We didn’t want to repeat a service that was already being offered, but rather go into places of abandonment. That’s how the De Mazenod Door Outreach was born.
It’s also important to communicate and listen to those we serve. They will open the eyes to needs that sometimes can be missed, if we look only from our own perspective. “When faced with the demands of our mission and the needs to be met, we may feel weak and helpless. It is then that we can learn from the poor, especially making our own their patience, hope and solidarity.” (C. 20) In the beginning we had a big problem with panhandling on the church property. When we asked why they were doing it, the answer was, “because we are hungry”. We begin feeding our outreach guests daily. Every Friday we offered a BBQ; just to do something “special” for the poor and homeless. When the weather started changing into Canadian fall and winter, we asked our guests how long we should continue this practice. The answer was, “the weather doesn’t change the fact that we are hungry”. So, Friday BBQ has been continued rain or shine, a heat wave, a winter storm or freezing cold.
From the perspective of my 10 years ministry in Hamilton, it has become clear to me that this inner-city parish is meant for Oblate ministry; where St. Eugene’s charism becomes an answer to the experienced reality of life. “Our life is governed by the demands of our apostolic mission and by the calls of the Spirit already dwelling in those to whom we are sent.” (C. 25)
In the end and in the essence, our Oblate attitude and lifestyle, formed according to the Constitutions and Rules, comes from our total oblation. “By this option we consecrate ourselves to the Lord and, at the same time, give ourselves to the people we serve; we thereby free ourselves for a love which reaches out to everyone and challenge the tendency to possess and use others for selfish purposes.” (C. 15)
By Jarek Pachocki, OMI