Oblate Voices is a JPIC blog that follows stories of hope and is about how Oblates and associates live and experience mission work in the spirit of the Oblate founder, St Eugene De Mazenod of responding to the needs of poor and most abandoned around the world.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Bro. Antonio Reflects on a Memorable Time in New York City

by: Bro. Lester Antonio Zapata, OMI

Fr. Daniel Leblanc, OMI (left) & Bro. Antonio
Lester Zapata, OMI 
On Wednesday, June 15, Fr. Antonio Ponce, OMI, and I left Washington D.C. for a four-day visit to New York City. We went to meet with Fr. Daniel Leblanc, OMI, Oblate Representative to the UN and member of the JPIC Committee. Fr. Daniel hosted us at Ascension Church on the Upper West Side of Manhattan where he is the vicar. Founded in 1895 by German immigrants, the church’s parishioners today are predominantly of Puerto Rican heritage. During our time in New York we had several opportunities to interact with the community. 

I had the opportunity to learn more about Fr. Daniel’s work and I believe he truly embodies OMI rule 9-a which states “Action on behalf of justice, peace and the integrity of creation is an integral part of evangelization. Responding to the call of the Spirit, some Oblates identify themselves with the poor, sharing their life and making a commitment to justice; others are present where decisions affecting the future of the poor are being made.” Fr. Daniel does this with his UN work through Vivat International and by working with his local community.

Fr. Daniel has been living and working in New York City for about 12 years.  He is very close to his local immigrant community and has built strong bonds of love with them; they often recognize him walking through the streets or riding on the bus.

Bro. Antonio Lester Zapata, OMI (left), Fr. J. Antonio Ponce, OMI (right)
On Thursday morning, Fr. Antonio and I visited the United Nations and received a one-hour guided tour. We observed how the UN operates behind the scenes and learned about its history, and the role and importance of different UN Committees. Our tour guide also explained the importance of treaties signed by UN members. I received a lot of information in just one hour and grasped the important role of peace and justice in the world.

Later on Thursday, Fr. Antonio and I visited Vivat International offices. VIVAT International is a consortium of seven religious congregations (Comboni Missionaries of the Heart of Jesus, Missionary Sisters of the Holy Rosary, Comboni Missionary Sisters, Little Sisters of the Assumption, Missionary Sisters of the Holy Spirit, Priests of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and Religious of the Assumption). They focus on human rights issues particularly in the areas of women, poverty eradication, sustainable development, and the culture of peace. We had the opportunity to participate in a meeting with various NGO committees working with indigenous people.  The NGOs talked about their role assisting indigenous representatives who come to the UN with their advocacy work and helping them navigate the ‘concrete jungle’ of New York City. They also talked about the important role of elders as educators in native communities and discussed future plans for collaboration.

9/11 Memorial, New York City
On Friday we visited the memorial for the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attack where we prayed. We also prayed for the victims of the Orlando attack. Later that evening, we were invited to have dinner with Elaine P. Congress, Associate Dean and Professor of Social Service at Fordham University. On Saturday we visited Central Park. I later went off on my own to see the Statue of Liberty. On Sunday, which also happened to be Fathers Day, Fr. Antonio helped Fr. Daniel with Mass. Afterward we attended a small reception hosted by the parish for Fathers Day, then we were ready to return to D.C.

Bro. Antonio at United Nations, New York City
Two things about New York City surprised me: the efficiency of their subway system (Apparently it is more practical to use the subway than cars. I dream of the day when we can say that about every U.S. city). The second thing was Oblate Hospitality. Fr. Daniel is usually very busy, but he rearranged his schedule to spend quality time with us. As a result we had the opportunity to know him better as a friend and an Oblate. As Saint Eugene said, “Practice among yourselves charity, charity, charity and outside, zeal for the salvation of souls”.

Bro. Lester Antonio Zapata, OMI, joined the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in 2010. He professed his first vows in 2015 and now is studying at Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas. He is spending this summer with the JPIC office in Washington, DC learning about justice and peace issues.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Zambian Oblate, Fr.Terence Chota OMI: A Reflection on the Bishops' Pastoral Letter About Elections in Zambia

Fr. Terence Chota OMI, is the Director of the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Office for the Missionary Oblates based in Lusaka, Zambia and worked as pastor at Chowa parish in Kabwe. He offers insights on the situation in Zambia ahead of the August 11, 2016 general elections and reflects on the newly issued pastoral statement from the Bishops of Zambia. He graduated from the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas.

A Zambian language proverb says: "The chief does not summon a council of elders unless there is strife in the village." In this regard, we can say that there would not have been a better time than this for the Zambia Conference Catholic Bishops (ZCCB) to gather and come up with the Pastoral letter entitled: A Call to Peaceful, Credible and Transparent Elections. Zambia goes to the poll on 11th August 2016. 

Choose Peace Not Violence

Election times in most African countries can leave countries in upheaval and people raged with anger over perceived unfair election results. At the extreme in some countries elections have led to civil war. In the recent past, here in Zambia, there has been violent campaigning propagated by different political parties. This year we have seen some of the worst political violence.

Zambia has been well known to be a peaceful nation, which most nations around the globe admire and aspire to. Therefore, considering this situation, the Zambia Episcopal Conference came up with the pastoral letter to reignite the peaceful ambitions of all Zambians of good will. 

Challenges of the Referendum

Zambians are also being asked to vote on a referendum, however there has been very little information or nothing substantial to educate people on the Bill of Rights. This simply means that Zambians will be voting for something they do not fully understand other than the presidential candidate. Government bodies need to make known the new and expanded draft Bill of Rights. Hence, something plausible must be done before the 11th August elections. Bishops are simply asking for more effort by the government and non-governmental actors, church included, to educate the citizens on the forthcoming elections and counsel them to vote wisely without coercing them to vote either yes or no. God has entrusted the Bishops, they being the custodians and Shepherds of the people,  to bring this issue to the people. What we could draw from this pastoral letter is that Zambians need to be well informed in order to make right decisions. And this is why the pastoral letter is a must - read for Catholics and all people of good will in Zambia.


Finally, I would like to end with three areas of concern, which the Bishops' Pastoral highlights: a Peaceful Atmosphere, Impartial Media coverage and Professional Enforcement of Law and order by Police.

1.  Peaceful Atmosphere
As noted already there are increasing incidents of politically motivated violence and continued tension between members of political parties. Bishops are extremely disappointed in the sense that political parties are not respecting what was agreed upon during the Indaba held on 29th March 2016 and facilitated by the three Church Mother Bodies (namely the Zambia Episcopal Conference (ZEC), the Council of Churches in Zambia (CCZ) and the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia (EFZ). Bishops are therefore calling upon all the politicians to make every effort in ensuring an effective way of cadre management and to immediately tone down their confrontational rhetoric.

2.  Impartial Media
There is too much partiality in media, both public and private media. Both public and private media should stick to the principle and ethics of fairness and truth. 

All in all, we want to see a media that is “professional by reporting truthfully, objectively and factually as they inform the public. We want to see a media landscape that is not polarized where the public media is pro-ruling party while the private media is pro-opposition parties. Whichever media platform one uses, should not fuel hate speech or insults in the name of the right to freely express oneself. (ZCCB Pastoral Statement 2016)

3.  Professional Enforcement of law and order by the Police
We want to see the Police Service do their duties of maintaining law and order professionally and effectively without undue pressure from partisan influence. Above all, the Zambia Police should be seen to be serving and protecting the Zambian people fairly and equally.

Fr. Terence Chota, OMI
Missionary Oblates JPIC Director Zambia

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Oblate Youth Travel to Poland for World Youth Day (Reposted with permission from OMIUSA.ORG)

EDITOR’S NOTE: (The photos below come from Twitter and Facebook posts by Sydney Rae, Fr. Richard Hall and others on the WYD trip in Poland. In the coming days, we hope to have more photos and info about the trip from the young people experiencing World Youth Day.)

Here’s the group heading to World Youth Day with Oblate Fathers Richard Hall and David Munoz. They are from Buffalo, NY, Holy Angels, Holy Cross, Good Shepherd, and Our Lady of Guadalupe, Laredo, TX. Proudly showing the U.S. Oblate Province flag!
World Youth Day (WYD) is a worldwide encounter with the Pope which is typically celebrated every three years in a different country. The most recent WYD was celebrated in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil from July 23rd to 28th, 2013 and the next World Youth Day will be held in Krakow, Poland in 2016.
WYD will be held in Krakow, Poland this year and runs from July 25- 31. WYD is open to all young people who want to take part in a festive encounter with their contemporaries centered on Jesus Christ. This event is an opportunity to experience in first person the universality of the Church; to share with the whole world the hope of many young people who want to commit themselves to Christ and others. World Youth Day is a unique way to deepen your faith and grow closer to Christ, by means of prayer and the sacraments, together with thousands of other young people who share your interests and ambitions.
Oblate Fathers Richard Hall (L) and David Munoz (R) are guiding the group
During the week of World Youth Day, there will be a complete cultural agenda in addition to the events with the Pope.
The Oblate youth group from the U.S. arrived early in order to participate in the Oblate World Youth Days (WYD OMI) which takes place from July 20th till July 25th. During these 5 days there will be numerous events – conferences, an encounter with Father General, meeting with the Provincial Superior of Polish Oblates, Holy Masses, Nation’s Festival, the stations of the Cross, concerts, theatrical performances as well as other attractions connected with the celebration of the Days in the Diocese in Warsaw.

Visit OMIUSA.org to see more photos.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Support Refugee Protection Act of 2016

The Missionary Oblates JPIC office strongly supports the Refugee Protection Act of 2016, which was recently introduced in the U.S Congress. We affirm the principles that the Act will help to restore the United States as a welcoming nation for those suffering persecution around the world.  Our hope and prayer is that all Members of Congress join the lead sponsors to support passage of the Refugee Protect Act of 2016.

This Refugee Protection Act of 2016 will help to resolve many of the most severe issues in the U.S. refugee and asylum systems. If passed into law, this legislation’s many significant provisions would require the implementation of humane reforms to the immigration detention system. It would also provide increased support to ensure refugees are fully welcomed and it would require appointed legal counsel for unaccompanied children and other vulnerable migrants in immigration proceedings.

Missionary Oblates JPIC join in solidarity with diverse faith-based organizations as well as human and immigrant rights organizations in supporting the Refugee Protection Act of 2016. The legislation reflects many values which the faith community supports and will show compassion and a strong commitment to protecting refugees, asylum-seekers, vulnerable children and other migrants arriving in the United States.

We urge you to join in support of the Refugee Protection Act of 2016.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Learning About Justice and Peace in Washington, DC: Deaglan McKillop Reflects on Recent Internship

My name is Deaglan McKillop. I’m 20 years old from Liverpool, England studying law at the University of Liverpool. During this summer I spent my time interning with the Missionary Oblates JPIC office in Washington, DC and the Pontifical Mission Societies in New York City.

I spent two weeks interning in Washington, D.C. During my time at the Missionary Oblates JPIC office I took part in day-to-day work, but also had the opportunity to attend various meetings and events.

I attended the summit for Rural America, an event where expert panelists convened to discuss the many problems rural Americans have to deal with in day-to day-life. Panelists discussed how rural Americans have a difficult time accessing medical help as there aren’t enough hospitals nearby, and by the time they reach a hospital or an ambulance reaches them, it can often be too late. Families in rural America tend to move to urban areas seeking better education for their children, as their local school system offers less resources or have poor standards compared to city schools. Speakers on a second panel then discussed some possible ideas to improve the quality of life in rural America. 

One main idea was people’s accessibility to Wi-Fi. Like it was a necessity at the beginning of the 20th century for every home to have electricity, the goal today is for every American home to have access to Wi-Fi. Ensuring rural homes have Wi-Fi allows farmers to connect with each other, sell their commodities and improve the quality of their farms. Also, Wi-Fi plays a crucial role in schools and is an important factor in providing children with a modern education. It was a great experience to witness firsthand various senators discussing such an important topic, which before my arrival to the U.S. was unbeknown to me. I thoroughly enjoyed the discussion and it was good to learn about this problem and the ways in which people can help or are trying to help.

I also attended a meeting at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops concerning maritime trafficking. This gave me an incredible insight into the dangerous conditions and abuse some workers face at sea, the complicity of some companies and what Catholic organizations are doing to help. Other obligations during my stay included helping with the website and blog editorials. In addition to this, Fr. Seamus Finn, OMI, of the Oblate Investment Trust introduced me to a relatively new concept adopted by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate about 25 years ago, which is impact investing. This is when investments are made into companies or organizations with the intention to generate a social and environmental impact alongside a financial return. By implementing this, the Missionary Oblates investment trust is ensuring investors are making socially responsible decisions.

On the weekends and my time off I tried to visit everything DC has to offer. From the free museums to the White House, Washington is certainly not short of attractions. I particularly took time to visit many of the museums and was taken aback by how impressive some are, but also how moving – in particular the Holocaust Museum.

During my stay in DC, I was given a true grasp of what Oblate JPIC does. I was able to see how they serve as a resource for the Oblates, support the community and above all, aim to promote peace, justice and the integrity of creation through education and advocacy.  I have truly enjoyed my time here and although it was for a short time, I feel as though I have gained a lot from this experience and I would love to come back again next year.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Missionary Oblates in Zambia fight stigma of leprosy

The Missionary Oblates in Zambia have an ongoing ministry to care for people afflicted with leprosy. 

John describes this ministry to the leper colony as acts of love, respect and friendship. He is currently visiting Oblate Missions in Zambia.  

Pictured: Fr Lazarous Kayuni, OMI, visiting a Leper colony in Lukulu Zambia. Photo courtesy of John Wagner.