Preparing to Lead the Oblates of Mary Immaculate

Interview With New Superior-General

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By Carmen Elena Villa

ROME, SEPT. 30, 2010 ( On his 58th birthday, Father Louis Lougen was entrusted with quite a mission: leading the 4,440 Oblates of Mary Immaculate as their superior-general.

Father Lougen was elected Tuesday at the congregation’s general chapter, under way through Oct. 8 in Rome. He succeeds Father William Steckling, becoming the Oblates’ 13th superior-general.

Louis Lougen was born in Buffalo, New York, in 1952 and attended a high school run by the Oblates. He entered the community in 1970, making perpetual vows in 1976, and receiving priestly ordination in 1979.

Father Lougen served for many years in Brazil, but prior to his election he was the provincial superior of the United States province. 

ZENIT spoke with the priest about his new mission and the challenges faced by the Oblates around the world.

ZENIT: How do you personally receive this appointment?

Father Lougen: My experience is of a certain fear and also of a feeling of being unworthy, of saying I’m not ready or prepared. However, as St. Paul says, “I can do all things in him who strengthens me” Philippians 4:13. These words give me strength because when I count on God I find peace. This makes me remember that the call that the Lord has made me is not to be successful but to be faithful. Our name is Oblates, it means oblation, donation. I want to give my life for my brethren. I am not interested in being the best general in the world but in doing what I can and continuing the plan of our founder and the evangelization that Jesus Christ called us to undertake.

ZENIT: You lived almost 20 years as an Oblate in Brazil. What contribution do you think this experience can make to your new mission?

Father Lougen: In Brazil I learned and lived the charism of being close to the poor, to teach them the Good News. With the experience I obtained in the midst of the people, I learned that it is they who teach us.

I went to Brazil to evangelize, but it was the poor who evangelized me — their joy in the most difficult moments, the harshest moments, of greatest suffering. I saw people sharing their life with us, who gave what they had to help the other. Forgiveness, joy, gratuitousness were the testimonies I received there.

I think that because of this the Oblates invited me to take up this office, because they spoke of learning to know the life of the poor and that is our mission. They taught me love of Mary Most Holy, which is so lacking in the United States. In Brazil, Mary is a person who walks with the people and whom they have very close.

ZENIT: And what contribution can your experience in the United States as provincial superior offer?

Father Lougen: The United States is a very large province. There I learned more an administrative mission, understanding how the provinces work. It was an experience of receiving qualities that I can use as Father General.

ZENIT: What are the main challenges the Oblates of Mary Immaculate now face?

Father Lougen: A great challenge is the subject of the chapter: conversion and a change in our lives so that they are more centered on Jesus Christ, on the word of Jesus and on the Eucharist. In the world there is a great tendency to individualism and this, sadly, at times affects our community.

Another challenge is the desire to work and to do God’s mission and understand that we are laborers. We must also try to have a life more centered on Jesus. This would greatly renew our community life and our vocation. We also have the challenge of the missionary life.

We are present in many countries of Christian tradition that have lost their faith. In the Northern Hemisphere, in Europe, the United States and Canada, there are many people who have lost interest in God.

We have the challenge to evangelize in this secularized world and we are studying some experiences to see how we can proclaim the Gospel there. In countries such as India, for example, Catholics are a great minority and we speak of dialogue but the majority do not even want to dialogue with us. We have to see how to insert Jesus’ message in the diverse cultures where we are present.

ZENIT: What is the situation of vocations in the Oblates of Mary Immaculate?

Father Lougen: This is a constant concern for us. In the Southern Hemisphere: Asia, Africa and Latin America, we are very blessed with many vocations. Here we have the challenge of how to support them because at times we lack the economic resources to do so. And then again secularism, which has so scourged Europe and North America, means that there are few vocations there. It is necessary to carry out a more appropriate vocational ministry.

ZENIT: If you met a young man today who said he wanted to be an Oblate of Mary Immaculate, what would you say to him?

Father Lougen: Come! That it is a beautiful vocation that is worth living. Our charism has several riches: The first is that it attracts young men because we are very close to the poor. This is a gift from our founder. St. Eugene of Mazenod was a bishop and he would leave the door of his office open so that the people could come to speak with him. The simplest people come to us.

Another richness is that we have a very lovely and profound spirituality. Our founder experienced the unconditional love of Jesus Christ on Good Friday in 1807, and from this love and this experience, he totally changed the direction of his life and he began to work with the poorest. He wrote about his experience, which can be synthesized in this phrase: “I want to be a servant and priest of the poor.”

We are centered on Jesus crucified, who gives us life, love and the mission. Another very important aspect is the fraternity of the fathers and brothers who form this community. As a youth I studied with the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and on seeing their fraternity and joy I was very attracted.

Also very important in our life is love of Mary Immaculate. Our founder said that our name is a passport to heaven. These elements, I believe, are very interesting for today’s youth and the challenge for us lies in experiencing them increasingly in our life.

ZENIT: How can fidelity to the charism be preserved so many years after the foundation and with a presence in such diverse socio-cultural realities?

Father Lougen: For me one of the main tasks must be to encourage the communion of the Oblates. The personal visit of the Father General and constant communication through new technologies can help to preserve the charism more.

This chapter is a call to conversion; it is inviting us to return to the roots and renew our spirit because after so many years we can deviate from the roots. We want to take up increasingly the spirit that St. Eugene left us. He said to us: “Among you, Oblates, charity, charity, charity.”

Apostolic zeal is necessary for the salvation of souls. He also said to us: “Be saints!” For the past year and a half we have been taking up again this call to live our original charism intensely.

Another element, which for me is very important, is our rhythm of prayer. We must come together as a community in the chapel, before the Most Blessed Sacrament in silence for half an hour every day.

Our founder wrote that we must be united to Jesus and to brothers in the whole world. Thus we preserve the charism for ourselves and for those who will come afterward. The same spirit must unite fathers and brothers in Canada as well as Italy, in Brazil, as in Colombia or Africa.

I think it is an act of faith that we must renew and renew ourselves every day. To be united to Jesus as shoots of the vine.

[Translation from original Spanish by ZENIT]
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