Though the group of 21 comprised youth from Polish Oblate parishes in the Toronto area, little did we know the immensity and essence of Oblate history. But that history came to life for us through our travels around Marseille, Avignon, Arles, Lourdes, and of course Aix en Provence.
I have been around Oblates for the entire quarter century of my life. From my baptism in 1991, through my faith journey, to my current involvement in three Oblate parishes, the Oblates have been a constant presence. It is to them that I attribute the depth of my faith.
Prior to my first walking pilgrimage to the Martyrs’ Shrine in Midland, Ont., in 2005, under the spiritual guidance of many Oblates, I hadn’t realized the potential strength of faith. Before that, despite being a Catholic, I did not even know what a pilgrimage was and what it entailed.
My best friend’s mom mentioned the walking pilgrimage from Brampton, Ont., and explained what it was all about. Going “camping” with my best friend for a week was essentially the selling point for me.
This was my first journey and adventure independent of my parents. This 200-kilometre walking pilgrimage challenged my friend and I physically and mentally. It required time management, punctuality, organization, endurance and endless motivation.
By mid-week, as a growing group of pilgrims continued the journey in song and prayer, I noticed a difference in my engagement compared to many other pilgrims.
There was something intriguing and rich in how they walked, prayed and sang. Their behaviour seemed purposeful and driven, and made me feel they saw and felt something that I did not.
One particular woman seemed very connected to something beyond the sky. I hungered to see and feel what she did. I initiated a brief conversation with God and told Him I wanted to come back the following year, but more importantly that I wanted to see and feel what that woman did.
The following year, I returned. On the third evening I experienced Christ’s mercy and love, truly, for the first time. Through the intervention of Fr. Marcin Rosinski OMI, during holy confession I was able to let go and dive into the depths of a faith that would from then on feed my soul. Previously I had only experienced confession in a rather simple way — according to standard, outlined procedure.
This time was different. A dialogue occurred, questions were asked, emotions arose and my heart was challenged; challenged to open itself to Christ.
The beauty and power of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate derive from not only St. Eugene de Mazenod’s vision and driving force of the glory of God, the good of the Church and the sanctification of souls, but in the simplicity of the struggles that he experienced as he lived his faith and vocation. His journey, in many ways, mirrors that of our own hardships.
His family’s wealth and noble position was lost during the French Revolution. In exile, fleeing his home country, facing financial difficulties, coping with the separation of his parents and struggling to find his purpose, his struggles mirror the obstacles and frustrations faced in all our lives. These experiences contributed to his unearthing of the grand purpose in his life.
St. Eugene de Mazenod’s personal battles contributed to the establishment of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. Those struggles and his exquisite vision and love for Christ became rooted in the Oblate mission, and live on in his successors.
Two hundred years later I am indebted to those successors. They have guided my religious growth, led me to the sacraments, exposed me to the beauty of God and showed me how best to serve the Lord in the life He has given to me.