The path of love is not a path of comfort. It means going forward into “the unknown”, trusting in God. Without trust there is no hope for love.
Eugene De Mazenod, the young Frenchman of noble birth, burning with zeal for God and His people, understood the full import of what it meant to go into “the unknown” trusting in God. He was a man of God, a man of God’s people and thus a man of the Church. The Church has been given the enormous responsibility of continuing the mission of Jesus. The mission of Jesus, now left in the hands of his followers, includes not only the proclamation of the saving-good news of the kingdom of God but also healing the sick and caring for the marginalized, and confronting the powers that bind and oppress people, especially the poor.
The French Revolution and the subsequent events related to the French Revolution had left the Church of France in sad disarray. In order to assist the Church to revitalize herself and to bring hope to people living in despair, Eugene De Mazenod founded the Missionaries of Provence in 1816. Although the new society numbered only a few members, yet in 1826 Pope Leo XII approved the institute with its Constitutions and Rules conferring on it the name, Congregation of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI). Eugene, though never a missionary himself, was a missionary in mind and heart. Thus, from the beginning, the outlook of the Congregation was missionary. What made Eugene unique and outstanding was this missionary zeal.
Eugene De Mazenod, Bishop of Marseilles, Founder of the OMI, accepted to send his Oblates to then Ceylon at the request of Mgr. Bettacchini, who was residing in Jaffna as pro-vicar and coadjutor of the vicar Apostolic of Colombo. The first batch of Oblates with Rev. Fr. Etienne Semeria as the superior arrived in the Island in 1847 and began their missionary activities in the North. Fr. Etienne Semeria later became the first bishop of Jaffna. Since 1847, there were hundreds of foreign OMI missionaries who landed in Ceylon. They came from France, Italy, England, Poland, Ireland, Belgium, Canada and United States. They were not only involved in parochial ministries but also in administrative and educational activities in the Island.
A closer look at the history of the Oblates in Sri Lanka helps one to see how God has been a part of the long history of the Oblates in Sri Lanka and how the mission of Jesus has been at work among the people through the Oblates, the sons of St. Eugene. The history of the Oblates in Sri Lanka is the story of a group of people who, inspired by Jesus Christ, totally dedicated their lives to the mission of Jesus emulating the example and the zeal of their founder, St. Eugene. It is undoubtedly the Oblate Congregation that has contributed more to the building up of the Sri Lankan Church.
"The special concern of St. Eugene for children and youth inspired the OMI to start schools such as St. Joseph’s in Colombo, St. Patrick’s in Jaffna"
Eugene De Mazenod, from the day of his ordination had a special attraction to children and youth. He felt that the children and youth would be the future of the Church and society. He therefore started a youth group, a very strong group living and working together like a community of disciples. Since their arrival in Sri Lanka, members of the OMI congregation have been involved in a wide range of activities. Among the many activities, the ministry to the children and youth has always been a priority. The special concern of St. Eugene for children and youth inspired the OMI to start schools such as St. Joseph’s in Colombo, St. Patrick’s in Jaffna; to start movements like Lak-ri-vi; to give their lives to places like St. Vincent’s Home, Maggona; and to start institutes such as Aquinas University College in Colombo and De Mazenod English Institute in Negombo. This same love of St. Eugene for children and youth has inspired a group of Oblates headed by Rev. Fr. Dennis Iddamalgoda, OMI to start “De Mazenod Scholarship Foundation” with the noble aim of continuing St. Eugene’s love and care for the children and youth.
The inauguration of the scholarship on May 21, 2016, as the OMI in Sri Lanka celebrated the 200th anniversary of the foundation of the Congregation, on the feast of their beloved founder, is one way of sharing the joy of the Oblates for the numerous blessings they had received from God. The De Mazenod Scholarship Foundation will be a new sign of missionary activity in Sri Lanka, re-reading and re-energizing the founder’s initial inspiration evangelizare pauperibus misit me, pauperes evangelizantur. The vision of “De Mazenod Scholarship Foundation” is “to empower the underprivileged children and youth through education”. In view of realizing this vision, the Foundation intends to fund the eligible students with no financial means to complete their university education; to inculcate in children and youth the values that enable them to transcend the religious, social, ethnic and cultural barriers; to enhance the life situation of children and youth to enjoy their self-worth and to be open and available to serve the Sri Lankan society at large; to help children and youth through awareness programmes to appreciate their own lives and the human dignity; to conduct leadership training programmes to help children and youth to gain necessary skills and formation in leadership and be equipped with skills to remain sensitive to people in general, and to the poor and the needy in particular.
Like Jesus, the Church, an apostolic instrument of God’s mission in the world, proclaims the good news of love to the poor, transforming the social order from bottom up. Followers of Jesus are God’s primary agents of transformation and their mission aims at leading and caring for God’s people. When Jesus chose his followers, it was not so that they could enjoy special status, or feel holier than anyone else or have special privileges. It was so that they could become disciples (learners) who would eventually learn how to become apostles (sent ones) -- that is, how to continue Jesus’ mission. Mission is always what happens in the midst of human history with all its struggles, pains and Joys. Mission is our engagement with the realities of human life. It is also an act of hope. It aims at enabling people to go forward into “the unknown”, trusting in God, for without trust there is no hope for love.