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Church, Justice And The Works Of Mercy

David Ridley

The Missionary Oblates and Ministry for Justice

In the 1981 encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, John Paul II rendered "a preferential option for the poor" into church pronouncement.  Eugene de Mazenod's motto Evangelizare pauperibus misit me can be understood in the same spirit and at the heart of the charism and work of the Missionary Oblates.  This proclamation for justice and love exists throughout the history of the congregation and the Church herself, varying in doctrinal emphasis and practice yet nonetheless present.  However, it is recent that justice ministry emerges as a specific and recognized aspect of the Oblates life and work.  Oblate Superior General Marcelle Zago's foreword to the order's 1997 Vade mecum on Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation,  notes that "action on behalf of justice is an integral part of evangelization, ... any kerygma is incomplete without attending to the human and social requirements of the Gospel proclamation."1 This ministry for social justice and its integration into Oblate self-understanding comes with not only larger political and theological movements within the society and church, but in the particular experiences and reflections of Oblates in their work.

Evidenced by the gently persuasive and inviting tone of the vade mecum, this presence has been the subject of debate within the order itself.  This is not surprising.  First, the dust has not yet settled after years of contentious discussion between the Roman Catholic Church and liberation theologians, whose perspectives have helped define this ministry in its imagery and analysis.  Secondly, the elastic genius of the Oblate charism embraces many ways of taking one's place with the poorest and most abandoned, but a range of generations, experiences and talents amongst the Oblates practically guarantees vigourous discussion as to how this will be done and what it means.     What follows are brief sketches situating the personal experiences of two Missionary Oblates in the larger historical, religious and social contexts in which their ministry for justice-- and liberation- emerges.  While this ministry resonates with the broader categories and praxis offered by liberation theology, it is substantially rooted in the complex layers of local experience, relationship and work of Oblates present and past with First Nations people.

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