Since the Second Vatican Council, the role of the associations in the Church has become one of their irreversible cooperation with the laity in the same apostolic mission of the Church. A number of documents stress important details on the place and role of the laity in the Church, including: the Decree On The Apostolate Of Lay People Apostolicam Actuositatem and the Apostolic Exhortation of John Paul II, Christifideles Laici.
In addition, canon 215 of the 1983 Code states the right of free association of the faithful. Since then, for many years, many Institutes of Consecrated Life have welcomed, within the scope of their respective charism, lay people eager to live their Baptism according to the spirituality of the Founder.
In this perspective, the Constitutions and Rules of the OMI stipulate: “The charism of Saint Eugène de Mazenod, gift of the Spirit to the Church, radiates in the world. Lay people recognize that they are called to participate in it according to their state of life, and to live it in keeping with the respective environment and culture. They share the charism in a spirit of mutual communion and reciprocity and with the Oblates. To live the mission of evangelization, according to the Oblate charism more intensely, lay people gather in associations” (cf. R. 37 A).
- Brief History of the Missionary Association of Mary (AMMI)
Three different initiatives led to the creation of the (AMMI).
First, there were the resolutions of the General Chapters in the Founder’s time. The General Chapter of 1893, inspired by the measures taken by the Oblates of France and England, approved two resolutions, one of which approved the foundation of an association or of a Third Order, and the other the creation of an association for the financial support of the Juniorates. The 1898 Chapter allowed the Marian Missionary Association of the Province of Germany to share in the prayers, suffrage and good works of the Congregation.
In 1896 there appeared in Paris a pamphlet entitled “Association des Oblates de Marie Immaculée”. However, we do not know if this association ever took shape. In 1929, Bishop Augustin Dontenwill, Superior General since 1908, sent to the Congregation his Circular 141 on the Association. As a result of this Circular, a real expansion of the Association took place throughout the Congregation, as shown by the Reports of several Provinces to the General Chapter of 1947. The chapter fathers at this Chapter, who elected Father Léo Deschâtelets as Superior General, requested him to detail in a Circular Letter the conditions of engagement, the spiritual benefits granted to the members, the masses to be said, etc. Father Deschâtelets fulfilled this mandate by his Circular 182, dated 25 January 1948, entitled The Missionary Association of Mary Immaculate.
The most positive element of this Circular was the emphasis it placed on the spiritual formation of the members. A new impulse was given. The missionary journals of the Provinces were considered as an organ of the Association.
- What is AMMI?
To understand the AMMI better, it is necessary to re-read the Circular Letter of Msgr Dontenwill which defined it in these terms:
“The Association of Mary Immaculate is like an extension of our Congregation among the faithful; which seeks to gather around it friends who share our commitments and, above all, our missions.
“Its members propose to work, by the best means in their power, to support us and help us in our missionary apostolate.
“Under the protection of Mary Immaculate, Mother of Mercy, they become auxiliary apostles of the Missionary Oblates; they are, in a way, part of our religious family, sharing in its joy and sorrow, in its difficulties and struggles, rejoicing at our success, making our Congregation more and better known, gaining new friends, spreading its publications, bringing it vocations and supporting its apostolate with their alms.
“… Through it, we shall spread groups of souls in the world who are devoted to us, look upon our religious family as their own, having at heart its interests and directing to it more and more numerous vocations (cf. Circular Letter, n. 141, in Circ, adm., IV (1922-1947), pp. 151-152”.
Thus, the group of lay people, constituted in a well-defined association, undertakes to live the charism of Saint Eugène de Mazenod.
According to Rule 37a: “The charism of Saint Eugène de Mazenod, gift of the Spirit to the Church, radiates in the world. The Laity feel called to participate in it according to their state of life, and to live it in ways that vary according to the environment and culture. They participate in the Oblate charism in a spirit of mutual communion and reciprocity and with them. In order to live the mission of evangelization, according to the Oblate charism more intensely, lay people gather in associations (….)”.
A recommendation was even made to all Oblates in these terms: “Faithful to the Oblate tradition, the communities will seek to promote the Missionary Association of Mary Immaculate in forming the laity and its participation in the spirituality of the Oblate apostolate” (cf. Rule 37b).
Therefore, the associate member, living like Eugène de Mazenod, has a fivefold identity: passionate about Christ, passionate about the Church, passionate about mission, living in communion with the Oblates and living a simple lifestyle and in community (cf. R. 37 a).
The Associate is passionate about Christ
In response to Christ’s call lay associates live their baptism, enlightened by the charism of Eugène de Mazenod. In a family spirit, they share with each other and with the Oblates the same spirituality and the same missionary vision. They are disciples following the Apostles. They testify to the living presence of Christ the Saviour in the world. They deepen their relationship to Christ through worship, with the Word of God, meditation, prayer and liturgy. The Eucharist and the Gospel are the source and the center of their whole live. Mary, who gives Christ to the world, is their model.
The Associate member is passionate about the Church
Like the Founder, the lay associates love the Church, Body of Christ, People of God, sign and instrument of Jesus-Christ in today’s world. They desire to build up the Church in response to the challenges of today’s world and to new calls.
The Associate member is passionate about the mission
The lay associate member is passionate about humanity and has faith in the dignity of each person before God. They see the reality of the world with the eyes of Christ the Saviour and Evangelizer. Fully committed to the secular sphere, they make the family a priority of their mission that they live with audacity, initiative, creativity and perseverance. They seek to pay attention to closeness to the people, listening to them. They approach them. They make a privileged option for the poor people with many faces. They name, report and fight injustices, while playing an active part in the history of their people.
Lay associate members have a bond of communion with the Oblates, usually in a community.
This link may be experienced in different ways depending on the situation, but it is essential. The Oblates and lay members recognize that they need each other; they live a relationship of reciprocity in openness, trust and respect for the other’s vocation. Each one deepens the charism of Eugène de Mazenod according to his specific vocation and enriches the other with his discoveries and experience. The Oblates and lay associate members live complementarily in mutual growth. They gather to review their lives and their commitments in the world in the light of the Word of God and the Founder’s charism.
Being an Associate member presupposes a simple lifestyle
This style is characterized by their way of sharing, imbued with charity, fraternity and openness to others. The associate members are people of prayer. Aware of their poverty before God and others, they live in solidarity with the people in their area. Different types of formal or informal engagement are possible according to the Region and the will of the lay associations.
This leads each member to live the charism of Eugène de Mazenod.
- AMMI-RDC and its objectives
According to the AMMI Statutes, our purpose is to cooperate with the IMOs in pursuit of the objectives dear to our Founder Saint Eugène de Mazenod, namely “the evangelization of the poor” and the advancement of every man and the whole man. Our spirituality is Christocentric and Marian.
The specific objectives of the AMMI are summarized as follows:
- Work in the areas of education, training, guidance and orientation of young people.
- Promote health, development and human advancement in every dimension.
- Support the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in their pastoral care, including bringing Christ to the poor.
- Accompany vulnerable people (ex-prisoners, street children, etc.) for their social reintegration.
Some duties derive from this:
- Support for the missionary works of the Oblate Congregation of Mary Immaculate.
- The promotion of the Oblate vocation.
- Cooperation in Missionary Oblate activities.
The AMMI-DRC has existed for a long time, but it should be noted that some actions taken by individual Oblate missionaries were at times not correctly understood, above all not formalized. The Associate members were at times linked to a priest.
But for some years now an effort has been made to establish the Association on an effective legal and juridical basis. Thus, following several preliminary meetings, held in Kinshasa, Idiofa and Kikwit, a General Assembly was convened from 11 to 12 July 2014 by the Provincial Superior, Fr. Abel Nsolo.
At this Assembly, the associate membership developed, which debated and approved the Statutes and elected a Provincial Committee for a three-year term. On 13 July, the first associate members (24) submitted their first commitments to Father Pinon, General Councilor, who came out from Rome. In February 2015, a second group of 22 Associate members submitted their commitments in Kikwit, and on 31 May, 29 Associate members joined the Kinshasa group.
On 12 July, six more candidates are expected to join the Association in Kinshasa and 50 will do so on 15 August, in Idiofa.
As of 15 August, there will be more than 130 Associate members in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
- Future prospects:
To meet our specific objectives, the present Committee proposes, over the next two years, to:
— Continue to establish the Association, particularly in the Dioceses of Lolo, Isangi and The Angola Mission.
— Set up income-generating activities to benefit the Association and support Oblate missionary work.
— Start initiatives of fraternal communion in order to promote Oblate vocations; through evangelization campaigns or popular missions as well as performances by our Oblate Parish Choirs.
— Visiting prisons and religious groups, including the pre-Novitiate in Idiofa, the Novitiate in Ifwanzondo and the Scholasticate in Kinshasa.
This programme calls for real commitment on the part of everyone. And the Initial Formation received will enable us to succeed.