From the 13th-16th June, the Organisation of Augustinians of Europe (OAE) met in Fatima, Portugal, bringing together the European major superiors of the Order.
Fr Robert Marsh, provincial of England-Scotland, presided over the gathering, which opened with the reports of the different circumscriptions. Fr Ian Wilson introduced himself as the recently-appointed Assistant General for Northern Europe and spoke briefly to the assembly, noting with a personal affection and respect his predecessor,the late Fr Paul Graham.
Up next, Fr Wit Marciniec reported on the process of union between the circumscriptions of Bohemia and Brno. An initial draft of the proposed statutes of the future combined circumscription, produced with the help of Fr General and Fr Ian Wilson, is currently being finalised for submission to the General Council for approval. Concluding the first day, Frs Tony Egan and Robert Marsh, from Ireland and England-Scotland respectively, updated the plenary gathering on the progress so far towards the future union of these two provinces, noting some evolving challenges.
The matter of vocations is examined
On the second day, after Mass celebrated by Fr Ian Wilson, the agenda moved on to address the always critical issues of initial formation and vocations. Fr Javier Pérez Barba introduced the subject, and offered some targeted points to help guide the small group discussions that followed. The groups returned to the full plenary gathering for sharing their considerations. OAE President Fr Robert underlined his own concern in this area, shared by many: "It is definitely a very serious issue. It is a difficult ministry and one has to recognise the inherent challenges in engaging, encouraging and persuading young people to consider religious life".
Asked about the state of the novitiates, Fr Robert said that "the possibility of extending the novitiate in southern Europe to other circumscriptions in Europe is currently being considered.” To this end, the OAE has extended an invitation to those provincials present in Fatima and who may be interested in further exploring this proposition for a “unified formation programme” to reconvene at a later date and work out their own shared programme of works.
“It is definitely a very serious issue. It is a difficult ministry and one has to recognise the inherent challenges in engaging, encouraging and persuading young people to consider religious life”. Fr. Robert
In the same vein, the OAE is considering the possibility of a single site for philosophy and theology students in Europe. "We need to properly consider what this could mean and how it could benefit the continent's religious in formation. Although few in number," Fr Robert continues, "we believe that the fact that they study, live and work together can help them significantly as students and, later, as working friars.”
This session ended with joint agreement on some clear steps ahead.
The coming together in one place at one time of European superiors also afforded Fr. Giustino Casciano, provincial of the Province of Italy, the opportunity to present the programme of the celebrations marking the occasion of the XIII centenary of the arrival of the relics of St Augustine in Pavia (723 - 2023), and ending on 13th November, Augustine’s birthday.
Other points of note from this OAE
Joining the friars over these few days was the Bishop of Leiria-Fatima, Monsignor José Ornelas Carvalho, and who presided at the Eucharist on Tuesday.
On the final day, the attendees visited the nearby monastery of Batalha, as well as the village and birthplace of the shepherds of Fatima, accompanied and assisted by Fr Miguel Angel San Gregorio, from the community of São Domingos de Rana. Fr Miguel worked closely with the secretariat and President of the OAE in organising the meeting. After offering the participants’ thanks to their hosts, Fr Robert advised that the next meeting of the OAE will take place in the city of Valladolid, Spain, in June 2024.
Finally, the Assistant General for Southern Europe shared with the communication office of the Curia his opinion that the whole meeting has been "marvellous …[for]... having been able to celebrate it in such a strongly spiritual environment as Fatima, with night-time rosary in the Chapel of Apparitions followed by the procession through the square", for which, by the way, on one of the nights the Provincial of Malta, Fr Leslie Gatt, was asked to carry the image of the Virgin on his shoulders.