The Sisters of the Good Samaritan were represented at an international conference in Rome last month which explored what it means to be a Benedictine Oblate in the 21st century.
The Fourth International Oblate Congress, held at Fraterna Domus, near Rome, attracted around 260 oblates, oblate novices and oblate directors from 36 countries and six continents, and among them were Good Samaritan Oblates Nanoya Barrett and Kerry Pattenden, and Good Samaritan Sister Bernardina Sontrop.
Bernardina said the six-day congress, which included keynote addresses, panel discussions, workshops, prayer, liturgy and social interaction, allowed participants to learn about the diverse ways in which Benedictine Oblate life is currently being lived throughout the world, and to explore how the oblate movement might move into the future.
“It was uplifting to see how many people were committed to living the Benedictine Rule and the variety of places and ways they live it,” said Bernardina.
“I was surprised by the diversity of oblate formation programs and in the way oblate groups operated. Some focus on the life of the monastery [or religious congregation]; others focus on ministry beyond the monastery and living the charism in the world…
“Some are very formal in their connection with the monastery and very much depend on the monastery for leadership, whereas others have moved beyond that and have a more mutual relationship and responsibility for the life of the oblate movement.”
Nanoya Barrett from New South Wales said the congress was an “enlivening and uplifting experience”.
“I loved meeting other oblates from all over the world and hearing their stories, their struggles and their joys, in following the Rule of Benedict in a modern church,” she said.
“I also recognised the great gift that I, and all the Oblates of the Good Samaritan Sisters, had been given. To wholly embrace the Good Samaritan as part of our unique charism was wonderful and something none of the other oblates shared.”
For Kerry Pattenden, who is currently working in Italy, the congress was a “significant time”. She found the program enriching and enjoyed meeting oblates from around the globe.
“Every day I was faced with and challenged by the Rule of Benedict – in the lives of the people there, in the content we addressed, and in my own heart,” she said.
“I learnt about the varieties of expression throughout the world that coalesce in a common aspiration to live the Benedictine life.
“I learnt that our Good Sam Sisters are leading the way in their relationships with oblates, each other and the world.”
Kerry, Nanoya and Bernardina all said that Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister’s keynote address was a highlight of the congress.
“She is a strong woman of faith. She knows God and so is not afraid to challenge outmoded or inappropriate positions and expressions. She speaks strongly and directly but with hope and promise,” said Kerry.
For Nanoya, the key message of Joan’s address was for “oblates to recognise that we, together with the monastics, hold the charism in trust for the church. These gifts were given to us by the Spirit, not to be hoarded, not to be hidden, but to be shared with our families, our communities and the world. Ora et labora – that is our call. We must share our Benedictinism wherever we go and [with] whoever we meet,” she said.
“I felt like shouting ‘Yes! This is who we are. This is what we are meant to be doing’.”
There are currently about 80 Good Samaritan Oblates spread across Australia who have committed themselves to living the Good Samaritan Benedictine charism in their everyday lives. These oblates come from all walks of life and include women and men, married and single people, Catholics and members of other Christian denominations.
Bernardina said participating in the congress opened up a network of connections with the worldwide Benedictine Oblate movement and affirmed the current and future direction in which the Good Samaritan Oblate movement is developing.
“The vowed and non-vowed members need to be companions on the journey together; I think that’s the call into the future,” she said.
“We need to strengthen one another, support one another, share our faith, but also live it out there in the world in which we live.”
Bernardina, Nanoya and Kerry weren’t the only Australians attending the recent congress. There were also oblates from the New Norcia Benedictine Community in Western Australia, the World Community for Christian Meditation, and St Mark’s Anglican Benedictine Abbey in Victoria.
The next international oblate congress is expected to be held in 2021.