“Poor people can teach us about hope and life. So, we must work with poor people, with lay people, with indigenous peoples, bringing new life to the Congregation. For me, this means bringing holiness to the Congregation, and the best way to do that is to be a missionary, to be a saint.” – Fr. Luis Ignacio Rois Alonso, OMI,
Fr. Luis Ignacio Rois Alonso, OMI, was in the Western Sahara on 29 September, when he was elected as the 14th Superior General of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI).
The 58-year-old Spanish-born priest had spent the previous 6 years in the mission territory on the northwestern coast of the African continent.
Then, the call came, and within a few short days he was back in Rome, taking the helm of the 206-year-old OMI Congregation, which counts nearly 3,500 priests and professed brothers.
Fr. Chicho, as his brother Oblates call him, is now playing catch-up to get a handle on what the 78 delegates have been discussing at the 37th General Chapter, taking place until 14 October in Nemi, near Rome.
But this is not Fr. Chicho’s first time in the Eternal City. He served as the General Councilor for Europe from 2004 until 2016, and was frequently a resident at the Oblate General House in Rome.
Missionaries of hope
Speaking to Vatican News after his election, Fr. Chicho said he feels his new mission is one of “animation”.
“Our theme at the Chapter is ‘Pilgrims of Hope in Communion’. So, our mission is about being pilgrims with the whole of humanity and pilgrims with the poor, in communion among ourselves and with the Church.”
His new job, therefore, will be to act as “a missionary of hope”, together with the new leadership team, known as the General Counsel, which has been elected for a 6-year-term.
“We have to become friends ourselves,” said Fr. Chicho. “And then live the Gospel as good missionaries for the poor, and in communion together.”
Close to the poor
The Chapter delegates met with Pope Francis on Monday, and received encouragement in their mission to preach the Gospel of hope and peace to the poor, even on the margins of society.
The mission to the peripheries is one with which Fr. Chicho identifies easily after his most recent mission in the Western Sahara.
“Our community is in an area where 100 percent of the population is Muslim,” he noted. “So, how can the Church bring hope in this situation?”
The 3 or 4 Oblates who serve there are unable to preach the Gospel with words, since proselytism is outlawed, so they must preach it with their lives.
“We become witnesses through living the Gospel. The first way is by living in community, because you are lost there if you do not live in community, and it would not be a witness of the Church.”
An important part of his ministry, added Fr. Chicho, was learning from his Muslim neighbors, such as how they pray, their faith, and how they help each other. Many of those his community serves are poor migrants.
“They have something of the Gospel in their tradition, and I can learn from that,” he said. “They have a special gift of the Holy Spirit. So, we can apply the same to any other context where we are working as missionaries.”
Striving for holiness
Asked if he had a special message as he takes up the helm of the OMI Congregation, Fr. Chicho urged Oblates to be “faithful to the inspiration of St. Eugene de Mazenod”, the 19th century French Saint who founded the order in Aix-en-Provence.
“Poor people can teach us about hope and life. So, we must work with poor people, with lay people, with indigenous peoples, bringing new life to the Congregation. For me, this means bringing holiness to the Congregation, and the best way to do that is to be a missionary, to be a saint.”