The Bearer of St. Eugene's Mission Cross

On September 28, 2010 Fr. Louis Lougen, O.M.I. was elected the Superior General of the Missionary Oblates.  Immediately after the election, Fr. Lougen was presented one of the most treasured symbols in the congregation, the Oblate Cross that had belonged to St. Eugene De Mazenod, founder of the Missionary Oblates.

As the 12th successor of St. Eugene, Fr. Lougen has brought the cross to dozens of countries to remind Oblates and their co-missionaries of the connection they have to St. Eugene.  Here, Fr. Lougen writes about the honor of being the caretaker of the first Oblate Cross:

If you watch the video of me being elected Superior General, you will see me looking like I am about to faint.  That was especially true when my predecessor, Fr. Wilhelm Steckling, O.M.I. presented me with the cross that had belonged to our founder, St. Eugene De Mazenod.

Father Steckling held up the cross and placed it before my lips so that I could kiss the figure of Christ Crucified.  After kissing the cross to express my oblation, Fr. Steckling then placed the cross in my hands.  This was a very moving experience for me, and I felt a deep bond to the charism of St. Eugene, his legacy and his very person.

I had known about the Oblate Cross since the first grade.  The Oblates would visit my school near Buffalo, New York wearing their cassocks with the large mission cross visibly displayed on their chests.  They showed us slides and pictures from the missions and the Oblate mission cross always appeared so prominent and distinctive.  I was fascinated by the Oblates and by their black and gold cross even at such an early age.

I have always carried my Oblate Cross, the sign of my definitive missionary commitment, with great reverence and pride for the past 40 years.  That included the 18 years I ministered in Brazil, from the mega-city of Sao Paul to the jungles of the Amazon and the coffee fields of Pocos de Caldas.

Now during these years that I serve the congregation as Superior General, I carry the mission cross of St. Eugene, a cross that dates back 200 years, and connects us directly to our founder and the Oblate charism.  I am blessed to experience God’s infinite and tremendous love in a special way by caring for this treasured symbol of the missionary vocation.  The cross was blessed by Pope Leo XII in 1826 at the time of the papal approval of the Oblate Constitution and Rules.  Each Superior General has had the special grace of carrying it ever since.  I especially like that the name Mazenod is engraved on the cross, not De Mazenod which was the name of nobility.  Instead, it is simply Mazenod, the name of a commoner.

In Rome this cross usually rests on the pillow on my bed.  I want it to be visible, not locked up somewhere out of sight.  When I look at the cross it reminds me of our wonderful Oblate family, our brotherhood and our service to the Church and especially to the poor.  In this cross I am reminded of Jesus’ tremendous gift of self for the life of the world, and that gift of self which is also the heart of our call as Oblates, to be ready for our missionary challenges and to embrace them.

I especially like to pray with St. Eugene’s cross on Fridays, taking it up in my hands.  It was on Good Friday that St. Eugene had a very special experience while in prayer.  He felt unworthy because he was a sinner.  But during that time of prayer before the cross, he received tremendous grace and understood that he was God’s beloved.  Saint Eugene cried tears of joy, and from then on his life had a totally new direction.

I am on the road about seven months each year visiting with Oblates around the world.  I bring St. Eugene’s cross with me as much as possible, and that was especially true during the Oblate Triennium, the three years of preparation for our 200th Anniversary of our congregation.  I wanted the Oblates to touch the cross so that they could experience a strong connection to St. Eugene and to the mission to preach the Gospel to the poor all over the world.  I wanted all of us, Oblates and the many lay people and religious associated to the Oblate charism, who live the charism in so many beautiful and varied ways, to touch the cross so that we would experience the communion among us that St. Eugene wanted so much: to be the most united family on earth.

In Turkmenistan, I brought the cross to our small community of three priests.  Father Andrzej Madej, O.M.I., our Superior there, had invited some Protestant pastors over to meet me.  We prayed together in Russian in our small chapel.  When I took the cross of St. Eugene out, they were so excited.  They told me that they considered St. Eugene to be their father too and said they believed he would help them know how to bring the Gospel to the poor.  They passed around the cross and kissed it.  Then one of them held up the cross and proclaimed: “In the name of Jesus Christ I claim Turkmenistan for the Lord through the protection of St. Eugene.”  It was a powerful ecumenical experience, all of us working together for a common good.

Another special moment for me with St. Eugene’s Cross took place in Cameroon.  A lady who is an Oblate Associate shared with me how the Oblates have always been available to serve the people in very simple and concrete ways.  She mentioned that one time her mother was very sick and could not get out of bed.  One of the Oblates heard about her illness and arrived with some food for her ailing mother.  Her mom said the food wasn’t the tastiest she ever had, but it was that simple act of love, of bringing food to someone in need, that stayed with her for the rest of her life.

When I showed the cross of St. Eugene to the daughter, she put it up to her cheek, and tears ran down her face and onto the cross.  That day our founder’s cross was truly blessed, by the tears of this special woman.

The Oblate Cross challenges us, it makes us ask questions.  One of the most moving experiences I ever had with the Oblate Cross was when I was visiting our scholastics in the African nation of Lesotho.  While we were passing St. Eugene’s cross around, one young man posed a question that threw me for a loop.  He asked, “What is your dream for the congregation?”

I looked down at the cross and I realized that my dream was the same dream that St. Eugene had for the Oblates more than 200 years ago.  It is a dream that we are always close to the poor, serving the people that nobody else is taking care of and bringing them the very Good news of God’s gracious love.  It is a dream that can only be accomplished if we are to be holy men, men of God, and the sons of St. Eugene.

It is a dream symbolized in a simple Oblate Cross, one that I am proud to wear and to bear with me as I visit the Oblate family throughout the world.

(Source:  Oblate World Magazine, October 2018, OMI Province of USA)

Eugene de Mazenod

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