by: Henrikus Prasojo, OMI International Roman Scholasticate-Province of Indonesia
I was in Novitiate, when I read Fr. Fabio Ciardi’s book entitled “Starting afresh from Aix” Originally it is in English but then it was translated into Indonesian Language by Fr. Henricus Asodo. What Fr. Fabio said in the introduction constantly comes to my mind that we, the oblates,
His word encouraged me to know deeply and profoundly about our beloved father-brother and founder, Saint Eugene de Mazenod. The adventures began with many books about St. Eugene de Mazenod from Hevre Aubin and Bernard Dullier, the first foundation stories in Oblatology class that certainly surprised me. During the years of my Scholasticate Formation, I dedicated to read Leflon, Rene Motte, Pielorz, and Santucci that inspired me with new ideas about Eugene’s humanity, spirituality, and also his struggles as founder and bishop.
In 2021 during the Covid time, I felt so blessed to meet Fr. Frank Santucci in an online forum, and in one of his emails he said, “There is nothing that I enjoy more (except for celebrating sacraments) than talking about Eugene and his charism.”2 Yes, I agree, we cannot stop talking about how beautiful is the life of Eugene de Mazenod; it is interesting and enjoyable, and we can discover many things in Eugene’s life. The second splendid meeting is with Father Fabio Ciardi, especially when he said in one of his discourses about charism, that We, the Oblates are lucky, that we have 22 volumes of our founder’s writings, and we could read them always according to the new needs of our today’s mission.
Well, when Fr. Gregory as the Superior of the IRS permitted me to have an experience in Aix, you can imagine how excited am I. Yes, I was very excited. I do not care about the Eiffel Tower, the great Arc of Triumph, or the beautiful Glass Triangle in Paris, those are beautiful places in France where many tourists come to visit because, I know that the most precious treasures that I can find will be in Aix-en-Provence and Marseille.
This Scholastics' Summer Session in Aix is tremendous. The Community of Aix named it “Aix-perience” the good formula from “Experiencing Aix-en-Provence.” I loved this name, to experience Aix-en-Provence, not as a tourist, but as a pilgrim who would like to feel all the spiritual sensation that Saint Eugene de Mazenod and all the first Oblates had experienced in this small but beautiful city. “You can read all the books, but it would be better if you could experience it also,” said Father Mario Brandi while we were having breakfast together day after our arrival.
Every session prepared by the Aix-Community, helped me a lot to feel the heritage of our historical-spiritual stories in Aix-En Provence. It is not about a boring session in which you have lectures, assignments to submit, and grades to pass. It is all about living out all the spiritual resources that still remain for us since the life of our Founder. I remember when we had a house tour, Br. Benoit helped us to know and visit this house in a meditative-prayerful way. In midday, we celebrated the Holy Eucharist in the foundation room, the same room from more than 200 years ago, and there they keep the heart of Saint Eugene de Mazenod. I could feel that he is still present among us, and strongly I could feel his presence in that celebration. He prays for us and lives among us.
I loved also when we had a city tour with Fr Hippolito’s rich and amusing explanations about the footsteps of our Founder in the city of Aix. It brought me back to more than 200 years ago when our little Zézé and his sister Ninnete3 grew up in the careful hands of President de Mazenod and beautiful Mary-Rose Joannis. I could imagine that little Zézé gave his noble coat to a charcoal- collecting boy, or when he spent his time with his grandfather and his nanny learning the Provençal language. I could imagine the moment when he went back after 12 years of exile, living all of his “Happiness outside of God and for too long with resulting unhappiness.”4 I could imagine how he preach in the Provençal language, bringing many peoples, especially the poor to come closer to Jesus Christ. Well, it was a really real Aix-perience. All the stories I have ever read became a living experience in my hand-my skin and my heart.
As I said, it’s not about only the session, another part that I loved about this program was the living testimonies of our oblates in Aix-community. There are 7 oblates from different parts of the world who lives the community life. When I saw how they live together, it is very pleasant that they live in harmony, sharing responsibilities, coming together for community prayer, sharing meals, and spending a short moment of coffee with some stories or any news to know among them.
It was not only the oblate who lived in Aix- community, with a strong sense who remains in my heart after this session but also the fraternal relationship among us as participants, who built our small-international-temporary community during this program with many activities, such as prayer, liturgical celebration, preparation of the community prayer, meals, washing the dishes, coffee, card games, ping pong, billiard, etc.
If someone says that Europe is diminishing in faith, they might be right, but hope, love, and faith still live in the heart of some people in Aix-en-Provence. With a strong stigma about the secular world in France among the youth, we witnessed the growth of Saint Eugene’s Charism among the people. Arthur-Mary and Christine testified their “Eugene’s Charism” in their life. Through the oblates, they learn and keep the charism of Saint Eugene in their heart, and it helps them to grow in faith, to go deeper into God’s love through their daily experiences. The Oblate’s presence in Aix showed us that God still put the seed of faith among the peoples and He sends us to take care of these seeds.
When we visited Saint-Laurent du Verdon, we meet a married couple who live in this house, and they could tell us many important places in the house of Saint-Laurent du Verdon which related to the history of our founder. In this place, I could feel all the tension and dreams which is written in the first constitution and rules. I could imagine how Saint Eugene put all of his hopes, ideals, and missionary outlooks during the formulation of our Constitution and Rules. Some of us prefer to say that Eugene took and copied, but I prefer to say that “Eugene had chosen the best part of many schools of spirituality”, for the good of his religious family, and especially for the Glory of God, the goodness of the Church and the salvation of Souls.
This hope still exists in this secular world. I experienced it in the “Missionary Evening” when we were separated into groups and we try to invite people to place their hopes in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. I met a man who told us, “You guys are doing dangerous work ya! Though Inviting people to the Church seems abnormal and strange, you guys have the courage of it. Thank you for inviting me.” Yes, I agree, to bring the Gospel outside the Church will be never easy, inviting people to come closer to God and His church is not an easy task to do, but we believe that God will reveal to us how to spread the Gospel better and better in this world.
I feel blessed, I feel enriched by the experience, and I feel immense love from God that I had these experiences in Aix-en-Provence. I could not share everything about this program because it may hinder and miss your own “Aix-perience”. Worth it always to go to Aix, as Father Superior General said, “For us, Aix is not a museum. If its walls speak to us today, it is because those men knew how to turn that house into a true missionary home.”5 We were not only visiting a museum, but we learn how to be a missionary through this beautiful place, the Oblate’s Holy Land, Aix-en- Provence.
 F. CIARDI, Starting Afresh From Aix: An Oblate Experience, Rome, 2013.
 Email from Fr. Frank Santucci March 23, 2022
 “Within the Family Circle, Eugene’s name was shortened to Zézé and his sister was called Ninette.” Cfr. J. LEFLON, Eugene de Mazenod Bishop of Marseilles Founder of Mary Immaculate, Vol. I, tr, F.D. FLANAGAN, Fordham University, New York 1961.
 E. DE MAZENOD, Spiritual Writings (1812-1856), tr, M. HUGHES, Oblate General Archives, Rome 1996.
 Letter of the Superior General on the 197th Anniversary of the Papal Approbation of the Constitutions and Rules, 17 February 2023.