Bishop Richard J. Malone will celebrate Mass on Sunday, Jan. 24, at Holy Angels Parish in Buffalo in honor of the 200th anniversary of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. Oblates also staff the West Side of Buffalo parishes of Holy Cross and Our Lady of Hope.
In addition to the Mass, there will be performances by the cluster choir, consisting of choirs of all three parishes, including an African choir, youth choir and Burmese choir. The Mass which will celebrate contributions of the Oblates, will be followed by a reception at nearby D'Youville College in Buffalo.
Father David Muñoz, OMI, parochial vicar of the parishes and chairman of the organizing committee for the Mass, said he felt the celebration serves as "a great moment to realize how alive we are."
"We're coming to the close of the Year of Consecrated Life, and the beginning of the Year of Mercy," Father Muñoz said. "It all just fits perfectly together. The Oblates have always been known as missionaries of mercy around the world, and so I think it's just that moment to celebrate that we're still alive in the midst of so many things. It can seem a little hopeless that vocations go down, but we're still going strong after 200 years."
According to Bob Chambers, pastoral associate, choir director and organist for the parishes, the Oblates have staffed the three parishes since 1851. St. Eugene de Mazenod founded the order in France in January 1816.
The Oblates came to Buffalo when Bishop John Timon visited France in 1848 to look for missionaries to serve in his new diocese. The Oblates were sent here by St. Eugene de Mazenod and opened the parish in 1851, serving the Buffalo community ever since.
"They were great in the diocese for giving missions, retreats and so forth throughout the whole diocese, and still are involved very much in the Spanish ministry," Chambers added. "Because they see the city, and the West Side, as kind of a microcosm of the universal Church, they have met those needs in the diocese, especially here in the West Side, with Hispanics, Burmese, Rwandans, Somalians, Togolese and Africans. Their liturgies, their celebrations are in multiple languages. They are meeting the needs of the West Side."
In this way, the Oblates have embraced the diversity and rich cultures of the area, particularly among the immigrants and refugees who live on Buffalo's West Side. Father Muñoz said this work has always been part of the heart of the Oblates' charism, as is working with multicultural groups and preaching.
Father Quilin Bouzi, OMI, pastor of Holy Angels, Holy Cross and Our Lady of Hope, praised the work the parishes have done for immigrants, being an immigrant from Haiti himself. He said the Oblates decided to stay on the West Side to help a vulnerable population of people that often feel neglected.
"This is our own parish and our own ministry," Father Bouzi explained. "This is what our founder, St. Eugene de Mazenod, asked us, our legacy that he left us. I am very proud to be here to celebrate that, especially at Holy Angels. We've been here since 1851, and we are still here on the West Side of Buffalo. When we came in, the immigrants built that Church, the Irish and the Italians. Now we have other kinds of immigrants, from other parts of the world - not in Europe, but in Africa and Asia. History repeats itself."
As an immigrant, Father Bouzi recalled how he puts himself in the shoes of the people he serves since he lived that life. He brings that sensitivity to their unique needs to help them make the transition from their former country to life on Buffalo's West Side.
It's not an easy transition due to culture shock and a new language. With this 200th anniversary celebration, the Oblates in Buffalo are also celebrating what they have done for the refugees and those resettling.
"I just think it's exciting and it's challenging, and it's meeting the needs of the Church," Chambers said. "The Church, and Pope Francis and St. John Paul II told us to reach out and be merciful, and be friendly, and be involved with these people. I think there's an attraction on the West Side to incorporate all of these cultural diversities, and we try to incorporate that not only in our liturgy, but our missionary activity with the people. It does spread throughout the diocese."