A Report on the Extraordinary Chapter

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More than 150 Franciscans representing 123 provinces and custodies, ministering in 103 countries, are gathering in Assisi for the Order’s Extraordinary General Chapter. Updates on various aspects of the early sessions of the two-week event are provided here.

Letter from John O’Connor

ASSISI — The friars of the English-speaking Conference arrived here on Tuesday. Sept. 12 after having stopped in Rome on Monday. We had three days of very good meetings dealing with such topics as formation, liturgy, finances, projects of the different provinces, vocations, the Franciscan intellectual tradition, the missions, and justice and peace. On Thursday, we were joined by the rest of the Provincials of the world, and the Extraordinary Chapter of the Order began.

On Friday, we spent the day at LaVerna, the place where St. Francis received the Stigmata. It is a truly special place, a very beautiful environment. On Saturday, we began the daily Chapter business here. Each day, we begin with Mass at 7 a.m. and, except for an hour-and-a-half break after lunch, we work until supper at 8 p.m. There is a guest speaker who gives the main presentation in the morning and then the rest of the day is spent in small and large group discussion. We also participated in several prayer experiences including faith sharing. I believe this may be the first time faith sharing has been a part of a Chapter.

Next week we will visit some of the special places in the life of St. Francis, and we will continue with the business of the Chapter. I have found the sharing in our small groups very enriching.

I am enjoying meeting the Provincials from the many different countries and have received several invitations to visit their provinces. Because of time constraints, I will probably not have a chance to do that in the next few years, but I thought it was a very nice gesture on their parts.

The weather has not been great but it is supposed to get better. There has been so much rain here in central Italy that the mechanical room of Domus Pacis (our residence for the Chapter) was flooded, and we have been without water and electricity for an hour or so each day. They expect to have it repaired soon.

Bishop of Assisi Speaks

ASSISI —  The Most Rev. Domenico Sorrentino, who was appointed Bishop of Assisi in February by Pope Benedict XVI, spoke at the general session of the Extraordinary General Chapter of the Friars Minor at St. Mary of the Angels on Sat. Sept. 16.  After being welcomed by the General Minister, José Rodríguez Carballo, OFM, Archbishop Sorrentino thanked the friars for having invited him. In his speech to the 156 capitulars, he cited the words that Pope Benedict had used when calling him to the Diocese of Assisi: “Francis is a key to understand Peter and the Church. God is providing for the strengthening of the Franciscan message in the world.”

Archbishop Sorrentino continued, “I did not know that when I came to Assisi that I would be living in a Franciscan holy place. In fact, the bishop’s house is the very spot where eight centuries ago the young Francis renounced the earthly goods of his father to entrust himself entirely to God.”  In the same place, at the end of his life, the saint sang the Canticle of the Creatures, “hoping to break open the hard hearts of the bishop and the mayor of the city, who were at bitter enmity” Referring to the theme of the Chapter, the Bishop of Assisi cited his recent pastoral letter, Go, Francis, Rebuild My Church, in which he demonstrates the need to begin with conversion to Jesus Christ as the starting point for every vocational choice a Christian might make. Turning to the Friars Minor, he affirmed that “by means of your path of conversion, you are a sign of God.” He also recalled the request of Benedict XVI “not to betray” Francis through a partial interpretation of his charism.

The diocese of Assisi has announced a year of celebration of the conversion of Francis, beginning next month.

General Minster Prays for Somalia 

ASSISI — On the morning of Monday, Sept. 18, José Rodríguez Carballo, OFM, General Minister of the Friars Minor, invited the capitulars present in Assisi to unite themselves in prayer with our Franciscan brother, Giorgio Bertin, OFM, Bishop of Djibouti and Apostolic Administrator of Mogadishu, for the great loss that has occurred for the church in Somalia with the killing of Sr. Leonells Sgorbati.

The friars also celebrated a prayer vigil for the entire Church and for fraternal dialogue among all religions. José reaffirmed the strong commitment of the Friars Minor to follow the path of frank and sincere dialogue with the Muslim world opened up in 1219 by the meeting of Francis with the Sultan at Damietta.

Contemporary Philosophy Presented

ASSISI —  On Monday, the General Chapter of the Friars Minor in Assisi heard from Dr. Dario Antiseri, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Padua and the Pontifical Anthonian University in Rome, who presented a talk on how Franciscan thought relates to significant questions posed by people today — questions for which they have not received effective answers.

Antiseri’s speech centered on the theme “Contemporary Philosophy: Recovery of the contingency and contemporary value of Franciscan thought.” He visited some of the main themes of Franciscan philosophy: freedom and responsibility in Duns Scotus, the emphasis on the individual in Ockham, the role of science in the construction of a new humanism in Roger Bacon and Robert Grosseteste, the use of reason as a path to Christian faith, the value of economics and the use of goods in Peter John Olivi.

The sons of Francis, in diverse historical and cultural situations, have given answers that were effective in responding to the questions posed by people in the past. These are still possible to relate to people today, opening them up to the transcendent dimension of their lives that find their authentic fulfillment in Jesus Christ.  The full text of Professor Antiseri’s speech is available on the Web site of the Extraordinary General Chapter.

FMM Superior Speaks on Fear and the Encounter

ASSISI – Sister Christiane Mégarbané, Superior General of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, offered a contribution to the Extraordinary General Chapter on Tuesday.

Sr. Christiane has gathered a significant experience of fraternal life and evangelization in poor countries over the years. The topic entrusted to her, “From Fear to the Encounter: Going Out to the Other,” was born of the desire of the Chapter to reflect on the topic of relationships in the likeness of God who is relationship, dialogue, welcome, gift and forgiveness.

The speaker offered a rich series of starting points from her life experience and from that of her congregation, essentially getting the topic of the encounter with the other into focus: an experience which opens the heart to the dimensions of the world.

“Difference is no longer lived as a division or separation, but as the diversity desired by God which opens us up to ‘complimentarity’ and to an enriching exchange,” she said. “The becoming aware that we cannot be sufficient unto ourselves really offers us a future. Like those sent on mission, sent out to others, are we not, perhaps, called to live the radicalism of this openness to the full. A Colombian missionary sister in Morocco, killed in a road accident, told me: ‘I opted for the poor and if I remain here it is not to have an experience, but because the face of the poor, Christ is here, and I want to discover it. I was accustomed to the Colombian face of Christ. It was familiar to me, but I am sure that I will come to recognize it here some day, even if it is to cost me. This is the fundamental process of conversion which makes us capable of walking new paths, of seeing great things, of seeing far and of listening to what God whispers to the heart of each one of us, inviting us to say, in our turn, a word of life. This process requires time to bring about that true migration which consists of meeting the other on his territory in order to encounter him in depth.’ ”

In the afternoon, the chapter once again dedicated ample time to personal prayer and meditation, giving each friar the possibility to live a prolonged time of silence.