Communicators of English-speaking Provinces Meet in Rome

Jocelyn Thomas Franciscan World

ESC Communicators 2014

The General Minister, fourth from left, welcomed to Rome Fathers William Spencer, and Michael Surufka, Toni Cashnelli, Jocelyn Thomas, and Fathers Alvin Te, Guylain Prince, Joseph Magro, and, kneeling, Fr. Pepe Martinez, OFM. (Photo courtesy of the Order.)

ROME — Discussions about the General Chapter and visits to the OFM Curia and the Vatican Radio headquarters were among the agenda items for the ESC communicators when they gathered last month for their annual meeting. The representatives of English-speaking Conference provinces met at the Convento San Francesco, a friary run by Immaculate Conception Province, from Sept. 7 to 11. There, they continued their tradition of sharing techniques and challenges involved with communicating the Franciscan message.

The meeting included conversations related to specific communication initiatives and involved an assortment of activities aimed at strengthening the participants’ knowledge. One afternoon was spent talking with religious leaders, while another included time at significant places in The Eternal City, including a visit to St. Peter’s Square to see the pope who is clearly loved and admired by many.

Visiting General Curia
On Tuesday, after morning business discussions, participants visited the General Curia where they met with Fr. Michael Perry, OFM, General Minister, and with Fr. Joseph Magro, OFM, director of communications for the Order. Fr. Michael, the Order’s leader since May 2013, spoke of his role, his reaction to the election of Pope Francis’ election, the importance of avoiding fear and focusing on hope, and the need to communicate with two worlds: the Franciscan and the public.

The communicators then visited the Vatican Radio office, where they met with Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, director of the Holy See Press Office for the last 24 years. The pope’s press secretary described how changes in communication methods have affected his role.

On Wednesday, the ESC communicators received the papal blessing from Pope Francis on a sunny morning and in the afternoon — through a tour arranged by Fr. Thomas Washburn, OFM, executive secretary of the ESC — visited historic sites, including the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the Church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli, and the Capitoline Hill.

Communicating General Chapter
Throughout their four-day meeting, the communicators – representing provinces from Canada, Malta, and the United States – discussed topics relevant to their work: communicating both within their provinces and to the public. These included social media, website content, news gathering, the national digital media initiative of the United States provinces, and the General Chapter, to be held in Assisi from May 10 to June 7, 2015. The communicators aim to work together to publicize the event to the friars of their provinces, giving them information in the months approaching the gathering. The communicators also plan to report to the public the highlights of this major Franciscan event.

As they do every year, each attendee gave an overview of recent communication developments in his or her province. The communicators emphasized techniques for resolving challenges as well as innovative methods of spreading the Franciscan message. They discussed specific initiatives including St. John the Baptist Province’s presence at public places — a shopping mall at Christmas time and a baseball team’s opening day parade, St. Joseph Province’s publicity of a friar being considered for canonization, and statements with the Franciscan perspective about global issues that Holy Name Province releases to media outlets.

Fr. William Spencer, OFM, provincial minister of Sacred Heart Province, is updating the leaders of the ESC provinces at their October meeting about the ideas and plans discussed at the communicators meeting. He serves as the liaison between the ESC provincials and the committee, one of several interest groups in the Order.

The ESC Communicators meet annually at a location affiliated with one of the member provinces. With the opportunities this year’s gathering afforded for learning and for conversations, for history and for culture, this may have been one of the most memorable of the seven held by this group.

The 2015 meeting is planned for New York City.

Jocelyn Thomas, the Province’s director of communications, is chair of the ESC Communications Committee.