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Formation Update: Intersession Discusses Friars’ Role in Church

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The postulants and student friars who attended this year’s intersession, as well as their formators and the Provincial Vicar. (Photo courtesy of Christian Seno)

LONG BRANCH, N.J. — The postulants and friars in initial formation returned from Christmas break to gather at San Alfonso Retreat House from Jan. 3 to 6 for the Province’s intersession program. This annual event has traditionally been an opportunity to learn about and to engage a specific Franciscan topic from an expert in the field, while enjoying fraternity and fellowship with other men in various levels of initial formation. The 16 men in formation, comprised of postulants and simply professed friars, were joined by formators Joe Rozansky, OFM, Ron Pecci, OFM, and Walter Liss, OFM, as well as Provincial Vicar and Secretary of Formation, Larry Hayes, OFM. This year’s speaker, Michael Blastic, OFM from Siena College, gave a presentation titled “Vatican II, Pope Francis and the Future of Consecrated/Franciscan Life in Holy Name Province.”

With the Atlantic Ocean as the backdrop, Michael conducted his presentation in a large circle, which fostered a relaxed and pleasantly informal atmosphere that was more akin to an intimate, small group sharing than a rigid lecture. After a brief introduction of his personal and professional history, Michael moved on to the heart of his presentation, which dealt with the history and legacy of Vatican II, the message of Pope Francis and his challenge for Christian life, and how we as religious and friars of Holy Name Province can respond to that call today. Key themes included a focus on mercy that was rooted in an imitation of Christ and which is lived out in a de-centered Church in service to humanity.

The student friars responded to Michael’s reflection with enthusiasm and gained a richer understanding of the role of friars in the Church today. Michael’s assertion that religious are called to work with our brothers and sisters on the margins, to reestablish human dignity so that “men and women can flourish as God intended them to flourish” resonated with me and many of the brothers. Abel Garcia, OFM, said, “This is one of the highlights for me of this intersession – when Michael said that as religious and Friars Minor, we are called to ministry as Jesus did, to look at everyone as an equal without discrimination, distinction, and judgment. To do what is right and what is good for others. For me, this is challenging but this is what we are called to do.”

Abel Garcia, center, with Abraham Joseph, right, and Steve Kuehn, left. (Photo courtesy of Christian)

Abel Garcia, center, with Steve Kuehn, left, and Abraham Joseph, left. (Photo courtesy of Christian)

Similarly, Ramon Razon, OFM, was moved by the vision of religious life that was proposed by Vatican II and which was reiterated throughout Michael’s presentation. “He just validated what I have already encountered in ministry since my postulancy years but pushed me to reflect more on how to respond now that I am discerning a ministry in direct service to the poor and poverty intervention.”

In emphasizing the prophetic and charismatic nature of religious life, Michael challenged and inspired those of us in formation to be intentional in “promoting the reign of God.” He emphasized the importance of “reading the signs of the times”… “which demands a conviction to get beyond the surface of things and to get to the interior of the other,” in other words, to encounter our brothers and sisters on the periphery, who according to Pope Francis are the “prolongation of the Incarnation” (Evangelii Gaudium). For me, this has inspired a renewed sense of confidence “to go beyond structures,” not to bypass or dismiss the parameters of the Church, but to expand it and to make space, to confidently trust that those who feel excluded and oppressed deserve to be lovingly welcomed and embraced simply because they too are children of God.

The intersession’s focus on Pope Francis, the legacy of Vatican II, and its implications on contemporary religious life came at an opportune time, especially because Holy Name Province and the other provinces of the Order of Friars Minor are in the process of revitalization in North America. For the men in initial formation, the intersession was a great prelude to the 55-and-Under gathering that occurred later in the week.

Postulant Adolfo Navarro Blanco said, “The experience of the Intersession was very enriching.” He felt that the intersession “has allowed me a fairly broad horizon of the identity of the Province. Moreover it was quite encouraging, especially for me, since I can see the range of ministries in which I can serve the Lord and my brothers. Personally, it has reaffirmed my vocation as a brother, and has strengthened my identity with the Province and with my particular vocation of Christian.”

Michael’s stirring reflections on the model of Christian discipleship promulgated by Vatican II and on our vocation as Franciscan friars of Holy Name Province inspired and emboldened those in attendance to engage the discussions regarding the future of the Province with great excitement, optimism, and hope.

Br. Christian is a post-novitiate friar living at Holy Name College in Silver Spring, Md.

Editor’s note: Another student friar, Casey Cole, OFM, shared his thoughts about the intersession and 55-and-Under meeting on his blog, Breaking In The Habit. Casey cites three things that stood out to him throughout the week: “1. The numbers are so much more significant when they have faced. 2. I love these guys. 3. We don’t have to get along to be brothers.” Read more on his blog.

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