Formators Meet in Wappingers Falls for Congress

Gregory Plata, OFM Franciscan World

WAPPINGERS FALLS, N.Y. — Representatives of 12 provinces within the English-speaking Conference of the Order of Friars Minor met from July 1 through July 8 at the Alvernia Retreat Center for a Continental Congress about formation. Hosted by the friars of Immaculate Conception Province, the participants included the seven provinces of the United States, along with the Christ the King and St. Joseph provinces of Canada, the Province of Ireland, St. Casimir Vice Province of Lithuania and St. Paul the Apostle Province of Malta. Each day began with Morning Prayer followed by Mass, as prepared by various friars within the conference.

Directed by Br. Cesare Vaiani, OFM, General Secretary of Formation and Studies, and Br. Siniša Balajić, OFM, General Vice Secretary of Formation, the meeting included presentations, feedback and questions from our vocation directors, secretaries of formation and studies and aecretaries of ongoing formation.

Preaching at the opening Mass, Br. Romano Almagno, OFM, of Immaculate Conception Province, encapsulated the Continental Congress’ theme of accompaniment and ongoing formation when he said, “The friars must form a suitable character before pretending that those who join us can take and personalize Gospel values.”

On Monday, July 2, Br. Ron Gliatta, OFM, of IC Province, our host for the Congress, presented a report highlighting the state of formation in the ESC. This included the recent vote of six United States provinces to amalgamate into one province. These provinces are already benefiting with a unified initial formation program, including a combined postulancy program in Silver Spring, Md. Collaboration with other novitiate entities of the Franciscan family in Santa Barbara, Calif., has enhanced the novitiate experience, while the post novitiate in Chicago offers theological and ministerial praxis at Catholic Theological Union as well as other institutions of higher learning.

Emphasizing Importance of Accompaniment
Br. Ron also pointed out several other highlights, including collaboration among our vocation directors, the interprovincial retreats, the development of websites serving our Franciscan family and the recent US Franciscan Policy Guidelines for Candidates Seeking Admission, ratified by all seven US provinces.

In his presentation later that morning on “The Reciprocal Accompaniment in Fraternal Life,” Cesare Vaiani highlighted the term “accompaniment,” which is used in our Constitutions for formation of friars. Derived from the Latin word comitatus, which is translated as “personal contact,” he highlighted this role is not only of those directly responsible for initial formation, but all brothers within the order.

“Accompaniment preserves the idea that God is the true formator,” said Vaiani, “but the brother formator is a companion sharing in the journey who must know his place.”

Br. Cesare noted the “Emmaus Methodology” from Luke, as well as the “Letter to Brother Leo from St. Francis,” where the developing mystery of the person is revealed after time, aided by one’s personal history and attitudes. In our Franciscan formation, there comes a point of integration of Christian and Franciscan values that allows the person to be at the disposal of God’s will. In his letter to Br. Leo, Francis allowed his brother Leo the freedom to discern his response to God’s call, while always being there for support.

“Every friar is a companion to all other friars” stated Vaiani, “and fraternal life is the usual form of accompaniment. It is also a lifelong process.’

On Tuesday, July 3, Br. Siniša Balajić, OFM, presented “Ongoing Formation as an Accompaniment in Ordinary Life.” The gist of Br. Siniša’s talk was that for a friar, on-going formation is a lifelong process, not simply our initial formation or specific activities after solemn vows, such as retreats and workshops.

“While formation can correspond to our different stages of life, it is permanent,” said Br. Siniša. “Everyday life is formative, where a positive outlook has to do with faith and recognizing God’s presence.”

Based on his talk, a lively discussion centered on the role of the guardian. While each friar has an individual responsibility in both accompaniment and on-going formation, the guardian’s role is critical to ensure the dynamics of a good, healthy community. This included good calendar planning for house chapters, days of recollection and retreats, and celebration of birthdays and anniversaries to gather the community. As one friar quipped, “We don’t need to make a new document on this, simply strengthen what we already know is good!”

On Wednesday, July 4, the role of the guardian was highlighted by Br. Niall O’Connell, OFM, a member of the definitory of the Province of Ireland and guardian of Adam and Eve Friary in Dublin. He pointed out the guardian’s task of animating the fraternity and ensuring the ongoing formation of community members. However, “they themselves must be committed to their on-going formation.”

“In Ireland, the guardians meet several times a year,” said Niall. “This provides an opportunity for the Guardian to reflect on his current reality and learn more about his role and responsibilities.”

Equipping Guardians and Animating Fraternities
After a panel discussion on the Human, Christian and Franciscan Development components of on-going formation, the feedback after the presentation focused on the need to equip our guardians in their often difficult task of animating their fraternities, which included being sensitive to the increasing cultural diversity within our communities.

On Thursday, Basil Valente, OFM, of HNP gave a presentation on the role of vocation directors (animators), outlining creative ways he and his staff have prepared brothers of his province to be engaged in this important ministry. This involved not only personal contact with inquirers, but also use of the internet and social media. These “organic” communities throughout the province allow the inquirer to see in action a fraternity at prayer and recreation. Basil then introduced a panel of present vocation directors, who shared their struggles and hopes in their role as vocation animators.

On Friday morning, the entire Congress broke into smaller groups to produce a letter to General Minister Fr. Michael Perry, OFM, the General Council, Provincial Ministers and Custodies. In the letter, some of the following recommendations were made:

  • a pool of formators be formed in each province and custody, as well as adequate training, to accompany our men throughout initial formation;
  • the need to address the reality of expectations when a friar leaves initial formation and enters into the ordinary reality of fraternal life;
  • the essential need for good accompaniment after initial formation;
  • the necessity for on-going formation of our guardians to help them revitalize our fraternities;
  • each fraternity to develop their own annual plan for ongoing formation since ongoing formation happens in the daily life of friars;
  • training of vocation directors every three years within our conferences and
  • develop programs within our respective entities to foster and encourage younger inquirers during their time of discernment.

While the hope was these recommendations will be brought forth at the next General Chapter in 2020, they could, in fact, be implemented within our provinces and custodies now.

Later that Friday, members of the Congress were treated by our host province to a boat tour around Manhattan, concluded by a wonderful Italian dinner in Yonkers, N.Y. A special thanks was given to Br. Ron as well as some of the men in initial formation who assisted him, for the wonderful hospitality, food and other amenities shown all participants that week.

— Fr. Gregory is a member of Assumption BVM Province, headquartered in Wisconsin.

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