Former General Minister Dies

Maria Hayes In the Headlines

ROME — Former General Minister Fr. Giacomo Bini, OFM, 76, died May 9 from cancer. He had been serving as president of the Blessed Giles Foundation for Dialogue and Mission.

Fr. Giacomo, who was born in Ancona, Italy, on Aug. 23, 1938, led the Order of Friars Minor from 1997 to 2003. He joined the Franciscans in 1956, professing temporary vows one year later. Fr. Giacomo made his solemn profession in 1963 in the Province of Picena of St. James of the Marches. He was ordained a priest the following year. He received his doctorate in religious sciences at the University of Strasbourg in 1971 after defending his thesis, “Sin and Penance in St. Basil of Caesarea.”

Fr. Giacomo served as novice master, Definitor and Provincial Vicar before leaving for the missions in East Africa in 1983. He was incardinated into the Vice Province of St. Francis of Africa and Madagascar, and was one of the first friars to arrive in Rwanda, where he dedicated himself to the promotion of vocations. Fr. Kizito Ngomanzungu, OFM, who served as pastor of a parish in Kivimu, Rwanda, later described Fr. Giacomo as someone who “was always very happy, full of joy coming back after visiting with the poor, working with them in their gardens and sharing with them the little he had … To be a Friar Minor for Fr. Giacomo meant to live like the poor and stay with them, giving them hope and showing them the way of peace and solidarity.”

Fr. Giacomo served as Definitor, representing Rwanda, as well as Provincial Vicar and Provincial Minister. Shortly after his election as Provincial Minister, a wave of genocidal violence began in Rwanda, during which one friar was killed and several forced to flee to Uganda.

At the General Chapter in 1997, Fr. Giacomo was elected General Minister, succeeding Fr. Hermann Schalük, OFM, who had led the Order since 1991. During his term, Fr. Giacomo took part in negotiations with Israeli militants, who had seized the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in an attempt to capture suspected Palestinian militants. Roughly 200 Franciscan friars were in residence at the church during that time.

Fr. Giacomo visited Holy Name Province several times, including during the Province’s 2001 Chapter of Mats in Catskill, N.Y. During his keynote address, he challenged the friars to be true brothers, “a fraternity that is in mission: ecstatic, with its center outside ourselves.” He also pointed out that “Franciscan communion is, before all else, a theological space to seek and ultimately encounter the Lord.”

After his term ended, Fr. Giacomo was asked to establish the International Friary of Palestrina, Italy, in 2007, following a General Curia seminar in 2006 about “new forms of evangelization in Europe.” Committed to ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue, the European missionary fraternity was created as a way to “try to live the Rule and the General Constitutions in fraternity as a form of evangelization,” according to a document by Fr. Giacomo in 2011. “The sense of direction was that of a simple Franciscan life that was more transparent than efficient, more meaningful for men and women of today.”

General Minister Fr. Michael Perry, OFM, presided at the Mass of Christian Burial on May 11 at the Church of the Franciscan Missionaries of Grottaferrata in Rome. More than 130 priests concelebrated, including former General Minister Schalük and the General Minister of the Conventual Franciscans.

“With the death of Fr. Giacomo, our fraternity has not only lost a good man, but the Order has lost a charismatic man, a prophet and witness of evangelical and Franciscan life,” said former General Minister Archbishop José Rodríguez Carballo, OFM, in a letter read during the Mass. “Fr. Giacomo has been my teacher, a brother and a friend. When I held the office of General Minister, he was always available to me, always willing to give a hand to help the Order walk with better fidelity to what we have all professed.”

Fr. Giacomo’s obituary may be found on the English-speaking Conference’s website.

 Maria Hayes is communications coordinator for Holy Name Province.