Minister General Writes on COVID-19 and Other News Around the Order

Jim McIntosh OFM Franciscan World

The descriptions below summarize recent developments throughout the Order of Friars Minor. Additional details can be found on the OFM website and by following the Order on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. As readers know, COVID-19 has struck especially hard in Italy and this has affected the amount of news coming out of the General Curia, which is located in Rome.

The Minister General of the Order, Michael Perry, OFM. (Photo courtesy of the OFM General Curia)

► On March 12, when cases of the coronavirus were just starting to grow in Italy, Minister General Michael Perry, OFM, wrote a message to the brothers of the Order.  It said, in part:

“My intention in writing to you at this time is to try to help allay fears and anxiety. For those of us living in countries that are to date disproportionately affected, I wish to encourage you to remain strong in your faith. For those living in countries experiencing fewer infections, remain vigilant in all things. During this special liturgical season of Lent, Christian believers are invited to accompany Jesus, recalling the great struggles and crises he faced, recalling also his death on the cross as a sacrifice of pure love. But neither suffering nor death had the final word over his life, nor should they have over our lives. The hope provided by the resurrection, and by daily acts of justice, mercy and love should inspire us to look beyond all fear, all anxiety, and perceive the presence of Jesus who continues to speak the same words to us as he did to his beloved friends and disciples: ‘Have no fear! I am with you until the end of the age!’”

► In March, the Minister General gave all OFM provinces permission to delay their chapters by three months due to the coronavirus. The HNP Chapter, which had been scheduled for early June at Siena College, is one of the chapters now being postponed until a later date. The General Visitor to Holy Name Province, Stephen O’Kane, OFM, was able to return to Ireland to wait out the pandemic in his own country. A number of events around the Order of Friars Minor have been cancelled because of the pandemic – including the 2020 JPIC course held annually in Rome, and an in-person course for Secular Franciscans that was scheduled at the Franciscan Institute at St. Bonaventure University in Western New York. However, the institute’s three online classes are still scheduled as planned.

► In Jerusalem, the superior of the friar community at the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre informed the Order in a March 6 letter — around the same time the coronavirus struck Israel – that the Basilica would be closed to worshippers. “Technology and social media are fundamental tools for the Franciscans of the Holy Sepulchre. Thanks to them, they can keep relations and contacts with abroad alive: the different Franciscan provinces, their countries of origin, and their families.” The friars are petitioning the Israeli government for permission to hold a private Mass in the Holy Sepulchre on Easter Sunday.

► The OFM Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Office in Rome has published the January-March issue of its newsletter, Contact. Among its many topics, the 31-page publication includes an editorial by Jacek Orzechowski, OFM, on the fifth anniversary of Laudato Si’ – as well as information on the climate crisis, coronavirus, JPIC Intercontinental Meeting of the Americas scheduled for September in Guatemala, and a JPIC media effort promoting Laudato Si’.

St. Camilla Battista Varano’s tomb. (Photo courtesy of Marche Tourism via Flickr)

► The prefect of the Congregation for Bishops recently wrote to Mother Agnes, Prioress of the Proto-Monastery of the Poor Clares of Assisi, saying, “The pandemic that confines us at home is your hour, the hour of the contemplative life that brings humanity and the Church back to God, to the essentials of faith, prayer and communion in the Spirit.” Mother Agnes had requested that the cardinal write a few words to the nuns in these difficult times.

► Historically during epidemics, several “special” saints have been invoked – for example, St. Rita, St. Roch, St. Anthony the Abbot, St. Christopher, and St. Sebastian, whose stories are in some way linked to illness or miraculous healing. These invocations highlight a universal fact that goes beyond the saint: trust in the power of prayer and the awareness that the saints are our friends. During this COVID-19 pandemic, we may want to remember St. Camilla Battista Varano, a Poor Clare nun who died of the plague on May 31, 1524.

► The April issue of the Order’s newsletter, Fraternitas, includes an historical perspective on care for the sick within the Franciscan forma vitae and announcements of new Franciscan books.

— Jim McIntosh is communications assistant for the HNP Communications Office.