ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The Franciscan Ministry of the Word (MOW) held its annual meeting at St. Anthony’s Friary here Feb. 19-23. The friars began their days together with a day of prayer, reflecting on four questions sifted from the talk Michael Blastic, OFM Conv, presented at the Guardians’ Meeting last November. We are grateful to Roy Gasnick for formulating these questions that helped us to deepen the fraternal life among the friars in the MOW.
On Monday, the friars were pleased to welcome our Provincial, John O’Connor.Thomas Vigliotta offered John a brief overview of the Ministry of the Word since 1984, when Roderic Petrie and Brennan Connelly renewed the ministry of the itinerant preacher and changed the name from the Mission Band to the Ministry of the Word.
The new model these friars followed was characterized by popular preaching that implemented Vatican II. Sensitive to the call of Vatican II, Rod and Brennan offered the people we served a more active and collaborative role in their mission and retreat days. In some ways, this was our way of partnering with the laity even then.
Today, some of our friars are joined by laity and sisters who work alongside our friars. They share in the planning and presentation of the talks. The Franciscan model began to take hold, and before long friars opened houses in Florida and Massachusetts.
For the past four years, the friars in our houses of prayer are recognized as part of the MOW. These houses of prayer are in West Clarksville, N.Y. (Mt. Irenaeus), Middleburgh, N.Y. (Bethany Ministries), Philadelphia, Pa. (San Damiano Spiritual Center), and Stoneville, N.C. (St. Francis Springs Prayer Center). This has been a great addition to how the Word of God is expressed, and how we can support and learn from each other. The mission statement of the MOW and the goals and objectives of our ministry reflect the three priorities of our Holy Name Province.
In the past 26 years, the friars in the Ministry of the Word have traveled to nearly every state in the country, and many of the friars have offered retreats overseas. Charlie Finnegan and William DeBiase were most recently in the country of Sri Lanka offering a retreat. Though the Word of God we proclaim is most ordinarily preached to parishes or to the familiar groups that come to our retreat houses, we have offered retreats to groups ranging from monasteries to military bases. We have a wonderful tradition of offering retreats to our Hispanic brothers and sisters all across the country. John Anglin is presently waiting to hear about conducting a retreat in Central America.
Over the years, friars like Claude Lenehan and Edward Flanagan have ministered God’s word to those in troubled marriages. Claude and Ed are often called upon to participate in the Retrouvaille program.
Our preaching is popular but should not be mistaken as fluff. We struggle together to find creative ways to deal with abortion and other moral issues such as the death penalty, the environment, the gap between the rich and the poor and the issue of war. We take very seriously the commitment of the Province to advocate justice, peace and the integrity of creation.
In our early days, people like Francis Pompei broke new ground in bringing the Word of God through plays performed by teenagers. His Simon Peter Fishing Company Production is known all around the country. His work with the young demanded a real knowledge of the media. Francis inspired the rest of us to get on board with other forms of media.
Books and audio and video tapes are now just another extension of our mission work. Presently, the friars are working on a follow-up to the book, A Friar’s Joy, that was edited by Kevin Cronin in 1996. This book and the one we are now working on are collections of some of our most popular talks. We anticipate that the new book will be as well received as the first.
Talking of books, Raphael Bonanno is currently translating a scholarly book from Italian into English. It is titled In the Name of St. Francis – A History of the Franciscan Order from 1226 -1526 by Grado Giovanni Merlo. This work of Rafe is just another aspect of the diverse gifts of those who are in the Ministry of the Word.
We are making plans to expand our Web page to include more of our talks, and each of us hopes to have some of our presentations on a DVD before long. Who knows? Perhaps these DVDs will be offered on television. This past Advent, Kevin Cronin was invited by the Long Island Telecare television station to offer some of his talks. As I write this today, Ash Wednesday, Kevin is presenting still other talks on Telecare to help prepare countless viewers for the season of Lent. This spot on television has great promise for Kevin, the Ministry of the Word and Holy Name Province.
Currently, we have 18 friars identified with the Ministry of Word, and we estimate that in the past 26 years we have offered well over 3,000 missions and retreats. These retreats that we offer on the road and at our houses of prayer have probably reached millions of people.
The Word of God has a ripple effect, and we are just part of that ripple. It is not unusual for a friar in the MOW to have someone share with us how a friar affected their lives from many years ago. That reality reminds us that we really are just part of a wider brotherhood from Holy Name Province, and it inspires us to strive to maintain the fraternal bond that is our greatest strength.
In some ways, we have come a long way since 1984. But, as Ed Flanagan reminded us, ”the deepest effect we will have with people is still through the personal ways that we interact with the people of God.” As Franciscans of Holy Name Province, we assure the faithful by our words and deeds that we walk with them, as we celebrate the sacraments with them and minister God’s healing Word to them through our lives. We were very encouraged by John O’Connor’s time with us, and we appreciated his challenge to us from the Quaker saying to be “Keepers of the Light.”
A note: Tom Vigliotta has resigned as coordinator of the Ministry of the Word so that he can devote more time to the campus ministry at the University of Georgia at Athens. John Anglin and Raphael Bonanno succeed him and will serve as coordinators.