Modern-day Missioners Bring Franciscan Message to Thousands

HNP Communications In the Headlines

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Ministry of the Word friars met in February at St. Anthony Friary to get refreshed for a busy Lenten season of missions and retreats around the country.

From Feb. 12 to 16, Martin Bednar, OFM, St. Petersburg; Raphael Bonanno, OFM, Boston; Daniel Lanahan, OFM, Butler, N.J.; and Roderic Petrie, OFM, St. Petersburg; attended the MOW annual meeting, according to John Anglin, OFM, St. Petersburg, the MOW coordinator who planned the gathering.

MOW members also include William DeBiase, OFM, Philadelphia; Kevin Cronin, OFM, and Claude Lenahan, OFM, Butler, N.J.; Peter Chepaitis, OFM, Bethany Ministries, Middleburgh, N.Y.; Francis Pompei, OFM, Buffalo, N.Y.; and Daniel Riley, OFM, West Clarksville, N.Y.

The meeting began on Sunday with a day of prayer, led by Daniel Horan, OFM, who gave perspectives on Franciscan spirituality, many from his book, Dating God. Dan also started a lively discussion on the millenial generation in the Church, according to John.

The friars also discussed the future of the MOW, a topic that was guided first by listening to a DVD by Michael Blastic, OFM. “We also discussed ideas on how we present missions. All in all, it was a relaxed, fruitful and enjoyable meeting,” according to John.

The meeting, he added, was an effective way to launch the Lenten season for the MOW team, traditionally a busy time for retreats and missions. From February to Easter, the four MOW teams — one each from New Jersey, Boston, Florida and Upstate New York — and individual MOW friars gave more than 25 programs, said John. The schedule will slow down a bit now, as summer tends to ease for retreat requests.

Hot Springs to Hawaii
From Long Island, N.Y., to Hot Springs, Ark., to Hawaii, the nearly dozen friars brought their Franciscan message to thousands of people in seven states during Lent, said John. The MOW friars give three-day retreats and preach at the Masses, sometimes customizing an event to meet requests, including bilingual programs in Spanish and Portuguese.

“It’s a busy, but very deeply spiritual, time of year. Great things happen through the grace and blessings of our Franciscan missions,” said Kevin, a 19-year MOW veteran. “For what else are the servants of God, but his minstrels, whose work is to lift up people’s hearts to spiritual joy, that they might love God gladly. St. Francis said that and that’s what we are all about — the business of helping people to love God gladly,” he added.

“This is the ministry of St. Francis,” added Francis who, in addition to missions and retreats, reaches out to teens through his work with the Franciscan Mystery Players.

While the MOW friars have different styles and ways of ministering to others — through parish missions and retreats, plays, social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter, spreading the Word to students, and more — the message is always one of God’s love.

William, who bases his outreach mostly in the Philadelphia area where he lives at the Juniper Friary, has been doing appeals for Food the Poor for the past few years. “I always base my talk on the scripture of the day, so I feel that by working the appeal into the scripture, I’m giving a mini-parish mission,” he said.

A Missionary Group
The members of the Province’s Ministry of the Word also view their roles as reaching beyond the geographical areas served by Holy Name Province. Kevin, for example, is often asked to give missions and retreats at churches on Long Island, N.Y., the populated suburb of New York City where the Province has no parishes. He said he has given more than 100 programs on Long Island, the area where he grew up.

“The MOW often goes to places where the Province is not,” he added. “We are the friar presence. We are really a missionary group.” John added: “In addition to going to places like Long Island, we have traveled over the years to California, Nevada, Texas, Wyoming and Utah. We promote ourselves in the territory of our Province, but we will go anywhere when invited.”

MOW can also offer bilingual programs, through the three friars of St. Petersburg, who all speak Spanish, and in Portuguese, through Raphael. The ministry’s website says: “Members of our team are willing to offer their services for various types of specialized retreats and workshops — 12-step retreats, men’s retreats, programs for married couples, workshops on preaching, etc.”

Themes are varied and recently have included “The Love of God,” “Forgiveness,” “Healing” and more, according to Marty. Kevin is giving a retreat this summer on the theme “Come to the Lord: Get a New Life.”

Spending time with a parish and preaching on Sunday at its Masses give the MOW friars a good feel for the demographics of the parish they will minister to at the retreat, allowing them to tailor a program to the community.

Martin said the variety of churches and parishioners always keeps the ministry interesting and exciting. “We get to know the parish and we meet with people so, by the time we start the mission talks on Monday, we understand what type of parish it is.”

In his 12 years of doing this type of ministry, Martin has found that the Lenten retreats are usually widely attended, many drawing hundreds of people. Some people, he said, will ask questions of the friars privately when they see them at church during the weekend. “People are having difficulty because of the economy and the upcoming election. It’s not that we talk politics, but many people are interested in government issues.” The variety of questions, along with the people he meets, makes MOW work fulfilling. “It’s never the same, week after week,” he said.

Quite often, said Kevin, the retreats will draw 250 to 300 persons at a morning session, and 300 to 350 in the evening. In addition, he said, the friars touch the lives of thousands of parishioners by preaching at the Sunday Masses at the church.

“I would say that people are hanging on to their faith in their church and having a good experience with a parish mission. It awakens our faith in these challenging times and gives people faith and hope to hang in there.”

Kevin said he feels pride to be part of the Franciscans of Holy Name Province when he visits a parish and parishioners ask for friars by name, or when an event draws participants from out of town. This happened recently to him at St. Luke’s in Toms River, N.J. “It’s so nice when you go to a place and people know the Franciscans.”

A Different Perspective
William has a slightly different focus in his preaching ministry. Several years ago, he got involved with Food for the Poor, one of the largest relief organizations in the United States. He does appeals for the group, speaking at churches all over the country. Assignments recently took him to Nebraska, Texas, Minnesota, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Florida and West Virginia, in addition to places in his own backyard in the Philadelphia area.

Because Food for the Poor keeps him traveling so much, William said he limits his local retreats and missions to churches in the Philadelphia Archdiocese, where he gave four Lenten programs and another for an Alcoholics Anonymous group in northern New Jersey.

He has also blazed the trail on social media, giving weekly video messages on a blog site and recently signing up for Twitter. He promotes his outreach on his Facebook page, which has approximately 260 friends, and says that if he gets just 25 subscribers to his blog each week, it’s 25 more people than he was reaching before. He invites everyone to become his friend on Facebook.

Francis also takes a different approach to the traditional retreats and missions by focusing on reaching teens, mainly through the Franciscan Mystery Players.

Francis, who has been involved in MOW in one form or another since his first Province assignment, always made the time for outreach, even during his work at St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia, the Rye Beach retreat center in New Hampshire, and teaching high school in Buffalo.

“I used to go out and speak and give retreats and days of recollection, even when I was busy with other work,” he recalled. “My ministry has always been ‘the people’. It’s the ministry of St. Francis.”

Today, his work centers mostly on the Mystery Players, the groups of teens who, for the past 30 years, have given dramatic multi-media presentations of five powerful living meditations. Francis also gives confirmation retreats, high school retreats for students and staff, and programs for parents of confirmandi, usually totaling 30 per year.

During the summer, when the MOW schedule slows, Francis said he spends time reflecting and discerning what his next programs will be. His themes often center on bullying, living less selfishly, and having a better relationship with Jesus.

MOW-rWhat his experiential research from participation in the Mystery Plays has showed him is that teens and young people are yearning for a relationship with Jesus. “I’ve been taught by kids in mystery plays of what works.”

Francis reiterates what he said in a reflection printed in the Feb. 29 e-letter, “Teenagers Hungry for Jesus.” “Teens are tired of bullying, tired of life, tired of what the world and culture has to offer … sex, drinking, competition. Kids are very open to Jesus Christ, and they want to know another way of thinking and living life. They want to know Jesus. They don’t want to know info in a book, they want to experience it. I teach them how to talk to Jesus Christ and how to pray.”

“Ministry of the Word,” he said, “has been the heart of me over the years. Everything I do comes from personal experience with the teens.”

This past MOW season, Francis said he took a different approach to his ministry, listening to people’s needs and trying new things. “I tried some new things, to see if it would bear fruit. I tried a new retreat, one on stress, and attendance was big. I asked where is stress coming from? His “Letting Go, Letting God” retreat answered questions on stress for teens.

Francis’ motto for this is: Something works if it bears fruit.

He is bearing fruit on impacting teens’ lives.

— Wendy Healy, a Connecticut-based freelance writer, is a frequent contributor to HNP Today, and author of Life is Too Short: Stories of Transformation and Renewal After 9/11.

Editor’s note: A summary of the places where the members of the HNP Ministry of the Word took their message during this Lenten season is provided in a separate document.