Paul O’Keeffe and Christopher VanHaight Participate in Chapter for Young Friars

Jocelyn Thomas Friar News

GUADALAJARA, Mexico — It was a week of prayer, discussions and presentations. It was also one that included sharing meals and visits to local sites of interest. Yet, to the two Holy Name Province delegates who attended the Order’s recent Chapter of Mats of “Young Friars Minor, it was most importantly an opportunity to feel the impact of the large and varied order to which they belong.

After participating in the “Under 10” event, held June 2 to 10 near Mexico City,Paul O’Keeffe, OFM, of Maryland, and Christopher VanHaight, OFM, of New Jersey, spoke of feeling blessed and enriched.

“If I were to sum up the experience in one word, I would say that it was truly Franciscan,” said Christopher, who was professed in 2008. “The retreat center outside of Guadalajara, where we spent most of our time, was beautiful and allowed us the opportunity to work, share, and pray together in a spirit of Franciscan peace.”

In addition to Guadalajara, the second largest city in Mexico, the Chapter’s programs also took place in Mexico City.

“Coming together with friars from other provinces helped me to see that, although we may be from different cultures and have different ideas about how to live out our lives as Friars Minor, we share a common bond of brotherhood that transcends culture and ideology,” said Paul, who professed his final vows as a Franciscan in 2010.

The chapter, whose theme was “Fixing our Eyes on Jesus: The Beatitudes and the Franciscan Identity,” brought together 170 friars from the Order’s nine regional conferences, representing 100 provinces, all of whom professed their final vows in the past 10 years.

Participants also included the general definitors from Rome and other staff members from the Curia and the Antonianum, who helped with the event planning.

The chapter began on Saturday with opening prayer by General Minister Fr. José Rodriguez Carballo, OFM. The following days included Masses, music, personal reflections, a report by the General Minister, testimonies of young friars, conference presentations, and visits to the shrines of Our Lady of Guadalupe and Our Lady of Capopa.

Sharing Perspectives
“The various language conferences were asked to put together presentations about what is joyful about being a youngish friar today,” said Christopher.  He prepared a PowerPoint presentation based on responses and photos from the other attendees from the English-speaking Conference.

Some of the comments included in this presentation, Paul said, were: “I love being part of something much bigger than myself, spanning centuries. In these brothers I have found my family.” “What makes me happy is knowing that I belong, that I have brothers, and that there is a shared mission to be accomplished.”

The purpose of the presentations was to stimulate curiosity of the friars and to hopefully open the door for conversation with friars of other conferences, according to information on the website of the Order of Friars Minor.

Both HNP delegates spoke of their gratitude for the time spent with friars from a large variety of countries, with different languages and cultures, yet with common traditions and a shared goal. Christopher and Paul said they feel blessed to have participated in the chapter.

“The two most important things that the Chapter of Mats offered were prayer and fraternity,” said Chris, who  professed final vows in 2008. “Each built upon and supported the other. Having the opportunity to pray with and spend time with friars from around the world strengthened my sense of belonging to an order that is both global in scope but one in which individual friars, despite language and cultural differences, are able to relate to one another as brothers; brothers of one another, of the people of God, and of Jesus Christ. Whether it was struggling together through translated talks or praying together before the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, I believe we all grew in our vocations as Franciscan friars.”

Paul agrees. “The chapter was important because it helped me to see that no matter how small our Province may become, our witness is in our fraternity, which is international,” he said. “This chapter was also important because we confronted issues surrounding ordained and non-ordained brothers, and how often we forget that we are all brothers called to fraternity first, with different calls to either a sacramental or other kind of ministry.”

Feeling Enriched
Both Christopher and Paul said they enjoyed the off-site excursions.

Christopher, a native of Massachusetts, said: “The chance to go out one day and visit the homebound was a wonderful opportunity to minister with brothers from around the world. My little group had friars from the United States, Slovakia and Congo, and we brought communion to elderly residents in their homes. It was a true ministry of presence in the spirit of St. Francis.”

The highlights to Paul, who since January has served as development director of the Franciscan Mission Service, included “visiting the Shrine of Our Lady of Zapopan, visiting the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, going out to a village in small groups of friars as well as visiting the elderly and spending time getting to know friars from around the world despite language barriers.”

“This experience has greatly enriched my friar life,” said Chris . “I feel blessed to have been able to attend the Chapter of Mats of Friars Solemnly Professed Under 10 Years.”

Paul said that by the end of the week, like many other friars, he “began making friends with friars who could not speak English but who were interested in getting to know me. At first, I was reluctant to break out and meet people outside the English-speaking Conference because I don’t speak Spanish or Italian very well.”

This was the fourth gathering that the Order of Friars Minor has held for friars professed less than 10 years. James Sabak, OFM, and Gonzalo de Jesus Torres, OFM, attended the last, held in 2007 in the Holy Land.

— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province. Photos of the Chapter are shown in analbum to the Order’s website.