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Reflection: Worldwide Brotherhood – a True Gift

Russel, seventh from left, with the novices of the OFM Vietnam Province (photo courtesy of the author).

After living and working at the OFM Curia for four years, Russel Murray, OFM, returned to the United States to work at St Bonaventure University. He recently summarized his experiences abroad.

When I figured out what was “wrong,” I laughed out loud.

It was the beginning of October, and I had been feeling out of sorts for about a week. Everything seemed fine. Nevertheless, I had a nagging feeling that I was supposed to be somewhere for… I could not remember. Then it hit me: I had been at Bona’s for six weeks, and that was the longest I had been in one place for almost four years.

In August, I returned to the Province after four years at our General Curia in Rome where I served as general animator for evangelization and president of the Order’s Commission for Dialogue. It was quite an experience! I was part of an international fraternity of about 40 brothers, half of whom were on the road at any given moment – and I had many such moments. To say it was an education would be an understatement. I learned a great deal about our Order, our Church and our world. More enriching was the privilege of coming to know our brothers and the people they serve.

Learning Meaning of Being a Friar Minor
How can I share these years of encounters with you? Perhaps it would be best to do so by sharing some of their more significant moments – moments that touched me deeply and called me to a learn anew what it means to be a Friar Minor.

In the Czech Republic, Br. Bonaventure brings me to the city of Usti nad Labem where Br. Jakub, the provincial minister, and about 30 other people are beginning a weeklong street mission. “A blessing of the Communist period,” Br. Jakub explains, “was that we were forced to minister closely with other religious communities and also with the laity. We have chosen to continue in this closeness. This is who we are as the Church, after all. We are the communion of Christ’s faithful. Therefore, as friars this is how we must proclaim the Gospel: in communion with all the members of Christ’s Body.”

Back in Rome, I am on a stepladder, trimming bushes in the Ecumenical Garden at St. Gregory Monastery. The Rev. Dana, a parish priest at All Saints Anglican Church, initiated this garden project, which has been adopted by the ecumenical group Churches Together in Rome. The garden is a parable of sorts, of our commitment to restoring the unity of Christ’s Church. Jane is telling me about the Anglican Franciscans she met in London. “You Franciscans really are reconcilers. It is good to have you with us!”

Such seemingly small acts of ecumenical cooperation fill the days of our Order’s International Fraternity for Dialogue in Istanbul, Turkey. Today, Br. Eleuthere, the guardian, originally from the Province of Congo, is hastily turning around the church. The fraternity just hosted a luncheon for 100 refugees in the same church where Mass is to begin in two hours – and today is Holy Thursday. “No problem,” he says with a smile. “We will do it. The Lord will help us. It is all His Eucharist.”

Russel, vested, celebrating Easter 2018 with the community of Santa Maria in Draperis Parish in Istanbul. (photo courtesy of Russel Murray).

In the mountains outside Manila, the same smile lights up the faces of Brothers Luis, Johnny and Dominic of the Province of the Philippines. They did yeoman’s work for the first Asian Mission Congress. Now, they are enjoying its closing recreation, singing, laughing and gifting unsuspecting foreigners with a Filipino delicacy: balut. They laugh when they see the look on my face as I receive it – and laugh even harder when I gift it to my neighbor. Their joy is boundless! It reminds me of an evening with Provincial Ministers in Singapore. Karaoke time. They wanted me to sing their favorite from my Minister’s repertoire, Molly Malone. “When you travel the Order,” Br. Yusuf from Pakistan laughs, “you have to have a song to share. How well you sing doesn’t matter!”

Fraternal joy, hard work, “adventurous” menus (It’s good for your health is the “name” of everything I eat). I saw plenty of them in the Province of Vietnam. At the novitiate in the city of Da Lat, I am introduced to one of the province’s thriving farms. I am surprised to learn that its proceeds support not the novitiate, but the province’s mission in Laos. “We are supported by another farm,” Br. Francis, the novice master, explains. “Right away we teach our young brothers that we do not work to support ourselves. We work to support one another and the poor whom we serve.”

To all the above, I can add the countless acts of understanding and kindness that go into building a fraternity of 40 brothers from a dozen countries who have never lived with one another before – and may never even see one another again.

Missing Brothers and Appreciating Lessons
“Do you miss it?” I get this question all the time. In a sense, I do. I miss the brothers I came to know during my serving in Rome. They taught me a great deal about what it means to be a Friar Minor: to receive the blessings only trials can give; to live reconciled in the midst of brokenness; to discern the Body of Christ (see 1 Cor 11:29); to share the joy of laughing at myself; to live the truth of our vocation that life is not about “me,” but about “us” and the people we are privileged to serve.

In another sense, though, I do not miss it at all. After all, what I lived in Rome (or better put, flying in and out of Rome) I continue to live here at St. Bonaventure University: learning anew what it means to be a Friar Minor through the life I share with my brothers and those we serve. It is a gift not to miss!

So, I live with my mind and heart in the proverbial here and now, for it is in the here and now that this gift is to be found.

— Fr. Russel is vice president for mission integration at St. Bonaventure University in Western New York. He marked his 25th anniversary as a Franciscan friar in 2018. The previous reflection published in HNP Today, written by Kevin Mackin, OFM, was titled “Beginning the Advent-ure.”

Editor’s note: Friars interested in writing a reflection for HNP Today on a timely topic — a holiday, current event, holy day, or other seasonal themes – are invited to contact the HNP Communications Office. Additional reflections by friars can be found in the Spiritual Resources section of HNP.org

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