Young friars in formation around the world participated in an online conference called “The Global OFM – ‘Laudato Si’.'”

Seeking Volunteers to Help Migrants and Other News of the Order

Jim McIntosh OFM Franciscan World

The current issue of Fraternitas, the Order’s international newsletter, features the Christmas letter of the Ministers General. It also contains the January schedule of Minister General Michael Perry, OFM, and reviews of new Franciscan books, including one by Albert Haase, OFM, of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus Province.

In their holiday message, the six Ministers General of the Conference of the Franciscan Family used the language of music to reflect on the pope’s encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti.”  “They wrote: “Because of issues such as the virus, political changes, protests in so many countries, tensions, wars, intolerance, environmental issues, [and] chaotic streams of information, our experience is that the world has become darker and, as a result of factors that include assorted lockdowns, also more closed.” The Ministers General then commended the new encyclical, saying that Pope Francis “shares his desire that we have the courage to dream, to aspire to be a united human family, to a global embrace between sisters and brothers, ‘children of the same earth which is our common home.’”

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..

► On Christmas Eve, the Franciscan Network on Migration launched its “Volunteer Campaign 2021,” seeking volunteers willing to serve at migrant and refugee shelters associated with the network in Guatemala, Mexico, and the United States. All of the shelters are in need of assistance to continue the services they provide daily to migrants and refugees. Volunteering is an unforgettable and life-changing experience, according to the OFM website. It is hoped that lay people, men and women religious, priests, students, and workers from different countries will take up this challenge. Applicants are required to be of legal age, speak Spanish at an intermediate level, and open to giving their time along with the ability to stay at one of the seven shelter houses. The JPIC office has asked for assistance in spreading the word about this rewarding service opportunity. For more information about placement and the requirements of volunteer service, visit the Franciscan Network’s website.

► The General Secretariat for Formation and Studies and the Order’s JPIC Office jointly organized an online conference for all friars in initial formation to help deepen the challenge that Pope Francis made to all Christians – and especially to the Franciscans – with his encyclical, “Laudato Si’. The conference – called “The Global OFM – ‘Laudato Si’” – was held twice for friars in the various regions of the world where the Order is present. It was designed to increase their focus on the themes of justice, peace, and integrity of creation during the initial formation process – just as the Ratio Formationis of the Order envisions. All presentations from the conference have been compiled in a PDF file for viewing by the brothers and the Franciscan family.

The four Ministers General of the First Order and the Third Order Regular at the OFM General Curia. (Photo from the website)

► On Dec. 19, the Ministers General of the First Order and Third Order Regular met at the OFM General Curia to share a moment of fraternity before Christmas. They spoke at length of their desire for the Church to allow the Franciscans to reclaim the gift of their origins as mixed institutes. They also discussed current challenges and future dreams of their respective Orders, including a recognition of the equal dignity of all the friars and the possibility of equal participation at all levels of service to the brothers. During the meeting, the participants remembered the friars who have died or who have become ill due to COVID-19. They shared information about the various efforts around the Franciscan world to initiate a new beginning through the creation of inter-obediential fraternities (including Emmaus in the Holy Land, Rieti, and Assisi in Italy), and through collaborative projects in ongoing and initial formation, missionary evangelization, and other areas.

► The provincial ministers and custodes of the English-speaking Conference met via Zoom on Jan. 4, continuing their discussions about candidates for Minister General and General Councilors in anticipation of the Order’s General Chapter, which is being planned for this year. Carlo Bertagnin, OFM, of St. Casimir Province in Lithuania – the ESC’s brother voter at the General Chapter – participated in the October and January virtual conferences. The ministers also finalized the SWOT synthesis – a discussion of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats – that the secretary of the General Chapter asked each conference to complete. Individual entities submitted their analyses, which Patrick McCloskey, OFM, secretary of the ESC, used to produce a rough synthesis. The spring ESC meeting, also via Zoom conference, is already scheduled for April 19 and 20.

► The Canadian province’s Christmas 2020 newsletter reports that three men were accepted as postulants at Holy Spirit Province’s community in Trois Rivières, Quebec. The new postulants are Aldin Francis Canobas, 32, of Calgary, Alberta, and originally from the Philippines; Hawkins Choi, a 36-year-old carpenter from Hong Kong, and David Noël.

► In December, Al Mascia, OFM, a friar with St. John the Baptist Province, traveled roundtrip from Michigan to California as a way to spread joy and positivity by using music as his principal medium. Traveling in an old VW bus that he named Francis the FriarTruck, Al stopped at random outdoor locations along his route, where he played music for whoever happened to be around. Al and his unique trip were featured in SJB’s provincial newsletter – which, along with the publications of the other U.S. provinces, can be read in the friars-only section of the US Franciscans website.

The Church of St John the Baptist at Qasr Al-Yahud on the banks of the River Jordan in the time of COVID-19. (Photo from the website)

► After a hiatus of 54 years and 3 days, the friars of the Custody of the Holy Land celebrated Mass in the Church of St John the Baptist at Qasr Al-Yahud on the banks of the River Jordan – the Christian site where the Baptism of Jesus is celebrated on the Sunday after the Epiphany. The reason for the more than five-decade gap since Mass was last celebrated at the historic holy site? The area was infested with thousands of deadly landmines. But all of the landmines were finally removed from the area at the completion of an intensive, methodical, multi-year international mission. The first Mass in 19,710 days was presided by the Custos of the Holy Land and attended by the apostolic nuncio in Israel and Cyprus, apostolic delegate in Jerusalem and Palestine, the Italian Consul-General and Spanish Vice-Consul, and representatives of the Israeli military authorities.

The protomartyrs of the Franciscan Order. (Graphic from Wikipedia)

► Eighth centenaries in Franciscan history were celebrated in consecutive years – in 2019, the 800th anniversary of the meeting between St. Francis of Assisi and the Sultan al-Malek al-Kamil in Egypt, and last year, the martyrdom in 1220 by Miramolino of five friars in Marrakech. To mark the anniversaries, an interreligious conference was held on Dec. 6 in Terni, the homeland of the protomartyrs. During the first part of the conference, the martyrdom was discussed in its historical context. Imam Nader Akkad, professor at the Islamic University of al-Azhar, followed with a presentation on “The Culture of Encounter: from Saint Francis and the Sultan to Pope Francis’ ‘Fratelli Tutti.’” Bishop Giuseppe Piemontese, the bishop of Terni, provided a talk on “The Franciscan Protomartyrs: their message for today.” Presenters and participants willingly tackled a chapter of Franciscan and Christian history that can be misunderstood in modern-day times. The overarching message of the conference was that if we want to live as “brothers and sisters all” with followers of other faiths, it is essential that we face up to past deeds and words that can hinder a peaceful coexistence today. History cannot be changed, but the way we read history can be helped by examining the events and evaluating their relevance. The contributions of the imam and bishop helped to provide participants with a sound methodology for studying the Franciscan protomartyrs.

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