Serving as General Animator for Evangelization

Russel Murray, OFM Franciscan World


Russel Murray gives the mission mandate to the friars — OFMs, Conventuals and Capuchins — who completed the missionary formation program in Brussels in October 2015. (Photo courtesy of Russel)

Last spring, after the June 9 session of the General Definitorium, a Holy Name Province friar was named general animator of evangelization for the Order of Friars Minor. The election was announced in a decree signed by the Order’s general minister and general secretary. Here, Russel Murray, OFM, who is stationed in Rome, describes what the transition has been like and what his role involves.

“Well, I guess I won’t be moving to sunny, southern California.”

My contract as an assistant professor at the Franciscan School of Theology in California had just been finalized, and to say I was looking forward to the move would be an understatement. As soon as I saw the subject line of our newly re-elected General Minister’s email – “Welcome to the Curia” – I knew my future would not be what I had been expecting. As our brother, Mychal Judge, OFM, would say, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans for tomorrow.” God was certainly having a laugh on me.

Six months into my new, six-year service as animator for evangelization, I am grateful to God for this change in plans. I enjoy my work in the Secretariat General for Missions and Evangelization and the challenges it tosses my way. While there is undoubtedly a great deal I still have to learn about my job, enough time has passed for me to be able to share something of what I am doing.

So, what am I doing as animator for evangelization? I think the best way to answer that question is to do so in the light of the mission and structure of the Secretariat General for Missions and Evangelization – “SGME” for short.

Promoting Ecumenical Dialogue
The mission of the SGME is reflected in its title: to foster the work of brothers throughout the world in their proclamation of the Gospel, both in those parts of the world where the Church and our Order is still young (i.e., the missions) or in places evangelized long ago, but where the “signs of the times” are calling us to embrace new forms of proclaiming the Gospel to give more credible witness to the Good News of God’s saving love for all humanity in Christ (i.e., evangelizing).

The equal value we place on these ways to proclaim the Gospel is reflected in the SGME’s structure. The SGME is unique among the Curia’s offices. Whereas they have a secretary general or director, who heads the office, and an assistant, the SGME has two heads of office: the Animator for the Missions and the Animator for Evangelization. For the sake of certain responsibilities, one animator holds the title Secretary General. For this sexennium, it is Fr. Luis Gallardo Loja, OFM, animator for the missions. Fr. Luis and I work collaboratively on the projects entrusted to the SGME, with one of us taking the lead on those that pertain either to the particular focus of our office (i.e., more to the missions or to renewed forms of evangelization) or to our individual expertise.

Russel Murray

Russel Murray

So, on what projects am I taking the lead? One I have been giving a lot of attention to the past couple of months pertains to the reason why I was elected Animator for Evangelization: the promotion of ecumenical and interreligious dialogue.

The Commission for Dialogue (ecumenical, interreligious, intercultural) was established in the late 1990’s, and I have been charged to reconstitute it for the next sexennium. As I do so, I am working to establish it within a broader Service for Dialogue specifically designed to renew old relationships (e.g., the intra-Franciscan Ecumenical Encounters) initiate new ones (e.g., with Judaism), and reinvigorate long standing dialogues by means of structures capable of developing and promoting new initiatives (e.g., with Islam).

For 12 years now, a special expression of this commitment to dialogue has been the Order’s International Fraternity for Dialogue in Istanbul, Turkey, for which I have recently been appointed Delegate of the Minister General. In this role, I will be accompanying the Fraternity as it goes through a period of significant transitions: the reconstitution of its membership, the expansion to a second ministerial site (in the city of Izmir), and the renewal of its mission in new and changed circumstances.

Of course, my work encompasses more than this particular passion of mine. I am also Delegate General to the Missionary Fraternity for Europe in Palestrina, Italy, which was established to help brothers in Europe discern and develop new forms of Franciscan life-in-mission. At the April 2016 meeting International Committee for Missions and Evangelization, I will be soliciting the assistance of the conference secretaries in initiating a multi-year consideration of how the SGME may best serve brothers serving in parishes and schools. In 2009, the SGME produced guidelines for animating these ministries as centers of evangelization. It is time to evaluate the effectiveness of these guidelines. There is no better way to do so than by engaging the brothers themselves.

Deepening Collaborative Ministry
In the midst of this activity, I am also called to keep in mind the desire of the Ministers General of the First Order (OFMs, Conventuals and Capuchins) and the Third Order Regular to ever-deeper forms of collaborative ministry. After all, the Franciscan charism is not the property of any one branch of our Franciscan Family. It belongs to us all: brothers and sisters of the First, Second, and Third Orders. The more effectively we can live it together, the more effectively our proclamation of the Gospel will be.

So, what is it like for me to serve as our Order’s general animator for evangelization? Honestly, there are days I wake up wondering, “Just what in the heck am I doing here?” It is be a bit intimidating. At the same time, it is also very exciting – to say nothing of humbling – to serve the brothers in the good work they are doing throughout the world in the service of the Gospel. I look forward with joy to what the next five-and-a-half years will bring.

— Fr. Russel, a native of Connecticut, professed his final vows as a Franciscan in 1997.

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