Two HNP Friars Attend International Chapter of Mats of the Young Friars Minor

James Sabak Features

James Sabak and Gonzalo de Jesùs Torres were delegates to the III International Chapter of Mats of the Young Friars Minor, which took place July 1-8 in the Holy Land. James provides HNP Today with this first-person report.

“Secundum verbum tuum…” “According to your word…” These last words of the Virgin Mary to the Angel who announces to her that she is to bear the Messiah manifest not only her great faith in being chosen by God to share in the initiation of salvation, but also give witness to her ready acceptance to do God’s will in the mission she undertakes.

Beneath the power and grace of these words the III International Chapter of Mats of the Young Friars Minor commenced on July 1, in the Holy Land, concluding on July 8. The designation of a “chapter for young friars” referencing not necessarily physical age, but rather that those who attended were less than 10 years solemnly professed. The third such event in the Order’s recent history, the first being held in Santiago de Compostela (Spain) in 1995 and the second in Canindè (Brazil) in 2001, this gathering held special significance as the first major event in the preliminary celebration of the 800th centenary of the Order of Friars Minors.

Gonzalo Torres and I were privileged to share with 200 other delegates (two from every province in the Order, representing about 49 countries, making this chapter the largest of these gatherings) an experience of fraternity and the spiritual life with brothers from around the world as we move toward the milestone of 800 years. In addition, the presence of the minister general and the general definitorium added a heightened sense of purpose and meaning to this week of reflection and meditation upon the word of God for us as Friars Minors. The choice of the Holy Land as the site for this gathering emphasized its role as the privileged location for the conversation between God and humanity and the fact that the Franciscans have been named custodians of the holy places, considered as the “pearl” of all the ministries of the Friars Minor, since the time of Saint Francis.

Day 1: Arriving In Jerusalem
We began on June 30, arriving in Jerusalem for lunch at the Monastery of Saint Savior near the New Gate of the Old City, not far from the Holy Sepulcher. In the afternoon, all the delegates boarded buses and made our way to Nazareth, where the principal meetings of the chapter would take place. We were lodged in hostels during our stay, which are operated by the Custody of the Holy Land for pilgrim groups (and putting to rest myriad of rumors that chapter delegates would be sleeping under tents in the Judean wilderness). That evening, we participated in a solemn candlelight rosary procession around the Basilica of the Annunciation, which included a welcome by the Custos of the Holy Land, Br. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, and a formal commencing of the chapter by the Minister General, Br. Josè Carballo.

From July 1-3 the delegates met in chapter to discuss and reflect upon our own impressions of the Order today – our challenges, struggles, and the many good things, which we have encountered in our brief time as members of the community. Providing impetus for these discussions were presentations, which sought to enhance this historic moment. Br. Frédéric Manns of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum of Jerusalem offered a reflection on the message of Nazareth for salvation history as a place, which stressed silence, work, and family life on July 1. On July 2, the minister general offered his own reflections in a special letter published for this occasion, “Do Whatever He Tells You,” which emphasized the need to appreciate the radical nature of the call of the Gospel, “to leave behind material and affective securities…[putting] faith only in Christ.” The minister general also cautioned against, echoing the Holy Father, the specter of relativism, which seeks to subvert faith to empty promises and values. Br. Linus Cignelli, also from the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, reflected the role of the Gospel as the rule of life for the Friars Minor on July 3. In his remarks he stressed to us delegates that the Gospel cannot be merely be an object of study, but must be allowed to initiate a personal encounter with the Risen Lord, which has the power to transform our lives.

Following each of these presentations, the delegates broke down into smaller groups based upon language conferences, and we were encouraged to reflect upon and respond to what we heard. Each small group was given the name of one of the 12 apostles – Gonzalo and I in the Saint Andrew group. In the afternoon of each day, a secretary from each group reported to the full assembly, with the minister general and definitors present, on our reaction and assessment of the remarks for us living the life of friars minor today. On many occasions, there was commentary on how at times what is presented in formation is not often lived out in reality once we are professed, and the frustrations and anxiety this can cause. Coupled with these thoughts, was also the realization that there are many who do not wish to live a watered-down or passive version of our life, but who are struggling just as we are to live authentic lives in the Gospel. Such a reality offered both hope and encouragement to the assembly and animated further discussion.

The Eucharist was the centerpiece of each of these days, emphasizing the centrality of the life of Christ as the source of all Christian life. On July 1, the delegates entertained one another with presentations, based on language conferences, on difference facets of the conferences. The English-speaking conference provided both an American musical cavalcade and a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the frisbee for the delegates.

July 4: Touring the Sea of Galilee
On July 4, after an acknowledgment by the minister general that this day was Independence Day for the American delegation, we departed for a tour around the Lake of Tiberias (the Sea of Galilee). Beginning with the site of the Sermon on the Mount, we prayed in the many languages of the Order to become “incarnate versions” of the Beatitudes in our own lives. We traveled from here to Tabgha, the site of the multiplication of the loaves and of the church of the primacy of St. Peter. After a picnic lunch along the shore of the Lake of Tiberias, we traveled to Capernaum, where we visited the site of St. Peter’s house and the foundations of the first church of Christianity. At Eucharist held in a modern chapel over the site, we were encouraged “to follow Christ even in our weaknesses as did St. Peter.” The entire day unfolded as a theological and archeological exposition on the “geography of salvation.” Returning to Nazareth, where we had dinner, the American delegation shared red, white, and blue jellybeans with the rest of the delegates in celebration of the Fourth of July.

July 5 was spent in prayerful retreat atop the summit of Mount Tabor, the site of the Transfiguration. A lectio divina (prayerful meditation on the Word of God) presented by His Eminence Carlo Maria Cardinal Martini began the day and guided us in our own prayerful contemplation of the holy site. Cardinal Martini stressed focusing upon the implication of the event of the Transfiguration for us, what it means to live the kingdom of God through the perspective of it, how it puts order into the chaos of life, and how it invites us to “move from fear into living with vigor the time of God.” We were offered intensive tours on the archeological significance of the site, and we concluded the day with Eucharist in the Basilica of the Transfiguration. While we were brought to the summit via taxis, which are provided at the base of the Mount, the delegates walked down the Mount at the end of the day – a much more amenable arrangement.

We departed from Nazareth early in the morning on July 6 to make our return to Jerusalem for the second and final portion of the chapter. After morning Eucharist upon our arrival outside the walls of the Old City at the Church of All Nations at Gethsemane, the delegates marched solemnly into the Jerusalem through the Lions Gate, signing anthems of praise in many languages, to the plaza of the Holy Sepulcher. We then entered solemnly, four abreast, into the Sepulcher greeted as pilgrims, sprinkled with holy water, while a Te Deum was sung. Assembling around the Tomb of Christ, we were welcomed by the Custos, Br. Pierbattista, and encouraged to “remain faithful to our faith in the Risen Christ.” After lunch we were given tours of the Sepulcher by language groups and participated in the Friday Way of the Cross with other pilgrims from around the world. In the evening, the delegates divided, with some remaining in Jerusalem for the evening and others, Gonzalo and myself included, going to Ain Kerem, the site of the novitiate of the Custody and the birthplace of John the Baptist, just outside of the city.

July 7: Monastery of Saint Savior
We met in chapter again on July 7, in Jerusalem at the Monastery of Saint Savior. This day was devoted to an understanding of the role of the Custody in the history and the mission of the Order, and to some of the hopes and graces, and difficulties and challenges, which our presence in the Holy Land experiences. Br. Pierbattista spoke quite pointedly and directly concerning the situation of Palestinian Christians and all Palestinians in Israel and of the work of the Custody and the Friars Minor in reconciling and building bridges of understanding and cooperation. The delegates were invited to share their own impressions of the situation with the Custos. Following the presentation by the Custody, the delegates were broken down into small groups on final time to assess the week together and the various conversations, and in light of this to formulate concrete proposals for the Order, from the perspective of our “young eyes,” as we move into the 21st century. That evening all the delegates assembled at Ain Karim for a festive celebration of our time together.

Our final day, July 8, took us to Bethlehem, the birthplace of salvation, and the final meeting of the chapter. In the morning, after passing through the unfortunate checkpoints and surveying the tragic construction of the wall between Israel and the West Bank, we gathered for morning prayer and then the work of constructing a statement from the Young Friars to the Order based upon the proposals each language group formulated. This statement, a letter from the Chapter through the minister general and Definitorium, will be sent to all houses of the Order. Following this work, the delegates were provided the opportunity to ask questions of the minister general and the Definitorium based upon our experience this week or on any other matter, which had not yet been addressed or answered. The openness and honesty of both questions and answers was a profound witness to the seriousness with which both the delegates and the leadership of the Order held this chapter. Tours of the Basilica of the Nativity followed in the afternoon, and the evening brought us to the final Eucharist of the chapter, celebrated in the Church of St. Catherine, the Custody’s church next to the Basilica. This Eucharist, the Eucharist for Christmas Day, included a renewal of commitment to our profession by all chapter delegates and the reception of a special publication of the Rule and Testament. After enjoying a festive dinner in Bethlehem, we made our way back to either Jerusalem or Ain Karim to prepare for our departure back to our provinces.

Final Reflections
The week was a fascinating and wonderful experience of the international nature of the Order and of the commitment and purpose, which many of the young friars possess to the mission and significance of the Order for the world today. Both Gonzalo and I feel particularly blest to have been asked (albeit as runners-up) to represent Holy Name Province at this gathering. It has offered us a more complete and broader appreciation of the Franciscan movement and has provided us with a sense of hope, which so many other brothers share, of the good work and graced call we have received to share in this special mission of the Church.

— Fr. James is a graduate student at Holy Name College in Silver Spring, Md.