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U.S. Friars Find Common Ground at Interprovincial Gatherings

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The friars who attended the meeting in Danville, Calif. From left to right: Christopher Keenan, Bill Beaudin, Edgardo Jara, Sean O’Brien, Gonzalo Torres, Michael Calabria, Julian Jagudilla, Kevin Kriso, and James Vacco. (Photo courtesy of Edgardo)

Discussions about the future of Franciscan life in the United States have continued in recent weeks through a series of meetings attended by representatives from each of the seven OFM provinces in the United States.

“Some 200 friars, ranging in age from the mid-30s to the mid-90s, took part in the summer interprovincial gatherings,” said Bill Beaudin, OFM, a member of the Franciscan Interprovincial Team (FIT). “I believe the gatherings brought out the best in us. The laughs were plentiful, the trust level was high and the conversation was honest and nearly unstoppable. Some prejudices were challenged and some myths were busted. Overall, there was a deepening sense that we are all brothers and that we’re all in this together.”

“The feedback that FIT has received from those who attended the meetings has been overwhelmingly positive,” Bill added.

Each meeting followed the same format, with participating friars being divided into groups to discuss various aspects of the reconfiguration process, including the structures the seven provinces might adopt in the future. During the three-day meetings, the participants exchanged ideas on topics related to Franciscan life and to their communities, They answered questions such as:

  • What do you feel to be the greatest sign of renewal within your province in the last 10 or 20 years?
  • What are the key cultural, social, economic and political factors that shape the current U.S. context of our fraternal life-in-mission and the lives of the people of God we are called to serve?
  • What might be some appropriate, distinctly Franciscan responses to what the Church in the U.S. asks of/needs from us in the 21st century?
  • How are we friars in the U.S. already responding to the expectations of the Order that we are “men of faith,” “brothers and instruments of reconciliation to all,” and “minors’ to who joyfully to the peripheries”?

A speaker addressed each group, focusing on the role of the Franciscans in the 21st century.

Interprovincial-Gathering.225x300Before beginning their discussions, the friars watched a video on the history of the Franciscan presence in the United States created by Fr. Jack Clark Robinson, OFM, provincial of Our Lady of Guadalupe Province and a member of the Academy of American Franciscan History. They then reviewed the question of the models presented by the FIT for consideration.

Forty-five friars representing six provinces participated in the meeting held from June 6 to 9 at San Damiano Retreat Center in Danville, Calif. Holy Name Province had eight members present, and most of the other provinces were represented by five to eight friars.

During the meeting, Bishop Richard Garcia of Monterey, Calif., spoke on the topic “What Is the Church Asking Of/Need From the Franciscan Friars in the 21st Century.”

“In his presentation, the bishop wasn’t encouraging a particular type of ministry or ministerial approach,” said James Vacco, OFM. “He was encouraging us to fidelity to our Franciscan charism in whatever ministries the friars engage.”

Edgardo Jara, OFM, noted that the bishop encouraged the friars “to be with those who are marginalized and alienated, to be close to people, to listen and to walk with them. He asked us to return to our roots and share our Franciscan spirituality.”

Appreciating Fraternity
The time allotted to get to know friars from other provinces was an important part of the meeting for those who attended.

“I think the meeting was very prayerful, fraternal and informative,” said Gonzalo Torres Acosta, OFM. “Even though each province has a distinctive way to approach our living of the Gospel, at the end of the day, we all are Franciscan friars. We, together with our diversity of ministries and friars, are the light of the world and the salt of the earth in the United States. Our history in the country is rich and impressive, our presence is extensive, and our desire to serve God’s people is inexhaustible. We just have to figure out how to continue our Christian mission together.”

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The friars who attended the interprovincial gathering in New Mexico. From left to right: Basil Valente, Daniel Dwyer, Linh Hoang, Joseph Kotula, Raymond Selker, Christopher VanHaight, and Juan Turcios.

The majority of friars at the Albuquerque meeting favored the one-province model.“In concluding and summary remarks from the friars assembled, three priorities were affirmed over and over in whatever the re-configuration is: having diversity in ministries, respect for our fraternal lifestyle, and pluriformity of expression within our Franciscan life,” said James.

He added, “I also noticed throughout the time together that while there was a sense of optimism about the future configuration, there was also a sense of anxiety about having to make transitions and adjustments. Again, the old cliché is true: ‘Change is difficult.’”

Edgardo, who has lived with friars from other provinces in places such as the Interprovincial Novitiate in Burlington, Wisc., and the Franciscan School of Theology in Oceanside, Calif., also appreciated the fraternal element of the gathering.

“All of the friars expressed that this was a very positive experience,” he said. “We prayed together, we ate together, and were talking and reflecting together, as brothers, as Franciscans. Yes, we are a little bit different — we are friars from six provinces, so of course we have different cultures and realities, but we realized that we have very similar ministries, and we do our ministries very similarly, as Franciscans.”

He continued, “When I was in the novitiate in Burlington, then General Minister Archbishop José Carballo Rodríguez, OFM, told us, ‘I wanted to meet with you, my brothers, because I want to tell you something: yes, you are joining a Franciscan province, but first of all, you are joining an Order, the Order of Friars Minor.’ This is true. We U.S. Franciscan friars need to believe in this, and to put aside our differences and allow the Holy Spirit to work in us, and in our fraternities. Today, with Pope Francis, the Franciscans have a great opportunity to show and share our spirituality, tradition, and way of life. We should take advantage of this.”

Discussing Reconfiguration
Bill Beaudin said he noticed that at these gatherings “There were even a few ‘conversions.’”

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The friars who attended the meeting in New Mexico.

“At least one friar who had been adamantly opposed to any kind of restructuring left the gathering he attended firmly convinced that reconfiguration is not only necessary; it is desirable. Furthermore, and perhaps surprisingly, not one of the three bishops who addressed us said that what the church in the United States needs from the friars is that we take on more of their parishes.  On the contrary; each bishop told us that the best thing we can do for the Church in America is to be our authentic Franciscan selves.”

The second meeting, held June 13 to 16 at Siena College in Loudonville, N.Y., was attended by Provincial Council members, as well as by eight Holy Name Province friars and representatives from the other provinces. Provincial Secretary Michael Harlan, OFM, hosted the meeting. The speaker was Bishop Howard Hubbard.

Joseph Rozansky, OFM, said that his impression of the Siena meeting was that “the great majority of the friars who were present were in favor of the process of revitalization and reconfiguration. The atmosphere at the meeting was very fraternal and open. Whether or not the process of reconfiguration will go forward, I heard much talk about how the provinces should look for ways to collaborate with one another, offering opportunities for friars in similar ministries to share their experiences with one another and look for ways to promote common ministries.”

He added, “The provinces in the US are increasingly working together in formation, and the presence of some of our formators at the interprovincial meeting would reinforce the conversations already going on in formation.”

“The gathering was a good ‘first step’ toward discussion of the issues around reconfiguration and revitalization,” said Ronald Pecci, OFM. “I’d like there to be a follow-up meeting but do not think that it would be practical. In my opinion, we need a more extensive discussion of the very fine goals of this process and various ways to meet the goals.”

During the meeting held from June 20 to 23 at Franciscan Retreat in Albuquerque, N.M., Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe delivered an “inspiring” talk to the friars present.

“Jesus, like the friars, touched and embraced the wounds of the people,” said Abp. Weaver. “As a church, we’re called to embrace the wounds of all people everywhere.

“What is our mission?” he continued. “First, our mission is to listen. It’s not our mission, it’s God’s mission. What does God want us to do? Jesus is not asking us to be successful — he’s just asking us to be faithful.” The archbishop also encouraged the friars to be truly present to each other and challenged the friars to think of ways that they can empower the laity more effectively.

Feeling Inspired
“I found the archbishop’s talk to be profound and deeply inspiring,” said Basil Valente, OFM. “He made an important point when he asked, ‘How can we be successful as a Church if we don’t listen to the people, truly understand their needs, and respond to them as creatively and effectively as we can?’”

Daniel Dwyer, OFM, remarked that the archbishop’s talk “was an inspiring call for the friars to live up the ideals we embody. I think what I took away is that there is so much more we friars have in common, even across provincial boundaries, than we have differences. I found that reality the most hope-filled from my time in Albuquerque.”

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The friars who attended the meeting in Chicago.

He added, “I came away with the sense that regardless of restructuring, we are already one Order and one family. The main benefit of attending was to pray and get acquainted with some new brothers and to get reacquainted with some old friends. The formal content was what I expected, and I was glad that we focused on renewing and not just restructuring ourselves.”

The final interprovincial gathering was held from July 18 to 21 at Cenacle Retreat House in Chicago.

Gary Maciag, OFM, said, “During her presentation on what the church is asking of the friars in the US in the 21st century, Sister Marlene Weisenbeck, FSPA, uttered a phrase that helped me focus the various thoughts I was having about the revitalization/reconfiguration process: “the survival of the Gospel message.” It struck me that this was a way to both remind us of what was at stake in the process and what our goals should be. The key issue is not what we would find most comfortable or acceptable in terms of provincial structures, but which structure(s) will most enable us to continue to preach the Gospel in the United States. This didn’t point to a particular model as “the answer,” but it helped me to think more deeply about what model I think we should pursue, and I found myself gravitating toward a different model than my favorite before the gathering.”

Other HNP friars who participated in the meetings were Michael Calabria, OFM, Julian Jagudilla, OFM, Christopher Keenan, OFM, Kevin Kriso, OFM, and Sean O’Brien, at the first meeting; Lawrence Anderson, OFM, John Frambes, OFM, Anthony LoGalbo, OFM, Richard McFeely, OFM, Dennis Tamburello, OFM, and Michael Tyson, OFM, at the meeting at Siena; Octavio Durán, OFM, Linh Hoang, OFM, Joseph Kotula, OFM, C. Raymond Selker, OFM, Juan Turcios, OFM, and Christopher VanHaight, OFM, at meeting 3 in New Mexico, and John Anglin, OFM, Thomas Conway, OFM, Lawrence Ford, OFM, Daniel Grigassy, OFM, Joseph Juracek, OFM, Barry Langley, OFM, and Kenneth Paulli, OFM, at last week’s meeting in Chicago.

The next step in the reconfiguration discussions is for the administration members of the seven U.S. provinces to meet and evaluate the recommendations of the seven provincial councils based on the responses of the U.S. friars to the process. At an Aug. 22 to 26 meeting in Illinois, provincial leaders will determine which of the proposed models should be brought back to the provinces for discussions and decisions. A vote on the preferred model will take place at 2017 chapters of the U.S. provinces.

Maria Hayes is communications coordinator for Holy Name Province. Research was contributed by Jocelyn Thomas.

Editor’s Note: Information about the reconfiguration initiative can be found in the Friars Only section of the USFranciscans website.

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