25 Oct 20th Anniversary of the Franciscan Foundation in Russia and Kazakhstan
TO ALL THE FRIARS
OF THE ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI FOUNDATION IN RUSSIA AND KAZAKHSTAN
May the Lord give you peace!
On the occurrence of World Mission Day 2017, I want to direct a special greeting to you to remember in particular the establishment of this Foundation by my predecessor fr. Herman Shaluck, with the decree of April 22nd 1997, which reflected the favourable opinion expressed by the General Definitory on 15th April of the same year and gave birth to this Entity of our Order depending directly on the Minister General.
Before then, the presence of our Order in these lands was entrusted to the generosity and missionary enterprise of friars, mostly coming from the various Provinces of Eastern Europe, who had set up the first Fraternities in the towns which would subsequently make up the future “Foundation”: St. Petersburg, Novosibirsk and Almaty.
Over time the Fraternities of Ussurijsk and Taldykorgan added to these historical presences and the origin of the friars also diversified to become so to speak international Fraternities who have witnessed and continue to give witness to the universality of the Francsican charism, which has inspired so many young men to undertake our life of following Christ in the fashion of St. Francis.
Within this period the activities which still characterize our presence in these lands of Russia and Kazakhstan in the spirit of the Order, at the service of the local Church and towards humanity, particularly the poor, have multiplied.
Thus, the Bishops have entrusted to us the pastoral care of several parishes where such work is done in Franciscan style, namely in St. Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Ussurijsk and Arsenev, Almaty and Taldykorgan. Such Christian communities have been reconstituted thanks to the missionary and pastoral work of the friars who with their great efforts have either given, or are giving, a worthy place in which to worship after having previously carried out their work in apartments or other temporary places.
The school, “Birth of our Lord” has been opened at Novosibirsk, the “Clinic” and the “Table of the Poor” at Almaty, and subsequently the “Tau Centre” at Ussurijsk.
But we want to remember the other activities which have progressed in these years thanks to the friars in Russia and Kazakhstan in the spirit of the Priorities of the Order and of ecumenical dialogue as the “Ark” of Talgar, the charitable activities at Taldykorgan and the “Children’s emergency centre” in St. Petersburg.
Several friars, have as well served the local Church contributing efficaciously to its rebirth amongst which we remember with affection first of all, His Excellency, Monsignor Henry Theophilus Howaniec, Emeritus Bishop of the Diocese of Almaty as well as the other friars who called upon by the Church served as Vicar General of a diocese, or Chancellor, Director of Caritas or Dean.
Also to be remembered is the work in the area of culture, education, within the Inter-Diocesan Seminary of St. Petersburg, and ecumenism which was carried out by the friars at various levels during these years.
The wishes of the different General Ministers over the last few years, in particular that of fr. Hermann Shaluck have been realized. The latter on 30th April 1997 addressed himself to all the friars of the Foundation in these words: “ We hope that this little entity, like the mustard seed, will grow and become a strong branch of the Franciscan family in the local churches which are coming back to life after 70 years of State atheism, cruel persecution and martyrdom.”
Fr. Shaluck on 15th October 1994 had written: “The Order of Friars Minor, faced with the present situation set out in the “Community of Independent States” has set as its goal the establishment and strengthening of the Franciscan presence in these places thus taking part directly in the universal pastoral mission of the Church”.
In the same document, the Minister General, our brother Hermann, indicated the means by which this goal in the Order’s new project:
- By sending other friars to the places where the Order is already present.
- By integrating the friars already present in the “Community of Independent States” with new volunteers coming from other entities within the Order.
- By inserting the Franciscan presence in the life of the Church and the local communities.
- By favouring a spirit and practise of ecumenism.
- By preparing to welcome candidates to the Order.
Brother Hermann, went on to indicate what would be come the Guidelines for the future “Foundation” established three years later in Russia and Kazakhstan which may be summarized as follows:
- The reinforcement of the presence of the Order of Friars Minor in these places (these were then set out by the Minister General as Almaty, St. Petersburg, and Novosibirsk at the time) is a route towards the Implantatio Ordinis. Thus the Minister General viewed it necessary:- a) To integrate the friars already present with new volunteers to create visible and working Fraternities; b) To insert these Fraternities in the local Church and Civil Society; c) To seek and to welcome candidates to the Order providing them with both initial and permanent formation.
- The new Fraternities have from these Guidelines the express task of looking after the pastoral care of the Latin Rite community already in existence in the “Community of Independent States”, collaborating with the other Churches present and in particular with our Sister Orthodox Church, without taking advantage of any weaknesses to attract members of their Church to ours. That did not mean that all the friars were not to commit themselves fully in the context of the parish, but simply that space was left for creativity in an attitude of “non-confrontation” with other Churches there and the “absence of a specific wish” to seek out converts. A thing to be studied was our presence in areas where there was a Muslim majority.
- By reason of our Franciscan charism which emphasizes dialogue and openness to all people, and given our spiritual, ecumenical and theological preparation it would be desirable indeed to make contact with the monastic experience in the Russian tradition.
Looking back after all these years, in most cases and situations these Guidelines have been happily followed and borne fruit thanks to the commitment of the friars and the assistance of the Holy Spirit.
In many other cases and situations there have been disappointments and lets not hide it, many things that haven’t worked for a variety of reasons.
The documents that form the base of the St. Francis of Assisi Foundation however remain valid and relevant.
It is for this reason, dear brothers, as we all know that the General Definitory has created a Commission headed by the General Definitor, Br. Ivan Sesar, which has been already working for several months so that by mid 2018 a concrete proposal may be presented to relaunch and restructure our presence amongst these peoples and in these lands where many of our friars have worked and continue to work, and where others have left this earthly life and for whom we pray, as St. Francis taught us, so that they may enjoy the blessed life of Heaven. May they be the seed that fell on good and fertile ground in Russia and Kazakhstan and in the “Community of Independent States” and may they grow and bear the hoped for fruits for good of the Church, the Order and for man, above all for the poor, to the glory of God.
I entrust the to the Lord work of this Commission which awaits also the proactive contribution of all the members of the Foundation. I want to thank the Lord together with all of you for the gift of our vocation and for the gift of the Order and the Church of the Foundation dedicated to St. Francis and committed to living the Gospel in Russia and Kazakhstan. There have been twenty years of history written with passion and dedication, with sacrifices and so much joy and enthusiasm from all of you, dear brothers, to whom I direct my personal gratitude together with that of the “General Definitory” and the entire Order!
I send to you, dear brothers of the St. Francis of Assisi Foundation and dear brothers who have become part of it for a period of your lives, my best wishes for a happy anniversary and I assure of my personal prayer and blessing so that the Lord may guide the footsteps of our Order on the paths of Russia and Kazakhstan and that you may be bearers of peace and joy to all whom you encounter. Let us remember the reflection of Pope Francis on the missionary vocation of the Virgin Mary, Mother of evangelization. The Pope writes: “Moved by the Spirit, she welcomed the Word of Life in the depths of her humble faith. May the Virgin Mother help us to say our own “yes”, conscious of the urgent need to make the Good News of Jesus resound in our time. May she obtain for us renewed zeal in bringing to everyone the Good News of the life that is victorious over death. May she intercede for us so that we can acquire that holy audacity need to discover new ways to bring the gift of salvation to every man and woman”. (Pope Francis, Messagge for World Mission Day n. 10).
As I send on the greetings and prayers of all of the Definitory, I invoke on each one of you the blessing of our Seraphic Father, St. Francis, so that he may intercede for you and accompany you always on your journey.
Rome, October 22, 2017
Fr. Michael A. Perry, OFM
Minister General and Servant
Prot. MG 89/17