Celebration of the Antonianum University and the Grand Chancellor  

We are called upon to rethink together the dominant economic approach, thus involving the very leading players on the global economic scene in a project that rewrites the ethics of the market, beyond the limit of profit alone, and creates value, civil coexistence, the circularity of goods and people, culture and care, which is currently in crisis, especially because of the pandemic crisis”. The words of the Grand Chancellor of the Antonianum University, Br Massimo Fusarelli, Minister General, on the occasion of the closing of the traditional annual celebration of the University.

The two days of celebration, 17 and 18 January, were marked by two themes: “From the ideal of poverty to the management of economic resources” and “How to combine poverty and the need for resources for the economic management of services linked to the charism?”. Experts such as Prof. Lorella Parente, Prof. Giacomo Todeschini, Prof. Roberto Lambertini, Prof. Oreste Bazzichi, Prof. Giuseppina Muzzarelli, Dr. Francesco Stefanini (Caritas Internationalis), Prof. Massimo Folador (LIUC Business School), Dr. Maria Grazia Ardissone (Director of San Giovanni di Dio Academy) and Prof. Andrea Romboli (Studio Romboli Società Benefit) were invited to deepen the study.

Br Agustín Hernandez Vidales, the Rector, shared with the participants the University’s journey: “In its history, the Antonianum has always been at the service of the Church and the Order”, adding: “We are therefore pleased and proud to commemorate our founder, Father Bernardino da Portogruaro, on the 200th anniversary of his birth. Heirs of an academic centre, which he wanted and built, we are committed to keeping alive the flame of science and devotion that he declared with his motto Veritas Caritatis and Caritas Veritatis inspired by St. Bonaventure”.

Speaking on the side lines, Br Darko Tepert, Secretary General for Formation and Studies, said: “The days of the Celebration of the University and of the Grand Chancellor, structured this year in this way, are designed to help the Order of Friars Minor in its commitment to offer help to the poor and the marginalised and to undertake a life of solidarity”.

At the conclusion of the Festival, the Grand Chancellor presented the prizes to the students of the year: Caterina Capelli, Pamela Salvatori, Roberildo Sousa Araujo, Amando Trujillo Cano, Gerald Duroisin, Josip Sedlar, Isabella Pinto, Sara Capelli, Sabu George Madathikunnel, Reine Zoundokpee and Sara Cesaretti. In addition, the San Francesco Prize was awarded to two authors, Michele Campopiano for his work Writing the Holy Land, the Franciscans of Mount Zion and the Construction of a Cultural Memory, 1300-1550, published in 2020 and Alessandra Bartolomei Romagnoli for her work on Tommaso da Olera, Lettere, edizione critica, published in 2019. To crown a life dedicated to teaching and research, Prof Vicenzo Battaglia received the Decree of appointment as Professor Emeritus of the University

 

Full text of the speech by the Minister General, Grand Chancellor:

“From the ideal of poverty to the management of economic resources”.
Conference closing speech
Rome PUA, 18 January 2022

Your Excellencies, Ambassadors
Academic authorities,
Students and staff of the PUA
Brothers
Reverend Sisters and Reverend Priests
Journalists
Ladies and Gentlemen

Dear Friends

“Global society is suffering from grave structural deficiencies that cannot be resolved by piecemeal solutions or quick fixes. Much needs to change, through fundamental reform and major renewal”. These are the words of Pope Francis in Fratelli tutti, no. 179. As spiritual heir of the Saint of Assisi, I ask a question: is a fraternity like the Franciscan one, which is based on the ideal of paupertas, still sustainable today? How can one claim to harmonise two elements, economic sustainability and the ideal of poverty, which seem so distant and almost opposed? Does choosing poverty mean renouncing economic rationality, or is it another way of thinking about and understanding the economy? Poverty, too, proposes a certain economic way of thinking, which is an alternative to the pre-capitalist way of thinking of the communal era, even if it is not opposed to it.

From here, we can ascertain the style proper to the Franciscan Charism of placing oneself not in front of or next to the world and reality, almost opposed to them, but rather between and with, in the spirit of the Regula non bullata that in chapter XVI sends the friars “among the Saracens”. Hence, the friars since Francis have found the world, the city with its squares and streets, the life of people as the ordinary and normal place of life and mission. For this reason, the issue of economic life could not be ignored, indeed it will be central. A permanent lesson for an evangelical vision such as the Franciscan one, which attempts to keep in polar tension a high and radical ideal with the reality of the life of the people of a precise time and environment.

In this way, we can understand why Francis of Assisi in his writings did not avoid an economic vocabulary, which the Franciscans of the 13th century would develop to the point of elaborating a new concept of the use of goods in the absence of ownership and lasting possession of them. Francis recognises that all material or immaterial goods ultimately point to God, He who is the good, every good, the supreme good, the source of every good. The choice to live “with nothing of one’s own”, as he puts it, only codifies this conviction because to declare oneself the owner of something would be an “undue appropriation” of what is ultimately God’s or points back to God.

Francis, together with his brothers, makes this choice of radical expropriation through the three vows, which in the Franciscan perspective have as their common denominator the dimension of sine proprio, concerning the use of goods (poverty), their inclusive and supportive purpose according to the ideal of fraternitas (chastity) and their ordering towards the Supreme Good which is God (obedience).

I would like to illustrate this thought by reading Domenico Ghirlandaio’s fresco in the Sassetti Chapel in Florence, which shows us the undressing of the young merchant in front of his father. At the centre of the scene is a naked Francis, who appears as the needy man par excellence. The bishop is bent over him, covering and protecting him; the father behind him is held back by his anger; the other characters, in their composure, reveal opposing feelings of reaction to what is happening. The tremor that runs through all of them is that of need, which not only affects Francis, but rather reveals to each and every one his condition of need, dependence, and creaturely poverty. All are, in fact, in need and do not give themselves as benefactors and beneficiaries: rather, one reminds the other that he is a limited creature in need of help. All poor, therefore, all “sine proprio”, all able to respond to the gift received, ready to give it back to God through all his creatures. All brothers and sisters, no one independent to save themself.

The choice of such a life “sine proprio” is valid for Francis and his brothers, but they are well aware of two things: they live in a world in which they too need goods to live, and in this world, other Christians legitimately make different choices, owning goods and having families. Two issues emerge: how to justify the fact that, having renounced everything, the friars also use goods, and how to relate to those who do not take a vow of poverty. We could formulate these two questions as the problem of the friars’ relationship with society’s economic structure, from which they cannot escape.

Regarding the first question, already Francis in nuce and then the early Franciscan tradition will elaborate expressly the distinction between property (in Latin dominium) and use. The friars renounce property but not the use of things, also because one cannot renounce the use of some goods, such as clothes or food or a house. Nevertheless, life implies the use of certain goods, and the friars are aware that they too use them, but not as owners, but with the knowledge that they are constantly receiving them as a gift from the one great benefactor, God, through his administrators, who are those we superficially consider owners of goods.

This possibility of using some goods implies dependent work for the friars, which is their ordinary form of sustenance, as well as alms, which they resort to when the return for work is scarce or even denied, or in the case of free work for those who cannot pay, such as lepers. It should be noted that in the Regula non bullata, Francis even affirms a “right” to almsgiving for all the poor, precisely because he knows well that the true owner of all goods is God and even those whom we consider owners are in truth responsible stewards, not only for their benefit but also for the needs of others. “Alms are a legacy and a justice due to the poor that our Lord Jesus Christ acquired for us”. (RegNB 9:8) Yesterday, it was recalled how collecting alms for the needy became a priority of the early Church community (with reference to the passage in Gal 2:10).

In the friars’ life, the use of goods is lived in total fraternal sharing according to that fundamental paradigm of fraternitas, which is the way of life intuited by Francis. But, on the other hand, fraternitas makes life sine proprio possible: those who live alone, if they possess nothing, do not survive, while those who have brothers find in them a life insurance that makes it possible to live without property (recalling “omnia communa” in the apostolic community in Acts 2:44 and 4:32).

The life model of the friars, immersed in a society from which they receive the necessities of life and to which they offer their witness and service, creates an even economic pact between the friars and the world, as Francis states in a passage of the Memorial:

There is an exchange between the brothers and the world: they owe the world good example, and the world owes them the supply of necessities of life. When they break faith and withdraw their good example, the world withdraws its helping hand, a just judgment.[1]

The witness offered by the friars has its effects in the merchant society of the thirteenth century: on the one hand, the project of fraternitas increases sensitivity to fraternal sharing, not only with the friars but also with the poor whom the friars serve; on the other hand, the distinction between dominium and usus, made by the friars for themselves, indicates to the merchants a different way of using their wealth. One understands that there is “bad” wealth, which privileges the selfish dominium, only for oneself, of which the miser is an emblem. Still, there is also “good” wealth, which privileges the usus of wealth, making it circulate, so that many may benefit from it (thinking of having no other debt but mutual love, recalling Rom 13:8), as does the merchant, who puts his wealth at stake in his commercial enterprise, from which, however, many will profit along with him, starting from customers to employees to producers and many others.

In the final analysis, it is a question of giving resources a new direction, which is no longer just that of the profit of a restricted circle of investors. As the Franciscans of the 15th century, the creators of the pawnshops relentlessly asserted that only the distribution of resources creates wealth. Only the circulation of goods generates social, political and even cultural value. Greed is first and foremost ignorance of economic processes and an attack on social living, and not just a violation of a disciplinary principle to safeguard private morality. It is a violation of public ethics and of the economy itself. It is a violation of the covenant with God, who like a Father wants us all to be brothers. Only a fraternity that becomes a forum for social, political and cultural sustainability deserves economic support! Sustainability is the salary of the evangelical worker, who proclaims the Kingdom, the goal of the people walking along the roads of history.

The biographers of Francis recount a significant episode to show how Francis did not ask for money for himself but for the fulfilment of a project of fraternitas.

When Francis was travelling with Brother Paul, He came upon a shepherd in the fields pasturing a flock of goats. There was one little sheep walking humbly and grazing calmly among these many goats. When blessed Francis saw it, he stopped in his tracks, and touched with sorrow in his heart, he groaned loudly, and said to the brother accompanying him: “Do you see that sheep walking so meekly among those goats? I tell you, in the same way our Lord Jesus Christ, meek and humble, walked among the Pharisees and chief priests. So, I ask you, my son, in your love for Him to share my compassion for this little sheep. After we have paid for it, let us lead this little one from the midst of these goats”.

Brother Paul was struck by his sorrow and also began to feel that sorrow himself. They had nothing except the cheap tunics they wore, and they were concerned about how to pay for the sheep when suddenly a travelling merchant arrived and offered to pay for what they wanted”.[2]

Francis invites the passing merchant to become a builder of fraternitas with him. Indeed, it will be the merchants themselves who will recognise in the project of cosmic fraternity conceived by Francis their own vocation to care for the common good!

Money, which with the advent of the merchant system became the primary means of exchange, in this case, is used by Francis to restore the same cosmic harmony, which seems to suffer the consequences of human violence that the Saint knows well, as a participant in the war against Perugia and as an aspiring crusader. Francis thus restores fraternal relations by modifying the merchant approach, making it serve as an instrument for the redemption of the sheep threatened by the arrogance of the goats. This is, of course, the symbol of social inequality, which was being generated precisely by choice of the accumulation of goods, a characteristic of the communal civilisation, which for the first time in history produced numerous destitute people.

The “sine proprio”, professed by the Franciscan tradition, does not claim today to impose itself as a criterion for measuring possession or non-possession of goods. Instead, it brings to the fore that inescapable tension between the peaks of lofty idealism and the flat surfaces of reality. In Franciscanism, it is necessary to hold together in polar tension and not in alternative and even less in opposition to the ideal and reality, the radical evangelical call and the possibility of living in the world. Staying in this movement does not leave one neutral: it touches, involves, makes one stay in the contradiction, it does not offer ready-made answers. It opens questions and lets them act to make life grow. The believer is a pilgrim in the world, with his feet in its dusty streets and his eyes fixed on the Kingdom of God, which is irreducible to the world while acting as a leaven for his life and growth.

For this reason, the Franciscan is in the world, including its economic and social structures, not feeling that everything human is extraneous, but inhabiting it freely and passionately, in the movement of a free expropriation, both interior and exterior, understood as a call to pass from self-referential possession to sharing, renouncing the concept of domination.

It does not remain an easy task to renounce every possession and submit to the necessity of worldly goods and their use. The Franciscan prefers listening and a fraternal spirit, even towards its complexities, to the opposition to the world, to the functional adaptation to the worldly rationale of possession, the endless search for a “beyond” that attracts, gives form to what exists and projects it towards a “more” that is never exhausted.

As a Franciscan family, we are therefore called to contribute to what Laudato si’ calls a “cultural revolution” (n. 114) to ensure that human beings rediscover the goodness of their role on Earth. With the existential style of “sine proprio”, we can create the conditions to welcome the greatest gift, that is, God, who gives himself totally to us. Moreover, we feel responsible for welcoming and relaunching a ‘philanthropy’ that shares the gift received and returned, a challenge to share an inner space.

We are called upon to rethink together the dominant economic approach, thus involving the very leading players on the global economic scene in a project that rewrites the ethics of the market beyond the limit of profit alone and creates value, civil coexistence, the circularity of goods and people, culture and care, which is currently in crisis, especially because of the pandemic crisis.

Franciscan fraternity inspired by paupertas, speaking the language of gratuitousness, with its own charismatic contribution, can offer that cultural, social, human and spiritual capital to construct a true economic humanism. Only if faithful to the project of fraternitas, whose source is in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, can Franciscanism prove to be truly sustainable.

May the Lord give you peace!

Br Massimo Fusarelli, ofm
Minister General