27 Nov Finding Hope in the midst of the CoVid-19 Pandemic | Letter of the Minister General to the Brothers of the Order
My dear Brothers of the Order,
In the words of our Seraphic father, May the Lord give you peace!
It has been my intention for some time to write to you once again during this particularly challenging moment in the life of the world, to update you on some of the blessings and challenges we are facing as a worldwide brotherhood, and to encourage all of us to stay the course and keep the faith. I have chosen this date, which commemorates the approval by Pope Honorius III in 1223 of the definitive Rule and Life (Regula bulata), in order to speak to you about urgent matters weighing on all of our hearts.
Over the course of these past many months, I have been in contact with a number of the Provincials and Custodes to inquire about your well-being my dear brothers, and to communicate words of consolation, solidarity, and Christian hope. The year 2020 will forever be remembered as one in which the entire human community was brought to its knees, humbled by the Sars-CoVid-2 pathogen (hereafter, CoVid-19). While the pandemic continues to ravage human communities, leaving in its wake untold suffering, it is having other serious social consequences. Families, friends, and brothers in the Order have felt the psychological and emotional impact that comes as a result of maintaining social distance, wearing protective masks, and refraining from expressing physical forms of affection, depriving us of something so vital and necessary for human life and community. The loss of jobs and livelihoods also is having a very negative impact on the lives of literally billions of people in every region of the world. People are being increasingly pushed into chronic poverty. There is an increasing sense of fear, uncertainty, powerlessness, and hopelessness.
This global pandemic and its collateral consequences are also having a serious impact on the lives of all of the Friars of the Order. Brothers of the Order have died. Others have become seriously ill and have spent time in the hospital. Still others have passed their time in quarantine, isolated from their brothers in fraternity. Even our work, our ministerial engagements in parishes, schools, social service programs, retreat work, work for justice, peace, and care for our common home have all been seriously disrupted by the pandemic. Some brothers have shared with me their bouts of depression, feelings of loneliness, their sense of a loss of autonomy and power over their lives, and even their feelings of anger and a lingering sadness in their hearts. I can understand these feelings since I also have felt them to one degree or another.
Now more than ever, we need to invent new ways of being together, multiplying moments in which we might share the difficulties and frustrations we are experiencing, even as we respect public health norms for the common good. St. Francis reminds us in the Rule and Life: “Wherever the brothers may be and meet one another, let them show that they are members of the same family. Let each one confidently make known his need to the other, for if a mother loves and cares for her son according to the flesh, how much more diligently must someone love and care for his brother according to the Spirit!” (RB, Ch. 6).
The current health crisis has seriously altered the way we in the General Curia conduct our service to the universal brotherhood. I have not been able to visit you, my dear brothers, nor have the Definitors been able to accompany the life of your entities in a manner that expresses proximity and a ‘Franciscan personalism’. This personalism places great value on ‘face to face’ encounter, the sharing of prayer, meals, and life together. We have been forced to conduct our meetings via Zoom, Skype, or some other electronic format. Despite these limitations, every effort has been made to keep the channels of communication open in the hope that we might encourage one another to keep our eyes fixed on the Lord Jesus, care for one another, and to express our solidarity with those around us who are suffering.
One further challenge that we face as a brotherhood has to do with our own financial situation. Ministers have communicated to me that a deeply troubling consequence of CoVid-19 has been a serious reduction in income even as expenses continue to rise. What results is a domino effect: local fraternities once autonomous now find themselves asking for financial assistance; Provinces and Custodies are finding it difficult to support the Friars, and even more difficult to forward to the General Curia their solidarity contributions. The Curia depends on these contributions to help support the dependent houses of the Order, and the formation and mission needs of many economically poorer entities. In addition, we also depend on revenues from the Fondazione Opera Antonianum that is responsible for overseeing the operations of the hotel Il Cantico and the Auditorium located at the Pontifical University Antonianum. The pandemic has caused a loss of revenue. The Fondazione will not be able to make any contributions to the budget of the Curia for FY 2019, 2020, and possibly 2021. We are already feeling the pinch.
Brothers, it is my hope that in these difficult moments you are finding increased time to focus on what really matters for our lives. As our General Constitutions remind us, we are “bound to lead a radically evangelical life…in a spirit of prayer and devotion, and in fraternal fellowship…a witness of penance and minority…in charity towards all…preaching reconciliation, peace and justice…and to show respect for creation” (Art. 1 §2). This living of the Gospel life provides us with a spiritual grounding in times of trial and suffering. The fraternity should be an oasis of hope, a place where we draw strength from the kindness and care we show towards one another. It also is important that we indulge in self-care, including exercise, reading, prayer and study, strengthening our bodies, minds and hearts to stay the course. Our commitment to be brothers to all people should lead us to engage in a deeper reflection on the many social fractures – economic, political, social, the various forms of growing inequalities, racism and other ‘isms’ – the other ‘viruses’ – that undermine the common good and commitment to global solidarity.
Let us ask for an outpouring of knowledge and insight to guide scientists, doctors, and health care professionals in their quest for vaccines, therapies to reduce consequences of CoVid-19 infection, and in the general care of those most adversely affected. Let us call upon the wisdom of Solomon for our political leaders, that they might pursue the common good, recognize the frustrations and anger of the people whom they are called to care for and serve, and find new ways to accompany those most in need of special assistance. Let us reach out our hands and arms to embrace our brothers and sisters, figuratively, sharing our time and our precious resources with those most in need as a clear sign that we are all connected, we are all members of the one family of God, brothers and sisters journeying together on the road that is leading us towards the full realization of God’s kingdom in the now and the hereafter. In the words of Pope Francis, may the tragedy of the CoVid-19 pandemic help shatter “those false and superfluous certainties around which we constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities…[so that we may come to] the ineluctable and blessed awareness that we are part of one another, that we are brothers and sisters of one another” (Fratelli tutti! 32).
As we commemorate all the Saints of the Order, let us pray that, with the help of God, the intercession of St. Francis, all our Franciscan saints, and Mary, Queen of the Franciscan Order, we may rekindle our initial fervor and recommit ourselves to live the Rule and Life proposed by St. Francis and approved by Pope Honorius III. Let us draw strength from the faithful witness of our Franciscan saints who also experienced many challenges but who were able to keep alive the love and hope they had received from the beginning of their Gospel journey. Let us renew our commitment to be men of hope, loving brothers to one another, seekers of authentic justice, peace, promoters of kindness, fraternity, and solidarity towards all people and the entire created universe. Let us look forward with active anticipation to the General Chapter of 2021, when we come together to reflect on and to embrace the theme of the Chapter: Renewing Our Vision, Embracing our Future – “Arise… and Christ will give you light (Eph 5:14)! God is here! Hope is near!
In conclusion, I invite you to pray with me the following words from the “Praises of God” composed by St. Francis and entrusted to Br. Leo at La Verna in 1224:
You are beauty, You are meekness,
You are the protector, You are our custodian and defender,
You are our strength, You are refreshment. You are our hope!
You are our faith, You are our charity,
You are all our sweetness, You are our eternal life:
Great and wonderful Lord, Almighty God, Merciful Savior. AMEN.
Rome, November 29, 2020
Feast of all the Saints of the Seraphic Order
Br. Michael A. Perry, OFM
Minister General and Servant
Prot. MG 168/2020