Message from the International Commission for Missions and Evangelization (CIME) to the Brothers of the Order

St. Saviour Monastery, Jerusalem

April 27, 2018

We Conference Secretaries for Mission and Evangelization, gathered also as pilgrims for the biennial meeting of the International Council of the Mission and Evangelization (April 23-27, 2018), wish you pax et bonum – “peace and all good!”

In this year when we celebrate 800 years of Franciscan presence in the Land blessed by our Lord – the “pearl of the missions” of our Order – we wish to share with you what we have “seen, heard and touched with our hands” during these days of grace. They have been a privileged time for us to contemplate, to live, and to deepen fraternally our appreciation of the fundamental themes of mission and evangelization today. As we did so, the memory of our first missionary Brothers in the Holy Land – including our Seraphic Father, St. Francis – was always before us.

Our meeting was divided into two parts. In the first part, we considered the very beginnings of our faith, the challenges today that we face as an Order, and the significance of ecumenical and interreligious dialogue for our continued commitment to mission and evangelization. In the second part, we listened to our Brothers in the Custody of the Holy Land as they described their service as guardians of the holy places and the many ways that they accompany Christians in their lives of faith – not only the pilgrims from abroad, but also the faithful of the “Mother Church” of Jerusalem.

The presentations, testimonies, and reflections we heard from our Brothers who serve in sanctuaries, receive pilgrims, provide pastoral care in parishes, oversee the Christian Media Centre, teach in the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, and engage in the numerous social works of the Custody of the Holy Land, was as diverse as it was rich. Through this rich diversity of experiences and activities ran a single, golden thread. It was the thread of our distinctly Franciscan way of being – i.e., of living and sharing the charism inspired by Francis of Assisi, which continues to enrich the mission of the Church in its service of the world. 

As we considered the profound significance of this gift of life and service in the spirit of the Poverello, we could not help but to recall how insistent our General Ministers have been that we, as an Order, must faithfully and fearlessly respond to Vatican II’s mandate to update (aggiornare) the charism entrusted to us by countless generations of Brothers. Only through such an aggiornamento will we be able to proclaim effectively the Good News of Jesus Christ to the men and women of our world.

Ours is quite a world. It is a world of profound and seemingly endless contradictions in which people find as much reason for despair as they do for hope. It is a world wounded by religious and cultural relativism, yet it also affirms the existence of universal human rights. 

It is a world enlivened by relentless hedonism, yet it is also holds up people who willingly surrender every personal pleasure for the “greater good” of suffering human beings and for the integrity of our “common home,” i.e., creation It is a world governed by philosophical and economic systems founded up atheistic materialism, yet it is also filled with “spiritual searchers” who hunger and thirst for every experience of “The Transcendent.” It is a world that, in the name of freedom, has embraced numerous ideologies that are against God and against man – a culture of death, as St. Pope John Paul II named it – yet it is also a world in which we Franciscans, together with other Christians and people of faith and good-will, feel ever more acutely the desire of every human heart for that which is true and good and beautiful. It is into this world that we Franciscans want to re-propose to all people the Good News spoken in this Holy Land by the Son of God himself, our Lord Jesus Christ.

In the light of all that we shared and experienced in this graced time together, we wish to call your attention to certain aspects of our Franciscan life and service that, to different degrees in different places, have begun to weaken in the Entities of our Order. In response, we ask our Brothers in all their Entities to commit themselves anew,

  • To rediscover the privileged place that prayer and devotion should have in our daily life, and how united it is to our life of active service; we are called to be contemplatives in action.
  • To recover the importance of itinerancy, both in mindset and in lifestyle, that we may more readily respond to the challenges of our times – as Pope Francis himself has asked.
  • To insist that it is our Franciscan charism that must guide our understanding of the Gospel and of the life and mission to which it calls us.
  • To encounter young people where they are in their lives and to accompany them as they confront today’s challenges.
  • To intensify our solidarity as an Order for effective, fraternal engagement in international and intercultural projects.
  • To realize in deed, and not merely in word, that it is our fraternal fellowship that is our first and foremost means of evangelization.
  • To overcome all attitudes and expressions of clericalism in our life and service of the Gospel, and to share our mission with the laity.
  • To diversify their ministerial commitments, so as not to limit ourselves and the strength of our Entities in the kinds of life and service we offer the People of God. 
  • To ensure that our presence in the world, in every Entity and every local fraternity, is substantive and prophetic sign of the Kingdom of God alive and at work in our world.
  • To promote new forms of life-in-mission at the levels of both the Entities and the Conferences, especially forms inserted among the poor. 
  • To be conscious that mission today is about dialogue in all circumstances: ecumenical, interreligious, and intercultural. 
  • To renew our dedication to mission Ad Gentes as a way of renewing the missionary vocation of the Order in all its Entities; in this way we may respond more authentically to Pope Francis’ invitation to the Church to celebrate an extraordinary mission month in 2019: celebration in the service of renewed and effective commitment. 

The signs of our times urgently call us to return to the grace of our origins and put into practice the experiences of St. Francis and the first Brothers. Therefore, we further ask that the Entities of the Order identify those areas in which they become so weakened, develop plans address those needs, and through their respective Secretaries of Missions and Evangelization, report this to the General Secretariat for Missions and Evangelization (SGME). Only in this light will the SGME better be able to accompany them in their life and service of the Gospel as Lesser Brothers.

St. Francis and the first Brothers continue to witness to that freedom of the heart which is a true gift of the Holy Spirit. We must rediscover this gift anew, not only as a personal gift, but also as a gift to us as an Order – as an evangelizing fraternity. Only such a heart can transmit the strength and beauty of the Gospel to all people, in all the forms of service entrusted to us by the Church. In this light, we must ask, faithfully and without fear, whether such freedom truly characterizes our life and service of the Gospel, and the institutions and structures that order this life and service. To the degree that these institutions and structures hem us in or become an excuse for Brothers give free reign to their egos and break from our fraternal commitments and common witness to the Gospel, we turn from the grace of our origins and from the truly evangelical and prophetic witness the Spirit calls us to give our world today. This is especially the case with respect to the world of young people, who are searching for the true meaning of life and for a genuine communion that makes them experience the true beauty of their diversity.

The young Francis of Assisi still reveals to us the powerful message of Christ’s love that he himself discovered in his life. He still calls us to abandon ourselves with loving trust into the hands of God with a free and happy heart. May we respond to this call with all our hearts, and so permit the Spirit of the Lord to make us into living tongues capable of proclaiming the joy and hope of the Gospel to all the people of our day who see and “hear” us.

The inspiration we had in the Holy Land starts from the experience of our Brother of the Custody of the Holy Land and the beauty of being Lesser Brother in the Holy Land. We thank them warmly for the gifts of their hospitality and fraternal love. It is these same gifts that we likewise experienced among ourselves, and that we desire to bring back in our Conferences.

Fraternally, 

Your Brothers of the International Commission for Missions and Evangelization