Minister General: The Future of the Friars Minor

“Being with the Poor and opening our doors is our mission ”

The general Minister, Br. Michael Perry, confirmed in office until 2021, explains the season of profound renewal that the Friars Minor are experiencing: “The Pope has made it clear what is expected: a poor Church with the poor. We have many facilities and wealth but we must become poor with the poor to create a new relationship with them. “This means even abandoning and closing some “parochial work”

by Riccardo Benotti

The evangelical quality of fraternal relationships, the relationship with the laity, the mission, the risk of becoming bourgeois and the ability to live with the poor. These are some of the heavy themes contained in an Instrumentum laboris, which is the result of the work of years. They were discussed in the General Chapter held in Assisi just before the summer began. These themes are challenging the Friars Minor. “To have a Pope, who for the first time in the history of the Church, choses the name of Francis is a great challenge for us,” confides the general Minister Br. Michael Perry who has been confirmed in office until 2021. He was born in Indianapolis but of Irish blood, as is revealed by his blue eyes, Br. Perry is accompanying with determination and practicality more than 10 thousand brothers in a season of renewal. “The Pope has made it clear what is expected: a poor Church with the poor. We have many facilities and wealth but we must become poor with the poor to create a new relationship with them. ”

How can we stand with the poor?
“Poverty is not something to be valued, but the poor exist. As is written in the Gospel of Mark: “The poor will always be with you,” I am thinking that if Jesus had had time to add something for the Friars Minor, he might have said: ‘(So) why don’t you want to change your way of life.” To be Friars Minor we have to modify our behavior. Pope Francis is recovering ideas of early Christianity. The Church should not be a powerful presence but a humble one. Moreover, her conduct is an example to all of us. ”

Living a peaceful middle-class existence is a danger to the life of the friars …
“It’s a risk perceived by the friars themselves, a risk that undermines the very identity of our vocation. We are called to concretize God’s mercy through acts of justice and charity. There are at least two medicines to cure this disease. The first is to be with the poor, to live among those who suffer. The poor are not an abstract entities rather they have a name, they come from a family, they have children, they try to work daily to improve the quality of their lives. In addition, we need to be there. If we come to be accompanied by the poor, we will rediscover the beauty of our Franciscan vocation “.

The second remedy?
“Open ourselves to God’s word that is found not only in the Bible but also in the Eucharistic life of the people we meet every day. We must open our doors to welcome the world. We have to enter into listening and into dialogue with the Church and with people. ”

Parishes and shrines are places where the pastoral activity of the Friars is focused. Why?
“The brothers meet the requests of local Churches. Today, though, it’s time to change. Over the years we have taken on a ‘parish’ mindset that we have to break. The Pope’s request that we go out is the same addressed by Francis to his brothers. It’s hard to be pilgrims when we have these responsibilities, which are certainly important. But we must also rethink our presence in parishes and shrines by involving the laity and allowing them to be true promoters of the Gospel. For example, I do not understand why we need to keep us the keys of the church when it belongs to the people … “.

Therefore a valorization of the laity?
“For us Friars Minor, but also for the whole Church, it is essential to rethink the role of the laity. We have to prepare the laity in our Franciscan shrines and parishes communities. The importance of this preparation is decisive for the Church. St. Francis used to take laymen and laywomen with him who, with the permission of the bishop, did catechesis and preaching. He did not see obstacles in allowing women to preach. They have a different sensibility and perspective. ”

Clericalism places the laity and the life of the brotherhood at risk…
“Clericalism harms the dignity of the vocation of the laity in the Church and in the plan of God. We too are called to a conversion in this regard. The Church has asked us to take on many responsibilities. Sometimes, however, we have done our pastoral ministry chaotically with negative consequences for community life. It is important, then, to rediscover the quality of community life so that it can be shared with the laity. Simply by looking at the conflicts in the family or in politics we can see how much the world seeks brotherhood and sisterhood. And, we have the responsibility of being witnesses of Francis of Assisi. It would be a gift to the world today. ”

Is it difficult to guide such a large number of brothers in 110 countries?
“I do not feel up to the task but it is a joy to get to know the life of the friars, most of whom live the Gospel deeply. I was recently in Hong Kong where the friars engaged in pastoral ministry with 4 thousand Chinese Christians participating each week in the life of the community. They are afraid of what will happen after the election of 2017 but they remain steadfast in their faith. In Taiwan, however, the Chinese brothers are involved in service to the poor in parishes where the diocesan priests do not want to go. These are the testimonies that we need. As general Minister, I want to wash the feet of the brothers to allow them to wash the feet of others. I think this is the best way to live discipleship in Christ. I am a sinner, with many limitations, but it is a grace to be at the service of the brothers. I’m human and for this reason I feel at ease with my brothers, because they too are human. ”

Source: agenSIR