30 Nov OFM Minister General’s Address to the Franciscan Friars following the Papal Audience
My dear Brothers,
May the Lord give you peace!
Today marks an historic moment in the life of our Orders and that of the whole Franciscan movement. In some ways, it could be said that a kind of “miracle” has happened — a miracle that I personally hope will continue to be experienced in our mutual relationships, and in our witness of communion and solidarity to a world that is in need of signs that generate new strength and new hope.
Franciscan Friars in Chapter was first conceived as a project that was limited to the Friars of Umbria. They were invited to embark on a three-year process of reflection on the central features of the identity and mission of the charism we have in common. Then the Ministers General and their Definitories called for this initiative to be extended and shared with all the friars in our respective Orders. Two anniversaries, the Eighth Centenary of the Pardon of Assisi, and the Fifth Centenary of the publication of Ite Vos, presented concrete opportunities for the friars to study and analyze the reasons behind the original division of the Order (a division that in my opinion was the result of a failure of love and mercy, and which led to a definitive canonical separation) — and to seek a path of mutual forgiveness and reconciliation.
This important process has also provided us with resources to help us come up with initiatives that can promote a deeper communion between us. This move to greater communion is expressed in our plans for 2018, including: the union of our Franciscan centers for higher education in a new Franciscan University in Rome; the creation of an Inter-Obediential fraternity in Emmaus; other initiatives aimed at the establishment of Inter-Obediential fraternities in different parts of the Franciscan world. We also continue to discuss the possible establishment of Inter-Obediential programs for Initial Formation.
The symbolic gesture of Pope Francis, Successor of St Peter, in which he confirmed our Rule of Life and challenged us to “walk together and grow in your common vocation and mission” (Pope Francis, at the Tomb of St. Francis, Assisi, October 4th, 2013), certainly inspires us to seek deeper communion and to break down the dividing wall that separates us from each other (see Eph 3: 13-14). In this way, we will be able to respond to Pope Francis’ invitation to “remain united”.
We read in the Mirror of Perfection, 124, quoted by Pope Francis in his homily on October 4th, 2013, in Assisi:
I ask you, therefore, Lord Jesus Christ,
Father of mercies,
not to consider our ingratitude.
Be mindful of Your most abundant piety
which You have shown to [this city],
that it always be an abode
for those who truly acknowledge You,
and glorify Your name,
blessed and most glorious forever and ever. Amen.”
My brothers, we have embarked on a journey of faith, full of promises, challenges and abundant blessings. We cannot predict what changes the future might place before us as we seek communion and travel together on the road to the Kingdom of God. However, it is up to us to choose to be comitted to working together, encouraging each other, rediscovering and embracing the essential features of the radical gospel way of life we have in common.
As our dear and well-remembered Minister General Giacomo Bini once said, “as a prerequisite for ‘looking ahead’, we must help each other to ‘look upwards’” (Giacomo Bini, Un’esistenza unificata e pacificata in Dio, 2011, p.33). Thus, all travelling together on this road as pilgrims and strangers, one day we will discover that we have come to a point of spiritual communion that will allow us to celebrate the General Chapter that failed to happen 500 years ago.
My dear brothers, do not be afraid! The Lord Jesus goes ahead of us and invites us not only to make friends and be in communion with Him, but also to live in friendship and communion with all the friars of our respective Orders, with all of humanity, and with the entire world.
Br. Michael A. Perry, OFM
Parish of St. Gregory VII, Rome, 23rd November 2017