CHICAGO — Over 100 friars from the three branches of the Franciscan first order converged in a spirit of fraternity and joy at the Catholic Theological Union here on Nov. 4, 2017, to attend “Looking to the Future Together: Beyond Ite Vos.

This Franciscan Study Day was convened at the behest of the ESC after Pope Francis urged friars to work together for an “authentic and profound reconciliation” of the three branches of the first order in the hopes that such unity would renew the power of the spirit of Francis and Clare in the modern world. The day was organized by Friars Joseph Rozansky OFM, Michael Kolodziej OFM Conv. and John Celichowski OFM Cap.

After a powerful prayer service developed by friars in formation, Friar Dominic Monti OFM began the session with “The History and Context of Ite Vos,” placing the papal bull, which formally divided the First Order into the first two separate obediences, into its historical and cultural context. In doing so, he brought to light the common values of fraternity, minority, conversion, and mission that the branches share.

This set the stage for “Common Franciscan Values,” during which Friar Regis Armstrong OFM Cap., highlighted the ways in which St. Francis of Assisi was open to the revelation of the Lord when dealing with this brothers. Regis also commented on Francis’s use of John 17:11 (“may they be one, as we are one”) in the Early Documents.

Friar Jude Winkler OFM Conv. rounded out the morning with “Common Franciscan Projects,” by raising up some of the interobediential work that is already being done in the order, including Franciscans International, the Franciscan Action Network, the consolidation of the Antonionum and Seraphicum in Rome, interobediential intentional communities, and coordinated formation programs in places like California and Zambia.

In describing the bridge building being done by the ministers general and their councils in Rome, Jude pointed out that “sometimes more work gets done over the picnic table than at the conference table.”

This proved to be the case in Chicago as well. During the breaks, lunch, and the small group discussions in the afternoon, the friars from the three branches ate, got to know one another, and brought to life the common fraternity they already share. In addition to sparking some ideas about how the three branches might work together—many involved social media and even more involved food—these informal times and sessions were clear indicators of the shared spirit of Gospel joy that burns in the hearts of the brothers, no matter what branch.

Friar Vito Martinez OFM Cap was particularly inspired by the practical bent of the study day.  “I felt that the Symposium wasn’t just an opportunity to think about an abstract future of collaboration but I had the chance to network with other friars who shared similar ministries. I’m hopeful that opportunities of collaboration can occur at the local level.”

It also sparked some serious questions about the work we as Franciscans are called to do moving forward.  We acknowledged the scarcity of brothers devoting themselves to the Franciscan intellectual tradition and were challenged to think more deeply about how well we were living out our charism and what kind of prophetic voice a unified Franciscan family might be able to raise, especially in the midst of the toxic political climate in the United States.

In thinking about the symposium further, Friar Joe Nangle OFM questioned, “After hearing in great detail the history of Ite Vos, it would be interesting to speculate on what Pope Francis would write if he issued a similar call today.  Might he not say: ‘Three families or one, go out as Franciscans and smell like the sheep”?

While working on the Early Documents, Regis Armstrong came to the realization that what the text taught him about the Franciscan charism was being lived out in the experience of working on the texts in an interobediential team. This was also the case during the Ite Vos study day. In learning and discussing that which divided us, we wound up celebrating that which unites us and put ourselves on the path of even greater unity.

John Aherne, OFM

John Aherne OFM is a Franciscan friar currently studying at CTU in Chicago. He has been ordained a transitional deacon and is looking forward to his ordination to the priesthood.

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