DENVER, Colo. — History was made this week as 400 Franciscan friars – from 25 states as well as Canada, Italy Jamaica, Mexico and the Philippines — gathered in unity and fraternity here. The first-of-its-kind meeting of friars from six U.S. provinces was a step toward the formation of one coast-to-coast entity.
Four hundred Franciscans friars met in Denver.
Revitalization of Franciscan life and ministry in America is the goal of a multi-year process of restructuring that began in May 2018, when friars voted to support the creation of a new province. It will comprise almost 1,000 priests and brothers who are part of the worldwide Order of Friars Minor, founded in 1209 by St. Francis of Assisi.
“We have much in common with our brothers around the country,” according to Fr. Jack Clark Robinson, OFM, provincial minster of Our Lady of Guadalupe Province. “This meeting gave us a chance to get to know more about each other and strengthen the bonds that unite us.”
Eleven men were received as new novices at the chapter.
During the four-day meeting, 11 men from the six provinces were received as novices, beginning a yearlong program of education and religious training that puts them on the path to life as Franciscan friars.
The friars of the six provinces — Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Province (based in Franklin, Wisc.), Holy Name Province (New York City), Our Lady of Guadalupe Province (Albuquerque, N.M.), Sacred Heart Province (St. Louis, Mo.), St. Barbara Province (Oakland, Calif.), and St. John the Baptist Province (Cincinnati, Ohio) — have been discussing the restructuring of their provinces since 2012.
Following the message of Christ and the example of their founder, St. Francis, they serve the poor and marginalized and work to further peace and care for creation in a variety of settings including parishes, schools, neighborhood outreach, retreat centers, and social justice ministries.
The July 29 to August 2 Denver meeting, called a “Chapter of Mats”, is one phase of a process of forming the new province, a process that also includes a review of canon and civil law. The new U.S. province is expected be officially formed once restructuring is approved by the Order’s leaders in Rome, possibly by late 2022 or early 2023.
DENVER — Four hundred Franciscan friars will gather here next week for a fraternal gathering.
The friars of the Order of Friars Minor (the Franciscans’ official name) are currently celebrating a renewal of Franciscan spirit in the US and a restructuring of their provinces.
A province is the local governing structure of friars. Currently there are seven OFM provinces in the US. On May 30, 2018, the friars of six of these US provinces voted to move ahead with a process of revitalization and restructuring of Franciscan life in the US. (See our Frequently Asked Questions about this process to find out more about what this means.)
The meeting in Denver is called a “Chapter of Mats” after the practice of the early friars who brought sleeping mats to gatherings of friars.
Since the friars were received and formed into one of the seven existing US provinces, this meeting provides the friars with the opportunity to get to know friars from other provinces, discuss ministry matters, and hear the stories — many real and some mythical — of the other provinces.
There are almost 1,000 friars in the six provinces, but many are unable to attend the chapter because of age, illness, or ministry commitments.
Many friars who are not able to attend the Chapter of Mats in Denver say they will be there in spirit. When we asked them to share their hopes and wishes for the historic gathering, here’s what they had to say.
Jeremy Harrington, OFM: “In God’s love something new is being born. Give thanks and rejoice!”
Gerald Prusakowski, OFM: “You have been and are in my daily prayers that everyone involved in the Renewal of the Provinces will experience deep faith and the courage to serve all those who are in need.”
Jim Van Vurst, OFM; “We’ll be praying for you all and know the Spirit will be in your midst.”
John Ostdiek, OFM: “I realize that many issues will be involved as we merge the six American provinces into one. But I also am confident that God’s help and the friars’ willingness to unite as one will support our hopes for success.”
Murray Bodo, OFM: “When the poppies are in bloom on the plain below Assisi, they seem like the souls of the first brothers in chapter, waving up to Assisi. May your Chapter of Mats in Denver be like a field of little flowers met on the darkling plain of our fractured and angry world. And may you show forth a good and just way of living that, in the words of St. Bonaventure, “makes beautiful that which has been deformed.”
Joe Ricchini, OFM: “I believe we should strive to root ourselves in Christ’s love for us and make that love fulfill us, rather than wish that other friars appreciate us. And also preach and help people without aiming to win their admiration. I am still learning to accomplish these goals.”
Thomas Frost, OFM: “I pray the Friars come from the Chapter with The Spirit like those of the first Chapter of Mats. May their Holy Enthusiasm touch us all and spread through the world.”
Dominic Lococo, OFM: “Although I cannot attend the Chapter of Mats, I do want to follow the gathering with my prayers and good wishes. Hopefully good coverage of the event will return to us stay-at-home friars to spur us on to real heartfelt fraternity.
Justin Kwietniewski, OFM: “My very best wishes for a blessed event of fraternity and prayer.”
Tom Speier, OFM “Sorry to have to miss this once-in-a-lifetime experience due to medical issues. My prayers are with you all for the Spirit’s guidance!”
Joe Chinnici, OFM: “I am praying for the success of this historic gathering and wish everyone’s God’s blessing and peace for a fraternal and fruitful gathering.”
Mark Ligett, OFM: “I am so excited about this gathering and wish I was able to attend! My heart and prayers will be with all of the brothers gathering in Denver This gathering will begin to make tangible what is already a reality: We all belong to one great brotherhood!”
Franklin Fong, OFM: “I could not give better advice or prayers for the chapter than what was said by St. Francis centuries ago: ‘Brothers, let us begin again; for up to now, we have done nothing!’”
Charlie Smiech, OFM: “Brothers, please be assured of my prayers and best wishes. I wish I could be with you, but I continue my recovery from eye surgery in Jerusalem. I will make sure my weekly Holy Hour will be for your intentions as the Holy Spirit continues to guide us into a new beginning.”
Dennet Jung, OFM: “Brothers, I will be with you in my thoughts and prayers. Make the Renew happen big!”
The assembled OFM, Capuchin, and Conventual Franciscan friars who came together for the first vows of the OFM novices in Old Mission Santa Barbara. (Photo courtesy of the author)
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — Ten men professed their first vows as Franciscan Friars at Old Mission Santa Barbara here on July 2.
The vows ceremony was attended by a number of friars, including Capuchin and Conventual Franciscan friars and novices who journeyed from their nearby novitiates to witness the ceremony, along with members of the parish church at the Mission.
Friars from four U.S. provinces professed their vows to live St. Francis of Assisi’s Rule of the Order of Friars Minor. Those friars were:
Province of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Provincial Minister James Gannon, OFM, received the vows of Andrew Aldrich, OFM, 28, from Mishawaka, Indiana. Friars Kevin Schroeder, OFM, and Gregory Plata, OFM, witnessed his vows. Assumption Province is based in Franklin, Wisconsin.
Provincial Vicar Larry Hayes receives the first vows of Friar Steven Young, OFM. (Photo courtesy of the author)
For Holy Name Province, based in New York City, Provincial Vicar Larry Hayes, OFM, accepted the vows of these new brothers:
Ian Grant, OFM, 35, from North Brunswick, New Jersey.
John Neufffer, OFM, 35, of Durham, North Carolina.
Richard Phillip, OFM, 42, from Camden, New Jersey.
Carlos Portillo, OFM, 34, of San Vicente, El Salvador.
Steven Young, OFM, 31, from Canton, Massachusetts.
Friars Walter Liss, OFM, a member of the postulancy formation team, and Hugh Macsherry, OFM, witnessed their vows.
Provincial Minister Mark Soehner, OFM, of the St. John the Baptist Province, of Cincinnati, Ohio, heard the vows of:
Matthew Ryan, OFM, 48, of Covington, Kentucky.
Raphael Ozoude, OFM, 24, from Lagos, Nigeria.
Friars Timothy Lamb, OFM, and Carl Langenderfer, OFM, witnessed the vows.
Finally, Friar David Gaa, OFM, provincial minister of the St. Barbara Province, based in Oakland, California, accepted the vows of these friars:
Andrew Dinegar, OFM, 53, from New York City.
Salvador Mejia, OFM, 49, of Acambaro, Mexico.
Friars Arturo Noyes, OFM, and Larry Gosselin, OFM, were the witnesses.
After each student friar made his vows, he was presented a new cord for his habit. Instead of the simple cord with no knots worn by the novices, the newly-professed friar was dressed with a cord that had the three knots representing the three vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
The ten men then signed the official register of their respective province. Also, signing were the provincial minister and the witnesses from the province.
The assembled friars offer congratulations on their new brothers. (Photo courtesy of the author)
After all ten had made their profession of vows, the new brothers received the congratulations of the provincial ministers, the novitiate formation team, and then from all the assembled friars, including the Conventual and Capuchin novices who had shared many novitiate experiences with the newly-professed.
Unlike the Order of Friars Minor, the Conventual and Capuchin novices do not make their first profession of vows together, but will instead each return to his home province to make his vows there.
Following the vows ceremony, a lively reception was held in the novitiate dining room for everyone attending.
The newly-professed friars will now journey to spend time in their home provinces before starting studies in the fall either at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago or at the Franciscan School of Theology at the University of San Diego.
The novitiate formation team, the provincials, and the newly professed friars. (Photo courtesy of the author)
The novitiate is the second step of Franciscan formation. During the first year of formation as a postulant, the man lives, prays, and ministers with friars, but — although associated with the order — he is not yet a friar. The second step is when a man is received as a novice. For a year-and-a-day, he studies the rule and constitutions he will vow to live, develops his spirituality and knowledge of the order. At the end of the novitiate year, the man vows to live in poverty, chastity, and obedience for one year. Since these vows expire after one year, they are referred to as “simple vows.”
At the end of each year, if both the man and the province are in agreement, the vows are renewed, again for a period of one year. After the normal four years in simple vows, again with everyone in agreement, the friar makes “solemn vows,” that is, he vows to live in poverty, chastity, and obedience for the remainder of his life.
As spiritual assistant of a local fraternity of the Secular Franciscan Order, I responded to a quite racist post by a member of the fraternity about those who wish to cross our southern border. I responded by providing the members of the fraternity with the statements from the US bishops about migrants and refugees.
A member of the fraternity responded, “I feel like arguing with him!!! Open borders are creating the crisis. Attracting families to come!!!!! Should I say that to him?”To which, I responded:
Refugees vs. Migrants
I would respond by saying that refugees are different from migrants, and it’s important to know the difference. Migration at the southern border is at an all-time low. Refugees fleeing violence in their countries are the people clogging the border crossings!
Refugees have human rights internationally. These rights are among those enumerated in numerous international treaties. All countries are constitutionally obligated to accept refugees. The U.S. bishops remind us that we are also morally obligated to accept them. I’d have to say that, for me, accepting refugees seems to also be in line with Gospel values.
It is, of course, important to distinguish between true refugees and those just trying to get into the country any way they can. Under the current conditions, it is clear that most people presenting themselves at the southern border are women and children fleeing violence in their countries. This makes them true refugees deserving of human right protections.
So, what can we do to stem the tide of refugees at our borders? The most critical thing, in my opinion, is to build up their countries at home. We’ve been deporting gang members for some time now, as we should, but without any concern for what they’ll do back in their home countries. The effect has been outright lawlessness and people taking their children and fleeing the chaos which has now enveloped their countries. Instead of threatening to withhold foreign aid, that aid is the key to restoring law enforcement to these countries which have become, in effect, failed states with no ability to effectively police their own cities.
I agree that there is a crisis at the border, but it seems to be not a crisis of “open borders” but rather a crisis for an unprepared nation having problems dealing with the refugees presenting themselves at the border or to agents once they’ve crossed. As much as we’d like to think that there’s a simple solution, such as a wall, the problem in Central America has been building for some time now, and there are no easy solutions. In the short term, we need to beef up our refugee processing, and — in the longer term — work at improving living conditions in Honduras, Guatemala, etc. in order to address the root problem.
What does the Church teach about refugees?
Catechism #1911 Human interdependence is increasing and gradually spreading throughout the world. The unity of the human family, embracing people who enjoy equal natural dignity, implies a universal common good. This good calls for an organization of the community of nations able to “provide for the different needs of men; this will involve the sphere of social life to which belong questions of food, hygiene, education, . . . and certain situations arising here and there, as for example . . . alleviating the miseries of refugees dispersed throughout the world, and assisting migrants and their families.”
Catechism #2241 The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him.
Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants’ duties toward their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens.
US Bishops, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship The Gospel mandate to “welcome the stranger” requires Catholics to care for and stand with newcomers, authorized and unauthorized, including unaccompanied immigrant children, refugees and asylum-seekers, those unnecessarily detained, and victims of human trafficking. Comprehensive reform is urgently necessary to fix a broken immigration system and should include a broad and fair legalization program with a path to citizenship; a work program with worker protections and just wages; family reunification policies; access to legal protections, which include due process procedures; refuge for those fleeing persecution and violence; and policies to address the root causes of migration. The right and responsibility of nations to control their borders and to maintain the rule of law should be recognized but pursued in a just and humane manner. The detention of immigrants should be used to protect public safety and not for purposes of deterrence or punishment; alternatives to detention, including community-based programs, should be emphasized.
Inability to Accept
Now, what do we do if we find ourselves to be in disagreement with the teachings of the Catholic Church?
I think that the Church was quite wise to print the text of the catechism in different size fonts. The largest font is reserved for dogmas (e.g., “Jesus is the Son of God”) and smaller and smaller type is used for the application of these dogmas.
One could say, “I’m with the bishops on everything except the death penalty” or “I’m with the Church on everything except accepting refugees.” These are disagreements with the teachings of the Church and not with the underlying dogma.
One would hope that, in time, with prayer and reflection, one would confirm their conscience to the teachings of the Church, but it is the human condition that occasionally we fall short. It’s why we find Catholics who are actively involved with the application of the death penalty, who work with nuclear weapons, who are pro-choice, who want to refuse safety to refugees, etc. These Catholics can accept the dogmas of the Church but find it difficult to accept fully the application of that dogma, as taught by the Church.
The Church has always taught that the conscience is supreme. Catechism #1782 tells us “Man (sic) has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions. ‘He must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience (emphasis added). Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters.'” (You can see more of what the Catechism has to say about conscience here.)
The Church does say that we are obliged to correctly form our consciences, but more than anything we are obliged to follow it. If one sincerely feels in their conscience that it is wrong to assist the refugees at the border or to deny them the safety of our country, then they are obliged to follow their conscience regardless of what the bishops teach about it.
HEREFORD, Arizona—The desert is a harsh place. Without warning, dry gullies can turn into raging currents after a rainstorm, even a rainstorm miles away.
Just last August. Bulmaro Garcia Guerrero moved through the desert seeking a better life. He moved stealthily, trying to avoid the border patrol, with their dogs and heat-seeking sensors. He moved quickly up the dry gully, stopping to listen to make sure the way was safe. Then, he heard what sounded at first like a good thing in the desert: water! But the noise kept getting louder. He turned to run and tried to climb out of the side of the gully when the waters reached him. Bulmaro was 32 years old when he drowned.
Despite a decrease in migrant crossings and Border Patrol apprehensions on the southern border, the number of bodies recovered from the desert remains high. Bulmaro was one of over 6000 men, women, and children who have lost their lives crossing the US-Mexico border in the 18 years of this century.
On August 19, a group of Franciscan friars, School Sisters of Notre Dame, and like-minded lay people from around the Arizona border town of Douglas, gathered to “plant a cross” near the spot where Bulmaro drown. The group did this, as they have so many times before, to ensure that those dying in the desert are remembered, not as cold statistics, but rather as the people they were.
In a ceremony composed of a mixture of Christian and indigenous religious customs, the group commemorated Bulmaro’s life and tragic death. They prayed for his family and those who miss him. They prayed for the hundreds who will die similarly lonely deaths this year. Before leaving, the group left gifts and mementos on the cross.
“The severe and unforgiving land here is responsible for the majority of these deaths. Most die from exposure, which includes heat stroke, dehydration, and hypothermia,” said volunteer Karen Fasimpaur. “Crossings are happening in more rural and rugged areas. We’ve done cross-plantings in every corner of the county.”