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Finding Hope in the midst of the CoVid-19 Pandemic | Letter of the Minister General to the Brothers of the Order

Finding Hope in the midst of the CoVid-19 Pandemic | Letter of the Minister General to the Brothers of the Order

My dear Brothers of the Order,

In the words of our Seraphic father, May the Lord give you peace!

It has been my intention for some time to write to you once again during this particularly challenging moment in the life of the world, to update you on some of the blessings and challenges we are facing as a worldwide brotherhood, and to encourage all of us, to stay the course and keep the faith. I have chosen this date, which commemorates the approval by Pope Honorius III in 1223 of the definitive Rule and Life (Regula bulata), in order to speak to you about urgent matters weighing on all of our hearts.

Over the course of these past many months, I have been in contact with a number of the Provincials and Custodes to inquire about your well-being my dear brothers, and to communicate words of consolation, solidarity, and Christian hope. The year 2020 will forever be remembered as one in which the entire human community was brought to its knees, humbled by the Sars-CoVid-2 pathogen (hereafter, CoVid-19).  While the pandemic continues to ravage human communities, leaving in its untold suffering, it is having other serious social consequences. Families, friends, and brothers in the Order have felt the psychological and emotional impact that comes as a result of maintaining social distance, wearing protective masks, and refraining from expressing physical forms of affection, depriving us of something so vital and necessary for human life and community. The loss of jobs and livelihoods also is having a very negative impact on the lives of literally billions of people in every region of the world. People are being increasingly pushed into chronic poverty. There is an increasing sense of fear, uncertainty, powerlessness, and hopelessness.

This global pandemic and its collateral consequences are also having a serious impact on the lives of all of the Friars of the Order. Brothers of the Order have died. Others have become seriously ill and have spent time in the hospital. Still others have passed their time in quarantine, isolated from their brothers in fraternity. Even our work, our ministerial engagements in parishes, schools, social service programs, retreat work, work for justice, peace, and care for our common home have all been seriously disrupted by the pandemic. Some brothers have shared with me their bouts of depression, feelings of loneliness, their sense of a loss of autonomy and power over their lives, and even their feelings of anger and a lingering sadness in their hearts. I can understand these feelings since I also have felt them to one degree or the other.

Now more than ever, we need to invent new ways of being together, multiplying moments in which we might share the difficulties and frustrations we are experiencing, even as we respect public health norms for the common good. St. Francis reminds us in the Rule and Life: “Wherever the brothers may be and meet one another, let them show that they are members of the same family. Let each one confidently make know his need to the other, for if a mother loves and cares for her son according to the flesh, how much more diligently must someone love and care for his brother according to the Spirit!” (RB, Ch. 6).

The current health crisis has seriously altered the way we in the General Curia conduct our service to the universal brotherhood. I have not been able to visit you, my dear brothers, nor have the Definitors been able to accompany the life of your entities in a manner that expresses proximity and a ‘Franciscan personalism’. This personalism places great value on ‘face to face’ encounter, the sharing prayer, meals, and life together. We have been forced to conduct our meetings via Zoom, Skype, or some other electronic format. Despite these limitations, every effort has been made to keep the channels of communication open in the hope that we might encourage one another to keep our eyes fixed on the Lord Jesus, care for one another, and to express our solidarity with those around us who are suffering.

One further challenge that we face as a brotherhood has to do with our own financial situation. Ministers have communicated to me that a deeply troubling consequence of CoVid-19 has been a serious reduction in income even as expenses continue to rise. What results is a domino effect: local fraternities once autonomous now find themselves asking for financial assistance; Provinces and Custodies are finding it difficult to support the Friars, and even more difficult to forward to the General Curia their solidarity contributions. The Curia depends on these contributions to help support the dependent houses of the Order, and the formation and mission needs of many economically poorer entities. In addition, we also depend on revenues from the Fondazione Opera Antonianum that is responsible for overseeing the operations of the hotel Il Cantico and the Auditorium located at the Pontifical University Antonianum. The pandemic has provoked a loss of revenue. The Fondazione will not be able to make any contributions to the budget of the Curia for FY 2019, 2020, and possibly 2021. We are already feeling the pinch.

Brothers, it is my hope that in these difficult moments you are finding increased time to focus on what really matters for our lives. As our General Constitutions remind us, we are “bound to lead a radically evangelical life…in a spirit of prayer and devotion, and in fraternal fellowship…a witness of penance and minority…in charity towards all…preaching reconciliation, peace and justice…and to show respect for creation” (Art. 1 §2). This living of the Gospel life provides us with a spiritual grounding in times of trial and suffering. The fraternity should be an oasis of hope, a place where we draw strength from the kindness and care we show towards one another. It also is important that we indulge in self-care, including exercise, reading, prayer and study, strengthening our bodies, minds and hearts to stay the course. Our commitment to be brothers to all people should lead us to engage in a deeper reflection on the many social fractures – economic, political, social, the various forms of growing inequalities, racism and other ‘isms’ – the other ‘viruses’ – that undermine the common good and commitment to global solidarity.

Let us ask for an outpouring of knowledge and insight to guide scientists, doctors, and health care professionals in their quest for vaccines, therapies to reduce consequences of CoVid-19 infection, and in the general care of those most adversely affected. Let us call upon the wisdom of Solomon for our political leaders, that they might pursue the common good, recognize the frustrations and anger of the people whom they are called to care for and serve, and find new ways to accompany those most in need of special assistance. Let us reach out our hands and arms to embrace our brothers and sisters, figuratively, sharing our time and our precious resources with those most in need as a clear sign that we are all connected, we are all members of the one family of God, brothers and sisters journeying together on the road that is leading us towards the full realization of God’s kingdom in the now and the hereafter. In the words of Pope Francis, may the tragedy of the CoVid-19 pandemic help shatter “those false and superfluous certainties around which we constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities…[so that we may come to] the ineluctable and blessed awareness that we are part of one another, that we are brothers and sisters of one another” (Fratelli tutti! 32).

As we commemorate all the Saints of the Order, let us pray that, with the help of God, the intercession of St. Francis, all our Franciscan saints, and Mary, Queen of the Franciscan Order, we may rekindle our initial fervor and recommit ourselves to live the Rule and Life proposed by St. Francis and approved by Pope Honorius III. Let us draw strength from the faithful witness of our Franciscan saints who also experienced many challenges but who were able to keep alive the love and hope they had received from the beginning of their Gospel journey. Let us renew our commitment to be men of hope, loving brothers to one another, seekers of authentic justice, peace, promoters of kindness, fraternity, and solidarity towards all people and the entire created universe. Let us look forward with active anticipation to the General Chapter of 2021, when we come together to reflect and to embrace the theme of the Chapter: Renewing Our Vision, Embracing our Future – “Arise… and Christ will give you light (Eph 5:14)! God is here! Hope is near!

In conclusion, I invite you to pray with me the following words from the “Praises of God” composed by St. Francis and entrusted to Br. Leo at La Verna in 1224:

You are beauty, You are meekness,
You are the protector, You are our custodian and defender,
You are our strength, You are refreshment. You are our hope!
You are our faith, You are our charity,
You are all our sweetness, You are our eternal life:
Great and wonderful Lord, Almighty God, Merciful Savior. AMEN.

Rome, November 29, 2020
Feast of all the Saints of the Seraphic Order

Fraternally yours,

Br. Michael A. Perry, OFM
Minister General and Servant

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Prot. MG 168/2020

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THE FRANCISCAN EXPERIENCE & RESPONSE: COVID19 & BEYOND – Video conference of the Order about COVID-19

THE FRANCISCAN EXPERIENCE & RESPONSE: COVID19 & BEYOND – Video conference of the Order about COVID-19

On 29th April the Order held a high-level online consultation on the Order’s response and learnings from the global COVID19 crisis. Attendees include the General Minister, Br. Michael Perry, and representatives from Missionszentrale der Franziskaner, Franciscans International, Franciscan Mediterranean Network, Franciscan Network on Migration (RFM), representatives from the JPIC Animation Committee and JPIC Conference coordinators.

The participants talked about how the COVID19 pandemic has exacerbated social and economic divisions in society. There is a fear that the pandemic will see more deaths from poverty than from the virus itself. The lockdowns and the economic slowdown have seen a disproportionate loss of income amongst those living at the peripheries. The immediate need we face is the call for food and safe shelter.

With the growth of “strong man” governments around the world, there is a growing lack of trust in government by those at the margins. Restriction to protect people’s health are often viewed as a denying the human rights of people. The lack of consideration of the needs of marginal communities has seen the poor delivery of medical and support services and conflicts with the police. There is an increased feeling amongst marginalized people that they are forgotten and “voiceless”.

Fear of the stranger has grown during this crisis. While borders may have been closed for health reasons there has also been a hardening of heart against non-citizens. This is being expressed in fear of strangers, racism and harsher rhetoric against foreigners, particularly refugees. Migrants are often being told to “go home” and not included in support programs.

Governments are already discussing plans for economic recovery from the pandemic. There is a fear that their economic models are not people focused. Already we are seeing discussions by governments about the weakening of laws in the areas of climate change, environmental protection and workers’ rights, to promote economic growth. Who benefits from this notion of economic growth?

There are challenges and opportunities presented to the Order by the pandemic experience.

In the period of lockdown and social isolation people have increasingly turned to support from family and their local community. That support is not only material but spiritual.  People are not just sharing food but communal songs, stories and art. There is a renewed sense of belonging to a local community. In lockdowns and social isolation, we are discovering we need each other.

A dramatic drop in pollution in urban areas, caused by the economic slowdown, has opened the eyes of people to the potential of what the world could look like if we acted to care more deeply for the environment.

The online conference had a discernment discussion on how God was calling the Order to respond through these “signs of the times.”

We asked the question: Are the friars prepared to serve with those at the periphery? It was proposed that we need to look to ensure formation experiences lead friars into the life of the marginalized, help them embrace the leper, and see the world through their eyes. In times of struggle we need to have our hearts in the right place to be able to give what little we have to those most in need.

Our Order’s international networks, which provide mutual support and understanding, sharing of resources and give a voice to those at the peripheries, are a strength of the Order.

Our ministries could be enhanced, at both the global and local level, by increased dialogue and cooperation with those with expertise in community development. Too often we focus just on the immediate material needs of people rather than acting to support community development and resilience.

The call of God to St Francis, “Go rebuild my House”, is God’s call to us today. Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ and social teachings are a prophetic challenge to our Order.

Our Franciscan spirituality, with its focus on fraternity and the environment, does have something to say to the world today. However, they cannot remain ideas! Our spirituality, our development of model of an Economy of Care and the teachings from Laudato Si’ need to be made concrete in the lives of the friars and the communities in which they serve.



Br. Joe McKay, OFM
JPIC Coordinator of SAAOC – Brisbane

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Message of the Minister General for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2019

Message of the Minister General for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2019

 

You shall appoint judges and officials throughout your tribes, in all your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, and they shall render just decisions for the people. You must not distort justice; you must not show partiality; and you must not accept bribes, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of those who are in the right. Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, so that you may live and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

– Deuteronomy 16: 18-20

My dear brothers of the Order of Friars Minor,
and all brothers, sisters and friends of our Franciscan Family,

May the Lord give you all His peace!

“Justice and only justice you shall pursue (Dt 16:20)” is the theme that the Christian Communities of Indonesia have chosen for this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. It is a theme that is both honest and urgent. It is honest because, as the drafting committee stated in its letter introducing it, “Every year Christians across the world gather in prayer for growth in unity. We do this in a world where corruption, greed and injustice bring about inequality and division. Ours is a united prayer in a fractured world.” Indeed, our prayerful unity is “powerful.”

 

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It is here that the urgency of this year’s theme confronts us. For whenever we open our eyes to the injustices that surround us – and also infect us since we, too, are sinners who groan for the full measure of God’s Reign in our world (cf. Rm 8: 19-21) – we cannot but hear the Lord calling us to follow in His footsteps and, together, continue His mission of bringing the Good News of God’s healing love to all His suffering children. As our sisters and brothers in Indonesia went onto state,

Christian communities in such an environment become newly aware of their unity as they join in a common concern and a common response to an unjust reality. At the same time, confronted by these injustices, we are obliged, as Christians, to examine the ways in which we are complicit. Only by heeding Jesus’s prayer ‘that they all may be one’ can we witness to living unity in diversity. It is through our unity in Christ that we will be able to combat injustice and serve the needs of its victims.

We do not have to look very far to see examples of such unity-in-action in our world. In fact, many of us are already engaged in it with sisters and brothers of other Christian communities as together we confront the injustices of human trafficking in Asia, rare-earth strip-mining in Africa, deforestation in Latin America, systemic racism in North America, and the victimization of refugees by resurgent nationalist ideologues in Europe.

Of course, we do not engage in the pursuit of justice as strangers to sin, for to make such a claim is to make a liar of our Lord (cf. 1 Jn 1:10). We do so as people who give freely what our Lord Himself has given freely to us (cf. Mt 10:8): the gifts of compassion and mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation, and the gift of our very selves poured out that others may know, in the very fabric of their lives, the full measure of God’s love for them. This past July in the Italian city of Bari, Pope Francis referred precisely to this faith-filled dynamic of discipleship when, in fellowship with Christian leaders from across the Middle East, he spoke of our common vocation as Christians in that tortured region of our world,

I am most grateful for this graced moment of sharing. As brothers and sisters, we have helped one another to appreciate anew our presence as Christians in the Middle East. This presence will be all the more prophetic to the extent that it bears witness to Jesus, the Prince of Peace (cf. Is 9:5). Jesus does not draw a sword; instead, he asks his disciples to put it back in its sheath (cf. Jn 18:11). Our way of being Church is also tempted by worldly attitudes, by a concern for power and profit, for quick and convenient solutions. Then too, there is the reality of our sinfulness, the disconnect between faith and life that obscures our witness. We sense our need for renewed conversion to the Gospel, the guarantee of authentic freedom, and our need to do so urgently, as the Middle East endures a night of agony. As in the agony of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, it will not be flight(cf. Mt 26:56) or the sword(cf. Mt 26:52) that will lead to the radiant dawn of Easter. Instead, it will be our gift of self, in imitation of the Lord.

“In imitation of the Lord…” These words should resonate deeply within the hearts of us for whom the Holy Gospel is our Rule and Lifeand, indeed, deepen our commitment to the graced work of the Ecumenical Movement: to restore the unity of Christ’s Body that we sinners have broken into pieces. As the Second Vatican Council taught, our division “openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the world, and damages the holy cause of preaching the Gospel to every creature (Unitatis redintegratio, 1).” To the extent that we Christians are able to beHis One Body, the Gospel we proclaim becomes more credible and effective in our world. Correspondingly, to the degree that we Franciscans contribute to rebuilding this unity, the more fully we live the grace of our vocation and becomethat Good News for the women and men of our wounded world.

My dear brother friars, and all sisters, brothers and friends of our Franciscan family, throughout this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity may the justice of the Gospel be our pursuit, and may the grace that animates its pursuit heal us of our of own sins and draw us into ever deeper and stronger bonds of communion with all who call upon the name of the Lord, that His prayer may be fulfilled in us for the sake of the life of the world for which He died and rose again:

As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth. “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me (Jn 17: 18-21).

With every blessing to you all in your service of the Gospel, I remain,

Peace and all good,

Br. Michael A. Perry, OFM
General Minister and Servant

Appendix

The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the World Council of Churches have prepared resources in English, French, German, Portuguese, and Spanish:

 

These and other resources are available online in English and Spanish from the Greymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute, a ministry of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement:

 

 

 

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#FriarFriday – Hate Cannot Be Allowed to Win

#FriarFriday – Hate Cannot Be Allowed to Win

It is almost unthinkable that we as a nation find ourselves in this same place again. As I saw the images of scores of neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and others spewing hateful slogans and carrying torches in the streets of Charlottesville, it was an image that I had hoped was lost to history. It recalled the infamous Kristallnacht in 1938 when German Nazi’s ferociously removed Jewish people from their homes into concentration camps. It was reminiscent of pictures from at least 100 years ago of the KKK marching similarly throughout the South, including marching on our nation’s capital.

This is also a moment when it is crystal clear what people of faith are called to do. Some have called for dialogue saying that both sides should come together and discuss their differences in a civil manner. But, with all due respect to dialogue, this is not a time for dialogue. There are not two equally valid sides to this debate that dialogue will shed light on. Racism is a clear evil and we do not dialogue with evil. We don’t find a compromise with evil. To dialogue with evil is to validate its argument as worthy of consideration.

Instead, this is a moment that is calling forth the fullness and strength of our faith in Jesus Christ. We are all being called upon to stand up, to publicly renounce, to reject this resurgent sin once again. We are called to speak up and speak out in peaceful, prayerful, and non-violent ways. Martin Luther King Jr., famously and correctly said, “Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the one who wields it. It is a sword that heals.”

Our faith is based on a simple yet powerful notion – that all people are created by God and because of that possess an inherent dignity that cannot be taken away. Because of this we are all brothers and sisters in God’s great family and that is true if we are black or white, if we are rich or poor, if we are gay or straight, American or not, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or atheist. Nothing can change this or take it away. This is our faith. And we must stand up and be heard especially when anyone wants to offer an ideology that counters or denies this truth.

We know that this evil is not limited to our own shores as we have watched yet another terror attack, this time in Barcelona. Our prayers are with all of those who have been killed or injured through these acts of evil. And we pray for all of those who have the courage to stand up in the face of evil to denounce it, to reject it to call it out and to work so that our world may be a better, more loving, kind, and united place.

Love’s voice must be louder than hate’s. Kindness must overwhelm prejudice. Concern for all must silence racism. Let us be the people who join the great chorus and speak love into our world, the love that wipes out the darkness of evil and sin.

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