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franciscan - May 1999

© Copyright, The Society of Saint Francis, 1999

Minister's Letter

Brother Damian, Minister Provincial of the Brothers European Province of the Society of Saint Francis, writes:

A Southern African city today contains virtually all the familiar hallmarks of our typical western world. Wimpy Bars and Woolworths have claimed their place in the new, ultra-modern shopping malls. Fast cars take the outer lanes of the freeways. The only difference is that you take your brolly as protection against sun rather than shower.

My month away during February and March, to the Tertiaries in South Africa and also to visit the six CDC brothers and Roger Alexander SSF in Zimbabwe, reminded me that cities have become stereotyped the world over. But then it is the cities that first attract political investment, with their expensive office accommodation, sophisticated security surrounding work and home, more busyness with bulging diaries and memory systems, not to mention the cell-phone which is a must, whoever you are.

What a splendid breeding ground for Franciscan witness. I was delighted to learn that the Third Order has been growing in Southern Africa and the potential is enormous. With an average of eighty percent of the population still belonging to a place of worship, God must surely be calling many to ‘repair my house’ which is fast falling into nominal membership. For new Tertiaries in Durban or Harare, the response is clear and it is challenging. Our brother, Bishop Desmond Tutu, has contributed incalculably towards the new South Africa: now (and it will take some generations yet) is the time when the second phase of that vision is being worked out at the grass roots, where the colour question is addressed within parish congregations, or the creating of equal opportunities, or the koinonia into which Christ has called us, can be celebrated. As Franciscans in our three Orders, we offer poverty which can so readily be shown as a spirit of generosity – (‘buckets of generosity’ is a phrase I connect with Brother Samuel at Hilfield); and by our discipline of chastity we identify with the Lord’s unconditional love for all (and especially those who look as if they have been left out of the circle); and in our witness to obedience to Christ within the fellowship, we show that freedom which we discover for ourselves when we seek to identify and follow his will.

In South Africa, I was surprised to meet up with individuals who are earnestly wanting to live a First Order rule, and even one small group of three in KwaZulu Natal who are showing remarkable courage in attempting to live together in simplicity and joy as an African response to the call of Saint Francis. I believe also that our brothers of the Community of the Divine Compassion in Zimbabwe, which began with Brother Geoffrey in 1986, and who are now I suppose ‘teenagers’ in the maturing process, are in remarkably good shape. Their situation at Penhalonga, where our Brother Benedict had until a year ago been the local parish priest, is not an easy one because at present a clear task or ministry is not open to them. However, with Brother John Kaoma lecturing at the Africa University nearby and Brother Meshack having just gained his Pitman’s Diploma in accountancy, they are building up both inner and professional resources which I found impressive. A good atmosphere in the common life of a community can carry you through many a difficulty.

And that is an overall impression I gained on this short tour: vision, potential, expectation and a longing for things to come together. As I summed up my thoughts with Bishop Michael Nuttall, the local TSSF Protector, now seems to be the right time to offer encouragement, for the Holy Spirit may well be stirring, raising up Franciscan witnesses for the African Church, and that we should be ready to apply those principles recommended by Gamaliel (Acts 5.34ff) that if this is ‘truly of God, you will not be able to stop them.’

The people of South Africa are about to hold their elections, with Zimbabwe expecting to do the same next year. The faces of the leadership are expected to change. Such problems as the value of currencies continue to weaken against the pound and dollar. The challenges they face are enormous and how they approach them may not exactly correspond with our own ideas. Now is not the time for European leadership in either place. Rather, now is a time for encouragement, for friendship, for the practice of koinonia, and for regular prayer. In Bishop Desmond’s words to his rainbow people: ‘God wants us to be the alternative society. Where there is harsh-ness and insensitivity, we must be com-passionate and caring. Where people are statistics, we must show they count as being of immense value to God. Where there is grasping and selfishness, we must be a sharing community now.’ Those are words for Franciscan-minded people everywhere! §


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