franciscan - September 2001
© The Society of Saint Francis, 2001
Brother Daniel SSF, Minister General of the First Order Brothers, writes:
One of the things which is often said to me and to many of the other brothers and sisters is, ‘Join the Franciscans and see the world’. If we mean by that ‘See the Franciscan world’, then there is much truth in the remark, for I certainly have the joy of visiting and sharing in the life of our Friaries around the world. Recently there was an extra joy.
On Easter Tuesday, I left Brisbane for London, where I met up with Sister Teresa, Minister General of the First Order Sisters, and together we flew to Italy to attend the International Franciscan Conference of the Third Order Regular, held in Assisi. This conference takes place every four years and we were invited to attend in order that there be more collaboration with Anglican Franciscans.
The meetings were held at Domus Pacis, which is next to Saint Mary-of-the-Angels. The welcome we received was wonderful and, from the moment of our arrival, we were made to feel at home and part of the group. Although there were 230 participants, we were in no way sidelined and our contributions were welcomed, even to the sharing of different cultures. There were five of us who came from the British Isles and, as our contribution to the entertainment, we sang songs from Ireland, Scotland and Yorkshire. The interpretation of the lyrics caused great hilarity.
Three very interesting and stimulating papers were presented, instantaneous translations being available in English, French, German, Italian and Spanish. The first paper was by Sister Madge Karecki IFC-TOR, entitled ‘The Incarnation: A Franciscan Perspective’; we looked at the development of Franciscan thought on the theology of the Incarnation. One particular quotation I would like to share: ‘Francis and Clare saw in the Eucharist the pattern of all Christian living. They allowed themselves to be broken bread and blood outpoured for others. Their emphasis on adoration is not a pious practice but an act in which they acknowledge their utter sense of awe and wonder at the God who manifests himself in poverty, and in so simple a food as bread, and who does this all out of love.’
The second paper was entitled ‘Social Aspects of the Incarnation’ and was presented by Sister Iniga SSA, who spoke with great energy and passion. I wish I had made more notes, but was so enthralled and caught up with the presentation that I didn’t manage this very often. One quotation which I did note was: ‘Within [the Apostles’] limits, they created something new, an equal society, going counter to existing imperial and cosmic currents. They enshrined their dream in three fundamental symbols. First, a prayer which addressed God as Father of the human family on their earth where God’s kingdom will come and be embodied in food, love and security for all. Second, a faith that makes humans a community of equals who hold everything in common, do everything together and share everything in love. And third, a gesture of breaking bread and sharing food in a community of equals, in which the kingdom in process is being realised, countering class ideologies, subverting structures of domination and committing itself to struggles for liberation.’
The final presentation was equally thought-provoking. Father Gwenole Jeusset OFM gave a lecture entitled ‘The Incarnation in relation to other religions, specifically Islam.’ In this paper, we were led to see how Islam, being one of the faiths of the people of the Book, has a great problem with the idea of God becoming flesh – Incarnation. He pointed out that, ‘For this age, the message of Francis meeting the Sultan may be more important than that of Francis meeting the leper’; ‘Christians in Islamic lands know that discussions aimed at convincing and converting another person are useless, even dangerous’; and that, ‘The Good News is often limited to being spread only through witnessing to our ability to love and forgive.’
When one returns home, it is always very hard to communicate the spirit and joy experienced in a conference: the interaction at table, in chapel and discussion groups, to say nothing of the many friendly chats. Both Teresa and I came away with the knowledge that we had made many new friends and had been enriched in so many ways, not least by the fact that we had spent a week in Assisi surrounded by so much of Francis and Franciscan history. We rejoiced in the fact that one of the resolutions of the Assembly was ‘To create and promote communion and collaboration with Anglican and other Franciscan groups.’
I am sure Teresa will join with me in saying how thankful we are to the Ministers’ Meeting for encouraging us to attend and to our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters for their kind invitation. It underlines the need for us all to work and to pray for unity, especially as we have so much in common in our Franciscan heritage. f
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