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Looking forward to WYD Lisbon 2023 with “Franciscan joy and Christian hope”

One year before World Youth Day, which will gather young people from around the world in Lisbon from 1 to 6 August 2023, the Order of Friars Minor has announced its participation in the event. Accordingly, the General Office for Justice Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) of the OFM Curia visited the Order’s Portuguese Province and the organising committee of the next WYD in early August to put forward its proposals and offer its collaboration. On his return from Lisbon, Br Daniel Nicolas R. Blanco, head of the General Curia’s JPIC office, reported on the success of the talks: “My visit was aimed at getting to know the fraternity of Lisbon and the JPIC animators of Portugal, as well as the working group that is organising the next WYD”.

Br Daniel met Br Fernando Mota, OFM, Minister Provincial of Portugal, Br Nicolás Hipólito de Almeida, OFM, Guardian of the Immaculate Conception Friary, and also Fabián Campos, representative of the Laudato Si’ Movement (LSM). “The friars all expressed their enthusiasm and willingness to collaborate,” explained Br Daniel, “Our participation will be articulated in different ways, based on Franciscan spirituality. We want to promote the values of the encyclicals Laudato Si’ and Fratelli Tutti”.

Br. Daniel Nicolas R. Blanco with the friars of the Portuguese Province

Minister General Br Massimo Fusarelli will also be present for the occasion and will participate in one of the planned initiatives yet to be defined. Next October, in fact, there will be another meeting in which the individual proposals of the Franciscans will be discussed in more detail, ranging from catechesis in different places and languages to the organisation of a Franciscan march, a Franciscan concert and an ecological village.

The friars from Portugal and Br Daniel also had a meeting with the local WYD Lisbon 2023 team. Welcoming them to the organisation’s headquarters was Carmo Diniz, Coordinator of the Office of Dialogue and Proximity, which is part of the Local Organising Committee (LOC) of WYD. Carmo Diniz presented them with the sustainability programme of WYD 2023 to reduce the event’s environmental impact, a theme that is very close to the heart of the animators of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation.

During this visit, it was decided to involve the entire Franciscan Family of Portugal, whose president is Br Fernando Mota, OFM, in the organisation of WYD and Franciscan activities. In addition, the Conventual and Capuchin friars of Portugal will also collaborate, and two of the Franciscan patron saints of WYD will be presented to the pilgrims: St Anthony of Lisbon and Blessed Maria Clara of the Child Jesus. “We look forward to WYD with Franciscan joy and Christian hope in the spirit of peace,” commented Brother Daniel. “It will be a meeting in Europe, after the pandemic, in a Europe where there is war. We will pray for peace”.

Beatrice Guarrera

Br André Murhabale re-elected Minister Provincial

The Provincial Chapter of the Franciscan Province of Congo re-elected Br André MURHABALE as Minister Provincial and elected Br José NZAU as Vicar Provincial. The Provincial Definitory is composed of Br Marie Pascal RUSHURA, Br Godefroid ILUNGA, Br Clément MUTUTA and Br Arsène ULRICH.

Speaking alongside the Chapter, which began on 8 August and ended on Saturday 13, in Kolwezi, Br André said. “With the new government, we will try to carry forward the programme entrusted to us by the capitulars, especially in the initial formation of young people who embrace our form of life”. Furthermore, and to respond to the demands of today’s world, Br André presented the project of opening a Franciscan university. “One of the challenges we currently face is to start a new university of the friars to be opened in Kolwezi next October, to respond effectively to the demands of today’s world”.

The friar also expressed concern about the war in North Kivu that has caused so many deaths and still forces tens of thousands of people to leave their homes. “We should work to strengthen fraternal communion, strengthen our fraternities, to be true witnesses of brotherhood of cohesion and peace, in a Congo torn apart by divisions and wars. My thoughts go to the friars who courageously work in our communities in North Kivu, where armed groups, insecurity and mass killings have increased in recent months”.

The Franciscan presence in Congo dates back to 1920, when several Franciscan missionaries of different nationalities and origins – Belgians, Croatians, Americans, Poles – opened missions, thus beginning Franciscan life in Africa’s largest country.

Mother Renata Maria: “The fraternal life in the cloister offers us the opportunity of learning to love”.

On the occasion of today’s Solemnity of St Clare, Br Massimo Fusarelli, Minister General, wrote a letter to the Poor Clares. Mother Maria Renata, Abbess of the Monastery of St Mary of Monteluce in S. Erminio (Perugia, Italy), commented with us on some passages of the letter, recounting the experience of the Poor Clares.

“This year, we are once again provoked to ask ourselves what the core of our vocation is and how it can give light and hope to this difficult time,” Br Massimo Fusarelli wrote. How do you, Poor Clares, perceive this difficult time?

I am so impressed by the number of people who write and phone us, asking for prayers. It really is a sign that we are there, and that people trust in the power of prayer. At the same time, this makes me realise that people know there is one more possibility than a purely human, “horizontal” view might think when faced with difficulties because of work, because of the pandemic. There really is this “more”, which then is Providence, God’s intervention in history, which remains the greatest hope for all.

What does it mean for you sisters to bring hope to the world today and to cross the night of life together?

Bringing hope is not just saying words of comfort; bringing hope is also taking on the burden of people’s hearts, fears, doubts, and suffering. So many people write to us who contact us, including many sick people. So giving hope is crossing the night with people, glimpsing the lights of dawn. These lights of dawn are the certain, firm faith that history is in the hands of the Lord, that history is not in the hands of the powerful in the great story of the world, but in the story of each person, that everything walks towards Him, in whom we first believe. Believing this, we can truly face the problems and difficulties that our lives go through with serenity.

Even when we suffer, suffering affects us all. We suffer with the Lord, and we know that we are not alone and can ask the Lord for the gift of hope because the Lord loves us and loves us completely. That is why we can join in people’s suffering with them: in sickness, in the problem of work, in the division of the family, in the suffering of having to leave the earth. I can join people in suffering because I know and believe that the authoritative word of hope can penetrate their night, making them see the light of dawn.

The Minister General wrote: “Clare shows the sisters the path of love and mutual care as the sure way to cherish the gift of vocation and choice”. How do you live this concretely?

The particularity of our life, which is given precisely by the enclosure, is a close sharing of everything: time, space, daily life, work, prayer at feast time, and recreation. Enclosure puts the heart in a corner. It opens it up to the possibility of change. In fraternal life, there are various ways of practising this. For example, closing oneself off from relationships or thinking that it is always others who must change. The opportunity that a cloistered fraternity life such as ours offers is precisely that of learning to love, learning to love in the concrete, caring for the sisters, sharing one’s time, sharing one’s labours, even during the meetings where we tell each other about ourselves. This changes the heart. Fraternal life strips away, it lays bare what dwells within our hearts, but it truly allows us to change it by grace.

What message would you leave to the youth of today?

I would like to tell them not to be afraid to give everything, not to be fearful of the radicality of a life, of a choice, which is first and foremost a response to love. Any form of life, not just our own, needs radicality, needs someone to throw themselves into it to the full. Clare and Francis did this: they showed us the beauty of a humanity accomplished and fulfilled to the end because they gave everything and even more, they received everything.

Br Massimo Fusarelli: ‘Let us learn with Clare to love freely to the end.’

“Clare was able to come to terms with the death she carried within her, thanks to her unceasing search for the Lord, to remaining in the footsteps of his blessed footsteps. Here she learned to come to terms with death even through her illness, learning to love gratuitously to the end, just as she discovered that she was loved without measure”. Br Massimo Fusarelli, Minister General, said this on 10 August, during the Vigil of the Transitus of St Clare at San Damiano, the place where the Saint lived and died.

In front of the Franciscan family, religious and pilgrims who flocked to San Damiano, Br Massimo explained the importance of the transitus for our days: “To recall tonight her transitus in this place, where she lived like the dove in the cleft of the rock, learning to wash the feet of the sisters and the poor, and from these blessed feet learning to recognise the presence of the Lord Jesus, is a great gift for me and each of us”.

The Minister concluded his homily by referring to the figure of St Francis, who “welcomed Sister Clare to the plain where the young Clare’s journey began: to the Portiuncula”. He added: “Here Francis from heaven accompanied Clare to the encounter with her Lord, the mature fruit of the love with which she had always sought and desired him”.

The journey of spiritual preparation for the feast of St Clare in Assisi had begun with the novena from 2 to 9 August. It ended on the eve of 10 August with First Vespers, and Mass of the Solemnity presided over by Archbishop Domenico Sorrentino, Bishop of Assisi – Nocera Umbra – Gualdo Tadino and Bishop of Foligno, and the Vigil at St Damiano, presided over by the Minister General. This morning, on the Solemnity of St Clare, Mass was celebrated in the Basilica of St Clare by Archbishop Vittorio Francesco Viola ofm, Archbishop Secretary of the Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. At 5.30 p.m., Br Francesco Piloni ofm, Minister Provincial of the Friars Minor of Umbria-Sardinia, presided at Second Vespers.

Morocco: Franciscan presence in dialogue and support for migrants

A Church that can dialogue with the local people and take care of the Christian minority of migrants: this is the call to which the friars working in Morocco have responded. A crossroads of peoples and a key junction for the route of migrants who want to reach Europe from various places, Morocco today is also a landing place for young students from all over Africa and workers from Southeast Asia. Franciscan friars have been working there for 800 years, since the time of St Francis when, in the early winter of 1219, five friars arrived in Marrakech on a mission, which ended in their martyrdom. Today there is an international community of 21 friars from 12 countries, distributed in six fraternities in Rabat, Marrakech, Meknes, Larache, Tétouan and Tangier. This was recounted by Br Stéphane Delavelle, elected last April to lead Morocco’s Custody of the Protomartyrs. The other friars present come from Brazil, the Philippines, Spain, Congo, Poland, Italy, France, the Philippines, Mexico, Costa Rica, Croatia and Colombia and are engaged daily on different fronts in the service of the people. They accompany four parishes and three cultural centres, participate in the animation of Caritas, visit prisons and animate several chaplaincies. They also support the Poor Clare Monastery in Casablanca, affiliated to the Order of Friars Minor as of 16 May 2019.

Br Stéphane has lived in Morocco for ten years. “Besides prayer and fraternal life, what we do here is a dialogue that takes place daily in our lives,” he says. “Ninety-nine per cent of the population is Muslim, there are about 4,000 Jews and only 39,000 Christians. That means we are only 0.1 per cent of the population”. The Franciscans thus try to get in touch with the Muslim population through cultural centres, which are places of formation and meeting, rather than universities. The success of these almost entirely free training centres is testified by the numbers, as Br Stéphane says: “Before Covid, in one of the centres we had 1900 students, 40 professors and only 106 chairs”.

The Franciscans are also involved in animating the parishes, which have about 250 parishioners every Sunday. “The parishioners are all young; the majority are students who come from African countries,” says the friar. “The future of Africa is here. For them, who have lost all bearings and are far from home, the church is like an island in the middle of the ocean”. They come from Africa, the Pacific Islands, and Haiti; they benefit from scholarships and meet with temporary workers from Europe, the United States or even the Philippines.

In Marrakech, the friars of the parish are engaged in pastoral work for tourists, students, and migrant workers. In Rabat, on the other hand, pastoral care must reach mainly English-speaking faithful who are Filipino or Nigerian workers. Spanish is also widely used, especially for the pastoral care of those in prisons whom the friars visit. In Meknes, the Franciscan community, located in the city centre, takes care of a training centre with about 1,800 students. In addition, a small fraternity of two friars maintains the Franciscan presence in Larache, near the sea. Finally, in Tangier, the friars serve two churches with Spanish-speaking faithful and the ten communities of sisters there.

“The humanitarian aid we offer is often emergency aid,” says Br Stéphane, “There are many minors who transit through Morocco with the hope of being able to go elsewhere. But unfortunately, it often happens that, a few months after their arrival and having finally decided to start a new life or education, they suddenly decide to leave. If they feel there is a real possibility of crossing the border and arriving in Europe, they leave everything and go. For them, the only prospect is to cross to the other side”. After all, Morocco is a transit country, but for many, an extreme attempt to reach Europe can be fatal. “Many die at sea,” the friar continues. “There is no longer room in Christian cemeteries for the bodies of the dead, and it is difficult for everyone to witness this situation”. The friars, for their part, try to continue to live among the people and stand by them even in difficult moments. “In Meknes, for example, our friary is in a small street in the medina. We live with very little, and people see that we live with them, like them”.

The strong bonds created with people go beyond differences and religions when we allow ourselves the space to be challenged by the faith of others. “In my own personal journey, I have found that I can learn from others,” explains Br Stéphane. “It is important to allow oneself to be changed by the faith of the other, and it is a form of deep friendship to take an example from the faith of the other”.

Being a missionary in a country with a Muslim majority is a vocation that also requires a readiness to offer oneself for the needs that arise daily. “We need mature friars, who bear witness to the faith with their lives and are willing to learn French, Spanish and Arabic,” continues Br Stéphane. “We must get into the mindset that the things we believe must become existential. Here we must not think about being efficient or effective, but we must know how to live in small communities that maintain a Christian presence. I like to see this as an ongoing challenge. Here in Morocco, we will certainly not find recognition for what we do, and we will not see the results of our actions in the people who leave suddenly and never return. That is why staying is difficult if you do not have hope. We are part of an international fraternity, and I am very happy about that”.

Beatrice Guarrera

The Minister General at the International Youth Festival in Medjugorje

Br Massimo Fusarelli OFM, Minister General, took part in the 33rd International Youth Festival in Medjugorje on 2 and 3 August last, invited by the Apostolic Visitator Archbishop Aldo Cavalli. “I spent the days of 2 and 3 August in Medjugorje. I had the opportunity to pray with the pilgrims, to listen to the stories and lives of the many young people, and I breathed an atmosphere of great recollection and celebration“. These are the words of Br Massimo Fusarelli, who celebrated Mass on 2 August, the day of the feast of the Pardon of Assisi (here is the full text of his homily). The following day he gave a catechesis – translated into 18 languages – taking inspiration from the Gospel passage “Matthew 11:28-30” (here is the full text of the catechesis). According to the organisers, more than 50,000 young people from almost every country in the world attended this Festival.

“I was struck by a very broad, recollected and concentrated participation. This attention surprised me; it was something unexpected and beautiful. The Eucharist was a special moment for the sense of forgiveness and peace, themes that have a typically Franciscan trait that is very much alive here (Medjugorje ed.). The catechesis was a time of great availability and aimed at listening and growth. The confessions were a vital element of my trip. Seeing young people from all corners of the world experiencing that moment in great silence and attention impressed me, and it will be something that I will take with me,” Br Massimo concluded his impressions of his presence in the Marian shrine.

The Holy Father also sent a message to the many young people who flocked to the event: “Because the true remedy for humanity’s wounds is a style of life based on fraternal love, which has its root in love of God. Walking together with Him and imitating Him, you will learn from Him. He is a Master who does not impose on others the burdens he does not carry. He addresses the humble, the small and the poor because He made himself poor and humble. And to learn, first of all, one must be humble and acknowledge one’s own ignorance and the pride that makes us think we can do everything by ourselves and with our own strength. It is necessary to keep an eye open to the Word of the Master. In this way one learns his heart, his love, his way of thinking, seeking and acting. It takes courage to stay close to him and to imitate him”.


Francesco Stefanini

(Photo Credit: Informativni Centar Mir Međugorje)

Letter of the Minister General to the Poor Sisters for the Solemnity of Saint Clare, 2022

Dear Sisters, May the Lord give you peace!

The solemnity of our mother, St Clare, returns in this year marked not only by the pandemic but also by the war in Ukraine and other forms of conflict. There are also social tensions and climatic and economic crises in so many countries, where you poor sisters and we friars minor are present and live out our vocation and choice.

This year too, we are challenged to ask ourselves again what the centre of our vocation is and how it can give light and hope to this difficult time.

For this reason, I have returned to the Testament of St Clare through prayerful reading. I would like to collect with you some of its passages that seem to me to help us to say an important word to seek a point of synthesis that allows us to unify the different elements of the vocation and choice received. This point seems to be summarised as follows: “take care”, that is, live the gift received with vigilance and attention, let it grow for the good of the Church, pilgrim among hu  mankind. In the Testament, Clare gives us some words for this “taking care”.

“Among the other gifts that we have received and continue to receive from our magnanimous Father of mercies and for which we must express the deepest thanks to our glorious God, there is our vocation”. (Test 2)

Clare expresses her gratitude to the Father through Francis for the vocation, which she welcomes with her sisters as a gift from above.

I wonder with you how much this awareness of the gift received and to be returned to the Father through a life of mercy and joy is alive in us. Are we aware that we are responding to a gift received, which we do not give ourselves, but which we welcome and are called to welcome and return in gratitude and joy in the different places we live? In the areas that have the gift of vocations and those that do not, in the more tranquil situations and in those that are tenser on a social level, where we are caught up in the repercussions of an ever more profound cultural change of mentality? This availability opens the way for us to keep our vocation alive and fruitful today.

“After the most high heavenly Father saw fit in mercy and grace to enlighten my heart that I might do penance, I might do penance […] as the Lord gave us the light of His grace through his wonderful life and teaching”. (Test 24. 26)

Clare speaks of an “illumination of the heart” received from the Father and of an “inspiration” that matured through the example and word of her father, St Francis. These two elements, essential in every vocation, are to be cherished throughout life. Vocation is a gift not once and for all but grows through constant care. This is why we need to continually open ourselves to the presence and word of the Lord to receive this illumination of the heart, in whose light we can recognise the truth of the life to which we are called, the inspiration that moves it. To have care means to guard the presence and the voice of the Spirit of the Lord in us, to remain attentive to the paths we must tread to live our vocation today in a dynamic way.

Let us learn to care for the light and inspiration that the Lord never ceases to sow abundantly among us. Let us not reduce charism and vocation to a series of rules to be observed or a continuous change of modalities and expressions because care demands fidelity, attention, growth in depth, and nourishment of the roots.

“Afterwards, he wrote a form of life for us, especially that we would always persevere in holy poverty… so that, after his death, we would in no way turn away from it, as the Son of God never wished to turn away from this holy poverty while He lived in the world”.

(Test 33-34)

In this passage of the Testament, Clare captures the heart of her vocation in “following the life and poverty of our most high Lord Jesus Christ and his most holy Mother” (RegCh VI, 7), and Francis was clear in pointing out this path to his brothers and sisters. In the language of Francis and Clare, this means, as we know well, following the movement of the Incarnation, in which the Son of God humbled Himself, and the movement of the Passion, that of love stooping down to wash the feet. This poverty of the Son of God takes shape in the choice of a life that renounces the guarantees of worldly income and security to remain a pilgrim and stranger even in the restricted space of a monastery. A radical path of dispossession, in the footsteps of the One who chose to live without anything of his own, even renouncing his being as God, to surrender himself totally and confidently to the Father’s love. Taking care of this poverty in the profound movement of love can lead to very strong choices to leave guarantees and securities. It seems to me that this means finding work again as a source of sustenance, sharing the lives of those who have no guarantees and not by their own choice, and reviewing the relationship with what gives us guarantees, especially money. This is the evangelical alternative to the many reassurances we often seek. Clare was a free woman. She was not afraid to entrust herself, to remain even without bread to experience the providence and care the Lord had for her and her sisters. We receive this care, and for this, we can learn to take care, even of our own vocation. This also applies to us, your brothers, and you remind us of it.

Clare entrusts this custody to the Church, to Francis and his successors. She knows that alone, the sisters alone, cannot guard such a great gift. And in the same way, we, your brothers, cannot do it alone because we need a greater belonging to the Church, the people of God and our whole family. This is why I think it is important for preserving your vocation and poverty to belong to the Order, to be in communion with the other sisters through the federation and the Order as a whole.

No one is saved alone, we are interconnected, as Pope Francis’ Laudato si’ made clear to us, and all this takes the name of custody and care for the most precious gift we have, that of our vocation and choice.

This care of the gift of vocation is not only for us who live today but, as Clare says, for the sisters who will come. A vocation is a gift we receive not just for us in the few years we are given, nor just for this or that monastery. It is a gift that has preceded us and will live after us, and it is not tied to the walls or even to a community but to the form of life. Today when not a few monasteries must close their doors, often after centuries, let us trust! We are entrusted to the Father of mercies who remains faithful. The gift of vocation is alive, and all the good that the community has done will remain after it is no longer there and will live with and in other sisters. Let us think of the monasteries that are opening and flourishing in different countries of the world: our vocation is alive!

How much freedom this openness of heart gives us, how much it teaches us to live without anything of our own and to return to the Father what we have received!

“And loving one another with the love of Christ, may you demonstrate without in your deeds the love you have within so that, compelled by such an example, the sisters may always grow in the love of God and in mutual charity.” (Test 59-60)

Clare points the sisters to the path of love and mutual care as the sure way to cherish the gift of vocation and choice. You live, dear sisters, a very strong and concrete reality of fraternity. You share everything for a lifetime. You learn to know each other and carry the life, the search, the daily life of each sister. How much you have to teach us in this! This fraternal love must be cherished because its root is theological and not reducible to human sympathy or affinity. This love is made up of concrete gestures, daily care and custody, and today in a special way. It also demands of us attention to each sister’s human, emotional, and spiritual experience. We are much more aware today of the complexity of what is human, which is why we know that we are called to care for the whole person, in their integrity. This is true during the time of initial formation and especially throughout the journey that each sister goes through in the different ages of life.

I conclude what I wanted to say to you this year with the words of Clare that close the Testament, which are a prayer and exhortation. In prayer, we entrust everything with Clare to the Father of the Lord Jesus through the Virgin Mary, the form of life of the Poor Clares, with our gaze turned to Francis, who continues to protect our vocation. In this gratitude, Clare exhorts us to grow and persevere in the good, that is, to remain open and active in responding to our vocation. We know well that every life, and therefore also life in the Spirit and in vocation, if it does not grow, it stops and dies. Therefore, the care we learn to live towards one another aims to ensure that we all respond energetically according to God’s desire to the most precious good we have received, that of our vocation and choice.

And to stay on this path seems to me the truest way to get through this difficult time, where everything seems to be collapsing and extinguishing the future. Instead, Clare invites us to look ahead, not to stop. If we grow in this hope, we are leaven in the world, which needs this hope more than ever.

With this prayer, and with the blessing of Clare herself, I leave you and wish you to celebrate her feast in a luminous and intense way, in the powerful intercession addressed to the Father for the Church, for the world, for peace, for our family, which so much needs to be confirmed and to grow in the gift of its vocation.

“For this reason, I bend my knee to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ so that, through the prayers and merits of the glorious and holy Virgin Mary, His Mother, and of our most blessed father Francis and of all the saints, 78the Lord Himself, Who has given a good beginning, may give the increase and may also give final perseverance. Amen” (Test 77 78).

I confirm my closeness and brotherly care for you with my affectionate greeting and the blessing of St Francis.

Br Massimo Fusarelli, ofm 

Minister General

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Br Ivair Bueno de Carvalho elected president of the Franciscan Foundation of Angola

On 27 July 2022, the Immaculate Mother of God Foundation of Angola, gathered in Chapter, elected Br Ivair Bueno de Carvalho as President. In addition, the following were elected to the Council: Br José Morais Cambolo, Br Marco Antonio dos Santos and Br Ermelindo Francisco Bambi.

Br Ivair Bueno de Carvalho was born on 31 January 1973 in Sorocaba (SP), Brazil. He entered the Order of Friars Minor through the Province of the Immaculate Conception of Brazil in 1993. He made his First Vows in 1998 and Solemn Profession on 30 July 2005. He studied Philosophy at St Bonaventure Institute in Curitiba (PR), Brazil, and Theology at the Franciscan Theological Institute in Petropolis (RJ), Brazil. In 2001, he was sent as a missionary to Angola, working in Luanda, Malange and Kibala. After spending some time in Brazil, he returned to Angola in 2009.

The Immaculate Mother of God Foundation of Angola, dependent on the Immaculate Conception Province in Brazil, currently has 83 friars, of whom 16 are solemnly professed, 59 in initial formation and eight novices. The friars are engaged in pastoral service in the various missions and radio stations, spiritual assistance to the Poor Clares and education of the young.

The Franciscan Foundation of Angola Chapter was presided over by Br Paulo Roberto Pereira, Minister Provincial.

Br Michael Copps re-elected Custos of Great Britain

The Immaculate Conception Custody of Great Britain, meeting in Chapter 24-29 July 2022 in Woodford Green, London, re-elected Br Michael Copps as Custos. The following were elected to the Council: Br Patrick Lonsdale, Br George Smulski and Br Antony Jukes.

Br Michael was born in Aylesbury, County Buckinghamshire, England. He made his first vows in 1966, his solemn vows in 1971 and was ordained a priest on 10 March 1973.

The Chapter of the British Custody, dependent on the Franciscan Province of Ireland, was presided over by Br Aidan McGrath, Minister Provincial.

KOINONIA 2022 – 2 (N.113): The participation of the Secular Franciscans in the Church as a sign of fidelity

This year we have decided to focus on the Synodality. In the last article of Koinonia we discussed the theme of communion of the Church-People of God and how the secular Franciscans can live that communion, following the example of St. Francis. In the present article we would like to see how the Secular Franciscans can participate in the Synodal journey of the Church. A question that we often ask and enter into discussion is how can we renew and revive the life of the Secular Franciscan Order. The most powerful answer can be found in the Constitutions: “open to the demands which come from society and the current state of the church…” (8.2). To participate in the Synodal journey has to be our fundamental response to the present demands of the church. Love for the renewal of the Church is part of our charism (GGCC 13.2) and listening to the guidelines of the Church is the way (GGCC 15.2).

In this study our focus is not on the theological or juridical aspects of the Synodality of the Church, but only on how, as laity, the secular Franciscans can participate in the Synodality.



N. 113 – 2022.2

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Assisi welcomes pilgrims for the Feast of the Pardon

2 August, the day of the Pardon of Assisi, is the feast of joy and reconciliation every year that reaches the whole world from the city of Assisi. From the early morning hours, hundreds of people have been arriving at the Portiuncula to approach the sacrament of reconciliation and then cross in prayer the small church so loved by St Francis to receive the plenary indulgence. “To cross the little door of the Portiuncula and let ourselves be regenerated by divine mercy is to take a step towards Heaven,” said Card. Angelo Bagnasco who presided over the morning Mass at Santa Maria degli Angeli. It is a step that asks for the daily steps of our duties, of our vocation: steps of lightness even when they cost blood, joyful steps even when the heart is heavy, even serious steps but with our eyes turned upwards, where we are both gazed upon and awaited. Let us then allow ourselves to be gazed upon by Christ”.

The feast of the Pardon of Assisi was celebrated in communion with all the Franciscan and Poor Clare nuns of the world. Sister Chiara Cristiana, president of the Federation of the Poor Clares of Umbria (with twenty-two monasteries, numbering about three hundred sisters), said, from the Poor Clares Monastery of Gubbio, where she resides, that she celebrated this feast together with the sisters, in a simple way: “Living it from afar forces us to deepen it more,” she explained, “We do not see the celebrations concretely, but we feel them in another way, because of the communion that there is with the friars. The Poor Clares are present in the life and work of the friars and their vocation in a mysterious way, as is the life of the enclosure. Cloistered life has this particular trait: it is a not being there to be there in a deeper way,” said Sister Chiara Cristiana. “It is about living this forgiveness of God to humanity in the life of each one of us as if it were a fountain. According to the Mother Abbess, the fountain sends out water without anyone noticing, as in the system of communicating vessels. In addition to the communion of prayer, the sisters also animated a meaningful celebration in the monastery church. There were symbols that spoke of forgiveness and the lighting of lamps under the statue of the Virgin as a gesture of surrender to Her. “Beyond the great celebrations, the feast of the Pardon is decided in the heart,” said Sister Chiara Cristiana. “Even just one young person, among all those who are entering the Portiuncula, who decides to let this river enter his heart, it is enough. Even one life changed is enough”.

Br Rosario, in charge of the Franciscan Family March, summed up the joy and fatigue of marching to Assisi in a group of 155 people, comprising 72 children and 80 adults, including friars and sisters. “Seeing so many families on their way to Assisi for the Feast of the Pardon touches people; it speaks more than many words,” he said. “The first night, the presence of the children made itself felt, and we did not sleep. Then we got used to it. This noise is beautiful, and it made us experience life, joy”. Also participating in the march were Amerigo and Giulia, married for twelve years, walking with Chiara, Teresa and Irene, their little girls. “When I think of the infinitely good, the theme of the march, I am reminded of all the good that I have received in life,” Amerigo explained. “This march is not just a walk with my family, but a listening and a listening to each other. This infinitely good has taken on a different light along the way”.

“We are also marching here with our three children on earth and with our youngest, whom we had the privilege of accompanying to the gate of Heaven,” explained Marica. “From a difficult time, we found all the time we could not find for retreats and moments of reflection, as well as for this march, for which I can only give thanks.

Among the young people marching to Assisi was Nicola, a 23-year-old from Sardinia. “It was a beautiful experience of sharing,” he said. “Sharing friendship, sharing the experience of God with friends, the pain, the fatigue, the happiness of being together, of sharing a question to take to the Portiuncula”. Diletta spoke of the emotions of participating in the Franciscan march: “I experienced God’s love, through the friars and nuns, the support workers and fellow walkers”.

Among the volunteers who have walked the march in the past was Silvia: “I came back because there is never an end to giving back what we have received, walking towards the Portiuncula, and receiving the Pardon, is a grace that I would like to relive every year. What I would like to relive is precisely to enjoy the joy of the other”. Sister Sara, a Franciscan nun who lives in Santa Maria degli Angeli, served with the young people of the Umbria and Sardinia group march: “Every pilgrimage is always a walking encounter with the face of God, of the Father, of Christ, and it is a struggle to let go of so many masks, and my heart needed to get to the encounter with the Father. Therefore, I am happy and excited for the young people we accompany on their arrival in Assisi”.

The first group to arrive in the square in front of the basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli was that of Umbria and Sardinia, which then welcomed all the other groups arriving in the Portiuncula for a total of over one thousand five hundred young people. Then, with their banners aloft, the fatigues and joys of the march on their shoulders, the young people, friars and sisters made their entrance into the square in front of the basilica. Amidst songs of joy and the words of the Portiuncula friars, the marchers kissed the ground in gratitude. They then entered the Portiuncula in procession to receive the Pardon of Assisi. Then, amidst tears of emotion, the gift of forgiveness and peace arrived for them too.

Beatrice Guarrera

The Pardon of Assisi opens at the Portiuncula

“Today is not just any day, but 1 August, on which we opened a door here at the Portiuncula to humbly ask for and receive the Pardon of Assisi”. These were the words of Minister General Br Massimo Fusarelli in his homily at the Mass that officially began the Pardon of Assisi. The joy of this feast of forgiveness radiates every year from the little church where St Francis loved to retire in prayer, the Portiuncula, enclosed today by the basilica of St Mary of the Angels. It was there that Francis, inspired by a vision of the Virgin Mary, wished to ask for a plenary indulgence for anyone who visited the Portiuncula, and Pope Honorius III granted it to him for one day each year, on 2 August. Over the centuries, the concession underwent many variations until it was extended to every day of the year for the Portiuncula church. However, it was only extended to 2 August for all parish and Franciscan churches.

“The Virgin of the Angels welcomed St Francis in that chapel he loved so much, and today she welcomes so many who invoke the Lord’s forgiveness”, continued Br Massimo in his homily at the opening mass. “Today in this simple chapel, she welcomes all of us, especially those who still pray for peace, rest and the true consolation of reconciliation“. The Minister General also referred to recent events: “This year, how can we open the door of forgiveness and pass through it without thinking of the closed door of peace in Ukraine, as in so many other parts of the world”. Br Massimo emphasised that this forgiveness is for everyone, even those who are behind closed doors. “There are so many closed doors because they have been barred by the culture of abuse and silence, of power over others and of not giving and not opening doors, new ways to life. The forgiveness that God offers us in Christ and makes possible in the Holy Spirit is a new creation; it is the beginning of a new world, a true transformation”. According to the Minister General, this is possible because forgiveness is the fruit of the Cross of the Lord Jesus, of his Paschal Mystery of death and resurrection. Therefore, we can always approach this forgiveness through the sacrament of reconciliation.

“The Door is open, the table of forgiveness is set, and the Mother welcomes us: come, let us enter, let us not fear”, concluded the Minister General. At the end of the Mass, he then made his way in procession to the door of the Portiuncula and officially opened it after a prayer on his knees. The crowd, already filling the church, began to line up in an orderly manner to participate in the grace of this feast of the Pardon.

“Forgiveness is the gift that encloses one of our greatest desires: that of peace,” explained Br Francesco Piloni, Minister of the Seraphic Province of Assisi. “But there is no peace without forgiveness, reconciliation, or picking up those scattered pieces that remain in our inner and outer lives, without meaning. Forgiveness reconciles them, recomposes them and gives peace as its fruit”. Br Piloni explained that Assisi is again ready to welcome pilgrims after the pandemic years. “Many are on their way, and already in the early hours of this morning, we heard the first groups arriving, asking for directions to the places of confession. After two years, the Franciscan March of the Pardon, this year in its fortieth edition, with the theme “Infinitely Good”, has started again. There are young people and families on their way from all over Italy to meet the infinitely good, which is the desire for a peace to be found on an interior and exterior level”. In past years, the pilgrims had been few, but their intercessory prayer was felt strongly: “To intercede means to place oneself in the middle, between the struggles of today’s humanity and God, and to stand there like Moses with hands raised to God”, said Br Piloni. Even today, in the face of humanity in the grip of mistrust, it is precisely from Assisi that hope can start again: “Assisi and the Franciscans throughout the world still gather this desire to try to believe, together, as a fraternity, that life has won, the victory of Christ, the Passover of Christ is the final word over every human mistrust”.

The entrance into the basilica of the groups on their way for the 40th Franciscan March will take place tomorrow at 2.30 p.m., but already in these hours, hundreds of people are arriving from all over the world. Welcoming the arriving pilgrims with joy is Br Massimo Travascio, Custos of the Porziuncola. “During the years of the pandemic, many had followed us on our media and social networks, but there was a great desire to return here to Assisi,” said the Custos. “Our task is to be here to welcome as many pilgrims as possible who want to have this beautiful experience of Pardon. The Porziuncola is a door that is always open, and to see that people can pass through this door is always a great joy”.

Custos for two years, Br Travascio knows the place well as he lived here before: “I guard the Portiuncula, but I also feel guarded by the Portiuncula. Together with the friars, we try to preserve the silence, to take care of the liturgy well, so that people entering the Portiuncula can have this experience of meeting the Lord”. Even though the Feast of the Pardon of Assisi will last only until midnight on 2 August, the doors of the Portiuncula will remain open all year round to those who wish. “Saint Francis of Assisi loved this place, and he would willingly withdraw here to pray and be in silence, to cultivate a relationship of friendship with the Lord,” concluded Br Travascio. Today we need to resume relationships, and we know that one relationship is the foundation of all others: the relationship with the Lord. Therefore, the invitation is to come back here, to find a welcoming place where we can look inside and see the grace of God”.

Beatrice Guarrera

Communique from the General Definitory – July 2022 Tempo Forte

The July Tempo Forte took place from 11 to 22 July 2022, immediately after the meeting with the ministers provincial and custodes elected in the last two years, which took place at the General Curia from 29 June to 8 July. The Definitory also carried out a thorough review of the proceedings of this meeting, taking into account the suggestions of the participants.

In addition to welcoming the new Vicar General, Br Ignacio CEJA JIMÉNEZ, during this Tempo Forte, the General Definitory examined the amendments to the Particular Statutes of seven Entities of the Order, approving two of them. New scholarships were granted to several students for the academic year 2022/2023, and 69 were renewed for students already engaged in various study courses.

In the afternoon of Monday, 11 July, the General Definitory met with all the curia officers to review the work carried out this year, the objectives achieved, and the different forms of collaboration developed. In several sessions, the General Definitory discussed the preparatory path for the General Chapter of Mats to be held from 1 to 8 June 2025 at Santa Maria degli Angeli-Assisi. Some meetings of the General Definitory were scheduled with some Conferences, with UCLAF and with UFME. Administrative matters of the “St Francis of Assisi” Foundations in Russia, Sudan and South Sudan, and “Notre Dame d’Afrique” in the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville), dependent on the Minister General, were dealt with. Requests for admission to various stages of initial formation of candidates from the Foundations and Custodies dependent on the Minister General were examined.

The General Definitory also had the opportunity to meet the General Bursar, the Secretary and the Vice Secretary General for Formation and Studies, the Secretary General for Evangelisation, the outgoing Director and the new Director of the General Office for Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation, the Director and the Vice Director of the Project Development Office, the members of the Management Board and the Governing Body of the OFM Fraternitas Foundation.

During this Tempo Forte, the lists of Candidates for the service of Minister Provincial and Custodes of the following Provinces were approved:

  • St Benedict the African, in the Democratic Republic of Congo,
  • Holy Spirit, in Australia,
  • St Anthony of Padua, in Bolivia.

The following Visitators General were elected

  • Br Edgardo Manuel PÉREZ TEJEIRA for the Province of SS Peter and Paul, in Mexico (Celaya).
  • Br Gianpaolo MASOTTI for the Province of St Bonaventure, in Italy (Lazio-Abruzzo).
  • Br Robert Balingit MANANSALA for the Custody of St John the Baptist, in Pakistan.
  • Br Agustinus Lorensius NGGAME for the Province of St Francis Herald of Peace, in Indonesia and West Papua.

The following Delegates of the Minister General were elected

  • Br Darko TEPERT for the Province of the Holy Cross, in Slovenia;
  • Br Domagoj RUNJE for the Province of St Jerome and SS Cyril and Methodius, in Croatia.
  • Br Edwin de Jesús ALVARADO SEGURA for the Province of San Felipe de Jesús, in Mexico.
  • Br Isidro Pereira LAMELAS for the Custody of St Clare, in Mozambique.
  • Br Ignacio CEJA JIMÉNEZ, Vicar General, for the General House, the Custody of the Holy Protomartyrs, in Morocco, dependent on the Minister General; he also acts as liaison with the Custody of the Holy Land.

The acts of the elections were ratified that took place in:

  • Chapter of the Custody of the Holy Land, of the Provinces of St Mary of Graces, of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, of the Immaculate Conception, of St Anthony of the Friars Minor, in Italy, of the Most Holy Saviour, in Slovakia, of the Holy Martyrs of Gorcum, in the Netherlands, of St Francis, in Poland, of St Junipero Serra and St Felipe de Jesús, in Mexico, and of the Custody of St Anthony of Padua, in the Philippines;
  • Chapter Congressus of the Provinces of the Assumption BVM, of the Immaculate Conception, of St Mary of Graces, of the Seven Holy Martyrs of Calabria, of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, of the Most Holy Name of Jesus and of St Michael the Archangel, in Italy, of the Immaculate Conception BVM, in Spain, of the Moroccan Holy Martyrs, in Portugal, of St Francis, St Hedwig and the Assumption BVM, in Poland, of St Jerome and of the Most Holy Redeemer, in Croatia, of the Holy Cross and of the Assumption BVM, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, of St Junipero Serra and of St Felipe de Jesús, in Mexico, of the Holy Spirit, in Canada, of the Holy Cross, in Brazil, and of the Custody of St Anthony of Padua, in the Philippines, and of the Holy Protomartyrs, in Morocco, dependent on the Minister General.

The Reports at the conclusion of the Canonical Visitation of the following entities were analysed:

  • Province of San Pedro Bautista, Philippines;
  • Custody of St Anthony of Padua, in the Philippines;
  • Province of the Holy Cross, in Slovenia;
  • Province of San Felipe de Jesús, in Mexico.

The Report on the Status of the St Francis of Assisi Foundation in Papua New Guinea, dependent on the Minister General, was again reviewed and discussed in an attempt to outline better the possible future of this entity and the friars enrolled in it.

The following cases of separation from the Order were dealt with:

  • Dispensation from temporary vows: 4
  • Indult of exclaustration: 6
  • Indult of dispensation from solemn vows: 1
  • Indult of secularisation ad experimentum: 5
  • Indult of secularisation pure et simpliciter: 2
  • Indult of dispensation from the clerical state and leaving the Order: 5
  • Dismissal from the Order due to unlawful absence: 3

Three cases of graviora delicta and five cases of possible delicts contra sextum were examined.

From Sunday 24 to Wednesday 27 July, the General Definitory will devote itself to an in-depth and prolonged review meeting of this first year of work, both from the point of view of the reports and the work objectives achieved.

The next Tempo Forte is scheduled from 5 to 16 September 2022.

To the praise of Christ and the Poverello of Assisi. Amen!


Rome, 23 July 2022

Br Giovanni Rinaldi, OFM

Secretary General

Franciscan Centenary 2023: The Rule and the Christmas of Greccio

The Executive Council for Missions and Evangelisation prepares the “Ratio Evangelizationis”

From 26 to 29 July, the CEME, the Executive Council for the Missions and Evangelisation of the Order, held a meeting at the General Curia in Rome. As explained by Br Francisco Gomez Vargas, OFM, General Secretary for the Missions and Evangelisation, the meeting’s goal was to assess the process of drafting a Ratio for the Evangelisation of the Order. To identify the elements of missionary evangelisation in the line of synodality.

During the four days of work, the Council met and dialogued with various Secretaries and Offices of the General Curia. Br Darko Terpet, Secretary for Formation and Studies, presented some biblical foundations of Evangelisation to the Council, the link between Formation and Evangelisation. The Office of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation – represented by Br Jaime Campos and Br Daniel Rodriguez – presented solidarity in Evangelisation.

One of the most important moments was with Br Massimo Fusarelli, Minister General. First, he gave a brief overview of the historical path of the Order – starting from the Extraordinary General Chapter of Medellin in 1971 to the last General Chapter in Rome in 2021. Then, he addressed an invitation to the whole Order to mission and Evangelisation, with particular attention to the young, to work for justice, peace and the integrity of creation, and to the digital continent. Finally, the Minister noted that “the ground is more than ready” to “set out on a Ratio Evangelizationis for the entire Order”. He underlined the document’s importance: “Having a Ratio, that is, a raison d’être for evangelisation in our Order, brings us back to the very raison d’être of our vocation and supports and encourages it”.  

Apart from the organisers – Br Francisco Gomez Vargas, Secretary General for Missions and Evangelisation, Br Dennis Tayo, General Animator for the Missions, and Br Elbon Viagedor, secretary of the meeting – representing the Order were Br José Rodriguez, Br Johannes Freyer and Br Ibrahim Sabbagh.


Young people on the road to Assisi

The solemnity of the Pardon of Assisi is only a few days away, and the Portiuncula friary is ready to welcome thousands of pilgrims from Italy and the whole world (here is the complete programme). To reach even those who cannot be physically present, it will be possible to follow the celebrations live through the website perdonodiassisi.org.

The different YouFra groups of this 40th Franciscan march started their journey on 25 July. They have decided to walk some stretches in the countryside in their respective regions of origin to reach Assisi then and join the other marchers. There will be around twelve Italian groups from different provinces throughout Italy, as well as a group with three subgroups from Croatia and a group from Austria. At the same time, the Franciscan march will also take place in other places around the world: in the Holy Land, the friars will lead the march with dozens of young people from 27 July to 4 August.

“Our group is international and is made up of people from the entire German-speaking area: from Austria, Switzerland, Germany, South Tyrol,” explains the leader, Brother Karl. “Thinking of mercy, which is a work of rebuilding, we have chosen to go right through the places of the Friuli earthquake, starting from Gemona, the epicentre,” says Br Ivano, who leads the group from northern Italy. “Sin, like an earthquake, leaves us a little shattered, crumbling, on the ground. Mercy is a work of reconstruction: restoring beauty and dignity to what is wounded. At the same time, this is the first March two years after the earthquake of pandemic and isolation. We are happy that this recommencement of walking is a sign of a new beginning, not as before, but with the imagination of the Holy Spirit”.

Backpacks on their shoulders and hearts open to the Word, young people from Lazio, Abruzzo, Sicily, Campania, Puglia, Marche, Tuscany and Umbria also set out.

Br Pasqualino, of the group from Naples, has often noticed small miracles in those taking part in the march: the discovery of one’s vocation to religious consecration or marriage, deeper conversion, the beginning of a more intense journey of faith, the consolidation of one’s vocational choices. “I hope these miracles will happen again this year,” he said on the eve of the departure.

“The march is a pilgrimage, a journey to discover the mercy of God that dwells in our lives. The precariousness and fraternity help us to experience this discovery,” commented Br Fabio of the Lazio-Abruzzo group. Br Antonio from Foggia maintains that what distinguishes this march is precisely the Franciscan style: “The style of the march goes against the tide of the dumbing down proposed by society (comfort, false fears…). In short, it is a precious opportunity to get to know the truths of life hidden in each one of us, in our brothers and sisters, and the wonder of creation”.

“The Franciscan march of the Tuscan group will be a good 170 km long,” says the leader, Br Francesco, “40 years ago, the Tuscan friars set off on foot with a group of young people from La Verna. For us, the journey from the shrine of the Stigmata, where the young people can experience their own pain before encountering God’s mercy at the Porziuncola, is important. Francis on the Holy Mount experienced love and sorrow. So the young people can grasp in the mystery of the Stigmata the love of a God who allows himself to be wounded for us and then welcomes them in forgiveness at the Portiuncula”.

The Pardon of Assisi programme

Monday 1 August will be the opening day of the Solemnity of the Pardon with the Eucharistic Celebration at 11 AM. OFM Minister General Br Massimo Fusarelli will preside. This will be followed by the “Opening of the Pardon” procession. From that moment, from 12 noon on 1 August until midnight on the 2nd, the Plenary Indulgence, granted at the Portiuncula daily, will be extended to all parish churches and Franciscan churches. Then, at6.30 PM, First Vespers will be presided over by H.E. Archbishop Domenico Sorrentino, Bishop of Assisi – Nocera Umbra – Gualdo T. and Foligno. This will be followed by the offering of incense by the Mayor of Assisi, Stefania Proietti. Finally, the traditional Evening Prayer Vigil at 8.45 PM will be led by Br Luciano De Giusti OFM, Minister Provincial of the Friars Minor of Abruzzo-Lazio.

On 2 August, it will be possible to participate in numerous Eucharistic celebrations: the solemn one at 11.30 AM will be presided over by H.E. Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, Archbishop Emeritus of Genoa. Then, starting at 2.30 PM, the young people and families of the 40th Franciscan March will pass through the door of the Portiuncula. Finally, the Minister Provincial of the Friars Minor of Umbria and Sardinia, Br Francesco Piloni OFM, will preside at Solemn Vespers of the Pardon at 7 PM.


(Photo Credit: Frati del Palatino)

Stories of welcome: how Franciscans are welcoming Ukrainian families

Five months after the outbreak of the conflict in Ukraine, we would like to take you on a journey among the friaries and Franciscan structures in Italy today committed to welcoming Ukrainian families and children fleeing the war. The friars have responded to the call for solidarity without flinching, right from the day after the conflict began. Here are four examples of reception and testimonies, but there are many others in every corner of the earth. There are about 300 Ukrainian families supported by the Franciscan family from the beginning of the conflict until now in Italy. A wound – that of the conflict – that accompanies many of our Ukrainian brothers and sisters today, frightened by a foreign invasion and a land, theirs, that changes face day by day.

Fraternity of Rezzato, Brescia: the hubbub of solidarity

The contrast is strong in the Rezzato fraternity. Nature, peace and silence dominate the spaces of the friary. “It was mid-March when the first Ukrainian women began to arrive, left on the streets without food or a roof. Lost and confused with mortar shells still ringing in their ears, they are there waiting for someone. At the friary, the first phone calls arrived from friends and local institutions: “What do we do?”. This is the testimony of Br Lorenzo, guardian of the fraternity of the Friars Minor of St Peter in Rezzato, in the province of Brescia, made up of four friars. “We immediately organised ourselves with a volunteer service for accommodation in the House of Spirituality adjacent to the friary. Doubts abound: How will we manage with language? Who will help us with the food? Who will take them to the hospital? The friars began the reception by listening to their hearts, just as the Poverello of Assisi did with the lepers. The first mothers arrived with their children, who found a roof and a hot meal to eat with the friars. Every week a family arrives: from Lviv, from Kyiv, from Kharkiv, from the Donbas, from Odesa. In two months, we reached 25 people, then the group settled down, and today we are at 15. There are seven families, five of them mothers with children, from the youngest of 4 to the oldest daughter of 20, and two elderly ladies. The most beautiful gift is the children who bring us back to smile, play and liven up the friary. I realise that communicating with a smartphone translator is not enough, and the group has to learn the language. Providence, at that moment, brought in the recently retired teacher Giulia, who immediately organised a one-hour afternoon Italian course for the little ones and one hour for the adults. The flood of information meant that other Ukrainians staying with families joined the course, all needing learning, knowledge, and communication. The reception house is wallpapered with little clouds of notes with the corresponding Italian names to learn them. Brother Matteo prepares the menu every week, providing all the necessary food, and Providence never fails to amaze us every day by replenishing the stocks. In collaboration with the local Caritas, there is no lack of bags of clothes, toys, and stationery for school. Volunteers do their best to take refugees to health facilities, the police station, and the dentist, and in mid-May, they brought the youngest children to school. Over time, the ladies became increasingly autonomous: they learned to cook for themselves and to keep the house and garden clean, with solidarity that could overcome cultural and religious differences. The basic knowledge of the language allows the guests to go out, say hello, and buy themselves something, but also to amaze us, entering the church to pray and sing together. Everyone comes in, Christians and Muslims, everyone feels like brothers and sisters before the mercy of God the Father, and everyone gives thanks for the gift of welcome and solidarity. Today, the ladies are waiting for employment, and we will soon have our first hires. In Rezzato, a town known for its marble work, gunfire can be heard in the Botticino quarries; but the Friars make the joy and noise of fraternity resound in the cloister, muffling every sound and restoring hope”. Dynamite and marble slabs break off from the mountain in the friary area: it is a routine activity, but the Ukrainians’ minds run to 24 February, when Russian troops invaded their country.

Br Loris, the heart of Sicily open to the neediest

“We started with the reception of families, more than 80 people, women and children, and gradually directed them to the relevant services. Today we still have five people in the Gancia friary in Palermo. The facility is suitable for accommodating other families and situations of poverty and destitution. To date, three mothers and two children of Ukrainian origin are permanently accommodated”. Thus, Br Loris, chaplain of the Pagliarelli prison in Palermo, continues: “Since 4 March, I have volunteered to welcome these people who have knocked on the friary door. A bombardment of solidarity from everyone: lay and religious. Among the gestures that struck me most was that of a Ukrainian boy living in Italy for years. Dimitri lives on very little, often eating in canteens, but he has the gift of painting. When he heard that we were taking in his compatriots, he made himself available to paint the friary rooms; he wanted nothing in return. He did not want to be paid and wanted to make his contribution”.

Br Faustino, the Ukrainian friar who helps his people

“On 2 March, we received the first refugees from Ukraine. The first were two mothers and three children with a small dog and two cats. After that, we welcomed 42 people, including mothers and children, and together with the Province of San Antonio, we started to welcome families. As a result, we currently have 39 people in our care”. Br Faustino has been in Italy for six years but comes from Shargorod, in central Ukraine. His father and brother are still there, and his sister-in-law, who is five months pregnant, recently returned with her two nephews, aged 8 and 12, after having spent the early days of the conflict in Italy, in the friary of Bordighera. “My father is 63 years old, and he is not fighting; he is helping the army,” continues Br Faustino, “and my brother is also helping displaced refugees who have arrived from the big cities at the moment”. Br Faustino, with his community, is working tirelessly on two fronts: welcoming the fleeing refugees in the friary and sending the aid collected by the parish with the minibus that has already shuttled five times to the Polish border. “Among the stories that impressed me most was that of Alona and Violeta, who with their girls travelled 2500 km to get to Bordighera and knock on the doors of our friary. Six days of travelling, overcoming the bombardments and with their two little girls”.

Br Mauro, an Italian school in Turin

The friars minor are working alongside the Ukrainian population in Turin at the Franciscan friary of St Anthony of Padua. Br Mauro Battaglino recounts: “Today we have eight people accommodated at our facility, all adults of whom three are elderly. Some women are now working, and all attend the Italian school we have established. Two or three hours of lessons a day. In our other houses, we host four adult mothers with five children, all attending the Italian school, and the children attend the summer centre. In another facility, there are four adults and three children, one adult and a grandmother. Among the three children is a little girl who is oncologically ill. There are many different activities that we have started, in addition to the Italian school. They have all got their documents to be legal and find a small occupation. We bear all the expenses, and thanks also to the contribution of the San Paolo Foundation, we have been able to afford them. Many people are helping us, but they have all lost everything”.

Br Mario in Recco, leaving space and supporting integration 

“We are hosting 17 Ukrainians in the friary of Recco, who arrived on 11 March last – Br Mario explains -. They were 23, but in recent months, two mothers and their children were forced to return to their homeland, while a young 24-year-old girl found work and accommodation in Emilia-Romagna. The current composition of the group is seven mothers, seven children between 4 and 10 years old, a girl aged 14, and a boy aged 17. All the boys and children were immediately placed in state schools (primary and nursery). They organise themselves for the kitchen, which we have put completely at their disposal, with us friars taking over the cafeteria. We provide all the expenses, food and utilities, but we are helped by the Yacht Club of Genoa, which contributes almost everything. Initially, we had a lot of help from the laity in foodstuffs and cash donations, but after two months, this stopped completely, and today, only the Yacht Club remains. In recent weeks, some mothers have found jobs, so they will probably be called upon to contribute to the various expenses of the house in the coming months”.

Francesco Stefanini

Donate now for Ukraine

Br Antonio José Reyes López new Custos of Venezuela

The Immaculate Conception Custody of Venezuela, gathered in Chapter at the Casa de Cristo Rey in Caracas, elected Br Antonio José Reyes López as Custos and Br Joel Alcides Castro as Custodial Vicar. The following were elected to the Council: Br. Boris Arturo Rivera Arévalo, Br. Joselito Ramírez Vivas and Br. José Luis Díaz Pérez.

The Custody of Venezuela, dependent on the Franciscan Province of Santiago in Spain, currently has 18 friars distributed in six houses. The friars dedicate themselves to pastoral service, the soup kitchen, health care for the population and the education of young people through four schools.

The Chapter, which began last Monday, 18 July and ends on Friday, is presided over by Brother Juan Manuel Bujá García, Minister Provincial of Santiago in Spain.

Canada, on the road to heal past wounds, waiting for Pope Francis’ visit

“Dear brothers and sisters of Canada, as you know, I will come among you above all in the name of Jesus to meet and embrace the indigenous peoples”. On Sunday 17 July, at the recitation of the Angelus in St Peter’s Square in Rome, Pope Francis confirmed his trip to Canada from 24 to 30 July. “Unfortunately, in Canada, many Christians, including some members of religious institutes, have contributed to the policies of cultural assimilation that, in the past, have severely harmed native communities in various ways,” said the holy father, who thus classified this trip as a “penitential pilgrimage”.

Since May 2021, the discovery of mass graves in the garden of the Kamloops Indian Residential School, British Columbia, has left Canadians shocked. Indeed, between the late 1800s and the first half of the 1900s, about 150,000 indigenous children of the First Nations, Métis and Inuit native peoples were taken from their families, to be initiated into Catholic and white education. It is estimated that at least 4,000 of these children and adolescents died because of illness, hunger, cold, and abuse.

Explaining Canada’s difficult past and what the Friars Minor are doing today is Bro. Pierre Charland, Minister Provincial of the Franciscan Province of the Holy Spirit. “In Canada there are wounds that run deep in the past, but we Friars Minor are trying to promote healing. The first thing we need to do is listen.  What did you experience as First Nations people? Tell us about the children that were taken away”.

Bro. Pierre recounted, with deep sadness in his eyes, that “the Children were taken away from their mothers and fathers, young, and brought to schools to be Europeanized. That was the idea: forget your language, forget who you are and become one of us. That was the objective. Now, they were given an education. Many of them were abused, say, sexually or physically, but not all. Some of them say that ‘it was a bad system, it was horrible, it separated me from my family, it was very cruel, but I did get an education.’ They recognize that they did get an education through this.” Bro. Pierre emphasized the need dialogue with the people and to sincerely talk to them, listen to what they are saying, to connect with them and begin to journey together towards healing and living together as brothers and sisters.

Last May, one year after the discovery of the mass graves, twenty-three people from the Atikamekw First Nations community and twenty-three non-native people gathered in Trois-Rivières, Québec. The brothers of the Trois-Rivières community were invited to participate in the organization and animation of this prophetic meeting.

“During the meeting,” recounts Bro. Pierre, “we lived, in truth and with humility, strong moments of sharing personal stories, but also past traumas: yesterday’s wounds inflicted by residential schools, child abductions; and today’s wounds: racism, addictions, lack of respect”. At the end of the meeting, several people testified that that moment had changed them profoundly. This first experience is undoubtedly an invitation to continue walking together, in the spirit of restorative justice.

“I think that Canada is a young country, and our Franciscan values can make a difference in the Canadian society,” hopes the Canadian Provincial Minister. “I want to see us really present where of the challenges for today are. That is why I am so interested in the First Nations because Canada has a real big challenge, and we have a sad history with the First Nations and I want to see the friars there – in the periphery. I want us to share our lives with the people. I want us to be where there is hurt is, where we can bring healing, where we can build bridges. I think humbly we are doing that, step by step.”