ASSISI, Italy, MAY 26, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Franciscan friars are in Assisi for the order’s 187th general chapter as they celebrate 800 years since St. Francis founded the group.
In representation of 15,000 religious working in more than 110 nations, 181 friars (152 delegates and 29 support personnel including translators and assistants) arrived this week for the start of the month-long meeting. The chapter ends June 20.
The Franciscans are considering the theme “Verbum Domini nuntiantes in universo mundo” (Announcing the Gospel of the Lord all over the world).
The friars processed together into a Mass on Sunday, during which the current minister-general, Father José Rodríguez Carballo, highlighted the need to announce the Gospel with the force of St. Paul and the directness of St. Francis, even where this causes problems and suffering.
“Go out, friars minor, the Spirit of the Lord continues telling us today, not as owners of the truth, but as humble servants, and what you have received freely, give freely,” he said in the homily. “Go out and announce to those you find along the way and in the plazas of the cities, their condition as sons and daughters of the same Father, your brothers. Go and evangelize in collaboration with laypeople, men and women, young and old.”
Father Rodríguez Carballo acknowledged, “Certainly there will be no lack of difficulties but it is the Lord who says: ‘Take courage. Do not be afraid.'”
During the second week of the chapter, a new minister-general will be elected by absolute majority, in the presence of the pontifical delegate, Cardinal José Saraiva Martins. The third and fourth weeks will involve discussions on orientations for the order for the next six years.
Speaking the message
In a May 22 press conference in Rome to present the general chapter, Father Rodríguez Carballo emphasized “missionary challenges,” particularly inculturation and a renewal of the language of evangelization: “more humble, more wise and less pompous,” and accompanied by a coherent life testimony.
He mentioned the efforts of evangelization made by the order not only in parishes, but also in some 800 educational institutions run by the Franciscans.
The minister-general noted that St. Francis was “above all a believer,” even though many times he is portrayed as “a social and political revolutionary. Francis was a revolutionary of the Gospel.”
At the end of the press conference, Father Rodríguez Carballo presented the commemorative medal struck for the 800th anniversary of the Franciscans (1209-2009).