Pope Francis received the participants in the General Chapter of the Order of Friars Minor in an audience at the Vatican today. The following is a translation of the Pope’s address to those present at the meeting.
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Dear Friars Minor,
Welcome! I thank the Minister General, Father Michael Perry, for his cordial words and I wish him every good for the task in which he has been confirmed. I extend my greeting to the entire Order, especially to sick and elderly fellow brothers, who are the Order’s memory and the presence in the Order of Christ crucified.
In these days of reflection and prayer, you have allowed yourselves to be guided in particular by two essential elements of your identity: minority and fraternity.
I asked the advice of two young Franciscan friends of Argentina: “Should I say something on this, on minority; give me advice.” One of them answered me: “May God grant it to me every day.” The other one said: “It’s what I try to do every day.” This is the definition of minority that these two friends, young Franciscans from my land, gave me.
Minority calls to be and feel oneself little before God, entrusting oneself totally to his infinite mercy. The prospect of mercy is incomprehensible for all those who do not recognize themselves as “minors,” that is, little ones, needy and sinful before God. The more aware we are of this, the closer we are to salvation; the more we are convinced that we are sinners, the more we are disposed to be saved. It happens thus in the Gospel: The persons who recognize themselves poor before Jesus are saved; instead one who thinks he has no need does not receive salvation, not because it is not offered to him, but because he has not received it. Minority also means to come out of oneself, of one’s schemes and personal views; it means to go beyond the structures — which are also useful if used wisely –, to go beyond habits and securities, to witness concrete closeness to the poor, to the needy, to the marginalized in a genuine attitude of sharing and service.
The dimension of fraternity also belongs in an essential way to evangelical witness. In the Church of the origins, Christians lived fraternal communion to such a point as to constitute an eloquent and attractive sign of unity and charity. The people were astonished to see Christians so united in love, so disposed in the gift and forgiveness of one another, so solidaristic in mercy, in benevolence, in mutual help, unanimous in sharing the joys, the sufferings and the experiences of life. Your Religious Family is called to express this concrete fraternity, through a recovery of mutual trust — and I underscore this: recovery of mutual trust — in inter-personal relations, so that the world sees and believes, recognizing that the love of Christ heals wounds and renders only one thing.
In this perspective, it is important to recover the awareness of being bearers of mercy, of reconciliation and of peace. You will fulfil this vocation and mission fruitfully if you are ever more an “outgoing” Congregation. Moreover, this corresponds to your charism, attested also in the “Sacrum Commercium.” Narrated in this account on your origins is that it was requested of the first Friars to show which was their cloister. To answer, they went up a hill and “pointing out all around the earth where their sight reached, said: ‘This is our cloister’” (63:GG 2022). Dear Brothers, to this cloister, which is the whole world, go also today driven by the love of Christ, as Saint Francis invites you to do, which in the sealed Rule says: “I counsel, admonish and exhort my Friars in the Lord Jesus Christ, that when they go around the world, they not quarrel and avoid disputes of words and not judge others, but that they be meek, peaceful and modest, mild and humble, speaking honestly with everyone. In whatever house they enter, they must say first of all: “Peace to this house”; and let them eat all the foods that are put before them (III, 10-14: FF 85-86). This last thing is good!
These exhortations are of great topical interest; they are prophecies of fraternity and of minority also for our world of today. How important it is to live a Christian and religious existence without getting lost in disputes and gossip, cultivating a serene dialogue with all, with meekness, mildness and humility, with poor means, proclaiming peace and living soberly, content with what is offered to us! This also requires a determined commitment to transparency, to the ethical and solidaristic use of goods, to a style of sobriety and spoliation. If, instead, you are attached to the goods and riches of the world, and place your security there, it will be the Lord Himself who will strip you of this spirit of worldliness in order to preserve the precious patrimony of minority and poverty to which He has called you through Saint Francis. Either you are freely poor and minor, or you will end up being stripped.
The Holy Spirit is the animator of religious life. The more room we give Him, the more He is the animator of our relations and of our mission in the Church and in the world. When consecrated persons live allowing themselves to be illumined and guided by the Spirit, they discover in this supernatural vision the secret of their fraternity, the inspiration of their service to brothers, and the strength of their prophetic presence in the Church and in the world. The light and strength of the Spirit will also help you to address the challenges that are before you, in particular the numeric drop, ageing and the diminution of new vocations. This is a challenge. Then I say to you: the People of God loves you. Cardinal Quarracino once said to me more or less these words: “There are groups or persons in our cities that are somewhat priest-eaters, and when a priests walks by they say certain things: “Crow” – they say this to them in Argentina –; they insult him, not loudly, but they say something. Never, never, never — Quarracino said to me — do they say these things to a Franciscan habit.” And why? You inherited an authoritativeness in the People of God with your minority, fraternity, meekness, humility, and poverty. Please, preserve it! Don’t lose it! The people love you; they love you.
May the esteem of these good people be of encouragement in your path, as well as the affection and appreciation of Pastors. I entrust the entire Order to the maternal protection of the Virgin Mary, venerated by you as special Patroness with the title of Immaculate. My Blessing also accompanies you, which I impart to you from my heart. And please, do not forget to pray for me, I am in need of it. Thank you![Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]