Pope Francis sent a message July 17, 2021, to participants in the General Chapter of the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor reminding them to always be witnesses of fraternity and a simple and joyful life as they gather to renew their vision and embrace the future.
Here is the full message, provided by the Vatican:
I greet you all that are taking part in the General Chapter of the Order of Friars Minor. A grateful thought goes to Father Michael A. Perry, who has ended his service as Minister General and I express my good wishes to Father Massimo Giovanni Fusarelli, who has been called to succeed him. I extend my greeting to all your Communities spread throughout the world.
Because of the pandemic, for many months we have been living in situations of emergency, isolation, and suffering. This critical experience spurs us all, on one hand, to acknowledge how much our earthly life is a journey, to undertake as pilgrims and strangers, itinerant men and women, willing to unburden ourselves of personal things and demands. On the other, it’s a propitious occasion to intensify our relationship with Christ and with brothers. I think of your Communities, called to be a humble prophetic presence in the midst of the People of God and a witness for all of fraternity and of a simple and joyful life.
In this difficult and complex time, in which there is the risk of remaining “paralyzed,” notwithstanding all that is happening, you are experiencing the grace to hold the ordinary General Chapter, and that’s already a reason to praise and thank God. In this Chapter, you intend to “renew your vision” and “embrace your future.” You are guided by Saint Paul’s word: “Arise . . . and Christ shall give you light” (Ephesians 5:14). It’s a word of resurrection, which puts you in the paschal dynamic because there is no renewal and no future except in the Risen Christ. Therefore, open yourselves with gratitude to receive the signs of God’s presence and action and to rediscover the gift of your charism and your fraternal and minor identity.
Renew your vision: it’s what happened to young Francis of Assisi. He himself attests to it, recounting the experience that, in his Testament, he puts at the beginning of his conversion: the encounter with lepers, when “what was bitter changed into sweetness of soul and body” (Test. 1-4). At the root of your spirituality is this meeting with the least and the suffering, in the sign of “doing mercy.” God touched Francis’ heart through the mercy offered to a brother, and He continues to touch our hearts through our meeting with others, especially with the neediest. The renewal of your vision cannot but begin from this new gaze, with which to contemplate a poor and marginalized brother, sign, and almost sacrament of God’s presence.
From this renewed gaze, from this concrete experience of encounter with your neighbor and his wounds, a renewed energy can be born to look at the future as brothers and minors, which you are, in keeping with the beautiful name “Friars Minor,” which Saint Francis chose for himself and for you.
The renewed strength, of which you are in need, comes from the Spirit of God, from that “holy operation” (Regola bollata 10.8) which is the unequivocal sign of His action.
That Spirit, which transformed into sweetness of soul and of body the bitterness of Francis’ encounter with the lepers, is still at work today, to give new freshness and energy to each one of you, if you let yourselves be aroused by the least of our time. I encourage you to go out to encounter the men and women that are suffering in soul and body, to offer your humble and fraternal presence, without great speeches, but making your closeness felt as Minor Friars. To go to a wounded Creation, our common home, which suffers from a warped exploitation of the goods of the earth for the enrichment of a few, while conditions of misery are created for many. To go as men of dialogue, seeking to build bridges instead of walls, offering the gift of fraternity and social friendship in a world that is struggling to find the way for a common project. To go as men of peace and reconciliation, inviting those that sow hatred, division, and violence to conversion of heart, and offering the victims the hope that is born of truth, of justice, and of forgiveness. From these encounters, you will receive the impetus to live the Gospel every more fully, in keeping with that word which is your way: “The life and rule of Minor Friars is this: to observe the Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ our Lord” (Regola bollata 1, 1).
While in a good part of the Order you face the challenge of a numeric drop and aging, do not let anxiety and fear hinder you from opening your hearts and minds to renewal and revitalization, which the Spirit of God arouses in you and among you. You have a spiritual heritage of inestimable richness, rooted in an evangelical life and characterized by prayer, fraternity, poverty, minority, and itinerancy. Don’t forget that we receive a renewed gaze, capable of opening ourselves to God’s future from closeness with the poor, the victims of modern slaveries, refugees, and the excluded of this world. They are your teachers. Embrace them as Saint Francis did!
Dear brothers, may the Highest, Almighty, Good Lord make you be and become ever more credible and joyful witnesses of the Gospel; may He give you the grace to lead a simple and fraternal life, and lead you on the roads of the world to sow the seed of the Good News with faith and hope. I pray for this and I accompany you with my Blessing. And you too, please, don’t forget to pray for me.
Rome, Saint John Lateran, July 15, 2021
© Libreria Editrice Vatican
Translation by Virginia M. Forrester