By Mary Stronach, OFS, International Councilor

(This article originally appeared in the Spring 2018 issue of Tau-USA)

150 participants from 110 countries converged at the Seraphicum, a Franciscan Theological University in Rome, Italy for the XV General Chapter in November. Guests and visitors included two members of our National Executive Council, Vice Minister Mary Bittner, OFS and National Councilor Mary Frances Charsky, OFS. Ann Mulqueen, OFS was a special guest who had been invited to speak to the assembly. I, as International Councilor, was the official representative and the voting member of the group.

The joy of so many of our brothers and sisters meeting from around the world filled the air with excitement. Hugs, smiles, laughter, song and prayers embraced us. Every day a new discovery about our brothers and sisters from beyond the seven seas, every day the challenge of communication, every day the realization that we are one in Francis but our experiences cover the gamut – from the pain of dysfunctional governments in some African countries to the devastation of hurricanes in Puerto Rico, flooding in Peru and earthquakes in Mexico. Each brother or sister shared a new experience, helping me realize how blessed we are in the United States – despite our own destruction from hurricanes and other challenges.

Our week began with an inspirational mass, led by the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin. A choir from the area lifted voice in exaltation. The next morning all gathered together in the auditorium with headphones serving as our link to the messages we received in the four official languages.

First, General Minister Tibor Kauser, OFS, welcomed the OFS and updated us on state of the Order and what had happened in the last three years (the General Chapter is only held every three years): 300,000 members in the world order; 50,000 Franciscan Youth; challenges and hopes for the Order in parts of Africa, Egypt, China; successes in outreach in some parts of Africa and Southeast Asia; Congresses held in South East Asia, Europe and South America; YouFra plans for World Youth Day. He had much news for the capitulars, as they called the voting councilors; and all was presented in four languages with the help of interpreters in Spanish, English, French and Italian.

Reflecting the theme, “As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world” (Jn 17,18), there were particularly emotional and dramatic the presentations by Seculars Eugenio and Elisabetta which addressed special ministries in Milan. They and their family work and live at a rundown, urban church and reached out to the struggling neighborhood families. Then, there was Michel, a Secular Franciscan and cardio-vascular surgeon from the Netherlands, who shared his testimony of how he serves the OFS at its different levels.

There was also Franco who participates in both public and political life in Italy. He emphasized the importance of getting involved in the politics of the times. Lorena from Spain shared how she started a formation project on care for creation. And, finally, our very own Ann Mulqueen, OFS, explained the role of the lay spiritual assistant and how our lay spiritual assistants in the U.S. provide support for the order.

Among the most emotional moments were presentations on the causes of beatification and canonization of two Secular Franciscans who gave their lives as martyrs for their faith: Lucien Botovasoa, a teacher from Madagascar, and Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian farmer.

A report was also given on the beginning process of the causes for the beatification of Augusto Natali (Italy), an OFS leader in the precursor of the international fraternity, and past General Ministers Manuela Mattioli (Venezuela) and Emanuela de Nunzio (Italy).

Capitulars voting on an agenda item

Interspersed among the presentations were work sessions based on the Instrumentum Laboris on the Management of the Order – a project which we, in the United States, have been working on for the past three years, completing surveys, discussing at our fraternities, participating in focus groups. As a focal point of the GeneraI Chapter, it took much time and discussion. It was the task of the International Fraternity (the International Councilors and the Presidency representing the countries of the world) to recommend various actions for the future of the Order and to put support behind the chosen proposals.

According to Canadian Doug Clorey, OFS, previous vice minister of the Order, this is a major step in moving the order forward and has been a priority for the Presidency for years. “I don’t think our members realize what this means for the Order.”

The Chapter voted to:

  1. Establish a permanent international formation office/team which will focus on maintaining continuity of formation around the world
  2. Form an international communications office/team to ensure that there is follow through on outreach – both internally and outside of the order — to bring the life of the international fraternity closer to the brothers and sisters scattered around the world.
  3. Establish a JPIC Secretariat to help integrate efforts and coordinate activities and to collaborate with others in the Franciscan family
  4. Develop a financial strategy for the future of the Order
  5. Recommend that National Fraternities establish a National Registry of OFS members in their countries

For a complete list of all decisions and how they may impact our National, Regional and Local fraternities, go to our national website (see 2017 General Chapter Conclusions).

The participants worked intensely during the days but the nights were dedicated to laughter and the sharing of cultures through song, dance, and presentations. Our US and Canadian contingent entered singing “When the Saints Come Marching In” and then talked about our newest saints and venerables from the USA, among them: St. Marianne Cope, St. Kateri Tekakwitha, and Blessed Solanus Casey.

This was, indeed, a momentous Chapter, a Chapter that will change the way we, as an Order, interact with each other and with the world. It reminded us that we are one Order whose goal is to bring the Gospel to life – for our members and for the world.