(This article originally appeared in the TAU-USA Fall 2022 Issue #107)

Keynote talks by a friar, a bishop and five Secular Franciscans inspired those in the audience to renew their calls to conversion in daily life and to revitalization of the church. The work of Pope Francis was cited as a model of living in solidarity with all our brothers and sisters, as well as evangelizing our Franciscan way of life in the 21st century.

Keynote Speaker Day 1 Bishop John Btowe, OFM, Conv & Day 2 David B. Couturier, OFM Cap,

Day 1

David B. Couturier, OFM Cap.

“Called to build a more fraternal and evangelical world:

Secular Franciscans as a Community of Care and Moral Transformation”

To alleviate what Pope Francis labeled a “globalization of indifference,” Fr. David B. Couturier, OFM Cap., called upon Secular Franciscans to build a more fraternal world in the opening keynote at the Quinquennial. “In all that you do, you must develop the bonds and connections of being a brother and sister to everyone in the world,” he said. He called upon Franciscans to make a difference in the lives of the poor and vulnerable.

Fr. Couturier told a story about Pope. Pope Francis encouraged Catholics to get close to others and “look at the person in the eyes. Do not observe with detachment, but approach, bend down, touch with your own hand. Touching with our hands humanizes us,” Pope Francis said.

Fr. Couturier said that when the Pope hears confessions, he asks the penitents if they give to the poor. “When the person answers that he or she gives to charity, he said he likes to follow up with the question, ‘when you give alms, do you touch the hand of the person asking? Do you look them in the eyes?’”

He said our culture has led us to do otherwise. “We have inherited the dark legacy of racism and white supremacy that has leaked into every American system and created subtle biases in our hearts, minds, and actions. We have been trained in a politics of competition instead of a politics of caring.” Instead of being lulled into a sense of this is “just the way things are,” Secular Franciscans must act for change.

“As Franciscans, there is so much we can do and must do. We have a call, a vocation, and a divine charge to build a fraternal world,” Fr. Courtier said. A call to the Secular Franciscan life is a call to make a difference in the quality of life for everyone. “The Gospel imperative ‘on earth as it is in heaven’ gives you and me a more earthly charge for the promotion of peace, justice, and the care of creation.”

While Francis and Clare experienced the violent and greedy world of their youth, they left a legacy of transformation Franciscans can bring to the world. “Our task is to make every encounter meaningful by humility, generosity, realism, and patience. We need to help the world transition from its market-driven obsessions with profit and power and take on the challenge of caring encounters,” Fr. Courtier said.

Day 2

Bishop John Stowe, OFM Conv.

“Rebuilding the Church in the Spirit of St. Francis: Secular Franciscans

 in the Age of Pope Francis.”

Pilgrim. Poor. Brother. Simplicity. Joyfulness. Enthusiasm. Humility. Authenticity. “I bet you could add several more to the list,” said Bishop John Stowe, OFM Conv.

These traits reflect St. Francis of Assisi, as well as the actions of Pope Francis. “Pope Francis has drawn on his namesake to provide a path of renewal for the church. We know it’s not going to be an overnight renewal,” Bishop Stowe said. Pope Francis was clear from the beginning that his goal was providing gospel simplicity and claiming mercy. “He wanted a poor church for the poor. Does that sound familiar?”

“Most of us in the Franciscan family can recognize the points of connection between our founder and our current leader.” Pope Francis has brought the spirit of St. Francis alive in the church, not only by his example but also by his magisterial teachings. “Pope Francis does have an agenda in the best sense of the word,” Bishop Stowe said.

He encouraged Franciscans to follow in the footsteps of our leaders. “Let everything you say and do convey mercy, and make sure it balances with preaching peace everywhere.” Our vocation is more than talking. He noted that Pope Francis has mastered the value of gestures. Whether people are listening to his words or not, what they see is a gospel witness by his actions, just as in the life of St. Francis.

“Living the gospel is more important than talking about it. To live in fraternity and witness gospel love was far more important than evangelizing to Francis,” Bishop Stowe said. Our mission is  to help people feel the nearness of God and extend our reach to those on the fringes of society. Pope Francis encourages us to reach out to three circles of people: those who are practicing their baptismal ministry in church; those who are baptized but not attending church; and those who do not know Christ or have intentionally rejected him.

“Each of us can find them in our own families, and we can find our mission among them. There is a lot of mission that can take place among those already in the pews, but it can’t be limited to them,” Bishop Stowe said. In this sense, he said, no Franciscan can be exempt from being a missionary. “Mission brings us to life. Ask yourself, do your fraternities engage in those three circles, or are you limited to just active members of the church?”

Bishop Stowe also referred to Pope Francis’s appeal to eliminating the globalization of indifference. “To counter this, the Pope proposes a revolution of tenderness that is found in the gospel, in the example of Francis of Assisi and as a crucial component to our vocation.”