Tuesday, April 21, 2009

800 Years of Franciscan Movement

I arrived in Assisi on Tuesday of Easter Week, having flown over night from Harare, via Zurich and Rome. I came in order to represent the Society of St. Francis at the Chapter of Mats held to honor the Pope's approval of St. Francis' Gospel way of life in 1209.

1800 brothers from all over the world came to Assisi at the invitation of the Ministers General of the Order of Friars Minor, the OFM Cappuchins, the Conventuals and the Third Order Regular. There were seven of us Ministers General there, and when I was introduced as the Minister General "Anglicani" I got a huge round of applause.

I stayed with the Society of the Atonement friars in Assisi. During my travels I had not read all my e-mails carefully and thus missed the important detail of where all this was taking place...I had a fuzzy idea of "Rome and Assisi". So I 'd not made any plans for a place to stay, praying the Lord would provide. I was richly provided for, and got to spend a terrific time getting to know the Atonement brothers and their extremely generous and friendly Minister General, Jim Puglisi, SA. Their novitiate is as international as SSF's, but they live together in Assisi: young men from Congo, Philippines and India.

I had a lovely time and enjoyed being a bit of an objet fascinans among the Roman Catholics. The English translation was difficult, the young friars in the booth would breathe heavily into the microphone and then say, "um...he is using a lot of Italian words...it is difficult...um. (more heavy breathing)" But the majority found the talks very edifying. Occasionally our English translators would have a burst of lucidity, and we heard terrific stories of Franciscan work around the world, and a call to go out into the world.

Although I anticipated it, I felt sad at the historic divisions between Anglicans and Roman Catholics, and our lack of communion. So I fasted from the Eucharist during Easter Week. But it forced me to practice what I call Spiritual Communion: remembering it is about THANKSGIVING. I had so much to be grateful for; the time of communion was rich with memories and prayers. Plus it was so fabulous to be in the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels, imagining Francis there, the brothers gathering there, and finally Francis' death practically on the spot I was sitting on.

Although there was no full communion I was always invited to sit with the other Minister Generals during the programs. At Morning Prayer at the Basilica of St. Clare I was hauled from my spot in the back of the transept to sit next to the Bishop of Assisi ("Salve" he said as he shook my hand). The other time of greatest connection was during the penitential procession from St. Mary of the Angels to the Basilica of St. Francis. The seven Generals carried the cross and the 1800+ friars practically pushed us along, singing chants. Here I am with Br. Jose Carballo the Minister General of the OFM.

The Chapter of Mats is so named because the only other one was held by St. Francis and there was insufficient accommodation so the brothers had to live in shelters made of mats. The first Chapter of Mats and this, the second, concluded with a meeting with the Pope. We traveled by bus to Castel Gandolfo. Once there we had mass before going to the Papal Audience. At the Mass we were introduced to a special guest, the warden of the Ecclesiastical Penitentiary, and I wondered which poor theologians are languishing there. I later learned it is an old title but does not involve jails per se...it is not a Gospel ministry I aspire to.

The Audience was like a football rally. The friars were roaring "Benedetto!" and singing "Alleluia!" We were clinging to the walls. Many were eager to wave their national flags, but this was VERY unpopular with the people standing behind the different delegations. Finally Pope Benedict came in waving his hands, and the brothers roared and stamped and whistled. An American friar later asked me what I thought of it all, and I said I had made up my mind before it happened that it was a privilege to be there, he was THEIR leader, not mine. And he only made encouraging remarks, which I appreciated. Being an ecumenical guest means being non critical at the hosts' party. But if he ever wants to talk about the validity of Anglican Orders I'd be happy to talk.

"Brothers, my brothers, the Lord has called me to walk the road of simplicity and has shown me the way. I do not want therefore that you mention other Rules to me [...]. The Lord has revealed to me his will that I should be a step in the world: this is the science to which he wishes us to dedicate ourselves." (St. Francis to the five thousand friars participating in the Chapter of Mats in 1219)

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