21 May 2016

The changing face of the Order in North America

The new provincial council of the Province of Mary, Mother of the Good Shepherd (left to right): Br. John Juhl, Br. Henry Alva, Br. Germaine Kpakafi, Br. John Frampton and Br. Paul Duplessie
The Province of Mary, Mother of the Good Shepherd (Central Canada) celebrated its tenth ordinary provincial chapter during May 16-19. The underlying topics of discussion would have been familiar to most of the provinces in the North American-Pacific Capuchin Conference: how to deal with the financial, fraternal and ministerial challenges brought about by the aging and shrinking of the province's membership, and how to assure quality formation for the young men who want to join the Order, to name two of the topics. This chapter, however, was unique in at least one respect. It was the first chapter in the history of the Order in North America to elect a provincial minister who is neither a native of North America or of the founders' country. The new provincial minister, Br. Henry Alva, is a member of the Province of Karnataka (India) who opted several years ago to minister in this province. To put an exclamation point on this unique situation, the newly-elected provincial vicar, Br. Germain Kpakafi, is a member of the General Custody of the Congo who has been ministering in Canada for the past few years.

The uniqueness of this situation may not last long. Most of the circumscriptions in the NAPCC have some form of collaborative arrangement with one or more circumscriptions in other countries. The phenomenon is again changing the face of the Order in the conference. The first change took place decades ago as provinces gradually became "americanized", even while keeping some vestigial customs of their founding provinces. Now, the provinces here are becoming increasingly multicultural, or as some would prefer to say, intercultural. The change is taking place not only because friars from other circumscriptions are coming here temporarily to minister, but also because the North American provinces are getting vocations from a wider range of cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Given this situation, it will not be at all surprising if provincial councils in the NAPCC begin increasingly to portray the global reach of the Order.  

09 December 2015

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

I'm conducting an economic visitation of the Province of Malta. Last night, on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, I was able to witness one of the religious processions for which Malta is famous. This short video doesn't really do justice to the experience, but it will give you an idea.


17 October 2015

NAPCC meeting

The North American-Pacific Capuchin Conference met in Beacon, New York, on October 15 and 16. As usual, the agenda was quite full, but our executive secretary, Patrick McSherry, kept us focused so that we could finish on time. In this meeting, Francis Gasparik was re-elected president of the Conference, Nick Mormando was re-elected vice president, and David Nestler was re-elected as member-at-large. There were a number of other appointments, which will be made public in due time.
The most important agenda item from my point of view was the approval of the English translation of the 2013 Constitutions and Ordinances of the General Chapters for use in the conference. The text will now be presented to the general council for approval.
Our hosts, the Province of New Jersey and Saint Lawrence Friary in Beacon, treated us very well, which added to the enjoyment of the gathering.

18 July 2015

Challenges and hope in Quebec, Canada

For the past three weeks I have been conducting a visitation of the Sacred Heart Province in Eastern Canada, assisted by Br. Pio Murat. Like most North American provinces, the Sacred Heart Province is receiving far fewer vocations than in the past, and as a result it has had to close some fraternities in order to reinforce fraternal life in those that remain. It was the first province in North America to enter intentionally into a project of fraternal collaboration with provinces in other parts of the world. Currently, there are six brothers from the Province of Kerala-St. Francis and four from the Province of Madagascar working in Eastern Canada.

One of the historical hallmarks of this province was its engagement in the issues regarding the poor and marginalized of society. Many of those issues have now faded, and as the number of friars has decreased and their ages increased, they can no longer be as engaged as before. Yet you can still sense that spark among the brothers; they have an interest in the what is happening in the world and in the Order beyond the borders of the province. One of the manifestations of this interest is their simple lifestyle, mindful as they are that many people even in North America struggle to make ends meet. Pio and I were also impressed by the brothers' commitment to prayer.

Speaking to the brothers in the fraternity of the infirmary this morning, Pio remarked that every stage of life has its gifts. This is as true of provinces as it is of individual friars. These past three weeks have reminded me that just because a province is older and smaller, it nonetheless has gifts to offer to the Order.

07 June 2015

Thank you

A few months into the current term, the general council decided to commission an organizational audit of the general curia to help us evaluate things such as staffing levels, internal and external communications, and professional standards. We eventually choose Fr. James Grummer, S.J., a general councilor of the Society of Jesus, to conduct the audit. Having just finished reading his final report, I felt moved to share one part of it with my readers (if I have any left since my posts have been few and far between).

Fr. Grummer rightly points out the generosity and the spirit of self-sacrifice of the brothers who were called and who graciously accepted to work in the general curia. The general council depends on the work of twenty-six (more or less, as the number seems to constantly change) brothers in various roles. You may never know the names of many of them, or at most you might see their photographs in BICI when they begin or end their service in the curia. The fact that they work anonymously, however, does not make them less important. They keep the wheels of the Order turning while the general councilors are globe trotting.

Having worked in the curia myself for many years before being elected to the council, I can testify to the sacrifices they make. Being able to live and work in Rome seems like the dream job to some people, and it is ... for about two weeks. The reality is that life here is often difficult. Although we live in a large fraternity, there is a certain loneliness that comes with living far from one's home. The brothers here often miss important family occasions, such as wedding, funerals and the birth of nephews and nieces, as well as provincial events, such as professions and ordinations. There are, of course, consolations; I enjoyed, for instance, meeting and interacting with the brothers from other parts of the world who are constantly passing through the curia. Overall, however, most of the brothers are quite happy to return to their province at the completion of their term of service. Yet they are not begrudging in their service, and it shows in the positive, joyful spirit that is common in the fraternity. The general councilors have often shared among themselves that we look forward to returning to the general curia after being away for several weeks or months.

As if that was not enough reason to be thankful, Fr. Grummer also points out the fact that most of the brothers who work here are doing something that they have had little or no training for. Due to the frequent staff changes or new ideas from the general council, many brothers were given additional assignments after having worked here for a while. For the most part, we have found willing, generous acceptance on the part of the brothers.

So please join me in thanking these brothers who have generously accepted to serve the Order and the Church by working at the general curia. How about a round of internet applause?

22 March 2015

Japanese Bishops on "ad limina"

Today I represented the Order at a reception held in Rome by the Japanese Episcopal Conference for all the religious congregations working in Japan. It was a good occasion to talk to Bishop Berard Oshikawa, OFM Conv., of the Diocese of Naha, where the curia of our custody is located. Bishop Oshikawa was the successor of our own Bishop Peter Baptist Ishigami, OFMCap., who passed away last year just shy of his 94th birthday. In the accompanying photograph, I am standing with Bishop Oshikawa. I'm not sure what caused me to be blurry - the camera or the wine.

I also had a good conversation with Bishop Dominic Miyahara of the Diocese of Fukuoka, where we have a small presence. The Bishop expressed his fervent wish that we send more brothers to work in his diocese.

Both bishops expressed their gratitude for the presence of our brothers, and had high praise for their work. 

Blessing of the Relic Chapel

Many of the brothers who visited the generalate before it was renovated may remember seeing the Relic Chapel. It was usually one of the highlights of the visit, and not just because everything else about the visit was incredibly boring. When planning the renovations, it was decided to move the Relic Chapel to a more suitable location. This necessitated the work of a skilled carpenter because the size and shape of the new room was slightly different than the former. Last Saturday (21 March), we were finally able to view the results, and the verdict is overwhelmingly positive. The new chapel is as beautiful and the old.

To mark the occasion, Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, presided at a ceremony to bless the new chapel.

Card. Amato preaching about the importance of relics

Here is the niche containing the relics
of Saint Conrad of Parzham
I can't promise you a niche for your relics,
but we might have a drawer for them!