When Pope Francis visited Assisi a few years ago, he challenged the various branches of the Franciscan Order to work together more closely. On November 23, 2017, about 400 Franciscans Friars — Friars Minor, Conventuals, Capuchins, TORs and Atonements — were granted an audience with Pope Francis in order to inform him of the progress that has been made in this regard, and to express their commitment to continue working together.
Together we have responded to that challenge in several ways. The three branches of the First Order (OFMs, Conventuals, and Capuchins) have worked together to plan a celebration of the 8th centenary of the Pardon of Assisi and a commemoration of the 5th centenary of the Papal Bull "Ite Vos" that cemented the division between the Conventuals and Observants. Earlier this year, a Capitolo generalissimo* was held in Assisi with participants from the three branches of the First Order plus representatives of various other Franciscan congregations. The chapter was held exactly 500 years after the Capitolo generalissimo that Pope Leo X called in order to heal the divisions among various Franciscan groups, but that never took place.
In addition to these celebrations, the three branches of the First Order have begun to collaborate in some very practical areas. The course for missionaries offered in Brussels each year is a joint effort of the three branches of the First Order. They also run an institute for higher studies in Lusaka, Zambia. Efforts are currently underway to combine the Antonianum, Seraphicum and Franciscan Institute of Spirituality in Rome into a single Franciscan University. The first steps have also been taken to establish fraternities with members from each branch of the First Order.
I have spoken to my OFM and Conventual counterparts, and we agree that much more collaboration could be done in North America. All of us, for instance, struggle to provide adequate preparation for those destined to work in the area of formation. Setting up a common course for formation personnel seems to make sense. There are also vast areas of the United States and Canada that have almost no Franciscan presence. Forming an inter-obediential fraternity in these areas could benefit both the local church and our Order.
Brothers, let us begin.
* It is difficult to translate Capitolo generalissimo into English. One might write: "Extra-general chapter", in the sense that while a general chapter (as opposed to a provincial chapter) is for the whole Order, an extra-general chapter is for all the Orders.