18 June 2009

Hey, brother, would you like to be a bishop?

This just in from the Union of Superiors General (USG)...

"Two persons posing as Cardinals (Ruini / Bertone) from the Vatican approached our members in three different countries. The phone and email contacts were made 'sub secreto pontificio', each time denying the person permission to speak with the Superior General. Vague references were often made to urgent meetings with Pope Benedict, just hours earlier.

"Ostensibly, the 'cardinal's' request was made for one member to consider an appointment as a bishop in his own country. He in turn was referred to another senior member in another country, who had been asked by the 'cardinal' to urge him to accept the nomination. Overtures to build a formation fund as compensation to the province were offered by the 'Vatican Official'

"In a later phone conversation, requests were made for bank account information. Eventually the nominee for bishop was asked to come to Singapore to meet with the 'cardinal' in person, and incidentally bring along a large sum of money.

"The phony 'Cardinals' had enough ecclesiastical information and jargon to sound initially credible to the persons called. When, however, bank accounts and money were mentioned, suspicions arose.

"Thankfully no transfer of money took place. However, in retrospect these extortionists are rather bold and well-informed. They may currently be trying something similar with other groups.

"I advise Superiors General to post alerts to members of their staff and provincials to be on watch for similar fraud and extortion schemes to may be going on."

Forewarned is forearmed! Apologies to all those who bought non-refundable tickets to Singapore for not bringing this to your attention sooner!

11 June 2009

Meeting with the CIC

After an adventurous day of travel—our first flight was delayed, causing us to miss our connection in Frankfurt—the General Definitory arrived in Spain on 4 June to begin its meeting with the Iberian Capuchin Conference. The meeting took place in Alcalá, birthplace and burial place of the Franciscan Saint Diego (who, by the way, was an early example of a lay brother who served as guardian of his friary).

The Iberian Capuchin Conference (CIC) includes the five provinces of Spain and the Province of Portugal. The major topic of discussion was the planned merger of four of the five provinces of Spain into a new Spanish province. The provinces have worked very hard at organizing the merger, and their efforts exceeded our expectations. Rather than approaching the process with resignation, they showed great enthusiasm for the project, and see it as a way to revitalize our presence in Spain.

The Province of Catalonia, which is not currently participating in the merger process, is hoping to find new energy by welcoming a few friars from the Province of Sardinia. Eventually, both Catalonia and Portugal may join the new Spanish Province.

03 June 2009

Meeting with CIMPCap

Santissimo Redentor
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The other members of the General Definitory and I have just completed our meeting with the Italian Conference of Capuchin Provincial Ministers (CIMPCap). The meeting was held in Venice at the Friary of Our Most Holy Redeemer, which is attached to the shrine (pictured here) of the same name. The shrine, I seem to remember, was built as a thanksgiving offering by the people of Venice for having been spared from the worst of the Black Death that ravaged much of Italy.

The Capuchin Conference in Italy is the largest in the Order, with between 2,220 and 2,400 friars, depending on how you count them. While Capuchins are still quite numerous in Italy, their number has fallen significantly in recent years. Part of the reason for the decline can be found in the secularization that has taken root in Italian society, a factor that it has in common with the other western European conferences and with the NAPCC. Because of this numerical decline, provinces in Italy are facing many of the same struggles that face provinces in the NAPCC: the need to close friaries and withdraw from ministries that are no longer sustainable, the difficulty of finding an adequate number of friars to be guardians, formation directors, pastors, etc. and the difficulty of finding sufficient income with a dwindling workforce, among others.

In other ways, the experience of the Italian provinces is different from that of the provinces in the NAPCC. For one thing, the friaries that the Capuchins are closing in Italy are often almost 500 years old, and are sometimes one of the town's major landmarks. Understandably, such a closure is traumatic both for the friars and for the people they served. Another important difference is that, while vocations are increasing in many parts of the NAPCC, they have not picked up in Italy. The Italian Conference had roughly the same number of novices this year as the NAPCC (around 15), even though there are four times as many friars in CIMPCap than in the NAPCC.

Despite the obvious challenges facing our brothers in Italy, they are looking to the future with hope. The painful process of downsizing is being looked at as a chance to return to the essentials of our life. Rather than merely continuing to do what they have always done, the provinces in Italy are looking for new ways of serving the poor with a spirit of minority. Rather than giving up in the face of their difficulties, they are working to recapture the spirit that once led them to be called, "Brothers of the people."