22 December 2010

Merry Christmas

Let us remember that the Christmas heart is a giving heart, a wide open heart that thinks of others first. The birth of the baby Jesus stands as the most significant event in all history, because it has meant the pouring into a sick world of the healing medicine of love which has transformed all manner of hearts for almost two thousand years... Underneath all the bulging bundles is this beating Christmas heart.
George Mathhew Adams

Assembly in Australia

I was in Australia during the first week of December, where I lead the provincial assembly in a study of the Constitutions project currently underway. By my count, there were 32 friars participating in the assembly, which ran from the 6th to the 10th of December. I guided the group through the study of the revisions of chapters one, two and four, then the participants divided themselves into six groups, one for each of the remaining revised chapters—three, five, six, seven, nine and ten (the revisions of chapters eight, eleven and twelve were not yet ready). The groups did very well studying the revisions and pointing out some of the more important changes to the rest of the assembly.

I do not consider myself an expert in our Constitutions so I was reluctant at first to lead the assembly on this topic. After all was said and done, however, I was very glad that I did it because it gave me the opportunity (read: forced me) to do a more in-depth study of the project myself. I must admit that I learned a lot. The notes that accompany the revisions are useful and even interesting, at times. They helped me to understand many things not only about the revisions that are being proposed, but about our current Constitutions, as well. If you haven't studied any of the proposed revisions yet, I urge you to do so. Pick the chapter of the Constitutions that most interests you—formation, prayer, poverty, our manner of life, fraternity, penance, ministry, obedience, etc.—and see what the committee is proposing for that chapter. I bet you will learn something too.

07 November 2010

A Tribute

Speaking of Ireland, while visiting the brothers in Rochestown, I took the opportunity to visit the grave of Br Donal O’Mahony, who passed away on 14 August 2010. I lived and worked Donal when he was the Secretary of the Justice Peace and Ecology Office of the Order and I was the English-speaking Secretary, from 1988 to 1994. Donal was small of stature, but he had a big heart and his presence could fill a room. Anyone who ever met Donal was instantly his friend. In his life he met many famous people, but he showed as much respect and interest in ordinary people as he did to politicians and celebrities. Once he was seated next to a young Irish couple who were flying to Rome to be married, and by the time they exited the plane, Donal had agreed to witness the marriage and provide a honeymoon tour of the Eternal City.

All the major newspapers in Ireland carried an obituary of Donal in which they spoke of his work as a hostage negotiator, his efforts for the homeless that led to the establishment of Threshold and his passion for peace that led him to create the Damietta Initiative. While those initiatives are commendable, it was the quiet, unassuming way that he worked in the Order’s JPE Office that led me to admire him. He was the first Secretary of the JPE Office, and as for most pioneers, the trail was not always easy to blaze. Not everyone in the General Curia believed we needed a JPE Office so his work was not always appreciated. Once, he returned to Rome from official business somewhere in the world only to find that someone had removed half the furniture from his office “since he wasn’t using it.” A lesser person faced with such attitudes probably would have given up, but Donal bore it all with a smile. He preached peace not only with his lips, but by his very actions.

It is all too easy to say that one person cannot make a difference, but thanks to Donal the lives of thousands have been improved by the work of Threshold. In a day and age when it seems that the world seems to be locked in an inevitable clash of cultures, perhaps the Damietta Initiative will work a similar miracle. Rest in peace, Donal.

A Canticle of Creation

Ard Mhuire FriaryThe pastoral and fraternal visits conducted by the General Definitory are not exactly holiday excursions, but I cannot deny that I often find myself in interesting and beautiful places. The place I am currently visiting would fall into the latter category. For the last two days I have been visiting the brothers in Ard Mhuire Friary, County Donegal, Ireland. During a rare, sunny moment this morning I snapped the above photo of the friary from a short distance away. I was given the privilege of staying in the “Bishop’s Room”, which can been seen on the top left side of the friary in the photo. The second photograph is the view from my room on a less sunny moment. Although this would now be considered prime property, before the Capuchins acquired it from the Irish Land Commission in 1929 it had been on the market for nearly seven years. The friary was originally used as the province's theologate, but is now a retreat house. The brothers here are most hospitable, and would gladly welcome fellow Capuchins for a private retreat or just some time away.

View from my window in ArdsI was told that the mountain seen in the background of the photo is used by local residents to predict the weather. If the mountain is not visible, they say, it is raining. If it is visible, it is about to rain. It seems to be a very accurate indicator since the mountain was very visible in the bright sun this morning, but now, six hours later, the rain is so thick that the mountain is barely visible.

26 August 2010

Province of Croatia visitation

Tempus fugit! It has been over a month since I completed the visitation of the Croatian Province (27 June to 11 July 2010). First, let me answer the obvious question: No, I do not speak Croatian. Fortunately, the Croatian brothers' linguistic abilities are better than mine—most of them speak either Italian or English; for those who did not, Br Ivica Vrbić, who was my driver for most of the visitation, also very capably handled the job of interpretation. Customarily, a general definitor does not conduct the visitation of his own province—that would be akin to asking a mother if she thought her baby was beautiful. Since Jure Šarčević, the general definitor for the area, is from the Croatian Province, he asked me to conduct the visitation there. I readily accepted because I had fond memories of my visit to Croatia in 1999.

Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Rijeka (photo by Roberta F.The first permanent Capuchin presence in Croatia dates to 1611. Although it has historically had only around fifty members, the Province has already given the Order one saint, Leopold Mandić, whose image can be seen in almost every Catholic church in the country. The Province has recently begun to promote the cause of another of its members—Ante Tomičić, a lay brother who died in the odor of sanctity in 1981. The ministry of the brothers in Croatia consists mainly in caring for several shrines and parishes, although there is a variety of other ministries, as well. The Capuchins are noted and appreciated for the traditional ministries of preaching and confession.

Since Croatian won its independence from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugolavia in the early 1990's, it has re-asserted its Catholic character and has also experienced an improved economy. In 2004, it applied to join the European Union. As I see it, these changes, while in some ways good for society, will pose a challenge for the Province. Rising incomes generally lead to smaller families, which means fewer vocations. Increasing materialism will make it more difficult for the Church and the Capuchin Order to keep the attention of youth in Croatian society. Many of the brothers are aware of these challenges and are trying to address them, although it is never easy to know what the correct response is.

19 June 2010

Pennsylvania Province Chapter

The young and the youngerFrom June 14 to June 18, 2010, I presided at the Ordinary Chapter of the Pennsylvania Province. There was a wonderful, fraternal spirit among the 94 official delegates and the numerous guest-friars who attended the Chapter. The Province chose to reflect during the Chapter on the four core values of the Capuchin life mentioned in the General Minister's fourth circular letter, Let Us Fan the Flame of Our Charism, namely, fraternity in minority, contemplation, closeness to the poor and continuing renewal. In preparation for the Chapter, the friars of the Province met in regional assemblies during the past twelve months to discuss their experiences of these values and how they wanted to live them more deeply in the future. At the Chapter itself, the friars met in small groups to discuss the topics further and to formulate suggestions for the new definitory. The groups came up with many practical, yet challenging ideas for helping the Province live these values more authentically.

The liturgies and the moments of prayer during the Chapter were also well-planned. For lack of a suitable retreat center large enough to accomodate the Chapter, it was held at a conference center. Despite the lack of a real chapel, the space created for the liturgies was quite prayerful. The musicians and liturgists helped to create a prayer spirit during the Chapter, which no doubt contributed greatly to the overall sense of peace and fraternity that I sensed.

Congratulations to the new Provincial Council that was elected. May they be blessed in this fraternal ministry for which they have been chosen.

12 June 2010

Saint Lawrence Seminary Celebrates 150 Years

Soon after arriving in the United States and establishing the first, permanent presence of Capuchins in the country, Bonaventure Frey and Francis Haas realized that if the fledging jurisdiction was to survive, it needed to recruit and train local vocations. So it was that in 1860 they opened a school for boys that would become known as Saint Lawrence Seminary. On 3 June 2010, the seminary celebrated the 150th anniversary of that courageous and prophetic decision.

That the seminary exists at all is fairly remarkable since most high school seminaries in the United States closed in the 1970's due to declining enrollments. A Chapter of the Province of Saint Joseph (Calvary) discussed just such an option, but decided to do everything in their power to keep the doors open. The enrollment in recent years has been about 200 students, which is lower than at the school's height, but higher than in the 70's and 80's. Although only a small percentage of Saint Lawrence Seminary's students eventually become priests or religious, all are formed to become leaders in the Church and in their communities. Numerous bishops, priests and brothers were among the alumni who attended the anniversary celebration. Some of those present for the celebration are shown in the picture below. They are (from left to right, with alumni indicated by *): Br John Celichowski*, Provincial Minister, Bishop Octavio Cisneros*, Auxiliary Bishop of Brooklyn, Bishop Joseph Perry*, Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago, Bishop Jerome Listecki, Bishop of Milwaukee, Bishop Richard Sklba, Auxiliary Bishop of Milwaukee, Bishop Paul Schmitz*, Apostolic Administrator of Bluefields (Nicaragua) and Br Dennis Druggan*, Rector of St Lawrence Seminary.

In my remarks, I mentioned that running an educational institution might appear to be a strange ministry for an Order whose founder viewed higher education with some suspicion and forbid his brothers to have any book other than the breviary. I recalled, however, something that Br Raniero Cantalamessa said at the International Chapter of Mats in 2009—that Franciscans were once known for their work of evangelizing the lost. Using biblical images, he said that we were once more fishermen than pastors. Given that youth are overrepresented among the unchurched today, the education of youth may be among the most Franciscan of all ministries.

03 June 2010

Chapter of the Central Canadian Province

Grounds of St Francis Retreat CentreProvincial ministers who dream of having smaller, less complicated provinces may want to talk to someone from the Province of Mary, Mother of the Good Shepherd (Central Canada) before jumping ship. Having just presided at its Eighth Ordinary Chapter, I can attest that fewer brothers and fewer friaries does not necessarily translate into fewer challenges. In some ways, just the opposite is true. For one thing, fewer brothers means that a greater percentage of them are involved in the inevitable internal ministries of a jurisdiction—provincial minister, directors of formation, vocations and communications, etc. It is true that in a smaller province some of these ministries may not need to occupy a brother full-time, but assigning several ministries to one brother adds its own complications. Fewer brothers and friaries also means there is less flexibility in terms of ministerial and fraternal assignments. None of this, of course, is news to the members of the Mother of the Good Shepherd Province. The discussions during the Chapter clearly indicated that the brothers were well aware of the challenges they faced. They were equally aware, however, of the resources and hopes that they have to meet these challenges.

There are currently twenty-six professed brothers working in the Central Canadian Province. Of these, eight are members of provinces in Eritrea, India, Italy, and Poland. Some came specifically in order to work with Catholics of their own ethnic groups, but other came mainly to help the Province maintain strong, vital fraternities. Some have come with the intention of remaining the rest of their lives, while others are there on multi-year commitments. Because of the Province’s long experience in this regard, it is something of a laboratory for Solidarity of Personnel. In the discussions that took place during the Chapter, it was clear that successfully integrating brothers from different areas of the world is not as easy as it seems, and that it requires ongoing efforts. I was happy to see, therefore, that one of the resolutions passed at the Chapter was aimed at improving the way friars from other countries are welcomed and integrated into the Province.

On the other hand, the mere fact that the Chapter’s participants could candidly discuss the difficulties among themselves was a sign of the trust that has developed among them. That one non-Canadian served on the previous Provincial Council and two were elected to the current Council are further evidence that integration is possible.

05 May 2010

An Accidental Reunion

The General Minister and I recently completed our travels to various jurisdictions in North America: the Chapter of the Province of Mid-America, the centenary celebrations of the Province of Western America, the NAPCC meeting in Québec City, and a visit of the Pennsylvania Province. Understandably, everyone wants to maximize the time they have with the General Minister so we were constantly on the move during the three weeks he spent in North America.

While all the events we attended added, in their own way, to the General Minister's understanding of Capuchin life in North America, the celebrations in California of the 100th anniversary of the coming of Irish Capuchins to the West Coast stood out. The latest issue of the BICI has an article about the celebrations so I will not elaborate on them here. One event during these celebrations, however, rendered the experience even more memorable, thanks to a chance remark and the diligence of one friar.

Having just attended a symposium on the life of our former General Minister, Bernard of Andermatt, I knew that he was the first General Minister to visit the missions in North America, which he did in 1891 (the website of the Province of Mid-America has a photograph of Bernard of Andermatt taken during the Chapter of the Pennsylvania Province in 1891). I was struck by the fact that the itinerary of this General Minister from Switzerland included many of the same stops (Pittsburgh, Victoria, San Francisco, and Québec) as our current General Minister, also from Switzerland. Knowing that he had traveled to San Francisco to meet his brother, Edward, who immigrated to the U.S. in 1884, I wondered in an e-mail to Br Matt Elshoff, the Provincial Minister of Western America, whether there were still any descedents of Edward Christen in California. Matt asked the Provincial Secretary, Br Miguel Ortiz, to look into it. With characteristic diligence, Miguel managed to track down a grandson of Edward still living in Ferndale, California. Richard Christen and his wife, Ann, were invited to join the centenary celebration in Burlingame, California, on 15 April 2010, together with any other interested family members. In all, about twenty-five members of the Christen family were in attendance, bringing with them a photograph they had of Bernard of Andermatt and a copy of his biography of Saint Francis that he had given them.

26 February 2010

Where America’s Day Begins and Ends

I’ve just concluded a visit to the Vice Province of the Marianna Islands and Hawaii, also known as Our Lady, Star of the Sea. The cynics among you are probably thinking that I deliberately planned the visit for February in order to escape colder, snowier climates. Let me state from the outset, therefore, that just because they are cynical does not mean that they are always wrong!

Agana Heights Friary, GuamA total of twenty friars make up the Vice Province—fourteen on the island of Guam (including Archbishop Anthony Apuron) and six in Hawaii. Seven of the friars are from the mother Province of New York/New England, one is from Hawaii and the rest are from Guam. Although the Vice Province is among the smaller jurisdictions numerically, it is probably the largest geographically; 3,800 miles (6,120 km) separate Guam and Hawaii. Flying from one to the other takes over seven hours. As you can imagine, this presents a formidable challenge to the friars’ ability to get together and to maintain a sense of unity. Furthermore, while Guam and Hawaii have many things in common—a tropical climate, the island mentality of its residents, and a substantial number of Filipino and Pacific Islander immigrants, to name a few—there are also significant differences. The fact that Hawaii is one of the fifty states of the United States and its proximity to the American mainland (it is “only” a five hour flight) means that Hawaii is heavily influenced by the culture of mainland America. Guam, although a territory of the United States since 1898, was first colonized by Spain, and the Spanish influence can still be seen, especially in Guam’s religious devotions. Guam is also more strongly influenced by Asian and Pacific cultures than Hawaii. In fact, the Archdiocese of Guam belongs to the Episcopal Conference of the Pacific. Practically speaking, this means that the church in Hawaii struggles with a lot of the same issues as that of the mainland, such as falling Mass attendance, fallout from sexual abuse scandals, and clergy shortages. The church in Guam is not untouched by these struggles, but it does not experience them quite as strongly. Sunday Mass attendance is still high, and even weekday Masses will have a good attendance. Devotions to the saints, especially St Jude and St Anthony, are also strong.

Hibiscus, the state flower of HawaiiThere are also some significant differences in the experience of the Order on the two islands. The missions in the Marianna Islands was entrusted to the Capuchin Order by the Propaganda Fide so at one time Capuchins “owned” the church on Guam. Until recently, all the parishes on the island had a Capuchin pastor. As the number of secular clergy has grown, both through ordination of local vocations and the borrowing of clergy from other countries, the friars have begun to relinquish parishes to the diocesan clergy and to expand into other ministries, most notably teaching. In Hawaii, on the other hand, the local church was already quite established by the time the first Capuchins began working there. One commonality among the friars of both islands is their diminishing numbers. However, last year’s ordination of an Hawaiian friar, the presence of a Chamorro friar in the NAPCC novitiate, a candidate for next year’s postulancy and several potential future candidates gives hope that the Vice Province will continue to serve the church of Guam and Hawaii for the foreseeable future.

20 January 2010

Free advertising

In his catechesis during last Wednesday's general audience, the Holy Father made mention of the importance of the Mendicant Orders in renewing the life of the Church in the 13th century. The full text of his talk is available only in Italian on the Vatican website, but below is a summary of it in English.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In our catechesis on medieval Christian culture, we now consider the movement of ecclesial reform promoted by the two great Mendicant Orders. In every age the saints are the true reformers of the Church’s life. In the thirteenth century Saints Francis and Dominic inspired a vast evangelical renewal which met three significant needs of the Church of that time. The Franciscans and the Dominicans adopted a lifestyle of evangelical poverty which, unlike that of the Cathars, was grounded in communion with the visible Church and a sound Christian understanding of the goodness of creation. As zealous preachers, especially in urban environments, the Friars provided religious instruction and spiritual guidance to the lay faithful, many of whom became members of their "Third Orders". Travelling freely from place to place, they also contributed to the overall renewal of Church life and the spiritual transformation of society. By their presence in the universities, the Friars worked for the evangelization of culture, affirming the harmony of faith and reason, and creating the great syntheses of scholastic theology. May their example of holiness and evangelical lifestyle inspire our own witness to the Gospel and our efforts to draw the world to Christ and his Church.