27 June 2013

New Ministers Meet to Learn

A new minister enlarging his horizons
We are at the midway point of the annual New Ministers Meeting, at which the provincial ministers, vice provincial ministers and custodes elected during the past year are presented with information that will help them carry out their service of authority. There are thirty-two ministers participating in this year's meeting; this is larger than usual since the last meeting was held in January 2012. As usual, the meeting is being held in the Order's formation center in Frascati. So far the discussions have been lively and positive.

08 June 2013

Chapters in a Franciscan Moment

The 2013 Chapter season  has come to an end for me. I presided at the Chapter of the Mid-America (Saint Conrad) Province held on April 1-5 and at the Chapter of the Province of Central Canada (Mary, Mother of the Good Shepherd) on May 13-16. Br. Mauro presided at the Chapter of the Pennsylvania (Saint Augustine) Province on May 27-31, but I attended that one, as well. A common thread running through all three chapters was an emphasis on new life and a desire to respond to the Church’s call for a new evangelization.

Chapter of the Province of Mid-America

The chapter of the Mid-America Province specifically focused on the topic of the new evangelization, and the brothers began preparing for it a year in advance through study and discussions in local chapters. They were asked to read and discuss a talk given by Br Raniero Cantalamessa entitled, “The Contribution of Franciscan Spirituality to the New Evangelization,” and an article by Br Martin Pable entitled, “Gearing Up For the New Evangelization.”

Bishop David Ricken, Bishop of Green Bay, Wisconsin, and Chairman of the Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, addressed the Chapter of the Mid-America Province. Bishop Ricken, by the way, is a product of Capuchin formation, having attended Saint Francis Minor Seminary in Victoria, Kansas—the very site where the Chapter was held. He first presented the Committee’s statement, “Disciples Called to Witness,” then went on to show how Capuchins are ideally suited to evangelize in this “Franciscan moment” the Church is living through. He spoke of Saint Francis as an icon of Christ, the herald of the Gospel and the model of the new evangelization. The other keynote address was given by Fr. Felix Medina, priest of the Archdiocese of Denver and member of the Neocatechumenal Way. The point of his presentation was to demonstrate one way the Church’s call for a new evangelization is being put into practice. While no resolutions or recommendations were passed by the Chapter, the new provincial council hopes to make tangible some of the ideas discussed during the Chapter.

Chapter of the Province of Central Canada

While there was no theme per se for the Chapter of the Province of Central Canada, much of the discussion and several of the decisions it made centered on revitalizing the Province’s fraternities and becoming more effective ministers in today’s society. Central Canada is the smallest province in the Order in terms of membership, which poses a unique set of challenges. It is difficult, for instance, to find a proper balance between being sufficiently wide-spread to attract vocations and maintaining viable fraternal life. The Province has traditionally met this challenge, in part, by receiving help in the form of International Fraternal Collaboration. The Chapter passed several recommendations that would see the Province expand to new geographical areas of Canada and new areas of ministry.

Chapter of the Pennsylvania Province

Archbishop Chaput addresses the Chapter
The Pennsylvania Province also took “New Evangelization” as the theme of its Chapter, and began preparing a year ago with several local chapters on the topic. Three speakers presented various facets of what a new evangelization meant for the Capuchin Order in the United States today. Mr. John Allen, writer from the National Catholic Reporter, vaticanista for CNN and author of nine books on the Catholic Church, spoke of three megatrends in the Catholic Church that affect its evangelization efforts: the globalization of the Church, the rise of “evangelical Catholicism”, and a new tribalism. Although updated with new references and statistics, these points were taken from his book, The Future Church: How Ten Trends Are Revolutionizing the Catholic Church (find it here on Amazon.com). He also spoke about this being a “Franciscan moment” in the Church, and how the Capuchin Order is well-suited for the task of evangelization today. The parallels between his talk and that of Bishop Ricken in the Mid-America Province were uncanny. Our brother, Cardinal Sean O’Malley spoke about his work among the poor immigrants in Washington, D.C., during his early years in the Order, and encouraged the brothers to make service of the poor a part of its evangelization. Another of our brother bishops, Charles Chaput, Archbishop of Philadelphia, spoke about the need for us to be heralds of the truth in today’s society, even if the message is inconvenient and unpopular. He also talked about the need for more creative approaches to evangelization. For a more detailed report on these last two talks, I refer you to John Allen’s article: An Afternoon with America's Capuchin Heavyweights. The Chapter charged the new provincial council with finding ways to put into practice the ideas expressed in these talks and subsequent discussions.

A final word

My impression after attending these three chapters is that the spirit of the brothers in North America is much different than it was six years ago when I presided at my first chapters. Whereas six years ago the prevalent tone seemed to be doom and gloom, now there is a greater sense of hopefulness. The talk is about living and adapting to the changes that are taking place in the Church and the world, about starting afresh. In reality, most provinces in North America are still getting smaller (Pennsylvania may be the exception), but all the provinces are getting some vocations and this has breathed new life into the Order. Most provinces have also gone through the difficult process of giving up cherished ministries and houses in order to create viable, vital fraternities. While the process was painful at the time, it provided the necessary space for new initiatives. While the average age of the provinces has increased over the last six years, there is a new energy and a new willingness to grasp this “Franciscan moment” of the Church.