Adapted from a January 31, 2016 letter from our Minister Provincial to the Friars of Our Lady of the Angels Province, regarding the January 17-23, 2016 Minister General’s “Convocation of Federations of the Order” for a meeting with the General Curia.
A plethora of languages echoed through the passages of the Sacro Convento in Assisi as sixty-two Friars gathered representing thirty-two countries. As we arrived in Assisi, nothing bespoke the tragic irony of our times more poignantly than the cohort of armed Italian soldiers blockading all ingresses to the precincts of the upper and lower Basilica of St. Francis; Man of Peace. In response to ISIL’s recent threat against the Vatican, the Holy See has had to ban all motor vehicles from the Piazza Inferiore and the road leading up to the Via San Francesco from the portals of the Sacro Convento. After passing through the security barriers, I immediately noticed the “Lampedusa Refugee Boat-Crib” beneath the Christmas tree, which is left dominating the Piazza Inferiore until Candlemas, the 2nd of February. More than ever we must pray for the kingdom of the Prince of Peace to overtake the caliphates of hate in our imperiled world!
The purpose of the Assisi Assembly was a review of the Order’s six-year plan at the midway point between the last General Chapter and the next. The Minister General noted that this meeting of the Order’s leaders in Assisi was intended to be a type of “community pilgrimage” bringing us together in relation to St. Francis of Assisi, so that we could be fortified by one another in the task of stimulating the local friars to evaluate our life and renew the charism. He also pointed out that the Church’s “Year of Mercy” is punctuated by the Order’s commemoration of the 800th anniversary of the “Pardon of Assisi” [Portiuncula Indulgence]. He charged us to undertake creative initiatives in 2016 promoting inter-Franciscan collaboration on the themes of forgiveness, reconciliation, healing, and mercy.
Our daily Eucharistic celebrations took place in the Lower Basilica beneath the vaulted frescos by Giotto depicting the Allegory of the Vows. As we mounted the stairs daily to kiss the Altar, one could look down through the grating over the Tomb of St. Francis directly below. Friar Jude Winkler, OFM Conv. (Assistant General and friar of Our Lady of the Angels Province) eloquently preached the homily, in Italian and English, at each of the liturgies. Our province’s Friar Tim Kulbicki, OFM Conv. is the secretary of the International Commission for the Revision of the Constitutions of which the finished product will be his lasting legacy to future generations of the Order. During the convocation, Friar Tim led us through an overview of the project. All seven of the Assistants General for the various federations made presentations, as well as the Vicar General, the Secretary General, Procurator General, and the Custos of Assisi, along with the superiors of the other Franciscan families in Assisi. We also broke into small group sessions to discuss the various lights, shadows, and challenges faced by Provincials, Custodes, and Delegates. Everyone’s words ultimately bespoke THE WORD and our fraternal communion with Francis in embracing THE WORD.
Midweek, we took a small pilgrimage to La Verna (the site where Saint Francis of Assisi received the stigmata). The theme of the day was “Mercy.” Just outside the entry to the grounds of La Verna, we processed into the holy precincts behind the Minister General, who carried a six-foot cross. La Verna was bitter cold that day and one of the African friars saw snow and icicles for the first time, asking the name we give to those large formations of ice dripping from the rocky cliffs. The official photo of our whole group (below) was taken in the courtyard of the La Verna Friary, where our Observant brothers hosted us to a sumptuous meal after Mass. We ended our “Pilgrimage of Mercy” in Gubbio, at our Conventual friary marking the site of St. Francis’ first way-station outside Assisi. St. Francis had journeyed to Gubbio in 1206 immediately after stripping himself before Bishop Guido and Pietro Bernadone in the Vescovado, thereby embarking on the path of a “stranger and exile in this world.” It was in Gubbio that St. Francis tamed the threatening wolf.
On our final night in Assisi we all enjoyed a medieval banquet in the deepest bowels of the Sacro Convento – the original convent built by Brother Elias [and later used by Zefferelli as the set for the cloth-dying scene in Brother Sun, Sister Moon]. A student friar entertained us as the jester on 10-foot stilts.
Know that each and all of you accompanied me in prayer and heart throughout these days in the Franciscan heartland. How grand it is for us to share a common call as sons of Francis!
Your brother James