Fr. Jobe Abbass, OFM Conv. (pictured at right on left: Provincial Delegate – Our Lady of the Angels Province Delegation of St. Francis of Assisi of Canada & Delegate to the M.I.) and the Very Reverend Fr. James McCurry, OFM Conv. (pictured at top center: Our Lady of the Angels Minister Provincial) met with the Franciscans of Halifax (Nova Scotia) over the 2021 Labor Day holiday weekend to discuss future collaboration. The Franciscans of Halifax are a public association of the faithful, comprised of ordained priests, whose roots and charism are linked to the Italian Franciscan Friars Conventual. They currently number 8 members under the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Halifax.
Join Our Lady of the Angels Province friar and Executive Director of our St. Clare Inn ministry, in Toronto, ON, Br. Tom Purcell, OFM Conv., for the 12th Annual Linda’s Walk!
Every Year, St. Clare Inn hosts two major fundraisers to help with operating costs. Since St. Clare Inn is entirely funded privately and without any government support, these fundraiser are vital to keeping the doors open. Proceeds account for almost 40% of operating costs. On September 25th, they will hold their 12th Annual Linda’s Walk.
St. Clare Inn’s 12th Annual Linda’s Walk! Due to COVID-19, they will be offering walkers two options to participate:
The in-person option will consist of staggered walk time registration. The in-person walk will start and end at St. Bonaventure Church. The virtual walk option will allow walkers to walk in their own neighborhoods and at their own speed and convenience. The third way to participate is by buying a 50/50 Draw or making a DONATION.
Adult Registration: $25.00
Youth Registration (Ages 12-15): $15.00
Child Registration: Free
A Linda’s Walk t-shirt is included with each registration!
This year, we will also be holding a 50/50 Draw.
The winner of the draw will be announced after the walk.
1 Ticket for $5.00 donation
5 Tickets for $20.00 donation
For more information please email St. Clare Inn at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 416-690-0330.
Participants can also register for the walk by visiting the website at www.stclareinn.com/events/.
Thank you for supporting St. Clare Inn!
Fr. Julio Martinez, OFM Conv. serves as pastor at St. Julia Catholic Community, in Siler City, NC. He was featured in this article in the Chatham News & Record. ~”God has given us the ability to develop the vaccine and so I have promulgated getting vaccinated among our people here at St. Julia’s,” Father Julio Martinez of St. Julia’s Catholic Church said, “and I will continue to do that.”
On Sunday, August 29, 2021, on behalf of Our Lady of the Angels Province Minister Provincial, the Very Reverend Fr. James McCurry, OFM Conv. who sent a message available via the parish website, our Vicar Provincial, Fr. Michael Heine, OFM Conv. joined Fr. Carl Zdancewicz, OFM Conv. (pastor), Fr. Joseph Angelini, OFM Conv. (pastor emeritus) and Fr. Daniel Pal, OFM Conv. (parochial vicar) to say “Farewell” to the parishioners of Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church & Our Lady of Fatima Chapel, in Winston-Salem, NC, after 34 years of pastoral ministry by our friars. Here are his remarks and photos he took throughout the day:
“On behalf of Father James McCurry our Minister Provincial and the entire Our Lady of the Angels Province, I want to say thank you for opening your hearts and lives to us Franciscans for these past 34 years. My name is Father Michael Heine, and I am the Vicar Provincial. I first heard about this wonderful parish when I was still a seminarian back in 1987. I can recall the excitement of the friars as this new opportunity came about in the south, here in the Diocese of Charlotte. There was a thrust in the Province to move south and to minister to the thriving Catholic Community and ever growing Catholic Hispanic community. Father Edger Holden and Father Canice Connors couldn’t wait to arrive, and you all opened your hearts to these sandal wearing friars, as you did for the 21 other friars who followed. You have all made an impression on the friars and we are so blessed to have been able to minister to and with you here on Link Road as well as West 3rd Street downtown.
Saying good-bye is never easy, especially when the love is so strong. Imagine how difficult it was for the apostles to say goodbye to Jesus as he ascended into heaven. The friars were broken hearted in the year 1226 as they said goodbye to Saint Francis as he welcomed sister death. Today is no less difficult. With heavy hearts and tears in our eyes, we Franciscans say that even though we depart, our love for you all has not diminished. It is not easy for anyone; for the friars or for you all.
On behalf of our Franciscan Friars, I want to thank in a special way Fathers Carl, Joe, and Daniel as they have journeyed with you, especially in these last few months since the announcement by Bishop Jugas was made. As you know the friars profess three vows – poverty, chastity, and obedience. These three vows are much more than the three knots on our cords. Leaving a ministry and people we love, is when the rubber really hits the road – we are called to let go of something and people very important to us, our love is for all people not just a select few and even though I am sure if they had a choice, our three friars would want to remain, but that vow of obedience calls them, calls us to go and be led by the Spirit.
Sad yes, disappointing I imagine, there may even be a bit of anger at the situation and that is ok. As Christians we know the Lord never leaves us. He is always calling us to a deeper relationship with Him. Those scared and confused apostles, once filled with the Holy Spirit preached throughout the world and it is on their shoulders we stand today. For over 800 years the friars, open to the working of the Holy Spirit, who Saint Francis called the real Minister General of the Order, have tried to share the merciful and gentle love of the Lord. What I am saying, the goodbye of the apostles and the early friars opened up new possibilities and empowered by the Holy Spirit enflamed them to continue to build God’s Kingdom on earth.
The same Holy Spirit is alive and well here at Our Lady of Mercy and Our Lady of Fatima. We always preach that the Church is not a building, although this one is beautiful and will always have the image of the San Damiano Cross on the front, but the Church is not the friars, not the sisters – the Church is all of us and as living stones the Lord continues to use us to build up His Body.
Next weekend, there will be two new, young faces here celebrating with you. Certainly not as handsome as these three! We are all different in our own way and we know you will open your hearts and lives to them as you did to us.
The practice of saying goodbye goes back centuries. It’s a contraction of the phrase “God be with ye.” In the distant past, people didn’t have the means of communication we do today, and they often didn’t know when or if they would see that person again when they parted. So, they issued a sincere send-off, asking God to be with them until they met again.
Sister and brothers, God be with you until we meet again, either here in the beautiful south or ultimately in our heavenly home. May our Blessed Mother under the titles of Our Lady of Mercy, Our Lady of Fatima, and Our Lady of the Angels, intercede for all of us as we listen the voice of the Lord and follow His holy and true command. Thank you and God bless!”
The bulletin message of thanksgiving, presented by Friar Carl, on behalf of Friar Joe and Friar Daniel:
Dear beloved parishioners of Our Lady of Mercy and Our Lady of Fatima Churches, I want to express my deepest thanks to all of you for your support over the many years that the Conventual Franciscans have ministers at both of our churches in Winston Salem, NC. It certainly has been a great privilege for me to come to know so many of you throughout the 7 years I have been your pastor. Your help in so many different areas of leadership has given me hope that the church is still valued by you. We have a very diverse population in our parish. We have tried to be authentic ministers to the great blend of cultures that make up our wonderful community. The spirit of our parish is alive and well and it will flourish in the coming years. I reflected this past weekend on one important idea. Due to the Covid pandemic which arrived in 2020, we need to focus our attention on reinvigorating our ministries. As September comes, all leadership positions in the parish community need to be filled with people who are currently attending church services. We have fewer people attending and many of the positions for leadership especially in the liturgical area are vacant. Since we less have Altar Servers, Lectors, Ushers, and Eucharistic Ministers, I invite you to volunteer to come active in one of these important rolls. Remember that the Lord Jesus calls us all to service among ourselves and others. Let us continue to be a vibrant community! The Friars of Our Lady of the Angels Province will continue to support the people here at Our Lady of Mercy and Our Lady of Fatima with our prayers and very good memories of what has been achieved over these many years. Please keep Fr. Joe, Fr. Dan and Fr. Carl in your prayers. Keep in touch with us via email or telephone. We will love to hear from you.
Our Lady of the Angels Province friar, Fr. Chris Dudek, OFM Conv. was chosen as the Teacher of the Year, not only for our Baltimore, MD high school ministry of Archbishop Curley High School (where he is a theology instructor, Curley’s campus minister and moderator of Franciscan Youth Ministry), but also as the Archdiocesan High School Teacher of the Year. He and Fr. Donald Grzymski, OFM Conv. (school president) concelebrated the Catholic Schools Convocation Mass on Thursday, August 26, 2021, celebrated by Archbishop Lori. The Mass was limited to attendance by those who received “Teacher of the Year” throughout the schools of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, but joyfully the choir from Archbishop Curley was able to provide the music for the Liturgy. Another one of our friars serving at Archbishop Curley, Br. Lawrence LaFlame, OFM Conv. was also recognized for his 5 years of service in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. On May 20, 2021, Friar Chris was surprised on the campus of Archbishop Curley High School. He is pictured here, receiving a new laptop from Archbishop Lori, during the presentation ceremony after the August 26th Mass.
The year 2021 marks the 75th anniversary of the arrival in Latin America of the first Franciscan Conventual missionaries. Brazil was their pioneering site for the implantatio ordinis [“implantation of the Order”]. When this stalwart band of brothers from the Immaculate Conception Province of the USA (now Our Lady of the Angels Province after union with St. Anthony Province in 2014) settled in the Rio Comprido sector (barrio) of Rio de Janeiro, the country’s capital had not yet been moved from there to the futuristic new federal district of Brasília. In the passage of time since the capital moved, Rio Comprido has suffered a deteriorating infrastructure, and is surrounded by three impoverished and violence-ridden “communities” [formerly called favelas– a term for “slums” that is no longer regarded as “politically correct”]. Our friars of the Custodial curia and the attached parish church of St. Francis are regarded by the locals as a true oasis of peace in the midst of a complicated neighborhood, where people have simply learned to keep out of harm’s way when the bullets begin to fly. One of those bullets has now been surgically removed from door next to my guest room in the friary – no worse for wear! Yet, among friars and people in Rio Comprido, a spirit of determined resilience prevails. I am reminded of it several times a day as I look out the friary window at the 2300-ft. Corcovado peak with its statue of Christ the Redeemer. “Corcovado” in Portuguese means “hunchback.” In a sense, we are all flawed “hunchbacks,” and our Lord is the “Hunchback’s Redeemer”! A symbol of Rio’s resilience is a young classical guitarist named Renan Francisco (pictured with Friar James), who composes music and also teaches it to poor children. During my days of canonical visitation at the friary, the 14th to the 16th of August, as he does during all my visits, Renan stopped at the house to chat with me in English about his favorite Brazilian composer Villa-Lobos, who wrote “I consider my works as letters I’ve written to the posterity without expecting an answer.”
Across the city from the Curia is Costa Barros, one of the most challenging neighborhoods of Rio de Janeiro. Our friars have a parish with six communities, each having its own church. On the day of my visitation, the 17th of August, the friars explained that they have no telephone or internet, because all these utilities are under the control of “bandits.” Local people use the term “bandits” to denote the cartels which control nearly every aspect of life in Costa Barros. One friar described his experience of having to pause Mass for a half hour, while he and the whole congregation ducked for cover as gunshots erupted in front of the Church. Yet, amidst the brutality of Costa Barros, there stands something utterly extraordinarily – a creative new “museum of graffiti,” a type of school which attempts to re-channel the energy of youth towards something positive. The friary-pastor took me there to meet the inspiritng “Graffiti Boy [Pichador] of Rio” – André Rongo (pictured with Friar James). Twenty years ago, André was arrested for spray-painting graffiti on the statue of Pope John Paul II in front of Rio’s Cathedral. The Cardinal Archbishop Eugênio de Araújo Sales met with him, and (reminiscent of the saintly bishop in Les Miserables), told André: “You have a great artistic talent. You must use it for good not bad.” Those words changed André’s life. He would spend an hour with me talking enthusiastically about his conversion to Christ, and his projects for using the artistic mode of graffiti to decorate and adorn his city, not vandalize it. One of his stunning artistic works depicts a graffiti boy encompassed by a divinely illumined light bulb, pointing his finger to heaven, and flying a kite of hope. Andre calls Christ “the Great Recycler,” adding “and I’ve been recycled!” Now I have started using this new title for the iconic statue of the Redeemer on the humpy-backed Corcovado.
This city of about 135,000 people, situated in the lake district about two hours’ drive from Rio de Janeiro, is one of the earliest foundations of the Immaculate Conception Province missionaries. It is also our largest parish, with an astonishing number of 24 “communities,” each having its own church. Of all the stops in the itinerary of my canonical visitation, my two days in Araruama, the 18th and 19th of August, were the most poignant. This was one of the cities devastated by the merciless ravages of the Covid-19 pandemic. Its effects remain starkly evident. Many people, including whole families, succumbed to the virus in Araruama. Our own beloved confrere +Frei José Luiz Magalhães, OFM Conv. was one of Araruama’s Covid-19 victims. Strict city regulations required him to be buried with other Covid victims in a separate cemetery established by the prefecture, reminiscent of medieval plague times. Four of us friars visited this Covid graveyard, but we were prohibited by the police from entering. So, we stood on the periphery, where we chanted the Salve Regina for José Luiz and the hundreds of others buried there – graves marked by simple wooden crosses row on row. The city was in lockdown for a few months, and all of the churches were closed. Nearby, the friars and I went to offer Mass with the Poor Clare nuns, who along with our parish, were an anchor of solace for the grieving families of Araruama.
Custodial Definitory Meeting
A canonical visitation normally ends with a meeting of the Minister Provincial, the Custos, and the Custodial Definitory (pictured here). Thus, after my visitation of all eight house (five friaries and three filial houses) in the Custody, I then convened with the Custos and Definitors in Rio Comprido on Friday the 20th of August. For several hours, we discussed all of the following topics impacting the life of the Custody: a) fraternal life, in which the primacy of God and supernatural charity need to be the Custody’s first priority; b) ministries, including its diversification, with parishes, teaching, the eremitical experience in Andrelândia, and the service to the poorest of the poor in Costa Barros; c) vocational animation as the Custody’s second priority; d) formation (initial and continuing); e) the Custodial Statutes; f) finances and self-sustainability issues; g) new initiatives of collaboration with the Mother Province of Our Lady of the Angels. After the meeting concluded, the Custos and I went to Rio’s Metropolitan Cathedral to pray in thanksgiving for the whole canonical visitation. Conically shaped like a honeycombed beehive (but in my view actually resembling a badminton shuttlecock), the modernistic Rio Cathedral has solidity. It dwarfed the Custos and me as we prayed in its crypt for the solidity of the Custody facing its future.
Technically, the Casa de Formação São Francisco de Assis (House of Formation) in Brasília, where the Custody now sends its friars for their post-novitiate initial formation, need not have been included in the official itinerary of canonical visitation. It is a canonical site belonging to a different jurisdiction, the Province of St. Maximilian Kolbe in Brazil. However, I decided to visit there, anyway, in order to assess the formation program and to meet individually with the three young friars of our Custody who study there: Frei Fernando Pereira de Andrade Júnior, OFM Conv., Frei Ricardo Elvis Arruda Bezerra, OFM Conv., and Frei Jesus Rodrigues do Amaral, OFM Conv. (pictured with Friar James). The lads surprised me by going to a special tea shop, so they could assure that a decent and proper “cuppa” would be shared among themselves with their Minister Provincial. For three days, from the 21st to the 23rd, we four paused at 4:00 PM for our fraternal “tea fest” – and other times as well. Among the pastoral apostolates nearby, in which the local friars engage, is the Brazilian version of St. Maximilian Kolbe’s Niepokalanów – the Santuário Jardim da Imaculada (“Garden of the Immaculate” – pictured at right), where a vibrant media and evangelization ministry is flourishing. The parish friary next to the formation house nearly killed me with kindness – highlighted by a meal of roast boar! In the seminary chapel, where I celebrated Mass for the whole formation community (about 30 friars) the sanctuary has a stunning image of St. Francis embracing not only Jesus on the cross, but an “everyman friar” whom the Seraphic father draws close to the Lord (pictured below). Truly, at every stop of my canonical visitation, I felt like that “everyman friar” embraced by Jesus and Francis, through the goodness of my Brazilian brothers.
- Rio Custody – Canonical Visitation of Minister Provincial – Part I
- Provincial Visit – Custódia Provincial Imaculada Conceição do Brasil (Our Province’s Immaculate Conception Custody in Brazil)
- Honoring +Dom Elias James Manning, OFM Conv. | Our Lady of the Angels Province, USA (olaprovince.org)
- Solemn Vows of Friars Jesus and Ricardo
A message from the Assistant General (CFF) of our Order, Friar Jude Winkler, OFM Conv. to the USA Provinces: Our Lady of the Angels Province, St. Bonaventure Province, Our Lady of Consolation Province, and Saint Joseph of Cupertino Province.
“Friar Felice Autieri, OFM Conv., a friar from the Northern Province of Italy,
sent me this article concerning a memorial stone in the Sacro Convento
that thanks the US provinces for their financial assistance
in the return of the Sacro Convento to the Order.“
The Provinces of the United States & the Return of the Sacro Convento to the Order
Running along the corridor that leads to the refectory of the friary, on the left one sees a large memorial stone dating to October 4, 1927. This Latin inscription speaks of the important role that the provinces of the United States played in the return of the Sacro Convento to the Order. A decree by the Italian government dated July 7, 1866, came into effect on February 4, 1867, expelling the friars from the Sacro Convento. The friars fought this decree with the government officials, asking that the complex be returned to the Order. Unfortunately, their request was rejected on June 3, 1867 with the decision that their proposal was not sufficiently supported.
In the meantime, the city of Assisi used the building to establish a collegio named for the Prince of Naples for the children of teachers. It was opened October 4, 1875. The following year, the technical and gymnasium schools were also transferred there. In 1878, the school of pedagogy with its internship for student masters was also put there. Finally, in 1894, the technical institute for accountants was also placed there. In spite of this, the friars did not give up the battle, continuing their court case, basing it upon the fact that the Sacro Convento and its Basilica were propriety of the Holy See and not the Order. The friars were only administering the facility. The friars won the case, but the tribunal established that the collegio and the other schools would remain in the structure until the Order paid for the construction of a new site for them in Assisi. Construction was initiated in the Piazza Mattertti of the building today called the Convitto. The conclusion of the project was established as August 31, 1927, at the cost of 4,700,000 lire (worth about $4,650,000 today).
Besides the money provided by the Order, there was also a collection among the provinces and their benefactors. On October 4, 1927, the Conventual Friars officially reacquired possession of the building. The memorial stone mentioned above was placed to thank the American Provinces of the Order for their fundamental economic role in the construction of the school and the consequent return of the Sacro Convento.
In response, a reflection on the stone by our Minister Provincial, the Very Reverend Fr. James McCurry, OFM Conv.:
“Many, many times I have stood in front of that memorial stone in the loggia of the Sacro Convento, and reflected on the role that our North American provinces played in the restoration of the Sacro Convento to the Order. This is the best historical reflection on the subject that I have read in English. It is a valuable bit of Franciscan history of which our North American friars can be justifiably and humbly proud. Thank you for sending it to everyone.“
On August 8, 2021, our Port St. Lucie, FL pastoral ministry of St. Lucie Catholic Church celebrated their 60th Anniversary, including Mass with The Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito, Bishop of the Diocese of Palm Beach, and a reception following.
The parish was also featured in the July/August 2021 Messenger of St. Anthony.
Solemn Profession of Friars Jesus and Ricardo
Friars Jesus do Amaral and Ricardo Elvis da Cruz made the special request of their Custos that the Minister Provincial be invited to receive their Solemn Vows on the 2nd of August, because I had accompanied each step of their formation journey from their postulancy in Rio de Janeiro, through their novitiate in Caçapava, through the present moment of their post-novitiate in Brasília. After these two classmates finished their novitiate, the Rio Custody of the Immaculate Conception decided they should participate in the collaborative initial formation program at the Brasília Province’s post-novitiate formation house. It was heartening to see the large number of young friars from the formation program in Brasília who traveled in vans overnight – a distance of over one thousand kilometers – to offer fraternal support to Frei Jesus and Frei Ricardo. The aspirants and postulants from Rio’s formation house in Petrópolis also came. The presence of a whole cohort of enthusiastic young friars, who also provided the music for the liturgy, was a great sign of hope for the future of the Custody and the whole Order in Brazil.
Paraíba do Sul
This is a small city, where the friars have one large parish that includes 11 communities of parishioners, each with its own church, at which the friars offer Masses. There are many farms in the area. During my canonical visitation here, the 3rd to 5th of August, I was taken to visit a typical small farm, where a parishioner, the 19-year old farmer Elias, positively delighted to welcome us to his barnyard, which resembled Noah’s Ark. In one and the same farm plot, cows mingled with donkeys and horses, while goats climbed haystacks, piglets muddied themselves, and the hens, roosters and geese managed to stay out of trouble with each other. Elias felt that the Minister Provincial’s blessing of the whole “Noah’s Ark” would help it resemble Isaiah’s “peaceable kingdom.” Later that evening, Elias, in gratitude, brought a gift of appreciation to the friary: a round of cheese that he had just made from the milk of his cows.
The friars have no friaries or ministry sites in the city of Valença, but the diocesan see holds a unique and dear place in Franciscan hearts. Here, +Frei Elias James Manning, OFM Conv. served as the 6th Bishop of the Diocese, for 24 graced years. When he assumed his episcopal office, “Dom Elias” chose, as a poor friar, to live in a small apartment behind in the seminary building behind the official Bishop’s Palace. His humble style left such an impression on the people that a steady stream now come to pray at his tomb in the crypt of Valença’s Cathedral of Our Lady of Glory. His successor Bishop Nelson Ferreira invited the Minister Provincial to participate in special ceremonies on the 5th of August for the city’s re-naming of the street behind the Cathedral, now called “Rua Dom Elias James Manning.” The prefecture of the city of Valença also took the unique step of naming its Secretariat of Education’s Administration Building after Dom Elias. At a special dinner hosted by Dom Nelson, the friars were treated to hear the moving hymn which the rector of the seminary, Padre Getero, composed in honor of Dom Elias.
Juiz de Fora
In this city, which is the size of Boston (about 600,000 people), the friars care for two parishes, which comprise 9 communities of parishioners. Each of these communities has its own local liturgical and social activities, and each has a church in which the friars offer Mass. This typical Brazilian ecclesial structure, which organizes parish life into local communities, also has moments when all of the communities of the parish come together for larger common liturgies, events, programs and ceremonies. While in the friary of Juiz de Fora, I participated in a “Zoom” Assembly of the whole Custody on the 6th of August. The Custody’s new Civil Statutes needed to be approved by the solemnly professed membership. The occasion of my “Canonical Visitation” accorded me an opportunity to offer to this “Zoom” Assembly of the whole Custody an exhortation about the topic of “Fraternal Life” – faithfully translated by my bilingual companion on the itinerary, Frei Jose Cardozo Junior, OFM Conv.. Overlooking the city of Juiz de Fora, on the “Morro do Christo” (Hill of Christ), an imposing 82-foot monument to Christ the Redeemer has graced the city as its protector for 115 years – a longer time period than its more famous counterpart on the Corcovado in Rio.
Five years ago, with the encouragement of the new Custos and the approval of his Custodial Definitory, Frei Robson Malafaia Barcellos, OFM Conv. and Frei Marcelo dos Santos da Silva, OFM Conv. undertook the creation of the first Franciscan “hermitage” among the jurisdictions of the Conventual branch of the Order in Brazil. Frei Robson was later invited by the former Minister General of the Order, the Most Reverend Fr. Marco Tasca, OFM Conv. to participate in a special international gathering of friars involved in new experiments for the deepening of the charism, life and ministry in the Order. Our Custody’s “hermitage” is named the “House of Perfect Joy,” and is located on the grounds of our former minor seminary in Andrelândia. Silence, common prayer, labor and fraternity characterize the friars’ daily horarium, which begins at 5:00 AM. Maintaining a balance of eremitical contemplation and spiritual action, they are converting the former seminary into a spirituality center, hosting daytime retreats, offering Mass, hearing confessions, doing lay Franciscan formation, and fostering the prayerful memory of our confere Frei Martinho Maria de Porres Ward, OFM Conv. Friars from other jurisdictions of the Order in Brazil have visited and shown an interest in joining the hermitage community. It is important to note that, in five years, the friars have never had to go shopping for any food except bread. The local people come regularly to provide the friars with all that they need for their daily sustenance. The local bishop has given permission for public Masses in the chapel of the former seminary. The Sunday congregation gave a special welcome to the Minister Provincial, as I offered Mass for them on the 9th of August, and preached about Frei Martinho’s holy and humble struggle against racism.
Frei Martinho de Porres Maria Ward, OFM Conv.
When the Immaculate Conception Province (part of what is now Our Lady of the Angels Province) accepted the Boston-born Matthias Ward into the Order, a milestone in Conventual Franciscan history took place. Matthias, who later was given the religious name “Martin Maria de Porres” became the first African-American member of the Franciscan Friars Conventual. Having experienced the trauma of de-facto segregation in Boston and Washington during his childhood and teenage years, he was prepared for his application to the Order to be rejected. That did not happen. No sooner was he accepted in 1945 than he further rejoiced to learn the news that the Province of the Immaculate Conception was intending open the Order’s first mission in Latin America – in Brazil. He volunteered for the mission while still a seminarian. The rest is history. Before his death in Andrelândia in 1999 at the age of 81, Frei Martinho had already become “legendary” among the Brazilian people he served and the friars as well – humble, humorous, brilliant, and tireless. Since the time of his death, people have been coming steadily to pray at his grave – on the grounds of the former seminary and hermitage. On the 24th of June 2020, the local diocesan Bishop of the Diocese de São João del-Rei, after consultation with his presbyteral council, officially gave the Nihil Obstat for the friars to publicize the “fame of sanctity” of Frei Martinho Maria de Porres Ward. During the Minister Provincial’s canonical visitation, on the 9th of August, the friars gathered for prayers at the grave of Frei Martinho Maria, and I blessed portraits of our holy confrere to be hung in each of the 8 houses of the Custody. A prayer for Frei Martinho Maria’s glorification, and favors sought, is now being recited at all of public Masses at the friars’ spirituality center in Andrelândia.
The newest venture of the Custody entailed their accepting a parish in the capital city of the state of Minas Gerais. Belo Horizonte is Brazil’s third largest city – with 3 million people – about the size of Chicago. After their 2017 Custodial Chapter, the friars launched their presence in Belo Horizonte at a parish with six communities, each having its own church. They are very grateful to Our Lady of the Angels Province for providing the funds for them to purchase a friary, where it is eventually hoped that older vocations of the initial formation program will be able to reside while doing their theological studies in the Catholic Theological institutes of the city. One of the staples which stamps a unique Franciscan identity upon all of the parishes staffed by our friars, not only in Belo Horizonte but throughout the Custody, is the tradition of Tuesday devotions to St. Anthony. Immediately after arriving in Belo Horizonte, the friars inaugurated this weekly event, which includes the blessing of bread which parishioners faithfully bring week after week. At the end of Mass and the novena prayers, the friars bless the bread and distribute it to the faithful in the congregation, some of whom take extra bits to share with others. The friars of Belo Horizonte also assist with liturgy at the building site of the new Cathedral of Christ the King – the last work of Brazil’s most famous modern architect Oscar Niemeyer (who died in 2012 at the age of 104). The friars arranged for the Minister Provincial to receive a “hard-hat” tour of the construction project – already underway for 8 years, with another 10 years projected before the completion of the mammoth structure – another sign of the growth of the Church in Brazil. Let me also add here, that it is important to highlight our friars’ vocational animation program in Belo Horizonte, which over the past four years has already attracted four new vocations to the Custody.
Franciscan formation houses are well-reputed for the charism of hospitality. Our St. Bonaventure Friary, with its 10 aspirants and postulants, along with its 2 formators and elder friar wisdom figure, did not disappoint. The meninos (“lads”) welcomed the Minister Provincial on his canonical visitation with a gauntlet of “balloons” and a “Welcome” banner scripted in English. Even the friary dog “Frei Jacopa” – happily residing in outdoor comfort! – could not resist running over to give me a welcome kiss – on the lips! The formation program in Brazil differs greatly from that in the USA. The one year of residential aspirancy is non-academic – a time for in-house immersion in fraternity, prayer, catechetics, liturgy, Franciscan sources, and human formation in areas of affection and sexuality. The postulancy (which can extend up to 3 years) is academic, with all of the lads attending philosophy courses at the local Catholic University. Both of the formators and the young men in initial formation are full of enthusiasm, and this has an appealing attractiveness to prospective vocations. The “formandi” accompany the formators for “con-vocation” visits to all of the parishes in the Custody, and other sites as well. I was impressed at the work ethic of the house. Every Saturday the lads devote the whole day to baking bread – which benefactors come to buy, and which the lads also will sell at the various local parishes and convents. They take justifiable pride that their bread apostolate covers the cost of supporting their formation program – no sense of “entitlement” in Petrópolis! At least twice a week, the formators and the “formandi” go out to celebrate liturgy (and provide the music) at the local Carmelite Nuns monastery, as well as one of the Capuchin churches. The fact that they only have two small cars makes it impossible to squeeze all 13 of the community into two vehicles at a time. So, they are accustomed to making more than one trip to the cloister or Caps each time they go. Seraphic camaraderie! – although a new van might help!
Liturgies with Consecrated Women
Our friars of the Custody have been very solicitous in assisting with the liturgical and spiritual needs of the local women’s religious communities. An inspiring brother-sister relationship obtains! For the Feast of St. Clare, on the 11th of August in Belo Horizonte, we concelebrated Mass and I preached for the 3rd Order regular “Franciscan Sisters of the Lord.” For the Feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe, on the 14th of August in Petrópolis, we friars concelebrated and I preached for the cloistered Carmelite nuns. For the Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady, on the 15th of August, we friars concelebrated and I preached for the cloistered Poor Clare nuns of Rio de Janeiro, where the legendary Mother Pacifica has been abbess for nearly 50 years.
Since the Feast of the Assumption this year was my 50th Jubilee of Profession of Vows, the nuns sang a robust “Happy Anniversary” (in Portuguese, of course!). [The friars in Rio Comprido followed a bit later with a special dinner for me and a cake.] What an inspiration it is to see the interaction between our friars and our sisters in the consecrated life!
Four more stops to complete my Canonical Visitation “Pilgrimage”:
Rio Comprido, Costa Barros, Araruama, Brasília – and a meeting with the Custodial Definitory!