Pope Francis meets the Friars

Pope Francis greets our Minister General, Michael Perry OFM

“I say to you the people of God love you…You have inherited authority with the people of God with your minority, fraternity, meekness, humility, and poverty. Please preserve this! Do not lose it. The people love you.

In 1209, St. Francis and his initial followers set out on foot from Assisi to Rome to meet with the Lord Pope Innocent III. Their goal was to seek an audience with the Holy Father so that they might ask for approval for their way of life – to live as brothers, to live as the lesser ones, to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

There were 12 friars on that journey to Rome more than 800 years ago, but on Tuesday 26 May more than 160 friars, gathered for our General Chapter, made a similar journey, again from Assisi to Rome, again to meet with the Lord Pope. This time it is our extraordinary Pope who shares the name, the heart and the charism of our beloved founder St. Francis. And today, Pope Francis encouraged us once again, go out as men of the Gospel and to be “carriers of mercy, carriers of reconciliation and carriers of peace.”

After a brief address by General Minister Michael A. Perry, OFM, Pope Francis spoke to the friars. Picking up on the theme of the General Chapter – Friars and Lesser Ones in our Times – the Holy Father focused his comments on two aspects of this theme – fraternity and minority.
 
 
Speaking of minority, or being lesser, the Pope said:
 
“Minority calls us to be and to feel small before God, relying totally on his infinite mercy. The perspective of mercy is incomprehensible to those who do not see themselves as “minor”, that is, small, needy and sinners before God. The more we are aware of this, the closer we are to salvation; the more we are convinced that we are sinners, the more we are open to being saved. This is what happens in the Gospel: people who identify with the poor before Jesus are saved; those who do not believe this do not receive salvation, not because they have been offered this, but because they have not accepted it. Minority also means coming out of ourselves, out of our own agenda and personal views; it means going beyond structures – which are also useful if used wisely – to go beyond habits and certainties, to witness to concrete closeness to the poor, the needy, the marginalized, in an authentic attitude of sharing and service.”

 

The Pope, calling upon our Franciscan tradition of going out into the word, once again called us to be active in bringing this mercy and love of Christ to the world, especially to the margins. The Holy Father said:

 

“It is important to recover a consciousness of being carriers of mercy, carriers of reconciliation and carriers of peace. Fruitfully realize this vocation and mission and you will be more and more a congregation that goes out. This indeed corresponds to your charism…It is said that when the first friars were asked to show their cloisters, they climbed a hill and, showing the land around, as far as the eye could see, they answered, ‘This is our cloister’. Dear brothers, continue to go into this cloister, which is the whole world, driven by Christ’s love, as St. Francis invites you to do.”

 

The Pope’s words were not without challenge. He strongly reminded the friars of the consequences of being untrue to our charism and calling. He said:

 

If, instead, you are attached to worldly goods and wealth, and place your security there, it will be the Lord Himself Who will strip you of this spirit of worldliness in order to preserve this valuable heritage of minority and poverty to which He has called you through St. Francis. You will either be freely poor and minor, or find yourselves stripped.”

 

 Among the friars at the audience our Minister Provincial, Hugh McKenna (far right)

 

He praised the 800 year tradition of our Order, one that has placed us close to the People of God who have returned that closeness with their love for the friars.

 

“The people of God love you. Cardinal Quarracino once said: ‘In our cities there are groups or people who are against the clergy, and when a priest passes by they say certain things to him – in Argentina they call them ‘crows.But I have never, ever heard these remarks in the presence of a Franciscan habit. Why? You have inherited authority with the people of God with your minority, fraternity, meekness, humility, and poverty. Please preserve this! Do not lose it. The people love you.

 
The Pope then closed the time with prayer and then remarkably, he greeted each of the 160 plus friars in attendance one-by-one, sharing brief words with each, and offering to each friar a blessed rosary. 
 
The friars returned back to the Domus Pacis enlivened and invigorated by their encounter with Pope Francis.

 

 
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