Our Minister General, Massimo Fusarelli OFM, has written a letter to the Order marking the 500th anniversary of the arrival of the Franciscan friars in the Americas... the beginning of an extraordinary missionary endeavour.

‘And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am on my way ...’

Acts 20:22

Foreword

In his address to the elders of Ephesus, the Apostle Paul sums up his life as mission. He recognises that the Spirit of the Crucified and Risen Lord is the central f igure in his long journey — the very soul of his mission. It is He who guides Paul, directing him, always pushing him beyond himself and beyond many boundaries. While Pentecost is always a reminder to listen to the Spirit’s gentle breeze, this year’s breath of Pentecost has a particular emphasis because we also recall the Stigmata of Saint Francis. Remembering this brings us back to the heart of our charism — to live the Gospel by following in the footprints of the poor and crucified Christ.

Today, the 13th of May 2024, we also recall the 500th anniversary of the arrival in Veracruz, Mexico, of the first twelve missionary friars. The Minister General, Fray Francisco de los Ángeles Quiñones, sent these friars in the freedom of the spirit, which is at the heart of every missionary vocation. This event is a singular and important fact in the Order’s history, and one that has received insufficient attention. In fact, although the historical record contains both light and shadows, it became the most comprehensive and important project for the evangelisation of the peoples of America and can be considered a true response to the gift of the Spirit.

Living according to the Holy Gospel

Many friars set sail for the Americas driven by the desire to live and proclaim the Gospel, and strongly motivated by a desire for reform of Franciscan life, and reform of the Church in a new world. The ‘Twelve First Franciscans,’ and many of the friars who came after them, came from Spanish reformist movements of their time. They were members of the Province of St Gabriel, from which the most rigorous movement of 16th century Spanish Franciscanism originated.

The missionary ideal of these friars was rooted in the context of a struggle to live a life based on two fundamental emphases — evangelical radicalism and contemplative eremitism — all within the climate of the freedom of the spirit that continuously calls us to live the Gospel. The intellectual formation of some of these friars also played an important role in their understanding of their evangelising mission...

Instructions

In the instructions that the Minister General, Fray Francisco de los Ángeles Quiñones, gave to the first Twelve, he clearly sees Franciscan life as mission.

“Since you are going to plant the Gospel in hearts that have not yet received it, see to it that your way of life does not depart from it. And this you will do if you diligently watch over your observance of the Rule, which is founded on the Holy Gospel, observing it purely and simply, without interpretations and dispensations."

Encouraged by the directives of the Minister General, the first Franciscans in Mexico rethought the model of life practiced by their confreres in Spain — based on hermitages and small communities —and devoted themselves to evangelisation and the pastoral care of the indigenous communities in the recently conquered cities of Mexico. Within a short time, the Franciscan presence was widespread. This happened, in part, because initially the friars’ lifestyle was very close to that of the indigenous people; simple, humble, and  unpretentious.

It is evident, then, that the foundation for this renewed mission was the contemplative and penitential dimension of the Franciscan charism...

The Order’s contemporary missionary activity

Remembering the first friars in Mexico can throw light on our present situation. Indeed, we are rediscovering more and more that a renewal of our life of discipleship is interlinked with mission. Mission cannot be seen solely as the activities and services that are asked of us and in which we find fulfilment. Indeed, the action of evangelisation springs from a life lived according to the Gospel, as contemplative friars, and lesser brothers in mission among and with the poor. 

If we desire a renewal of our missionary action today, it is necessary to renew our lives. This means that the friars choose our relationship with God above anything else, living a truly fraternal and simple life, and doing work that does not distance us too much from the most humble. It means a mission lived together with passion for peace and our common home. It is not an option, but an imperative for today and for the future.

Out of a Franciscan life in continuous reform, we can also find the joy of stepping out of our comfort zones, of going beyond the security that numbs us and makes us forget the beauty and passion of our vocation as friars and lesser brothers...

Something new

To those who keep asking me how the Order is going, my answer is that it’s going  well wherever I meet friars who are inspired by these ideals and willing to make them a reality, and it’s going badly wherever we are content to just carry on with the present way of doing things, without a renewed vision of life and the future...

In my heart, I am certain that the Spirit is urgently asking something else of us — to have the courage to allow ourselves to be pushed beyond our securities, including the security we find in our pastoral activities. To imagine and begin to live a Franciscan life that is “new” in ways and means and is sustained by adequate preparation for our mission.

The goal of everything continues to be communion with the poor and crucified Christ, proclaimed to all as the Saviour who makes his humble and redeeming love shine forth in every language, culture, and creed. 

Full Letter