Lent 2017: An Additional Update from the National Minister

Paula has written a second text this Lent, covering a variety of topics: the Barton Project, the Gibraltar National Assembly, Our Challenging World, the OFSGB website, a September weekend retreat at Pantasaph which she will lead (details of which are here), and a national Formation Weekend planned for October. Read on.

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Children Praying for Peace

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Michael Martin, of our Oxford fraternity, has alerted us to a letter “Children praying for peace” from the Minister General of the OFM (Fr. Michael Perry OFM), and from the new Custos of the Holy Land (Fr. Francesco Patton OFM). The letter was posted on the First Sunday of Advent on both the OFM website, and on the website of the Custodia Terrae Sanctae (The Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land).

The letter is addressed “to all the friars of the Order of Friars Minor, to the Poor Clares, to the sisters to the brothers of the Secular Franciscan Order, and to all women and men of good will.”

This text follows Fr. Michael’s recent message, at the time of the feast of St Francis, regarding Syria and Aleppo, which we posted here.

A PDF of the letter, which you may download, is available here.

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Fathers Michael and Francesco say in the letter that they wish to join, and “want to propose to all our communities”, the “Children praying for peace” initiative that began with “Aid to the Church in Need.” They say that “our Parish of St. Francis in Aleppo, which has been strongly affected by the tragedy of war and which has been tenaciously anchored to its hope for peace, has already joined the initiative. From Aleppo, we are now sending out our invitation to the whole world.”

“We believe that the Lord hears the cry of the “little ones” and that their prayer will become an opportunity for reflection and conversion for those who are “big.”

“We are asking each community to dedicate their children’s mass, or the mass most frequented by children, on the first Sunday of every month, to prayer for peace, according to what is locally possible. The same thing can be done in a celebration during the Oratory or by involving the schools, thus, in this way giving an ecumenical and interreligious spirit to the initiative. If a community does not have a children’s liturgy or if it does not have a ministry for Oratories or a school, it can make the gesture during the communal Praises or Vespers, or on an occasion created especially for this initiative.”

They offer, in the letter, some practical suggestions using the example of how it is done in Aleppo.

They ask all those who take heed to their proposal to report it on to their Facebook page “Children in prayer for peace” which is based at St Francis parish, Aleppo.

If you do not have access to facebook, then add a comment to this post mentioning your community’s response to the initiative, which we can pass on to them, to assure them of the solidarity of the various communities / fraternities that make up the Secular Franciscan Order in Great Britain.

As Fathers Michael and Francesco mention, “Children Praying for Peace” is an Aid to the Church in Need initiative. In May this year Aid to the Church in Need reported that children from Syria’s different Christian denominations (Catholic and Orthodox) would be joining together to pray for peace in that country on International Children’s Day.

And on 7th October Aid to the Church in Need reported that More than one million children in Syria have been calling for peace as part of a fresh appeal to political leaders to end the violence engulfing the country. “At least 2,000 schools from many parts of Syria are taking part in the initiative in which youngsters have been drawing pictures and writing messages for the attention of the United Nations in Geneva and the European Union in Brussels. Children of all denominations in the capital, Damascus, as well as in Homs, Yabroud, Marmarita as well as Aleppo have been taking part in the Peace for Children initiative with songs, dances, drama and prayer, all calling for peace.”

Aid to the Church in Need project partners including Aleppo-based Sister Annie Demerjian have stressed the number of traumatised children, with many experiencing violence, sexual exploitation, abduction and the loss of loved ones. Sister Annie Demerjian (pictured below), was recently in London at an Aid to the Church in Need event, and spoke of the extremely difficult conditions they faced in Aleppo.

Fathers Michael and Francesco suggest that the prayers of the “little ones” will become an opportunity for reflection and conversion for those who are “big.” Grown-Ups wishing to add their prayers to those of the children may find an additional resource on this page.

Sister Annie Demerjian:

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Children from Al Nouzha, Homs showing pictures of the Infant of Prague which they drew in Catechism classes – from Aid to the Church in Need:

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Pilgrimage to Assisi 2016

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Christine Frendo, OFSGB National Youth Minister and Minister of our Gibraltar Divine Mercy fraternity, has kindly sent us this report on the recent Pilgrimage to Assisi.

Secular Franciscan Order, Gibraltar & UK Pilgrimage to Assisi
29th October-6th November 2016

We left Gibraltar in the very early hours of the morning on Saturday 29th November
and flew from Seville to Rome, where we joined the UK, OFS members and travelled
to Greccio in the beautiful valley of Rieti, to the sanctuary where St. Francis set up
the first live crib. About 800 years ago people began to come in procession, carrying
their torches and candles to contemplate the first reenactment of the nativity scene.
The idea of re-creating a manger scene soon spread throughout Catholic Europe.
Thomas of Celano, recalls that Francis stood before the manger, overwhelmed with
love and filled with a wonderful happiness.

The following morning when we were getting ready for Mass we heard a rumbling and
suddenly realised it was an earthquake!! In fact we were only about 7 to 8 kilometres
from the epicentre!! Thank God we were all safe and there was no damage where we
were staying but we prayed very especially for those who had been affected in any
way. Later we found out that it had been a strong earthquake!!
On arrival in Assisi we found that they had also felt the earthquake there. and we
could not visit the Portiuncula as they were checking out whether there were any
damages. – The Portiuncola is situated now inside the Basilica of Saint Mary of the
Angels around 5 km from Assisi. It was restored by Saint Francis and it was here
that he founded the Order of the Friars Minor 1209, “establishing here his home,
because of his reverence for the angels, and of his great love of the Mother of
Christ”. (St. Bonaventure) This was the centre of the Franciscan Order where he
brought together all the Friars for the Chapter every year to renew their dedication
to the Gospel Life. The Chapter of Mats in 1221 was attended by more than 5000 friars.
When Francis knew he was dying, he requested to be brought to the Portiuncula
to end his earthly life. Because of the earthquake our itinerary was changed, and we
could not visit Foligno but we did walk around Assisi and the Lord blessed us with
beautiful weather.
On 1st November, after breakfast, we had morning prayer and the Eucharist in the
Carceri a Hermitage, on the slope of Monte Subasio just outside the walls of Assisi
where St. Francis, at times, lived alone in a cave, prayed fervently and did penance.
The word Carceri is from the Latin carceres and means “isolated places”.
Francis dedicated himself to a life of preaching and missions, but throughout his life
he would frequently withdraw to the Carceri to pray and contemplate. As you gaze at
the surrounding scenery, the breathtaking views of Mount Subasio one cannot but be
led to contemplate the beauty of creation and the goodness of the Creator. That afternoon
we finally got to visit the Portiuncula!
The next day we visited the Mount of La Verna. I am always impressed by the
peaceful quiet of the beauty of this Sanctuary. I think it’s a very special place that
was donated to St. Francis in 1213 by Count Orlando Chiusi of La Verna. A hermitage
was founded there becoming one of the favourite places for Francis and his brothers
to retire for prayer and contemplation. Francis’ last stay at La Verna was in 1224,
two years before his death, when he was already tired and ill. During this time, while
in intense prayer, he had a vision and received the stigmata.
When we arrived it was really cold and foggy but we had a beautiful Mass. In the
homily Fr. Jesmond, the friar who led the Pilgrimage, commented that as there was
fog all around us it might be a good opportunity for each of us to look inside ourselves,
and examine ourselves. We had lunch and then joined the friars for afternoon
prayer (None) and the procession to the Chapel of the Cappella della Pietà, where
Francis got his stigmata. The procession has taken place every day at 3 pm ever since
1431.. A very touching experience in a beautiful Sanctuary.
The following day we visited San Damiano, which is where it all began. Praying before
the crucifix of San Damiano St Francis heard the words “Go Rebuild my Church which
as you see is falling into ruin!” It is also where St. Clare died in 1253, it was an important
stop in our pilgrimage where an Irish Friar spoke to us about Francis and
Clare and explained that the Original Cross is in the Basilica of St. Clare because
when the Poor Clares moved from San Damiano they took the Crucifix with them.
The next day we visited the Basilica of St. Francis. We had Mass in the Chapel of
Peace and then a guided visit. Fr. Dan Quackenbush gave us an inspiring insight into
the life, journey and spirituality of Francis. He gave us all the details of the beautiful
Frescoes in the Basilica and touched on different aspects of St. Francis’ spirituality
and his immense love for Jesus. “Love is not loved!” Francis used to say. We
spent some time praying in front of Francis’ tomb.
That night we went to see the musical “Chiara di Dio”. It is a beautiful production.
and care has been taken to represent an authentic representation of the lives of
Francis and Clare. We all thoroughly enjoyed
On Saturday, our last day in Assisi we visited La Chiesa Nouva, where St. Francis’
house is thought to have been and then the Basilica of St. Clare where the original
San Damiano Cross is. We spent some time there in silent prayer, praying for healing
and direction for our lives.
It’s been a fantastic Pilgrimage and I think the last evening when we sung “bind us
together” it was really heartfelt. We reunited with brothers and sisters we have
known for a long time and made new friends in Christ. It has been a beautiful, and
inspiring time. Pace e Bene.

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OFSGB National Assembly 2017 Upon This Rock: Rebuild My Church

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All fraternities should have received back in the spring of this year, via their regions, information about the 2017 OFSGB National Assembly entitled “Upon This Rock: Rebuild My Church” which will be held in Gibraltar from Friday 21st April to Monday 24th April 2017. For more information see this programme. Here is an excellent opportunity to meet the successful and growing Gibraltar fraternity, the largest fraternity in OFSGB, numbering about sixty. Gibraltar fully supported the Youth Gather held at Cold Ash, and has already established a Young Franciscan Group. Here you will see the Gibraltar fraternity in action on behalf of Syrian refugees.
Christine Frendo from Gibraltar is our National Youth Councillor and her daughter Joanna Torres is Youth Councillor for the London Region.
It is now time to ask you to complete a registration form (click this link) and mail it to Michael Martin by 15th November, together with your deposit. We hope that a large number of members will wish to take advantage of this opportunity. Perhaps stay for a few extra days and make a holiday of it.

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A Month in the Jubilee Year of Mercy Month from the National Minister

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I was delighted to be at the Cardiff weekend which was excellent.
The following weekend a few of us gathered at Pantasaph where I presented a weekend on this theme, which I adapted to present at a lovely gathering of our Scottish Regional the following week. On Tuesday 24th I had the joy of hearing the Redemptorist, Fr Jim McManus, give a day on mercy as part of the Bishops’ Conference Spirituality Consultation and this was wonderful too.
Another opportunity to teach again occurred when I was asked to present a day to the Spirituality Network of the C of E Diocese of Rochester last Saturday, introducing St Francis, the Franciscan Charism and elements of the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition – a small ask! It went very well.
I have now constructed a very adaptable resource on what the Year of Mercy might mean for us Franciscans which I would like to offer. Please let me know if you think there would be sufficient interest in your regions and invite me! We are not restricted to one year for building gin this year. I am thinking of using Barton for day/evening adaptations during times when I plan to be based there.
Whether this happens or not I wanted to share just a couple of points from the presentations with OFSGB members. Please pass this to any members you think might be interested.

Mercy has a much richer meaning that we generally give it today. A summary from Pope Francis:

“Etymologially ‘mercy’ derives from misericordis which means opening one’s heart to wretchedness. Mercy is the divine attitude which embraces it. It is God giving himself to us, accepting us and bowing to forgive.’

St Francis often refers to us as “miserable”. Miserable, the same root, has a much broader significance than we tend to give it – it can be applied to any experience of poverty, corporal or spiritual; to anything that causes me dis – ease; anything that takes me away from my relationship with God and neighbour. St Francis refers to us as miserable, in need of God’s grace, limited in our capacity to transform our wretched state. Only God is perfectly merciful. God sees into the heart of a person, knows what is causing that person’s specific misery or wretchedness and accepts each person, always ready to bow down and show mercy.

In my preparation for the presentations I was drawn to the encyclical (Rich in Mercy) of St John Paul II, 1980. I recommend this to everyone and believe that we are very fortunate to have Pope Francis with his down to earth, practical approach. This can lead us to want to rediscover other writings on mercy and see them fresh eyes. I found John Paul II’s reflections on the Parable of the Prodigal Son had great relevance for me. I give just a little taste of his conclusions:

* Mercy does not belittle the receiver

* Mercy does not offend the dignity of the human person

* A relationship of mercy is not a relationship of inequality, the giver is on no way superior to the receiver

Pope Francis writes about visceral love of God – the love of a parent in difficult times is perhaps as close as we get to this– it gushes forth from the depths naturally, full of tenderness and compassion, indulgence and mercy.
Pope Francis also writes that mercy is a key word, that indicates God’s action towards us and makes God’s love visible and tangible. God desires our well-being, and that we are joyful and peaceful.
I find great encouragement in the examples Pope Francis gave in the Name of God is Mercy to explain that God is looking for even the smallest opening – this book is very worth reading. A small taste of his conclusions:

* God waits; God waits for us to concede him only the smallest glimmer of space so that he can enact his forgiveness and charity within us…The place where my encounter with the mercy of God takes place is my sin

* When you let yourself be embraced, when you are moved – that’s when life can change because that’s when we try to respond to the immense and unexpected gift of grace

* We stand before God who knows our sins, our betrayals, our denials, our wretchedness.

Paula ofs May 2016.

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OFS Scotland Regional Assembly 2016

OFS Scotland members and guests enjoyed their Regional Assembly in Perth on Saturday 14th May. Paula Pearce, Nationa Minister, spoke on the challenging theme of Mercy in the light of Pope Francis’ writings and the life of St Francis. A fraternal gathering of open hearts.

 

Regional Assembly Perth May 14 2016 (6) edit

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The Loving Mercy of God

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Fr. Francis Dor OFM Cap celebrating the mass at the OFSGB national elective chapter at Wistaston Hall last autumn.

The life of St Francis of Assisi was transformed when he recognised the loving mercy of God in
his life and this led him to desire that everyone might experience God’s mercy. Perhaps the “The Holy Year of Mercy and our Franciscan Response” weekend in Cardiff starting this Friday is for you. Francis Dor OFM Cap, our Capuchin General Spiritual Assistant, will be coming from Rome, where he is based, in order to be with us. If you would like to join us, do contact Angela Bradley. There should still be places available. See here for details, a booking form, and the programme.
Another option is the And I showed Mercy to Them weekend “Exploring the Richness of God’s Mercy” led by Paula Pearce, our National Minister at Pantasaph Retreat Centre from 6th to 8th May, 2016. A Pantasaph booking form can be found here.

Brothers & Sisters: Building Bridges (Pope Francis on Lesbos: 16/04/2016)
Pope Francis’ five-hour visit to Greece on 16th April ended with him offering safe passage to Italy to 12 Syrian Muslims, half under the age of 18. The Vatican will assume financial responsibility for the families, who will be assisted by the Rome-based Community of Sant’Egidio.
“Wake us from the slumber of indifference,” the pope prayed, “open our eyes to their suffering and free us from the insensitivity born of world comfort and self-centeredness.” In his prayer Pope Francis insisted “we are all migrants, journeying in hope” toward God in heaven.
Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and Archbishop Ieronymos II of Athens and all Greece stood with Pope Francis and they, too, offered prayers.
Poe Francis praised the people of Lesbos for showing that “in these lands, the cradle of civilization, the heart of humanity continues to beat; a humanity that before all else recognizes others as brothers and sisters, a humanity that wants to build bridges and recoils from the idea of putting up walls to make us feel safer. In reality, barriers create divisions instead of promoting the true progress of peoples, and divisions sooner or later lead to confrontations.”

Being a Resurrection Community: ‘Straining forward to what lies ahead’
Continuing the theme of Mercy and also referring to divisions in brotherhood, some of you may have missed this powerful call to an evangelical life, to being a Resurrection community that was made by Fr Michael Perry OFM in his Easter Letter of the Minister General 2016
“There should not be any brother in the world who has sinned, who after he has looked into your eyes, would go away without having received your mercy.”(Letter to a Minister, 9) Yes, brothers, as Pope Francis urges us: “it is time to return to the basics and to bear the weaknesses and struggles of our brothers and sisters. Mercy is the force that awakens us to new life and instills in us the courage to look to the future with hope.”(Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus, 10)
Fr Michael says: In a particular way, this jubilee year of mercy is summoning us as Franciscans to transcend the divisions in our brotherhood that have arisen over our long history.
He quotes Biblical scholar Gerhard Lohfink: “[Being] a Resurrection community means anticipating that at every hour the Spirit of Christ will show the community new paths, expecting new doors to open at any moment, counting on it that at any hour the Spirit can transform evil into good, hoping that every hour the impossible will become possible, and never saying “later!” but always “now!”

At a Cinema near You: RISEN. Some said that he is risen… What if it is true?
RISEN was released in UK cinemas on March 18th. The Capuchin Franciscans of GB, on their facebook page, said: “A film worth watching. We travelled 80 miles to see it. The tomb is empty… and it is awesome!”
The film is an account of Jesus’ resurrection as seen through the eyes of an unbeliever. It follows Clavius, a high-ranking Roman military tribune and his aide Lucius, who are instructed by Pontius Pilate to ensure that Jesus’ radical followers don’t steal His body and claim resurrection. When the body goes missing within days, Clavius’ mission is to find the body, dispel rumors of a risen Messiah and prevent an uprising in Jerusalem. You will find a trailer here, here a review, and here a list of cinemas across the UK which will be showing the film. Note that “These listings are correct at the time of being published”, which was 14th March.

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And I showed Mercy to Them

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Paula addressing the delegates at the National Elective Chapter of OFSGB at the Oblate Retreat Centre, Crewe, in September 2015

And I showed Mercy to Them is a weekend “Exploring the Richness of God’s Mercy” led by Paula Pearce, our National Minister at Pantasaph Retreat Centre from 6th to 8th May, 2016. A Pantasaph booking form can be found here.
The life of St Francis of Assisi was transformed when he recognised the loving mercy of God in
his life and this led him to desire that everyone might experience God’s mercy.

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You may also care to revisit Paula’s recent post on the National Seat. The document she referred to on why we have to have a national seat has now been included.

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There was something we failed to mention in the “Easter greeting from Tibor Kauser, Minister General of the OFS, ” post that was made last night. Paula has asked if we can pass this message on so that it gets to as many of our members as possible (All?) and as soon as possible. Thank you, Good People! As a bonus we have now added to that post a photo of Tibor taken during our National Elective Chapter at Crewe last September.
 

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Francis and the Sultan Presentation Franciscan International Study Centre

On Wednesday 25th November,  at 7.00pm, Michael Cusato OFM, will present a lecture on Francis and the Sultan.

 

Extending as far back as 19th and 20th century colonialism, the aftermath of the First World War, and certainly since the events of 9/11 in the States and 7/7 in Great Britain, the relationship of the West with the Islamic world has been marked by bitter tensions, harmful stereotyping and outbursts of violence from various quarters on both sides. A similar, if less complex, relationship between Christianity and Islam, Christians and Muslims, also existed in the Middle Ages during the lifetime of St. Francis of Assisi.

However, Francis’ famous encounter of the Ayyubid sultan of Egypt, Malik al-Kamil, in August of 1219, marks a decisively different approach to this relationship fraught with mistrust, fear and hatred. Indeed, in the light of recent events, it stands as a potential, even promising model for bringing faithful believers of both religions together on the basis of mutual respect and the recognition of our common sacred dignity under God. This presentation will lay out the specifics of this story and explore the reasoning behind Francis’ voyage to Damietta in 1219, how that encounter affected the Poor Man of Assisi for the rest of his life and whether any of his brothers – Christian or Muslim – took up the challenging paradigm of the saint and the sultan.

 

For more information, please call 01227 769349 or email info@franciscans.ac.uk

 

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