Is there a pelican in your parish church? Have you ever wondered why this strange bird often appears above the tabernacle? I have encountered some striking examples recently and have discovered the following history.
Around the time of St Francis descriptions of the natural world became very popular. Animals, birds and even rocks were described and illustrated in ‘bestiaries’. Every part of Creation was thought to contain a meaning or a moral lesson and a long tradition of symbolic representation developed. Many of the creatures and their stories came from older sources including the Greek philosopher, Aristotle. Many of the descriptions were drawn more from imagination than science.
The pelican is one of the creatures that appeared in Greek legends and medieval bestiaries. In Greek mythology the pelican was associated with violent death and rebirth – the parent bird killing their chicks and reviving them, after three days, with their own blood. Christian writers in the 13th century found a symbolic connection with the death and resurrection of Christ.
From observing the bird with its large, heavy, red-tipped beak resting on its breast, writers mistakenly described the pelican piercing its own side until blood flowed onto the dead chicks. So the pelican symbolizes Jesus’ self-sacrifice at Calvary. ‘Through his wounds you have been healed.’ (1 Peter 2:25) Jesus is the devoted parent reviving us with his life-giving blood.
Pope Francis encourages us in this Year of Mercy to experience God’s parental care as ‘a “visceral” love. It gushes forth from the depths, naturally, full of tenderness and compassion, indulgence and mercy.’ (Misericordiae Vultus 6) May we all know an immersion in this love during these days of Easter and be revived with the new life of His Resurrection. Alleluia!
Palm Sunday 2016
What have we been up to at National?
You heard about the National Seat from Andrea and I have to admit this has been taking quite a lot of energy. You will hear a lot more about this soon. Otherwise I have been occupied with the National Executive which met from Wednesday to Friday last week. We are already preparing for the National Council meeting which will be at the beginning of March. This is when the council will all see our new premises. We are having a weekend meeting and have managed to arrange accommodation – close by was too costly, so we are going to be staying about 3 miles away.
This post is just a sketch, as many final decisions await national approval. First I want to say how welcome we were at Cold Ash. The sisters make us feel very much part of the same family. We had time to catch up with their news and work. The food was really good and plentiful. For anyone interested, it is possible to arrange to stay there as individuals or in small groups for a retreat time.
All members attended the National Executive meeting, including our 3 national Spiritual Assistants. We all worked very hard. Every time I went into the conference room I found people working, often a couple of members helping one another or in dialogue about something.
A lot of work is pending:
- Handbook survey and follow up – a good response to this so far
- CIOFS questions on “Managing an Order like Ours” – a reminder is probably helpful and timely as I have to meet a deadline on this
- Completed work on amending National Statutes as required was agreed and will be brought to National for approval
- Candidacy Module of the Initial Formation programme. We intend to agree the core topics in March. John has been working on this with a team since the election
- Moving archives and setting up the National Seat – for which we will be seeking donations. You will be updated fully after the March meeting
- The new website will be a main item in March. Roger will give practical help and give more insight into the workings and what we need to know.
- We have made good progress on the database – more on this to follow
As usual, we were delighted to hear from Christine Frendo on the rapid development of the young Franciscan group in Gibraltar. This local fraternity is in a unique situation as we know but, nonetheless, their commitment, prayer, formation, range of activities, generosity, celebration – in a nutshell, the spirit of fraternity – is inspirational and very encouraging. Anyone who has access to the National Fraternity Facebook will see how much they do.
We asked Michael for a draft budget which he brought and we discussed in detail. This enabled us to see how things stand. We know that there is a three year cycle, given the nature of our Order, and it was helpful to see a plan emerging for this three year term.
Debbie is another new member on the executive. She has decided to promote the new day of prayer for the environment which will be annually celebrated on September 1st. Debbie will be sending a novena and making suggestions about how we might become involved locally and/or regionally.
Andrea has been doing a lot of good work in dialogue with Michael Hagger (who administered the old website) and did much other valuable work for our national fraternity. More on this after the national council – keep some time free to digest all these things I am promising you!
For the present, Pam is visiting the national seat to deal with correspondence and stock. This seat address will come to be used more and it makes sense to keep stock there.
It emerged that there are two consecutive weekend meetings on Mercy, marking the Jubilee year. As it happens they will both be in Wales. It is possible that another event will be held later in the year, perhaps in Manchester. For now, you can find details of these weekends on the website.
We watched the new DVD “Finding St Francis” during the first evening. It is an interesting presentation of Francis’ life, telling the human story rather than the inner journey and spiritual growth of Francis. It led to a good discussion and some ideas about how we might prepare future audiences. By the way, we were all struck by the Anglicisation of Italian names. This came from the Anglican Franciscans and it is intriguing to discuss different emphases.
Our Spiritual Assistants were able to give us their perspective on Ofsgb. They work very hard on our behalf and contributed a lot in the group that will help us reflect on the state of our national fraternity today.
All of us appreciated having time to get to know one another, time to discuss and consider. It is not our intention to always have overnight meetings but this was a very positive experience. As Francis rejoiced when the brothers gathered for a chapter, we sensed that we are truly a fraternity and time well spent together can only be to the benefit of Ofsgb.
Please pray for us as we continue preparing for the National Council in a very different setting. As you will realise, if you have read this far, we have much to do in a weekend.
OFSGB National Office
The Secular Franciscan Order in Great Britain now has a fixed national address
All Saints, Redclyffe Road, Urmston, Manchester M41 7LG. Our office is in the former printing press building of The Greyfriars’ (St Maximillian Kolbe’s) Crusade of Mary Immaculate and The Franciscan Mass Association. The Greyfriars, The Order of Friars Minor Conventual of Great Britain & Ireland have made this redundant building in the grounds of All Saints Friary and Church available to our Order on an annual rental basis. In taking up their offer we are fulfilling a requirement of the General Constitutions that all national councils must have a “National Seat” a fixed address for communication purposes.
There are two sizeable meeting rooms which can be used for national council and executive meetings and possibly formation days/days of reflection. The space which is centrally heated and WiFi accessible also comprises an office, a small kitchen area equipped with kettle and microwave, a large walk-in room, formerly the photographic dark room, a useful storage area, and a toilet. It is rather basic and a work-in-progress but we can make it our home. Paula has taken some regional archives for storage, thereby freeing up space in her home, much to the delight of her husband. My husband will also be delighted when our spare room is emptied of archives from the midland region. Paula has driven up from Kent to spend time organising, one day for a meeting with the OFM.Conv. Custos, and a further two three-day stays, in December January, accompanied some of the time by our national secretary, Pam Thornton, Peter Bamford, north west regional minister, and myself. It has been hard work especially for Paula but then nothing worthwhile is easy. Our hope is that this centre will energise our sense of belonging not only to OFSGB but to the whole Franciscan family. Pam will drive down from Liverpool once a week to deal with any post and admin. Paula will also spend more time there this year.
This is a historic moment for OFSGB and if we can make it work financially it will give us a new national identity built on the many hours of dedicated time and effort over the years by members both living and dead. A line incorporated in our national letter headed notepaper states OFSGB Building the Kingdom of God with Living Stones. We are those living stones so let’s get to work! Watch this space for developments.
Peace and All Good
OFSGB National Office