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
Minister’s Response to Re-election
I am delighted to be given the responsibility of serving ofsgb for another term as National Minister. Thank you for your confidence in me and pray for all of us as we begin again.
There is a practice in the Order that members who participate in the national electoral chapter devote some time to suggesting what we call “Priorities”. This results of this are considered by the national council which will choose 3 or 4 of these to form the main programme for the new term. Members are advised of the decisions taken through their regional ministers. The executive may seek help from other members who have a special interest. We intend to meet and agree on our main projects before Christmas.
I have several people to thank. The election could not take place without 2 members of the CIOFS Presidency. Thank you to Tibor Kauser, our Minister General and Br Francis DOR ofm cap, who came to make a spiritual and pastoral visitation and to facilitate and authorize the election. They worked very hard, seeing many of us individually. They advise that a future visitation would be better mid-term so existing members can implement recommendations. We have learned a lot from them and appreciate their fraternal, supportive and positive response to our efforts.
I thank all those who helped behind the scenes and came early to participate in the visitation. To name a few, Helen helped with welcoming, with planning and seeing to all that was necessary for our lovely liturgical celebrations. Just as at the Chapter of Mats, I knew we had someone making sure things ran smoothly and attending to whatever was needed. Once people arrived and got settled there was a very warm experience of fraternity so members looked out for one another in the inevitable tensions that build up at a visitation and election.
The Spiritual Assistants shared celebration of the liturgies. The election began with a Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit and the final Mass was in inspirational celebration in which the new executive were installed. Our three National Spiritual Assistants are a tangible support and I thank them for their dedication to our service.
Helen and Betsy brought flowers and I brought my favourite statue of Francis so we had a welcoming focus and environment.
Betsy undertook to come early to act as secretary and be an extra pair of hands. She did not intend to stand for office and so made herself generally available. She and Helen shared in final preparations for the election.
Salvina and Helen were the tellers for the election.
Roger seemed to be giving a lot of website tuition and to make time to work alongside our new treasurer. Michael Martin, as he immediately took up the treasurer’s obligations at the chapter.
Thanks to the various photographers and those who were putting information on the National Facebook site.
As ever, we found the Oblate Centre in Crewe an excellent venue. It is comfortable with plenty of spaces for people to meet informally. It is always warm and welcoming. Thank you Fr Martin and Sr Catherine.
Everyone acted where they saw need and enjoyed meeting together again. It was a celebration and a moment of renewal for the national fraternity.
A few personal thoughts. I was moved by the support I was given throughout. I found moments of great excitement and warmth but I always experience anxiety and self-doubt and such an event certainly provokes these. I am uplifted when I meet members and I love having some time to spend with others, although there is never time to talk to everyone. I appreciated the session in which I could share my thoughts with the international delegates as they come with a side experience but with fresh eyes. They gave me some practical suggestions and they helped me to look back and evaluate my work over the last term. They will be there if I need to call on them.
Outgoing council members do not turn their back on the new council. They are willing to assist as and when. There is always a sadness when we find members are not re-elected or when they have decided that they cannot stand. This is accompanied by a generous willingness continue to walk with us.
There is a great excitement and expectation when the new executive gathers around for the first time. I am glad we have decided on 8 elected members. I looked around and saw 3 of us continuing – John Power, Roger Yelland and myself – this was good. Then I saw 2 members who have a lot of national and even of some international experience – Andrea Hambleton and Pam Thornton. This was even better. To complete, we have 2 new office bearers – Debbie Bool and Michael Martin. This was better still. So on the executive we have a mixture of experience and new blood.
Our 3 national Spiritual Assistants remain on the executive and national councils. They will help and advise us in many ways. They work very hard to serve us as we have few local or regional assistants to help share their workload. They see things from a different perspective but we share the Franciscan charism equally. Through their visits to local and regional fraternities, they see how ofsgb actually is today and so they contribute to our vision and approach.
I was pleased to meet James, our website technical expert.
I came home exhausted, happy, fulfilled and inspired – albeit with a tinge of sadness at the future absence of those who will not continue in this particular service.
I ask again for your prayers. You have a promising new executive whose work is to serve you. My role is to try to listen, discern and act according to God’s will in my role of little servant.
Peace and all good to all.
Executive Council Members
Paula Pearce (Minister) Dorothy Harte (Presence in the World)
Helen MacGilp (Vice Minister) Catherine Orobator (Youth)
Salvina Bartholomeusz (Secretary) Br John Cavanagh OFM Cap
Roger Yelland (Treasurer) Br Patrick Lonsdale OFM
John Power (Formation) Br Jesmond Pawley OFM Conv
I would like to begin with a reminder of the blessings we shared during the years of Br Peter Hall’s dedicated service. He died during our term of office. He is still sorely missed but we have access to some of the unique teaching and guidance he gave us over the years thanks to those members who made recordings of his talks.
Br Stephen Innes served us loyally and generously for 9 years and he also helped us greatly in the range of contributions he made as he gave himself unstintingly in his service for us. He has sent us his good wishes for the success of our Chapter and he thanked us for the donation we collected for him. We wish him well in his current ministry.
We have 3 new national Spiritual Assistants, Br Patrick ofm, Br Jesmond is our ofm conv spiritual assistant and Br John is ofm cap. We appreciate their commitment and dedication to the Order, especially as they are having to undertake additional work that would, in the past, have been shared among other Franciscans.
State of the National Fraternity
OFSGB continues to see a decrease in the number of members. The main causes are ageing and death. There are some people in formation but the numbers do not cancel each other out. I hope that all members will come to understand better the nature and identity of the Order through initial and ongoing formation. How can we promote the Order unless we identify fully with it and share the desire to belong to it?
There are 647 members who can attend meetings, 60 local fraternities, 20 of which are dormant. There is an imbalance in the size of regions – in terms of geographical area, this applies particularly to the South West and S Wales Region and to Scotland which are large, with some members having to make long journeys to participate in fraternity life. In terms of the numbers of local fraternities making up a region, London is disproportionately large in contrast to the neighbouring regions – specifically South East and East Anglia.
The outgoing council decided it was necessary to increase capitation. The priorities of the Council included membership and this, together with work on the website, led us to look at how we categorise members. It soon became evident that the categorisation on the old website did not follow the General Constitutions. Helen spearheaded the major work of addressing this, preparing an explanation and giving a suggested approach to tackle this. These were sent to the regions to take the work forward. National Council became aware that this sometimes caused anxiety and even distress. It has to be emphasised that such significant changes demand personal contact and dialogue with members who are unclear or uncertain about their status, or about whom local fraternities have concerns, for example, through absence. This has helped us to update membership records. Regions have been diligent in their efforts and I have been very grateful to receive accurate information. The information is available in soft form.
The new website has been launched after a lot of hard work. We thank Michael Hagger for his dedicated long service to ofsgb.org.uk and Angela Bradley who was delegated to help as Communications Officer. It was decided to concentrate on building a new website. I hope that members will come to feel ownership of the new website and that, in time, it will reflect our membership which is rich in its diversity. I want to thank James Ingmire and Roger Yelland, in particular for their commitment and also to thank everyone else who has worked hard so that we could see it launched before this Chapter.
Formation has undergone major change thanks to the work of John Power who produced a new format using the CIOFS Formators’ Manual. John piloted “Vocation, Mission and Charism” by sending it out to the regions. John has run 2 national weekends to help members to learn how to use the resource and he has travelled to regions to train formators. A programme of core material for visitors and enquirers has been agreed by National Council. More work and clarification is necessary before the Candidacy formation programme can be presented in full. The minimum period of formation is thought to be too short but the outgoing council did not manage to complete the work.
Independently, Merle O’Driscoll has also updated “Growing in Love” and this will be an additional resource that will become available on the website.
We have been given some work to do by CIOFS on managing the Order. This is ongoing but there is a deadline. The responses are still arriving and will be given to the new council which will have to take this forward urgently to meet the international deadlines. A common response is that those who have managed to take time on the document think we need to take this seriously and some feel almost a need to begin again, to go back to the Rule and Constitutions. It has increased awareness that members belong to an international Order.
It has not been possible to finalise the amendments we have been asked to make to our National Statutes.
Two council members suffered serious personal difficulties during the three year term. We thank them for all their efforts on our behalf.
The Chapter of Mats was a loving testimony to the nature and dedication of our members. There was a real joy in this celebration of fraternity and belonging to something shared. This was a highlight during our term. 130 people attended. Every region embraced the work of preparing a display and presentation on their particular element of the Canticle of the Creatures and of telling their own stories. The end result demonstrated that as many individual members as possible were involved in preparing for the weekend. Regions took the initiative very much to heart. Gibraltar led the entertainment for our social evening on Saturday. They were well represented. The presentations on Sunday caught the spirit of our Order and many emotions were touched. The active and contemplative aspects of our life were evident. DVDs of the Chapter were made available to regions and could be a useful resource for some time. I have always had the intention to make a paper record from this, as a way of providing information about ofsgb for all our members and others who may be interested. I was overwhelmed by the contributions and thank everyone for all they did. The event was very much a celebration of fraternity.
There have been 2 national seminars, one on the biographies of Francis and one on the prayers of Francis. There was also a study based on a Franciscan perspective on the beauty of God.
The Youth Gather held in July 2013 was very much appreciated by the few who attended. It was a learning curve trying to promote this in parishes and asking them to send young people. There were real concerns about a weekend where young people would be away from home at an event that was unfamiliar and that was not parish or deanery led. Those who attended experienced a family event – a range of ages and representatives from first order and third order regular Franciscans. It was a programme that the Cold Ash team adapted specifically for us. It made a strong impression on the young people who took trouble to write about their experience afterwards. Gibraltar was well represented and has since made great progress towards beginning Youfra and their presence at the Mostar Youfra/OFS congress will help them to encourage and guide us nationally. Stratford also began a youth programme thanks to Catherine. There is interest in youth from other fraternities. There will be a World Youth Day in Cracow next year with the usual Youfra gathering around that event. I hope some young people will be attracted to the Franciscan way as a result of this. Experience shows that Youfra will not develop quickly here but I believe the seed that has been sown is growing so we can now say that we have healthy young shoots.
The priorities of communication, evangelisation/mission and visibility/membership have provided a framework for much of the work of the last 3 years. Evangelisation was at the heart of everything we undertook rather than being a specific focus. We acknowledge the spur that the election of Pope Francis gave us and some of our work, esp PIW, has taken great inspiration from this Pontificate. Dorothy Hart ran national days on Trafficking of the human person and an introduction to and study of some of the Pope’s homilies, “from Francis to Francis”. Dorothy has already contributed to the new website showing it to be a resource for PIW links and developments.
Much of our work has been on developing communication. The newsletter was replaced by a number of different documents from some of the National executive members. The Advent tweets (and other communications) were sent out to as many email addresses as possible, thanks to the work of Angela Bradley. She maintains communication with many members and devotes a lot of her energy to our Order and others by her commitment and creativity. The new website has been set up with the intention of improving communication. There has also been a growing number of Facebook groups throughout GB.
Visibility is not a natural strength in ofsgb. We wrote to all our bishops to tell them about our new acronym, OFS, and to tell them something about us. About half replied and the replies were supportive and positive. I went to the installation of the Archbishop, Most Reverend Malcolm McMahon OP, in Liverpool with Peter Bamford. This was a great celebration and showed the concern of, and interest, in the various lay organisations that the Archbishop has. I believe we have an opportunity to become more visible as the Year of Mercy dawns. At this time we also see the huge migration into Europe. I am sure that both of these will draw on our Franciscan mission and charism.
Membership has been a major consideration – the raised capitation and the effort, through the categorisation of members, to create a new database and to give a reason to dialogue with those members who cannot attend or no longer feel part of ofs, reflect our concern with membership and for those who do not have a sense of belonging. There is a lot more to do.
I was able to attend the international electoral chapter in Assisi and found it inspiring and challenging. Growth is not in the industrialised and developed world – it is from much poorer nations. I learned a lot about how important ofs is in a range of situations and from the witness I experienced from hearing about other national fraternities and the huge work CIOFS do.
I visited Denmark with John Power and really enjoyed this experience of how others live fraternity in very different circumstances to ours. Meeting the members was great. I also visited Jersey with Betsey for what might prove to be a beginning towards re-establishing this fraternity.
The Assisi visit was possibly one of the best I organised. Most participants happened to be ofs members.
Some thoughts on the future – tentative suggestions
We are running out of handbooks. The handbook needs revision and this should not be rushed. The incoming council may give consideration to what action to take.
The website will only develop with the involvement of members. There will be people in the regions who will be able to make lots of contributions and we need variety. Our members express our charism individually as well as fraternally and everyone should find something that feeds them on the website.
Promotion of ofsgb, building on the beginning of a youth initiative, taking the words of Pope Francis on board and acting on them are some things that might be considered.
The work of ofsgb could be shared more. Regions and fraternities could work together or join together for special days. National council might consider weekend meetings, rather than single days, in order to build fraternity and do justice to our mission.
At the electoral chapter we agreed to add one additional members to the executive council so there are 8 elected members. Roger Yelland is the additional member and has been asked to continue his great work on communications and the new website. One personal observation is that even if a councillor has a named responsibility, the work they do has always to be explained clearly, with a progress report given at each meeting and only implemented when approved and fully endorsed by National Council. It is possible to get very involved in a task and think everyone has been kept up to date.
We have been given a space in Manchester by the OFM Conv that, I believe, was used for printing. We have not yet had access to this but the intention is that it will be our national seat. The new council will decide how best to use the facility.
There is a lot of consolidation to be done following the present council’s term of office.
I think we are still all on a journey of understanding better what ofsgb is and what we can offer at a time when many people lack direction and a sense of fraternity. We know that our earth is fragile, we have a whole new European crisis in providing a means of helping migrants until life in their own countries is possible. We know that events make very big ripples – we can bring the blessings and gifts of our faith to pray, to be witnesses and to offer help.
Some of the gifts we share are: seeking to have peace of heart; seeking to bring about better understanding and striving for reconciliation; prayer and contemplation; concern for ourselves and for those around us; and the belief that all things will only find fulfilment in God. This makes us better placed than many to be caring and to give hope to others. Fraternity plays a vital role in helping us recognise and use our gifts and in providing mutual support and strength.
Paula Pearce Sept 2015
The National Elective Chapter was held at the weekend at the Oblate Retreat Centre at Crewe.
The newly elected national executive is:
Minister: Paula Pearce ofs, Vice Minister: Andrea Hambleton ofs, Secretary: Pamela Thornton ofs, Treasurer: Michael Martin ofs, Formation: John Power ofs, Presence in the World: Debbie Bool ofs, Youth: Christine Frendo ofs, Additional Councillor: Roger Yelland ofs.
We will all, surely, wish to give thanks and gratitude to those who served as the national executive from 2012 to 2015:
Minister: Paula Pearce ofs, Vice Minister: Helen MacGilp ofs, Secretary: Salvina Bartholomeusz ofs, Treasurer: Roger Yelland ofs, Formation: John Power ofs, Presence in the World: Dorothy Harte ofs, Youth: Catherine Orobator ofs.
And we give thanks and express our gratitude to all members who work together to build ofsgb, to build rich fraternal bonds, to build our franciscan family: all members of the national council, those members not on the national executive or council but who work closely with us, all regional councils, all fraternity councils, and all fraternity members. Each of us is vitally important to ofsgb. Without your love, your commitment to fraternity, your support, your help and your guidance the national executive could do nothing.
May we seek to bring our Franciscan spirit into every situation we face and witness. May we all be life-giving resources, faithful to our Franciscan spirit, celebrating contemporary Franciscan life, as we work to build the Civilisation of Love (The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church: published in 2004 by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace at the request of Pope John Paul II. See especially sections 204ff, and 575ff).
Further details and updates from the Chapter will follow.
Wistaston Hall, Crewe, CW2 8JS
September 25 -27, 2015
As we prepare for our national elections we ask for Your presence, remembering Your promise to those who gather in your name.
We ask for an attitude of conversion so that, as individuals and as the national fraternity, we seek to turn more and more towards You.
We ask that You will be at the centre of our Chapter and that You will guide us so that we come to know Your will and always desire to live in accordance with Your will.
We ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten us so that we discover what is best for the life of our national fraternity today.
May we always remember that our labour will be in vain if it is not You who build the house.
Enlighten the darkness of our hearts and give us true faith, certain hope and perfect charity, sense and knowledge Lord, so that we may carry our Your holy and true command.