Pope Francis to Friars Minor: Seek renewal amid declining numbers

Pope Francis waves 3 to the crowds at the general audience in St Peters Square on Sept 2 2015 Credit Daniel Ibanez CNA 9 2 15 Pope Francis waves to the crowds at the general audience in St. Peter's Square on Sept 2, 2015. | Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

Pope Francis urged members of the Order of Friars Minor on Saturday to seek renewal as they face “the challenges of declining numbers and aging.”

In a message to participants of the order’s general chapter in Rome on July 17, the pope encouraged the Franciscan Friars, known by the initials O.F.M., not to be paralyzed by worry.

“As much of the order faces the challenges of declining numbers and aging, do not let anxiety and fear prevent you from opening your hearts and minds to the renewal and revitalization that the Spirit of God is stirring in you and among you,” he said.

“You have a spiritual heritage of inestimable richness, rooted in the Gospel life and characterized by prayer, fraternity, poverty, minority, and itinerancy.”

“Do not forget that we receive from our closeness to the poor, the victims of modern slavery, the refugees, and the excluded of this world, a renewed gaze, capable of opening us to God’s future. They are your teachers. Embrace them as St. Francis did!”

The general chapter is taking place on July 3-18 on the theme of “Renewing Our Vision, Embracing Our Future.”

The order announced on July 13 that it had elected a new leader, Fr. Massimo Fusarelli, who will serve a six-year term as minister general. He succeeds Fr. Michael Perry, a native of Indianapolis, who led the order since 2013.

In his message, the pope said: “I greet with affection all of you who are participating in the general chapter of the Order of Friars Minor. A grateful thought goes out to Fr. Michael A. Perry, who has concluded his service as minister general, and I offer my best wishes to Fr. Massimo Giovanni Fusarelli, who has been called to succeed him.”

The pope recalled that St. Francis of Assisi wrote in his Testament that he used to be nauseated by the sight of lepers, but that after he met them, he felt transformed.

“At the roots of your spirituality is this encounter with the least and the suffering, in the sign of ‘doing mercy,’” he said. “God touched Francis’ heart through the mercy offered to his brother, and he continues to touch our hearts through his encounter with others, especially those most in need.”

“The renewal of your vision can only start from this new look with which to contemplate the poor and marginalized brother, a sign, almost a sacrament, of God’s presence.”

He continued: “From this renewed gaze, from this concrete experience of encounter with our neighbor and his wounds, can come a renewed energy to look to the future as brothers and as minors, as you are, according to the beautiful name of ‘Friars Minor’ that St. Francis chose for himself and for you.”

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