Pope to Friars Minor: ‘The poor and the excluded are your teachers!’

Pope Francis sends a message to participants in the General Chapter of the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor reminding them to always be witnesses of fraternity and a simple and joyful life as they gather to renew their vision and embrace the future.

By Vatican News staff writer

Thanking outgoing Minister General, Father Michael Perry, for his service and welcoming the just-elected Father Massimo Giovanni Fusarelli who will succeed him, Pope Francis reflected on how for many months, due to the pandemic, “we have found ourselves living in situations of emergency, isolation and suffering.”

He said that on the one hand, “this critical experience spurs us all to recognize that our earthly life is a journey to be traveled as pilgrims and strangers, itinerant men and women, willing to lighten our load of personal things and demands.”

On the other, he continued, “it is a favourable opportunity to intensify our relationship with Christ and with our brothers and sisters,” and he called on Franciscan communities to be “a humble prophetic presence in the midst of God’s people and a witness to fraternity and a simple and joyful life for all.”

He noted that in difficult times we run the risk of being “paralyzed” and yet the Friars are experiencing the grace of celebrating the Ordinary General Chapter: a reason for praise and thanksgiving to God.

A vision and a future rooted in the risen Christ

Highlighting the theme of the gathering that is guided by the words of St Paul “Arise… and Christ will enlighten you” (Eph 5:14), the Pope encouraged participants to renew their vision and embrace their future, both of which are rooted in the Risen Christ.

He recalled how Francis of Assisi placed the beginning of his own conversion in the encounter with the lepers.

“At the roots of your spirituality is this encounter with the least and the suffering,” the Pope said noting that God touched Francis’ heart through the mercy offered to his brothers, 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 said.

It is from this “renewed gaze”, the Pope continued that a renewed energy and view of the future can stem, while the “renewing strength” comes from the Spirit of God and his action.

‘Meet the poor, protect the earth, work for peace and reconciliation’

He invited the Friars to allow themselves “to be moved by the lowly of our time,” and encouraged them “to go out to meet the men and women who suffer in body and soul,” offering their humble and fraternal presence and making their closeness felt as lesser brothers.

He also invited them “go towards a wounded creation, our common home, which suffers from a distorted exploitation of the earth’s goods for the enrichment of a few, while conditions of misery are created for many.”

“Go as men of dialogue, seeking to build bridges instead of walls, offering the gift of fraternity and social friendship in a world that is struggling to find the course of a common project,” he said.

And he urged them “to go forth as men of peace and reconciliation, inviting those who sow hatred, division and violence to conversion of heart, and offering to the victims the hope born of truth, justice and forgiveness.”

‘Fear not’

Pope Francis concluded highlighting the fact that “The life and rule of the Friars Minor is this: to observe the holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rule of the Lesser Brothers 1:1), and urged them never to let anxiety and fear prevent them from opening their hearts to the renewal and revitalization the Spirit of God is stirring “in and among you” despite many current challenges.

The Friars’ rich spiritual heritage rooted in the Gospel life and characterized by prayer, fraternity, poverty, minority and itinerancy, demands that the Friars never stray from their closeness to the poor, the victims of modern slavery, the refugees and the excluded of this world: “They are your teachers. Embrace them as Saint Francis did!”