By Devin Watkins
The Order of Friars Minor Conventual (OFM Conv) concluded their month-long 202nd General Chapter on Monday with a papal audience in the Vatican.
In his address, Pope Francis complemented the Conventual Franciscans for approving their new General Statutes, which make changes regarding inter-culturalism, sharing, and financial transparency in community life.
“These changes are difficult, but it is effort well-spent!” he told the group, reminding them that Constitutions guarantee an Order’s charism and its extension into the future.
The Gospel, Pope Francis noted, is the Franciscan’s “rule and life” and their mission is to be a living Gospel.
The Pope then explored three ways Conventual Franciscans can be a “living exegesis of the Word”.
Fraternity, he said, is a central aspect of life for those who follow in the footsteps of St. Francis. “Fraternity is a gift to welcome with gratitude. It is a reality ever ‘on the path’, in construction, which requires each person’s contribution,” he said.
The Holy Father said fraternity requires everyone to “love and nourish his brother” so that community life becomes a “school of communion” and a “type of prophecy in the Church and in the world”.
Pope Francis said “littleness” (Italian: minorità) is another important characteristic of Conventual Franciscan life.
“This is a difficult path,” he said, “because it is opposed to worldly logic, which seeks success at any cost and desires to occupy the first place”.
St. Francis, said the Pope, told Franciscans to be humble and to spend their lives in the service of others.
“Preach peace,” Pope Francis exhorted the group, in the spirit of the traditional Franciscan greeting: “Pax et bonum”.
The Pope said peace can be interpreted as “reconciliation… with ourselves, with God, with others, and with creatures.”
“Reconciliation consists in concentric circles which begin in the heart and extend out to embrace the whole universe. But in reality, it begins in the heart of God, the heart of Christ,” he said.
This type of peace, he pointed out, is more than an absence of problems, because it emanates “from the presence of God within us.”
Living a life of fraternity, littleness, and peace, said Pope Francis, requires continuous formation that promotes gradual conformation to Christ, in every sphere of life.
He called it a personalized “formation of the heart, which changes our way of thinking, feeling, and acting; a formation that teaches fidelity”.
Only good religious formation, Pope Francis concluded, can help stem the “hemorrhaging” of priests and religious who are abandoning their calling.