On May 1-13, 2019, Friar Paolo FIASCONARO Director of the Mission Center of the Federazione Inter-mediterranea Ministri Provinciali (FIMP) was in China, accompanied by a cinematographer, to search for the origins of the Conventual Franciscan presence in the Far East during the last century.

This journey to memory-steeped places will be chronicled in a documentary film about the life and pastoral activities of our confreres who came to China in 1925. That marked the beginning and a turning point for the Order’s missionary efforts in the Far East. For the missionaries it became their own Silk Road, a journey of daily sacrifice on a non-commercial street, working and weaving the “silk” of Franciscan-styled service.
The confreres who set out on this path were Friars Domenico TAVANI and Alfonso ORLINI. It was a difficult historical time for the Order because China had suppressed all Church assets.
Then in July of 1925, the first eight friars, six from Sardinia, another from Sicily and another from Tuscany, departed Italy to plant the Order in China. They arrived in the town of Xi’ in the Province of Shaanxi. In the coming years, more friars would come from various regions in Italy and Europe. The Holy See appointed Friar Giovanni SOGGIU as the first Apostolic Prefect (1928-1930). He was succeeded by Friars Berardo BARRACCIU (1932-1940), Emilio FAVARATO (1941-47) and Pietro MALEDDU (1948-52).
Those twenty-seven years of the first mission were characterized by great apostolic drive. The friars carried out pastoral ministry across a vast territory. Their particular method of evangelization let them establish many social works that would bring the people closer to the Christian faith. Catechetical groups were formed and soon there were catechumens. The friars founded orphanages, kindergartens, elementary and high schools, and a medical dispensary. Very active vocation animation led to the construction of two seminaries and several churches. A group of Franciscan Tertiaries formed and a group of Franciscan Tertiary Sisters of the Precious Blood arrived. This was the mission’s most vibrant period. The mission then counted sixteen priests and four religious brothers. The mission territory was divided into eight districts and included twenty chapels, twelve schools and six new churches.
However, with the political changes of 1952, all foreign religious were expelled. Eight indigenous friars and twenty-one Franciscan nuns remained in China.
The seeds planted by our missionaries gave rise to Friar Matteo LUO, who for sixty years, worked in Italy, to help widen that missionary path first traced by our brothers. He became a bridge between the first and second generation. Out of love for his native land, he assisted several young Chinese clerical students in Italy. They have since returned to China where they minister under the jurisdiction of the Sacred Convent of Assisi.
For the Mission Center, the trip was also an opportunity to become familiar with those eight religious who at the time discreetly carried out intense pastoral and social activities, serving local Bishops, pastors, the Secular Franciscan Order and a parish on the outskirts.

Friar Paolo FIASCONARO, Director of the FIMP Mission Center