12. Missionary Service
The General Chapter of 1217 helped the friars’ realize their desire to go forth to the non-believers. In addition to arranging the Order into Provinces in Italy and throughout Europe, the Chapter decided to “reach the Middle East and found the Province of Syria-Palestine and the Mediterranean East.” The arrival of the missionary friars in the Holy Land is attested to by the fact that in the same year, Brother Elias founded a Custody there (Custody of the Holy Land) which was the heart of the Province of Syria-Palestine. The Custody covered the territory between Constantinople, Syria and Egypt. As early as 1220, this mission to the Middle East had a number of friars and friaries.
Attempts were made to found Franciscan missions in North Africa as well. Although the friars had presences in much of North Africa at the time, they did not concern themselves with the Saracens. They limited their ministry to the care of merchants, mercenaries and Christian slaves. After the Chapter of 1217, Brother Egidio was sent to Tunisia. However, early attempts to send friars to that country failed because the presence of the friars caused such uproar that Christian merchants trading in those areas recommended that the friars return to their native country. Only one friar stayed behind while the Dominicans ministered to the merchants. No new missions were undertaken in Egypt; the friars there limited their ministry to the local Catholics. In the early 1220’s, some pioneering Franciscan missionaries went to Morocco and were given the grace of confirming the truth of the Gospel with their blood. This happened on January 16, 1220, when they were sentenced to death by Sultan Yussef-el-Mostansir. This early missionary expedition to Morocco, which had been sanctioned by the Chapter of 1219, did not, however, dampen the desire of the friars to go among the “peoples of the Crescent.” There was at least one other expedition during St. Francis’ lifetime. In 1227, some friars who had been sent on a mission by Brother Elias were martyred at Ceuta.
Another important moment for this mission to the Middle East took place in 1225, with promulgation of the bull Vineae Domini by Pope Honorius III. The Bull called on the Dominicans and Franciscans to join forces in conducting a mission to convert the Saracens. It stressed that they undertake evangelization in the Kingdom of Miramolinus. In 1226, Honorius III wrote a document ordering the Archbishop of Toledo to send more religious to the aforementioned kingdom. The Pope also recommended that some of the friars be appointed bishops. In another bull issued the same year, Honorius III granted certain privileges to the friars engaged in the missions. He agreed that they could “wear clothes according to local customs, grow their hair and their beards, and use money.”
This is the final article of the series on the Mission of St. Francis of Assisi and the First Friars. Because it is true that the present is a gift to us from the past, there will be subsequent articles dealing with topics that show how the current teaching of the Church contains echoes, which cannot be ignored, originating from the way the Seraphic Father carried out his ministry of evangelization.
Friar Dariusz MAZUREK, General Delegate for Missionary Animation
Di Fonzo, W., Odoardi, J., Pompei, A., Bracia Mniejsi Konwentualni. Historia i Życie (1209-1976), Niepokalanów 1988.
Iriarte L., Historia franciszkanizmu, Cracow 1998.
Kafel S., Rys chronologiczny ważniejszych wydarzeń w życiu św. Franciszka i początkach jego Zakonu, in: WŹF II, Warsaw 1981, 433-435.
Mazurek D., Św. Franciszek z Asyżu a misje wśród niewiernych, in: W Nurcie Franciszkańskim 8 (1999) 109-119.
Santos Hernández A., Las misiones católicas, in: Historia de la Iglesia, vol. XXIX, Valencia 1978.
Wiśniowski G., Działalność misyjna Zakonu Braci Mniejszych, [b.m. i r.wyd.; druk powiel.].
For more information on missions, see the Facebook page:
See also the Instagram page for the General Secretariat for Missionary Animation: