Prot. N. 0760/2021
Rome, October 4, 2021
I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word,
so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.
Fraternal to the World and
Capable of Creating a Culture of Brotherhood
Greetings of the Minister General on the Solemnity of St. Francis of Assisi
A happy and serene feast of our Seraphic Father St. Francis to you all! I offer you my fraternal greetings, wishing each of you every blessing of the Lord. This year I want to present some issues that are close to my heart, matters which I would like to share with you in simplicity.
In a few days, we will celebrate the first anniversary of Pope Francis’ “Fratelli tutti,” his encyclical letter on fraternity and social friendship. It is a text which aims to help us envisage and engender an “open” world, and thus counter the “dark clouds over a closed world.” The encyclical seeks to “offer a word” to the world, in the hope of generating change toward the common good and peaceful coexistence. Love, the moral good, liberty, equality and fraternity, dialogue, encounter, social charity, political love and religions themselves—these are some of the ways, according to the Pontiff, that can help generate a new culture: a culture of brotherhood.
As the Franciscan Family approaches the great jubilee of 2026, the 800th anniversary of the Easter Passion of St. Francis, we have already been enlightened by the celebrations and reflections for the 800th anniversary commemorating the writing of the Earlier Rule. Soon it will be time for another important jubilee, the 800th anniversary, in 2022, commemorating the writing of A Letter to a Minister, which Francis composed after the Earlier Rule but before the Later Rule (circa 1222). Then, there is the great jubilee in 2023, the 800th anniversary commemorating the writing of the Later Rule.
As I have already suggested above, these celebrations are always an opportunity to be enlightened and refreshed by the grace of the important events in Franciscan history and spirituality. Furthermore, they are times when we can reflect more deeply on issues related to our spirituality and thus make our “call and election” firmer and renew ourselves in the charismatic identity of our family.
The “Real Place” of Charismatic Identity
I have always considered the early Franciscan movement to be a movement inspired by the Holy Spirit, (and it certainly is!). However, it is also one of several medieval lay movements that were born from a socio-cultural ferment of change, openness, and novelty. It was therefore a movement that was inspired, but also “driven,” by a particular historical situation (the crumbling of the feudal system) and which simultaneously presented itself as a novel message to that same society.
The movement that began in St. Francis, and which he himself submitted to ecclesial discernment, was a true fraternitas, it was not “initially an Ordo or a Religio.” In fact, at the end of his life, the Poverello wanted “to reaffirm a style closer to communal realities than to feudal ones, to a circular and communitarian perspective rather than a vertical and hierarchical one. Above all, he did not want to lose the memory of those early days and of the intuition that sustained them, which was well expressed in the word ‘fraternitas.’”
I assert that the creation of the “fraternitas” originated by St. Francis cannot be considered the founding of a religious institution similar to the way modern religious congregations were founded. The fraternitas of those early days took shape as a way of living, believing, and working. It was a way of approaching the world, creation, the powerful, the simple and the Church. This way was none other than the Gospel of the Lord Jesus. I therefore like to think of fraternitas as a message from God, written in the fresh air of the language of the Gospel, a message for the world.
Of course, that fraternitas soon became an Ordo or, better still, a Religio (using a new Rule, different from any then known). However, in the “new reality” of having been counted among the ecclesial institutions of consecrated life, the will of the Saint of Assisi was to be kept alive: the memory of the origins were not to be forgotten! The charism was to be constantly renewed and maintained.
In truth, no one doubts the goodness of our charism, founded upon the principles of our Minorite fraternity. However, it is well known that throughout history many influences have tried—and still try—to restrict it or give it a different interpretation. These influences include monasticism, the style of the Canons Regular; the hierarchical conceptions typical of the clergy; materialism, rationalism, mercantilism; apocalyptic interpretations, extreme rigorism, heretical movements; temporal powers, and political interests. Even in our day, our charism is interpreted in ways that are only pastoral in nature, such as the “parochialization” of our life, or our being reduced to performing ministry in the manner of simple officials, or even as a kind of religious exhibitionism. The list could be more complete, but as always, my reflection is intuitive, not scientific. It is merely an invitation for us to keep “purifying” daily life, in our search for an ever greater charismatic purity in all that we are, live or do.
I invite each friar and every community to identify the “real place” that our charism should have in our lives, our attitudes, our works, our methodologies, and in the institutions under our care. Are these charismatic principles part of our “affective center”? Do they comprise our “ethical engine”?
A Fraternal Commitment to the World
In our Constitutions, the characteristic traits of the Conventual style are very evident, emphasizing mainly the fraternal-minoritic nature of our way of life. These references do not have a pragmatic purpose (namely, fraternity understood as “simply living in community,” or as a means of better performing our various ministerial services), but as a constitutive element, that is to say, essential and crosscutting, as well as a theological element, namely, a way of “mirroring” the intra-Trinitarian relational dynamics.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the underlying plan of our life and mission. This plan is carried out in fraternal communion, in minority, in penance, in conversion, in fidelity to the Holy Church and in total consecration according to the evangelical counsels.
The Gospel and fraternity form the foundation of our way of life and our mission. Thus, the Six-Year Plan of the Order (Part 2, “To Become a Fraternity”) states: “We dream—but perhaps it is more concrete to say: we demand—that in the different latitudes and longitudes of our presences, a fraternity of Conventual Friars Minor should represent, in the best possible way, the Gospel style, beginning with the way the fraternity lives, using all the tools that promote its growth…our missionary fraternity is our most beautiful aspect.”
From this it can be seen that the Conventual style of mission is not some simple summary of evangelization commitments, but a fraternal commitment made to the world to “offer fraternity” and to “offer oneself in fraternity” while proclaiming the Gospel. We do not proclaim the Gospel randomly. We proclaim it as a missionary brotherhood, through fraternity and minority, in other words, we proclaim it in an evangelical way. It is not just a matter of living in fraternity and “offering” something to the world in our spare time. It is about offering “fraternity” to the world while—always in community—we “offer up ourselves” through our work and ministry.
I address my question to each one of you, brothers: Do our activities arise from fraternity? Are they the mirror, message and “content” of a true Minorite fraternity?
Capable of Creating a Culture
Fraternity, total love of God, mission, minority and peace—these are some of the characteristics which people attribute to Franciscans. In reality, the people are not wrong. This image of Franciscans has been firmly embedded in the popular culture, perhaps due to the fact that from the beginning, the friars were given the missionary mandate to go forth into the world. However, St. Francis not only sent them forth on a mission with a message or a homily, but with a certain style, with a very potent modus: evangelical witness.
In fact, the “style” with which all the friars were to go forth in the world was not some secondary consideration. The friars were to present themselves in a way that was simple, minor, peaceful, submissive, respectful, discreet, pure, and benedictory. The method and the content were the same; the content was the evangelical way, the style of the Lord Jesus.
Brother Francis’ intention was not only to “demonstrate” this Minorite style, but also to “offer it” as good news to the world. His goal and expectations were certainly to produce a change in people and in the dominant social systems. He did this, not through force, but by means of his witness, by his example, by his good deeds and finally, by his preaching.
We can affirm with Franciscanists that from the beginning of the Franciscan story until today, the idea of “being inserted in the world implies a permanent effort of creativity on the part of the friars in order to offer new and adapted responses to changing realities,” and that, “in this going forth into the world, what counts is not the quantity of the functions they perform, but the evangelical quality of their form of being”.
Finally, the purpose of this evangelical quality is not to speak about oneself, but to speak to others, to generate an evangelical culture in society and certainly in the Church. This evangelical quality first implies the conviction one should have in one’s own life and vocation. However, at the same time, it also implies an intentionality, a “going forth” to proclaim to the world that it is possible to live as believers, as brothers, as deeply human (as a mirror of the humanity of God, shown in the Jesus of the Gospel). The goal of this intentionality is to generate an evangelical culture.
There remains one last question to be asked: Do we feel capable of generating a fraternal (evangelical) culture around us, in our friaries, in our works and in the services of our apostolate?
Dear confreres, with this double message inviting us to be “Fraternal to the World” and “Capable of Creating a Culture of Brotherhood,” I wish you well on this Solemnity of St. Francis of Assisi, and I wish you joy in being members of the Conventual family and the wider Franciscan family; a family constantly called to renew the quality of its life and mission.
I wish you all the best!
And you also testify, because you have been with me from the beginning.
Friar Carlos A. TROVARELLI
 Cf. C. VAIANI, La fraternitas nella Regola, in A. CZORTEK, (editor), Un testo identitario. Metodo e temi di lettura della Regola di Francesco d’Assisi (Convivium Assisiense – Itinera Franciscana 5), Cittadella Editrice, Assisi 2013, pp. 103-140.
 VAIANI, La fraternitas, p. 107.
 F. URIBE, Preghiera, dominio di sé e itineranza, in P. MARANESI – F. ACCROCCA, (editor), La Regola di Frate Francesco. Eredità e sfida (Franciscalia, 1), Editrici Francescane, Padua 2012, p. 330.