LETTER OF THE 7 RELIGIOUS BROTHERS
members of the Ordinary general chapter 2019
As representatives of our friar brothers from seven Conferences / Federations of the Order, present at the 202th General Chapter, we would like to express our gratitude and appreciation for the desire to uphold brotherhood, which is foundational to our community, “The Lord gave me brothers…” and you brothers gave us full active and passive voice.
We are all aware of the injustices that have been part of our 800 years and still the lack of understanding in regard to the brother’s vocation in our Order. History tells us that in most cases the role of a religious brother was one of “humble service”. At times very difficult hard manual work towards the service of the community, or for a brother-priest. It has been the role of living an unhealthy minoritas supported and aided by the mentality of friars in general, diocesan clergy and laity. A disassociation still needs to occur, as many are too quick to categorize a religious brother as someone who is not very intelligent, often uneducated, incapable of higher goals. Within each of our federations we have brothers who are quite capable of doing more than just becoming a free labor in a habit.
The framework of a religious brother is slowly changing but also as we have heard, it is quickly fading. We heard this in the Chapter Hall, the vocation of the brotherhood is diminishing. Will we dare to repeat this awful confirmation in our federations? Will we seek to find pathways of promoting and supporting our brothers? There are sparks of hope through each of our federations where a brother and his talents are being upheld for the good of the community. The bias is miraculously ignored in some provinces and we are being entrusted with roles, such as guardians, director of novices and formation houses. However, these are exceptions, exceptions that have upheld our brotherhood rather than shameful and inapplicable rules that misunderstand who we are called to be as Conventual Franciscans.
The document issued by the Congregation of Institutes of Consecrated Life and Association of Apostolic Life of 2015, entitled “Identity and Mission of a Religious Brother in the Church” is a hopeful document that cannot be dismissed. A document that offers a renewed and ancient way of living out our brotherhood. A brotherhood that perhaps Saint Francis and his early brothers lived. It seems, however, that after four years this document is dead within out Order and is in need to be resurrected with deeper reflection, in order to make room for the Spirit to guide us through its concrete guidelines and indications. In most jurisdictions, copies of the document were distributed only to religious brothers for reading, in other places a symposium was organized for brothers on this theme, as if the friar priests should not be concerned with this topic. We invite you to read this document and to invite all of our friars to read about the mission of the brotherhood.
Our presence at the Chapter, as well as the approved motion, giving the Minister General the opportunity to invite representatives of religious brothers to the next General Chapters, is an even greater spark of hope. We are aware, however, that all of us need to work on the change of mentality, a change of heart, starting from our own understanding of the brotherhood within our own provinces and then look beyond provincialism to see how our brotherhood is being lived starting from the very top. From the General Minister to the “simple” brother, who just smiles at a degrading comment.
Within all of our ministries and particularly in youth ministry and vocational ministry, we must promote our way of life. The life of community where we live our Conventual fraternal life, where everyone in the community is equal, living the same rule, the same vows, having the same rights and duties in the community, except of course those given by ordination. It is necessary to show the dignity of the brother’s vocation and to adopt the same criteria in the whole Order when admitting candidates to the formation and only in rare and justified cases accept candidates without secondary education (a high school diploma).
Intellectual development opportunities given to clerics within our Order should also be opportunities given to brothers at all stages of initial and ongoing formation to the point that we should not be surprised when a religious brother is a guardian, definitor, catechist, professor of theology or science.
This letter is not meant to be an opportunity to complain or accuse anyone but is meant to bring about motivation to continue to renew ourselves and our brotherhood, so that we do not become compliant by not taking notice of the efforts still needed throughout the Order in this matter. May this be motivation and encouragement for a real reflection on the above topic in the whole Order and on all its levels.
Your brothers, (in alphabetical order)
CHOI fr. Alexander (Young Seon), (Prov. COREAE – FAMC)
HORVAT fr. Robert, (Prov. SLOVENIAE – CEF)
KOZIELSKI fr. Robert, (Prov. POLONIAE-S.MAX. KOLBE – FEMO)
MARDESIC fr. Jack, (Cust. Prov. GALLIAE – FIMP)
NTUMBILA fr. Joseph Bwalya, (Prov. ZAMBIAE – AFCOF)
PEREIRA XAVIER fr. Rogério, (Prov. BR-S. FRANCISCI – FALC)
SCHENK fr. Joseph Stuart, (Prov. USA S. BONAVENTURAE – CFF)