Archbishop Eamon Martin is pictured with Br Massimo (Minister General) and Br Aidan (Minister Provincial)
Last week, beginning on Saturday evening, the Franciscans of the Irish Province were joined by representatives of the Franciscans in England and Scotland, attending the tri-annual Provincial Chapter. Our Chapter is a time of prayerful, fraternal reflection on our life and ministry and on this occasion, the gathering was held in the SMA Retreat and Conference Centre at Dromantine, outside Newry in Northern Ireland.
It was a truly historic event as the brothers from ‘across the pond’ were formally integrated into the Irish Province by the Minister General of the Order Br Massimo Fusarelli OFM, who had come from Rome to Ireland especially for the occasion. This uniting of two entities of the Order has become increasingly common due to the ageing profile of the friars and the related shortage of vocations.
The Franciscan Friars gathered in Dromantine Centre, Newry in August for their Provincial Chapter
And Ireland, England, and Scotland are not alone; a major restructuring of Franciscans is in process in the U.S.A as well as in mainland Europe, where, for example, Italy has seen a clustering of smaller provinces into larger ones as in Northern and Central Italy.
At Dromantine, we re-elected Br Aidan McGrath for a further three years as Minister Provincial of the newly-formed United Province of Ireland and Britain, with a new Vicar Provincial and four definitors or counsellors being elected as well.
It will be their task to implement the various orientations and directions deriving from the discussions that took place over the week in Dromantine.
The Chapter was facilitated by a gifted French layman who stressed the importance of what is called “Generative Listening.” This involves an attentiveness to what others are communicating, a listening to understand rather than to respond. It is, above all, a listening to God’s voice calling us to let go of anything that inhibits the fruitful spreading of the Gospel message and to risk new projects such as the new initiative in Galway where the community is designated as a centre for ministry to young people.
The Gospel story (Mt 19:16-22) of the ‘rich young man’ read on Monday of this week, reflects this challenge so well. Because he was unwilling to let go of his possessions in order to follow Christ, he went away sad.
We Franciscans have been forced to let go of three friaries recently, Athlone, Clonmel and Waterford, and it is a trend that may continue. And the Friars in England and Scotland have had to let go of their autonomy to enter into the Irish Province.
There is much loss here and natural mourning, but we are called in hope to follow Jesus who rose from the dead and sits at God’s right-hand interceding for us, joined by so many loyal brothers who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith. We are called to reject the miserliness of the rich young man of the Gospel and to emulate instead the man who discovered the treasure in the field, or the merchant who found the pearl of great price, joyfully selling all to possess the Kingdom of God in all its glory.
Please pray for us all, but especially the new leadership team as they spend this week after the Chapter assigning friars to form new communities out of the old, new wine in new wineskins, never losing hope.
Kieran Cronin OFM