“Witnessing to the joy of living the gospel in brotherhood is the primary task of Franciscan missionaries,” insisted Br. Mauro Jöhri, General Minister of the Capuchin friars, while addressing the eleven participants of Inter-Franciscan Mission Course in Brussels.
The three-month mission formation course in English, conceived and conducted annually by the mission secretaries of three Franciscan Orders, was held this year from September to November, in the OFM international fraternity in Brussels. The course, conducted in English and French every year, is aimed at preparing and strengthening the missionary brothers for being both efficient and effective in their life and apostolate. This year four friars each from the OFM and OFM Cap and three friars from the OFM Conv participated in the course, which was animated by Br. Gian Francesco OFM, Br. Alphonse OFM Conv, and Br. John Peter OFM Cap.
Br. Michael Perry, Minister General of the OFM, inaugurated the course, insisting that the Franciscan vocation is primarily to be a missionary. The participants were a group of brothers who are already missionaries as well as those preparing themselves to go to missions. The program is not merely formation for mission, but also for a life of Franciscan fraternity and living together. It is more than having formal input sessions on different subjects, but living together as Franciscans. Sharing the same Franciscan missionary vocation the participants found new ways of being friars minor. The inter-Franciscan fraternal living enriched them to learn to be witnesses of ‘gospel fraternity’ in the contemporary mission context.
The mission experiences of some of the participants already in missions enriched the input sessions with the practical aspects of facing the challenges of mission today. The workshops and input sessions ranged widely from mission theology, Franciscan missiology, history of missions in different continents and mission challenges today to enriching oneself in psycho-spiritual maturity. Participants were also sent on Tuesdays to serve the poor in service centers at St. Antony’s Conventual Friary and at the Poverello in the Brussels. On Sundays, their pastoral services in various centers in and around Brussels helped them to understand the contemporary situations of the European Church. The missionaries also had a chance to visit other places such as Bruges, Aachen, Bonn, Cologne, and Paris. The pilgrimages to the Banneux Marian shrine and to Rome and Assisi at the end of the course helped the missionaries to be spiritually enriched with devotion and love for the Divine.
Being a missionary today is understood as getting involved with the people in their own socio-economic and cultural context. It is a great missionary challenge and task in the proclamation of the gospel to the non-Christians and non-practicing Christians in an increasingly secularized multi-cultural society. Being enriched by the course, the missionaries have been convinced of their special call to be living and serving people to the Church outside their culture and geography. Becoming open-minded and prepared to be culturally integrated, the missionaries are set to be real itinerant Franciscans who serve the disadvantaged and marginalized in the peripheries of the society. The course has inculcated a renewed passion for mission in the friars, cultivating a firm conviction to handle the challenges in the missions.
Franciscan mission is more of ‘being’ than ‘doing,’ underscored Br. Marco Tasca, Minister General of the Conventual Friars. On the concluding day, the Ministers General of Capuchins and Conventuals gave a missionary mandate to each of the participants to be witnesses of the Gospel and of the Franciscan Charism of living the Gospel in minority and fraternity. The course prepared and formed the missionaries to be beacons of fraternal love and compassion to all people whom they serve.