Assisi (Fides Service) – They have come to Assisi to trace the face and the mission of the Order in the third millennium. Franciscans of the Order of Friars Minor are celebrating their third General Chapter of the third millennium from 25 May to 21 June 2003.
But what is a General Chapter? It is a great experience of fraternity among the members of the Order. A rich sharing of life and ideas in an atmosphere of simplicity and joy sincerity and service. Chapters are intense faith experiences: days of prayer, listening to the Word of God, lived around the Eucharist. It is thanks to Chapters that the friars insert themselves into the universal culture, ecclesial and social, of their time.
In the early years general chapters were usually held twice a year: in May after Pentecost and in October after St Michael’s day. All the friars would meet at the Porziuncola because Francis wanted to know each of his brothers and wanted them to get to know one another. To come together was a necessity for the heart and for practical reasons. The Saint, exhorts, scolds, consoles, directs them to do good, recommends the ideal of highest poverty, love for crucified Christ, and for his Mother, and urges all to keep to the Rule. Gathered together the friars give thanks to God for the gift of so many brothers. They embrace each other; they count their numbers. They open their hearts, offering one another encouragement and hope. They share joys and troubles, work, apostolate and persecution.
Soon Chapters became congresses which moulded the future of the order, creating provinces and missions. Today they are held once a year at Pentecost: because the friars, now in their thousands, live in countries far apart.
Today, 800 years on, 142 Friars are meeting in the Basilica of Santa Mary of the Angels representing 16,000 brothers working in 110 nations. Their meeting stems from a desire to re-read the path travelled in recent years and to listen to the Spirit in order to rediscover the roots of the Franciscan vocation. This year the Chapter will also elect a new Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor. PA (Fides Service 27/5/2003 EM lines 31 Words: 380)