Popes Address to the Capuchin General Chapter
Friday, July 1, 1994
1. I am pleased to meet you today, who are taking part in your General Chapter, “the eminent sign of the union and solidarity for the entire Capuchin Fraternity gathered together as one by means of its representatives,” as your Constitutions say (Constitutions 116,1 ).
I greet with affection the newly elected Minister General, Fr. John Corriveau, to whom I offer my best wishes for a successful term in his call to this new task in leadership. I also address a particular thought to Fr. Flavio Roberto Carraro, who has been at the helm of your Order for twelve years, and I invoke for him abundant rewards of grace and peace for the dedicated work he has rendered.
Every Assembly of your Chapter provides a beneficial and necessary moment of reflection for the Order not only on the profound meaning of its specific vocation, but also on humanity’s situation in life that calls on the Franciscan Fraternity to read and welcome the “signs of the times” (cf. . Mt 16, 1-3; Lk 12, 54-57) as God’s voice for the Institute.
I certainly do not need to remind you that your coming together is taking place at a very significant moment for the Church in general and for those called to consecrated life in a very particular way. The next Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which will have as its theme “Consecrated life and its mission in the Church and in the world,” presents a fitting stimulus for the entire people of God to reflect on the inestimable gift that the Spirit has given and continuously gives to the Church of Christ through the charism of consecrated life.
The sexennial Chapter now starting is also part of a moment charged with unique historical significance for the Church community which is reaching out towards the celebration of the second millennium of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.
2. In this context, the mission of the believer, and especially of every religious, is to be a witness to the Absolute, even within the tragic consequences which the “absence of God,” experienced by large sections of today’s society, is causing. This requires above all that the Capuchin live in union with the Lord, experiencing his presence in one’s own life.
Prayer and contemplation: this is the primary commitment that you must satisfy, following the shining example of St. Francis and many other masters of your long tradition. Fraternal love springs from intimate communion with the divine Trinity, which you are called to live first of all among yourselves: “From this they will recognize. . . ” (Jn 13:35). You can then be ready to live for others, especially for the poor, as is continually recommended to you by the Constitutions and documents of your Order. Brotherhood is a value that St. Francis himself, moved by the Holy Spirit, instilled in his first companions to heal the divided society of his time. Today you want to re-propose this lifestyle at a time when the virus of division and individualism is singularly aggressive. So, be examples of fraternity and harmony: offer in your communities the witness of brothers who live together in peace, prayer, true charity, mutual forgiveness, poverty and acceptance.
3. For this, a creative and concrete fidelity to your Franciscan-Capuchin charism is necessary, increasingly known in the light of the teachings and examples of your holy Founder, Francis of Assisi. Commit yourselves to continuing his work and evangelical witness, seeking spaces for presence, witness and apostolic service, suited to the ever-new needs of today’s man and woman.
In order to discover the signs that the Holy Spirit suggests to Christians today, I spoke of creative fidelity, intending to refer to the need for a careful reading of the signs of the times. A reading carried out with the same sensitivity as the Poverello of Assisi, who was led to respond to the demands of radical gospel living with a new form of consecrated life. Francis’ openness and availability will free you as much from the risk of immobility as from the temptation of comfortable accommodation to the fashions of the moment.
Furthermore, your fidelity must be concrete: St. Francis exhorted his friars to bear witness to Christ plus exemplo quam verbo [more by example than words]. From this point of view it will be necessary, in vocational recruitment and in the initial and ongoing formation of the friars, to promote the quality of consecrated life more than the quantity of consecrated persons. Then we will have to concern ourselves about being authentic witnesses of God and of the evangelical fraternity: you, dear Capuchins, are an Ordo Fratrum [an Order of Brothers], called to maintain and strengthen the traditional closeness to the people through a wise process of inculturation.
4. To remain close to men and women, it is necessary that you strive through study, reflection and prayer to understand the problems and needs that they live today in the light of the Gospel. Without solid teaching you risk working in vain.
The commitment to meet the profound needs of our world will also lead you to be creative. Dear friends, have a true prophetic impulse in helping the people of our time who, as regards moral values, often grope in the dark. Animate the young, promote bible study and prayer communities. Bring Christ to the world! Carry it with courage. Your Order has always given a shining example of evangelization, especially through the custom of contact with people that distinguishes you.
Be missionaries! The need to bring the Gospel ad gentes [to the people] is now all the more compelling as the mass of peoples who have not yet truly encountered the Lord Jesus is growing. Infuse the missionary drive to the young generations and to the young circumscriptions of your Order, working always to solidify the ecclesial nature of your charism, in line with the mandatum [mandate] of the Crucifix of San Damiano to St. Francis: “Go and repair my house”. Francis did it in his day, now it’s up to you! The pastoral needs of one’s local environment are not a sufficient reason to neglect the call to leave one’s land and go where God will show you.
Be apostles of peace, a gift from God too often trampled on by injustice and crime, in a world that would like to call itself civil and advanced.
The evangelical life really lived and announced will make you prophets, that is men of God and bearers of God, as true children of the seraphic Father who, according to a biographer, was possessed by a “luminous spirit of prophecy” (Ubertino da Casale, Arbor vitae crucifixae Jesu, V, 3). In his teaching and example, you have a rich heritage to guard: it makes you particularly prepared for the new evangelization in view of the upcoming Jubilee of 2000.
5. Dear Brothers, I would like to conclude by recalling a beautiful admonition from your Constitutions, which reflects the wisdom of the Spirit and which nourished the soul of your forebears: “In the apostolate… let them perform works in poverty and humility, not making a ministry their own, so that it may be clear that it is Jesus Christ alone whom they seek. Let them preserve that unity of the brotherhood which Christ wished to be so perfect that the world would know the Son was sent by the Father. In fraternal living with one another, let them cultivate a life of prayer and study, so that they may be intimately united with the Savior and, moved by the power of the Holy Spirit, offer themselves with a generous and ready spirit to bear witness to the joyful good news in the world (Const. 154, 3-4).”
With these wishes, I entrust the fruits of your Chapter assembly to the maternal protection of Mary, the “faithful Virgin,” so that she may maintain in you a strong desire for fidelity to the evangelical and Franciscan vocation. I pray to the “Queen of the Apostles” to grant you, like the first disciples, to experience the presence of Jesus Christ and an intimate communion with Him. I invoke the “Queen of the Prophets” that you may be intimately possessed by the Spirit of God, so that you can be effective instruments of salvation for the friars. While I trust in your prayers for the needs of the Church, and I thank you for the precious service you render to the Kingdom of God, I cordially impart my apostolic blessing to you present here and to your entire Order.