Address of Pope to the General Chapter of the Capuchin Friars
Tuesday, July 12, 1988
1. I am particularly pleased to be with you, members of the General Chapter of the Order of Capuchin Friars Minor. I see your entire religious family represented in you, and, as capitulars, I also see in you as an eminent sign of the union in charity of all the brothers of the Order.
At this time of your visit, an expression of the “obedience and reverence” that Brother Francis promised “to the Pope and his successors and to the Roman Church” (RB 1: FF 76), I am pleased to respond in kind, to share my affection and expectations with regard to your life and your specific ministry to the Church and to the human family today. I’d like to express my affection and expectations by highlighting some thoughts that will help you for your reflections and for your practical choices.
2. During these days you have elected the brothers responsible for the central government of the Order for the next six years. To all of them – especially to the re-elected general minister, Father Flavio Roberto Carraro, I offer my fervent wishes. But, in addition to this juridically and pastorally important fact, you have focused on some topics that are particularly relevant today in your Capuchin fraternity: your unique commitment, since “the celebration of the General Chapter must be a moment of grace and action of the Holy Spirit and proposes to renew and protect the spiritual heritage of the institute (CRIS, Essential elements of the Church’s teachings on religious life, May 31, 1983, II, 51).
I am sure that your work in Chapter has concentrated on a fundamental purpose: that of guaranteeing “dynamic fidelity to your vocation,” in the words of my message to the XIV General Assembly of the Conference of Religious of Brazil (cf. Nuntius scripto datus iis qui XIV coetus conferentiae Religiosorum Brasiliae interfuerunt, die 11 iul. 1986: Teachings of John Paul II, IX, 2  237s). Precisely in Order to guarantee this fidelity to your vocation I would like to recommend three things to which I would ask you to commit.
3. In the first place, a commitment to awareness, which always ensures a necessary attention and fresh outlook towards the genuine identity of the Capuchin, that is: the primacy of the life of Gospel brotherhood, enlivened by a strong contemplative experience, lived in radical poverty, austerity , simplicity, joyful penance and full availability to service of all men and women. In the awareness of one’s own religious identity, continuous growth in this way presupposes a constant attention to the fundamental evangelical purpose of one’s charism and one’s Order.
In this regard, I am pleased to tell you that I very much appreciated and am grateful for your gift of the first volume of the recently published I Frati Cappuccini (i.e., The Capuchin Friars) – documents and testimonies of the Order’s first century, a monumental work on the sources of your Order. It will undoubtedly be a great help in facilitating your commitment to reflect on the sources for a genuinely Capuchin inspiration.
Secondly, a commitment to realism, in the sense of an understanding which is put into practice and an adequate incarnation presented in today’s historical conditions. For several years, since the Council, you have reflected in depth on your religious identity; these reflections have found an appropriate shape in your renewed Constitutions, as well as in the guidelines of the Plenary Councils of the Order and of some General Chapters. A decisive step to take must be to imitate St. Francis more in his concern not to remain on the level of mere words, but to move on to real action. Commit yourselves, seriously and with realism, to this process of practical application on all levels, according to those criteria of life and hope that you already possess; try to embody those values that form your charism with humility, with sincerity and seen through to their final end.
4. Finally, a commitment to discernment, that is to say, knowing how to make just and pertinent choices in your plan of life, as to where you choose to be present and in what your ministries are.
In this sense, I will limit myself to drawing your attention to the need for training.
On recent occasions, I have had the opportunity to underline the extreme importance of the initial and ongoing formation of the brothers to ensure the true renewal of the Order, as the Council itself desires. As I said to the religious of Brazil, the vitality of a religious family largely depends on the formation of the members of the institute. A practical obligation in this regard is the preparation of specialized formators, despite the multiplicity of apostolic commitments and needs that weigh on religious families (cf. “Nuntius scripto datus iis qui XIV coetui conferentiae Religiosorum Brasiliae interfuerunt,” die 11 iul. 1986 : Teachings of John Paul II, IX, 2  237ss). Therefore, pay particular attention to the integral growth of your brothers, ensuring for all a continual growth of maturity marked, above all, by the specific features of Capuchin spirituality.
5. One area that you rightly emphasize in your evangelization programs is that of the option for the poor. As true children of St. Francis, you must feel happy living “among people of little account and despised, between poor and weak, between the sick and beggars. . . ” (RnB 9: FF 30); but like St. Francis, the brother of all, a peaceful man and a peace-maker, a tireless doer of good, you too must walk with everyone along the paths of reconciliation, love and hope.
As I recalled in my recent apostolic trip to Bolivia, “the preferential option for the poor, neither exclusive nor excluding, is the fruit of love which is a source of moral energy, capable of sustaining the noble struggle for justice. . . (“Oruri, allocutio ad agriccolas, fossores metallarios, opifices et suburbanos habita,” 3, May 11: Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, XI, 1  1288). The criteria to be adopted in the noble struggle for justice must never be those of a violent confrontation, but must be inspired and moved at all times by the evangelical principles of collaboration and dialogue, albeit while assuming, when necessary, all the requisite resolve, and without fear of opposition.
6. Dear brothers, just as my predecessors counted on St. Francis and his sons, so I count on you, too: be faithful to your unique ecclesial vocation, prophetically nourishing your life and the People of God with what the Holy Spirit says to you today through the Magisterium of the Church.
Your General Chapter is celebrated in the last phase of the Marian year, which brings our thoughts to the Virgin Mary. In her, Mother of God and Mother of the Church, your religious life understands itself more deeply and finds the sign of sure hope. Meditating on the figure of the Virgin, think of your vocation which marked a turning point in the journey of your personal relationship with the living God.
May the Immaculate Virgin, queen and patroness of your Order, obtain for you the gift of always listening, as she did, to the word of the Holy Spirit and putting it into practice, in the footsteps of your Seraphic Father.
To you, to all and to each brother of your Order, in particular to those who suffer persecution for the Gospel, my apostolic blessing.