Address to the General Chapter of the Capuchin Friars
A LIFE OPEN TO UNIVERSAL BROTHERHOOD
On the late morning of Monday, July 5, 1982 in the Consistory Hall in the Vatican, the Holy Father received in audience the participants in the seventy-ninth General Chapter of the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor Capuchins. The religious, approximately one hundred fifty from all over the world, were led by Fr. Flavio Roberto Carraro, elected Minister General last June 9, replacing Fr. Paschal Rywalski, who was also present at the audience. In response to the address of homage by Fr. Carraro, John Paul II gave the following talk to the religious.
1. I am happy to be here today with you, who as Chapter Fathers not only represent all the Capuchins scattered through the world, but are carefully reconsidering your Constitutions. This is taking place in the year of the eighth centenary of the Birth of St. Francis, whose disciples you are and to whom I cordially commend you.
Therefore, this circumstance adds a further note of relevance and interest to our meeting, while I deeply thank you for having desired it.
2. In the Decree Perfectae Caritatis from the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, it is written that “the appropriate renewal of religious life involves the continuous return to the sources of all Christian life and to the original inspiration of the institutes, and at the same time the adjustment of the institutes themselves to the changed conditions of the times” (no. 2). Of these two fundamental requirements – the return to the sources and the adjustment to the conditions of the times – during the years immediately following the Council, there was especially emphasized, and for understandable reasons, the second aspect, and that is the adjustment to what the conciliar text itself calls “the needs of the apostolate, … the requirements of a given culture, the social and economic circumstances” (no. 3). Along these lines, you Capuchins have also reviewed in various stages your Constitutions and your life in order to make them correspond more closely to the requirements of the times and to the directives drawn up by the Church in the Second Vatican Council.
However, now that this effort to update has been brought to an end in its essential aspects, you too have felt the need – as also many other institutions in the Church – to address with renewed commitment that other primary requirement which the conciliar text calls the “continuous return to the sources,” not in order to repudiate or set aside the legitimate adjustments and the new values discovered and tested during these years, but rather to give new life to them also, grafting them onto the living trunk of tradition, from which your Order derives its character and strength.
Precisely to encourage such a balance between the two requirements, during your present General Chapter, having elected the new superiors, you have wanted to review the Constitutions in order to give them, now that the trial period is over, the form which – following the approval of the Apostolic See – should become definitive and permit your Institute to undertake with renewed energy and without any kind of uncertainty a new stretch along its path in the service of the Church and of the world.
3. You have rediscovered your “original inspiration” by reflecting with new sensitivity upon the very name received in legacy from your Father St. Francis; that is, ” Friars Minor.” Indeed, within that name the Saint included what was closest to the heart of the Gospel: “Brotherhood” and ” humility,” brotherly love and choosing for himself the last place, following the example of Christ who came not “to be served, but to serve” (Mt. 20-28). In this is seen how a return to the sources is often the best way, even with the purpose of adapting to the expectations and signs of the times. A truly fraternal life lived under the banner of evangelical simplicity and charity, open to the meaning of the universal brotherhood of all men and, better yet, of all creatures, and in which each person – young and old, learned and unlearned – is accorded equal dignity and attention is, in fact, perhaps the most up-to-date and most urgent witness that can be given of Christian newness to a society so marked as ours is by inequalities and by the spirit of domination.
You have made a great effort to repropose these two fundamental characteristics of your Franciscan identity – brotherhood and humility – to the younger generations in the light of the Capuchin tradition, which confers upon them that unmistakable mark of spontaneity and simplicity, of joyfulness along with gravity, of drastic detachment from the world along with great closeness to people, which have made the Capuchin presence so effective and incisive in the midst of Christian peoples and in the missions, and produced such an extensive array of saints, among whom St. Crispin of Viterbo, whom I myself had the joy of adding to the roll of heroic saints of the Church.
LIVE FOR GOD ALONE
4. Speaking of the first example of renewal, which is a return to the sources, the Decree Perfectae Caritatis emphasizes that it is not only a question of a return to the “original inspiration” of the Institute itself, but it is necessarily also a “continuous return to the source of all Christian life,” and that is to Jesus Christ, to His Gospel and to His Spirit. This is the meaning of the words with which all the religious of the Church, regardless to which Order they belong, are exhorted to consider as the supreme rule, the following of Christ, to choose Him as the only thing necessary (cf. Lk. 10:42),
in short, to live for God alone (cf. P.C., no. 5).
Aware of this, you have rightly reaffirmed in every way the primacy place which prayer and, according to your most authentic tradition, especially contemplative prayer, must occupy in your lives, both personal and community. Of all the “roots,” this indeed is the “mother root,” that absorbs mankind in God Himself, which keeps the branch joined to the vine (cf. Jn. 15:4) and assures to religious that constant contact with Christ without which – as He Himself states – we can do nothing (cf. Jn. 15:5), and with His Spirit of holiness and grace.
5. The eighth centennial of the birth in the world of your founder Francis of Assisi, with the extraordinary echo it has aroused, has shown how much today’s world is still sensitive to the call of the “poverello,” how much it needs and, one could say, misses him. It is up to you, in a very special way, to keep this hope always alive in the world and, what is more, make it even more visible and recognizable. This will happen, as far as your Order is concerned, if after having renewed with so much dedication and seriousness, each of you and each of your fellow religious feel urged to translate them into practice, in remembrance of those words spoken by Christ to His disciples: “Knowing these things, blessed are you if you do them” (Jn. 13:17).
Indeed, it now seems that the time has come for religious institutes to pass with resolution from the phase of discussion about their own legislation to that of putting into practice certain and fundamental values, from preoccupation with the letter to that of the spirit, from words to life, and this in order not to fall into that dangerous illusion that St. Francis himself denounces in one of his Admonitions when he writes that “those religious are killed by the letter who do not want to follow the spirit of the Holy Scripture, but want to know only words and explain them to others.”
The due truthfulness and sincerity before God demands of an Institute a renewed will for conversion and for fidelity to its own vocation in order for the image of itself which it has given to the Church and to the brethren by means of its own Constitutions be always as authentic as human weakness allows.
SIGN OF ESTEEM
6. Beloved brothers and sons, receive these words as a sign of my esteem for you. At the same time, be assured that you enjoy a special place in my prayers. I entrust you to the Lord, you and the entire praiseworthy family of the Friars Minor Capuchin. The Holy Church and the world itself, which have already benefitted greatly from your zeal, still expect from you a generous and intelligent contribution of shining evangelical witness.
May the Lord fill you with His graces, and in the spirit of St. Francis, continue, joyful and certain.
May you always be accompanied by my Apostolic Blessing, which I impart to you, Chapter Fathers, with special thought to your new Minister General and which I extend to all the beloved members of your Order.