AUDIENCE WITH POPE FOR THE GENERAL CHAPTER
July 12, 1976
On Monday, July 12, 1976, the Holy Father received in a special audience the 200 members and officials of the 78th General Chapter of the Order.
The re-elected Minister General, Fr. Paschal Rywalski, delivered the following address in the name of all the Capitulars:
Much as we were keen to have this special audience, it seemed to us too much to hope that it would be granted. We look upon it as a privilege and, following the unforgettable beatification of Blessed Leopold of Castelnuovo, as further proof of your good will towards us, your sons. In simple and filial words we say to you: thank you, Holy Father!
As Your Holiness has already been informed, we are holding the 78th General Chapter of our Order. At the start of the Chapter His Eminence Cardinal Edward Pironio, the worthy Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes, brought us words full of hope and good wishes for a successful Chapter and by his visit made us aware of our heavy spiritual responsibilities.
Now, some ten days since the Chapter began, it seems possible to put into words one of its essential aspects – words taken from the First Rule of St. Francis: “How the Friars are to go about in the world”; and “Of those who go among the Saracens or other Infidels”; and finally, “Of Preachers.”
“To go about in the world” was a daring concept in the 13th century, and is very apt for our own time.
“The Saracens”: the dangerous, threatening part of the world of that time, against which powerful armies did not hesitate to do battle. Our Seraphic Father says: “Go among the Saracens,” and he gave us an example of this in a wonderful, evangelical way when he made friends with the Sultan.
Then he speaks “On Preachers” who go among Christians. “All the Friars” commands our Seraphic Father, “are to preach by their actions” (First Rule, Chapter XVII.)
To go about the world, among the Saracens and other infidels, and preaching among the People of God: this is the aspect one can discern, among others, in our General Chapter in this 750th anniversary year of the death of St. Francis. This aspect of the General Chapter means that we find ourselves in profound communion with a concern which is so dear to the heart of Your Holiness – that of evangelization.
Finally, we humbly ask Your Holiness to bless the good will of the Capitular Friars and also that of all the members of the General Curia, our collaborators, and of the whole Order.
We beg You to give us an appropriate message, inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that
as we go about the world in filial communion with You, Holy Father, and with the
whole Church, we may at our own modest level bring faith in Jesus Christ and love of Him above all in our own hearts and in our deeds, so as to spread the Good News, to the men of today.
THE POPE’S MESSAGE
(As he did at the Audience following the 1974 Chapter, the Pope had brought with him a prepared speech, in Italian. But in the course of reading it, he also gave an “unscripted” commentary, with many spontaneous and lighthearted remarks which again showed his genuine affection for the Capuchins. The Pope’s spontaneous remarks are given here in brackets. Sections between asterisks (*) and beginning in block capitals indicate the official speech.)
(Dearest sons, dear sons … just the fact that you are here at all is a great consolation to us. To think that the Church has a group of sons like yourselves, with a Franciscan authenticity which you carry with you, and all of you charged with the mission to go about in the world, as your Minister General was just saying – to go about in the world to preach the Gospel. We are at the very heart of this problem, of spreading, extending, the faithful Church, and your presence brings us great consolation.
There are so many things we would like to say, you know, so many things; but I’ll just say a word or two now, beginning with this for the moment: Dearest sons, have confidence! This might sound like a contradiction of the Gospel rule, but it isn’t; I’ll explain right away. Have confidence in yourselves, in the choice you have made! You have chosen this habit, this vocation, this religious family, this way of observing the Gospel. Well, I want you to know that it has the seal of authenticity about it, that it is a faithful reflection of the Gospel, and that Christ can be pleased to have you as His heralds and representatives. Be happy and proud to be Capuchin Friars Minor Be quite sure about that, with no doubt at all!
People say, what we need now is to bring ourselves into line with the world, times are changing, so now we’ll change our customs too. Well … do what is necessary, this isn’t the place to discuss these things, but – keep that essential fidelity to your Franciscan and Capuchin formula and rest assured that you are really, as far as is possible for men in this world, putting the Gospel of Christ into practice. Well now . . .
DEAREST SONS, We are happy to welcome you to our home, where all should feel at home.*
(Here l would like to point out that there are some representatives of the religious Orders looking down on us; their Orders are older than the Capuchins, but they will always be examples to us of how the religious life, taken in this literal and complete sense, can always be fruitful and a source of example.)
*WE ARE HAPPY (as I was saying) TO WELCOME YOU to our home. It is the home of everyone, but particularly of those who, by professing a life of perfection through the practice of the Gospel counsels, are closer to our heart as Vicar of Him who is the model of all perfection.
We willingly granted the desire expressed by your Minister General, whom we congratulate on having received the renewed confidence of the members of the General Chapter, and we have made room in our schedule for a special meeting with you.*
(And please forgive me for having kept you waiting. If only time could be measured with the heart, instead of by the dock with its unyielding claims!)
… A MEETING THAT WOULD GIVE US the opportunity of sharing with you a few thoughts prompted by our ever-lively concern for the fortunes of your well deserving Order. *
(You might ask: Does the Pope like Capuchins? The answer is YES! Without hesitation! That shows you the confidence we have, truly, in your vocation, in the offering you have made of yourselves, and we have it not only because we admire the living sacrifice evident in the habit you wear, and the way of life you follow, but because we are confident that your appearance, like that of the saintly character we find in the famous book by Manzoni, Fra Cristoforo, is still vivid, it still has a message. We do know something even, I would say, about popular tastes; and whenever a Capuchin appears on the scene at a mission or in a parish, everyone wants to go to confession to him! And the other priests? “Ah well, that’s a Capuchin!” So, you see, you must have confidence that you can indeed represent, even by your external appearance, the Gospel you preach.)
FIRST OF ALL, WE WISH TO TELL YOU of our paternal satisfaction at the welcome given by the Order to the Letter we sent . . .*
(We remember the date: August 20, 1974, that shows you that we do keep track of ourselves and are kept informed about those who come to speak to us.) … on the occasion of the last General Chapter, a letter in which we indicated some of the broad outlines for renewal of the Order. *
(This is part of the natural law. We always need to rejuvenate, we always need revival, we always need to start again, just as a tree has to grow new branches every spring, otherwise it is dead. And so you too are invited to be faithful to this law of renewal, which is the law of life, so as to be truly responsive to your vocation, and to the desires of the Church of Christ regarding your religious family.)
IN THE LETTER (we were saying) we pointed out the broad outlines for renewal of the Order, a renewal that would involve putting forward once more, in the context of today’s world, the original characteristics of what is most authentic in the Capuchin Franciscan spirit. The events of these last two years have confirmed the presence of your great religious family within the Church and, along with some grounds for anxiety which have not yet been fully resolved, there are significant signs of a promising recovery.*
(And really, it isn’t easy to be in the position in which the Lord has placed us, I mean, having an overall view of the whole Church. As for yourselves, it is really gratifying to see, as we do, that the Church still has representatives of the apostles, like yourselves; that she still has faithful sons who dress the way you do, as poor men under the guidance of the great Brother Francis. This gives us great consolation, indeed, and you – even though your humility keeps you silent and content to be practically forgotten, in the lowest place – should know that on the contrary you hold a privileged place in our esteem and our affection.)
WHAT THEN DO WE WISH to place before you this morning for your consideration: We will tell you at once, and in a few words: the impelling duty (which you are already fulfilling) of evangelization ….
(that you urge to spread the Kingdom of God, to bring the Word of salvation, the truth that saves tbc world, the solution to the greatest problems of mankind, which only seem to be compounded, if not overtaken, by progress, by conflicts, by politics, by social life and economic interests … and then, along comes a Brother Francis who says: No, this is how to live. You’re right! Have confidence, I repeat, in your vocation, because you have signed on for the task of spreading the Gospel, and are fulfilling it.)
*AS YOU WELL KNOW, WE HAVE PUBLISHED an Apostolic Exhortation on this subject,*
(just at the end of the recent Holy Year, called, as we do with pontifical documents, taking the first words as the title)
*’EVANGELII NUNTIANDI’ (December 8, 1975), an Exhortation in which we followed the recommendations of the 1974 Synod of Bishops and brought together, in a kind of “Summa,” the criteria which should inspire the proclamation of the Gospel to the men of today.*
(Do you want us to continue this conversation? Well, then, read that Exhortation. There you will find our thoughts, our desires. And it would be a great comfort to us if you were to realize that you are involved in the things we wrote there; it was your hearts we were looking into as we wrote, your experiences, your toil, your pains, your disappointments and problems. We were trying to interpret them and express them in a way that would strengthen your Capuchin vocation.)
ON YOUR PART, the duty to evangelize calls for a preliminary inquiry to establish the needs of today’s world.*
(That alone means a great deal. Compared to the world, what exactly are we? Are we so different? Are we exceptions, anomalies, as far as the world is concerned? And yet, we have to know the world; it makes demands, speaks a certain language, has certain tastes, certain customs. We must know the world … yes, we must know it; this is the experiential side of evangelization, and we just can’t exempt ourselves from it. We don’t preach to thin air, we preach to human beings; and human beings are what they are, sometimes deaf, sometimes bad, sometimes hostile, sometimes corrupt, and so on . . . and sometimes they are poor – like you – and then they listen, and understand, because they see a friend, they see someone who is not out to compete with them in the chase for the prey they are after, i.e., riches. Rather, they see someone who is an ally in their suffering, in their poverty, and so they listen, they certainly listen.)
*THE APOSTOLATE OF THE CAPUCHINS can be accounted for in many diverse ways, and history shows how they have been able to adapt themselves to the actual conditions in which they are called to exercise their activity.*
(Yes, certainly one has to be adaptable, to come into line in certain ways, both externally and also in mentality, as far as this is possible. But there is also a need, a need to preserve one’s proper originality, one’s own character – or as they say today, one’s authenticity.)
YOU MUST CONTINUE ALONG THAT ROAD, with prudence and vision, aiming to carry out the program of the Apostle who could say that he had made himself “all things to all men, in order to save some at any cost” (1 Cor. 9:22).
IN THIS CONNECTION, we would like to recall one of the more traditional characteristics of the spirit of your Order which we consider it is important to stress in your apostolates, even today: that of making yourselves, in every circumstance, the bearers of peace to all men.*
(The Gospel says as much: “Blessed are the peacemakers, they will be called sons of God” [Matt. 5: 9]. I would say you are by nature, by vocation, by the very habit you wear and the appearance you present, you are heralds of peace among men. And you can see that in spite of the many organizations working for peace, all the promises made and treaties concluded and wars that have come to an end, etc., there is an enormous need to bring peace, brotherhood and harmony to the inhabitants of this world of ours. In fact, they have started again – men are doggedly at each other’s throats both in the domestic, family and social sphere and also on the international and political front.)
*PEACE AMONG MEN. MAN TODAY NEEDS, as never before, to encounter someone on the way who will greet him with the words so dear to St. Francis, a greeting that is both a wish and, at the same time, a compelling invitation: Peace and good will!*
(What golden words they are! “Peace and good will”! Again and again they can be on your lips, in your example, in your way of life, in your very presence; you can
repeat them in the sacrifices you make, in the ongoing immolation of your whole lives, for the sake of this “peace and good will.” This is a magnificent formula, you know – just as I don’t deny there are other formulas that can personify particular religious families. These words contain the essence of your family, they define you well and have wider implications than you think: HE came to proclaim Peace and Good Will to us!)
*PEACE WITH MEN, so as to lessen, if one cannot resolve, the conflicts in individual, family and social relationships, both on the national and international levels. Peace, above all, with God in the sanctuary of one’s conscience, since it is in the same loving encounter with the Father who forgives our sins (Matt. 6:12; Lk. 11:4) that one received the gift of being able to see in a new light our brothers who sin against us. (cf. Matt. 18:35)
THIS BRINGS US to the important subject of the evangelization which is carried out in the confessional;*
(This, you know, is a very delicate matter, but it is most important. I know there has been a lot of discussion; it’s a disputed area, and it isn’t in fashion at the moment. But you should hold on to it, hold on to it; be good confessors, specialists in a therapy that will give you a knowledge of souls and a knowledge of God that no other psychology or psychotherapy can give to people and to those who are suffering in this world. Be fine confessors! Be available in the confessional.)
*IN THIS DELICATE and most important ministry of individual reconciliation, even though today some voices are wrongly raised against it. It is a subject we cannot go into here in detail. Besides, the Capuchin Order boasts some famous masters in this finest of arts, and if one would pick up some valuable suggestions as to the right way to approach souls so as to foster the action of grace within them, all one need do is to learn from them. Suffice it to recall the humble, radiant figure.*
(Ah! The Blessed Fr. Leopold of Castelnovo, whom we had the good fortune and the honor and joy of proclaiming among the Blessed in heaven. A confrere of yours –
who knows, perhaps some of you knew him? Well, as you see, we did proclaim him blessed, and with good reason – because we never do these things arbitrarily; we always require documentary proof, by nothing less than miracles, graces and an almost anatomical examination of the virtues of the one who has deserved to be called to the glory of paradise.
So, we beatified this confrere of yours, Fr. Leopold of Castelnovo. And he had another prerogative too, didn’t he? That of belonging to Yugoslavia and yet being a Paduan – at least, he became one. And with his simplicity, his gentleness, his patience, his goodness, the souls he must have comforted! I, too, have personally known people [university professors at Padua] say: “Ah, yes, I’d go to Fr. Leopoldo! Certainly to Fr. Leopoldo!” They should say the same of all of you, of each one of you, if you were really imbued with an awareness of the good a master of souls can do when he stoops down over a soul in its helplessness, its misery, at times its perversity, to straighten the conscience and lift it up to God. A fine ministry, indeed, and a great one!)
*WE HAD THE JOY of proclaiming him Blessed in order to demonstrate a means of pastoral service which we would be pleased to know you were generously offering to those souls wishing for a sacramental encounter with the merciful love of the Redeemer.*
(“Peace and Good Will” – it’s precisely in the ministry of confession that this greeting comes true.)
*DEAREST SONS, ALLOW US to continue this conversation for a moment since we wish briefly to underline three requirements which seem to us to be fundamental to the effectiveness of your evangelizing work. The first could be formulated as follows:*
(in difficult, philosophical terms, but you’ll understand them at once)
*PRIORITY OF BEING over doing.*
(Many people could object: What do the Capuchins do? “We have no work to do”
… It’s what you are! You are witnesses! Wholehearted followers of the Gospel, masters of the spiritual life, as practiced in your own lives. And truly, it is in this priority that places you, without your wanting it, in the first places in the hierarchy of spiritual values in the Church.)
*PRIORITY OF BEING over action. Evangelization requires witness, and witness
presupposes experience, the experience that flows from a life of profound union with Christ and brings the disciple into progressively greater conformity with the Master, into a being like His,*
(that’s it – being like Him!)
*THROUGH HIM and in Him, which by degrees shines through convincingly even in one’s outward way of living, being and working. An external form authenticated in particular (as you know so well) by the poverty of Christ*
(Remember that the poverty of your dress is a sermon, a message, a reproof, perhaps, to a world which pursues anything but poverty. It is a reminder; you are saying: “Look, we are searching for the things that matter, not for things that degrade a man,
and fade away in the end.” Through your poverty you are seeking freedom from many things, from economic goods and the slavery they can bring; you preach holiness, you teach souls to aim for freedom, the freedom of the spiritual life.)
*AN EXTERNAL FORM (we were saying) authenticated in particular by the poverty of Christ, Who, rich as He was, became poor out of love for us, to make us rich out of His poverty. (cf. 2 Cor. 8:9; Matt. 8:20 and the Decree “Perfectae Caritatis,” n. 13). This is an essential lesson that shines out from the most authentic Franciscan message, a message that is more relevant today than ever!
(Some say: “All this is out of the Middle Ages!” No! It’s relevant today, and it will still be relevant tomorrow, because it touches the living heart of man’s psychological and moral nature, and therefore his very destiny.)
*THE SECOND REQIUREMENT: Closeness to the people.*
(There is no need for us to expound to you on this, since you already proclaim and practice it. But we do encourage you to keep that closeness.)
*THE CAPUCHIN ORDER is of the people. Be popular, be proud to be so! It was born with that characteristic and it will be accepted and effective in its evangelizing activity if it remains like the people who, over the centuries, saw it to be such.
Hence the duty to live in close proximity to the humble classes.*
(Try to find a way to really frequent the highways and byways, the homes and the huts, of the poor and humble.)
*As I was saying … THE DUTY TO BE CLOSE TO the humble classes. Hence the need to strive for a lifestyle which, as far as poverty is concerned, is not remote from theirs. Hence too the corresponding exclusion of commitments contrary to the traditional simplicity and austerity of your life, even with regard to the external appearance of the Capuchin friar.
*THE THIRD REQUIREMENT (and here we will stop because there could be so many more): Fidelity to the Church.*
(Very dear sons: be men of the Church. Love her; let us all love her. Try to be really faithful to the Church, faithful to the Bishops, faithful also to this poor brother of yours who is speaking to you, but speaking in Christ’s name.)
*EVANGELIZATION never takes place as an individual’s personal prerogative, but always and only in the name of the Church, since it is to the Church that Christ has given the mandate of proclaiming the Gospel to every creature (cf. Matt. 20:18-20; Mk. 16:15-16; Acts 26:17ff.) To remain in communion of mind and unity of action with the teaching, directives and decisions of Ecclesial Authority in the concrete circumstances in which one is called to work, whether at the Universal Church level or in each of the individual local churches, is a natural requirement for all apostolic activity which claims to be “in aedificationem at non in destructionem” (cf. 2 Cor. 10:8).*
(Because Christ is like that … that’s the way He saves souls.)
*THESE WERE THE MAIN THOUGHTS we wanted to share with you this morning, in the joy of this opportunity you have given us to meet you. And indeed you, dearest sons, have given us precisely the opportunity of demonstrating once again the bonds of fatherly affection – may I say more, of predilection – which bind us to your Order.
May the Apostolic Blessing, which we now cordially impart to you, obtain a generous outpouring of grace upon the good intentions with which you have received our humble words.*