800 years on, St Francis’ tunic returns to Egypt

800 years on, St Francis’ tunic returns to Egypt

“A chance to follow in St Francis’ steps”: Eight centuries after the Italian holy man visited Egypt, his relics make a return.

When Saint Francis made his renowned journey to Egypt in 1219, he was wearing the humble tunic which went on to become characteristic of his followers.

Now, 800 years later, that tunic – or part of it – has made a return to the country.

A piece of the garment – which counts as a second-class relic of the saint – arrived in Cairo on the 23rd May. It then made its way to Alexandria, and will also visit Minya, Assiut, Qena and Luxor before returning to Italy on the 2nd June.

Following in St Francis’ steps

The relic belongs to Franciscan friars from the Italian region of Tuscany, who are bringing it to various countries in celebration of the 800th anniversary of St Francis’ stigmata. 

Speaking to Vatican News, Anthony Amen, a youth representative for the Egyptian Franciscans, said that the event aimed to “bring back the spirituality of Saint Francis”.

He added that he hoped the encounter with the relics would inspire the Church in Egypt to “follow in St Francis’ steps”.

The Saint and the Sultan

St Francis’ visit to Egypt is now best remembered for his encounter with Sultan al-Kamel, who was at the time the ruler of Egypt.

In the midst of the Crusades, the saint travelled behind enemy lines to meet with the Muslim leader, and remained with him for several days.

Amen said that the visit of the relic was “always a reminder for us to take the initiative to sustain dialogue between us and the other.”

He said that relations between Christians and Muslims in Egypt had taken a “huge step forward” in the past ten years, during the leadership of President al-Sisi.

And, he said, much progress had also been made just in the past couple of years precisely because of the 800th anniversary of Francis’ encounter with the Sultan.

Dialogues took place, he said, between leaders and youth representatives from the Catholic Church and Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, one of the most prestigious centres of Muslim learning worldwide.

“From that moment,” Amen said, “we entered a new phase in interreligious dialogue between Muslims and Christians in Egypt.”

Source: Vatican News

Young people of St. Francis look to a better world

Young people of St. Francis look to a better world

Amid celebrations for the eighth centenary of St. Francis of Assisi’s stigmata, hundreds of young people gather in Florence until Sunday to look at the future through the eyes of the great saint.

Young people gathered in Florence, Italy, are trying to fully perceive the legacy of St. Francis.

They are doing this through dialogue with the other generations.

At least a thousand young people have come from all over Italy to explore various themes, related to St. Francis, amid the celebrations for the eighth centenary of his stigmata.

This was seen in the opening evening during the encounter with Roberto Vecchioni, who met with Davide, a young singer-songwriter, and two girls from Rondine – Cittadella della pace, one Ukrainian and the other Russian.

The two young women shared their great pain for the war that has been going on between their countries for over two years.

For a sustainable safeguard of Creation

“To save life on earth we need an ecological conversion,” Stefano Mancuso, professor at the University of Florence and founder of plant neurobiology, appealed from the stage of the Francesco Live event.

The Francesco Live event is the meeting of young people who want to seek answers, following the testimony of the Poor Man of Assisi.

On Friday, Florence’s Basilica of the Holy Cross was packed with young people who participated in the event.

The first plenary session was dedicated to integral ecology, in which life, Mr. Mancuso went on to explain, “is a precious good, and yet,” he added, “the quantity of life on the planet is decreasing: the number of animals on earth has halved in the last fifty years, among mammals, almost all of them are now humans and animals that are part of the human food chain.”

A planet distorted by man

Chiara Giaccardi, professor of sociology at the Catholic University of Milan, also emphasised the weight of the human footprint on Earth. “We are in the era of the anthropocene, man has the power to distort the planet.”

Faced with this, she said, the answer lies in being generative.

‘”Science tells us that everything is relationship, and relationship is generative, it gives birth to fruits of the future. Freedom is not the absence of ties: it is making something exist that is not yet there. It is bringing something new into the world, in a shared way.”

This represents the opposite of individualism, which, according to the sociologist, “unties us from everything and ends up making us all the same. This is not our anthropological vision. Every genius needs to be fertilised in order to create. Everything we do has an impact on society and nature.”

Climate crisis and migration

The plenary, coordinated by Michela Lazzeroni, professor of economic-political geography at the University of Pisa, also gave voice to Giorgio Brizio.

The 22-year-old young man, student of International Development and Cooperation Sciences, also deals with climate crisis and migrations.

Also on stage was Friar Francesco Zecca, a Friar Minor from the Salento Province, who has been committed for years to justice, peace and the protection of creation, both in the city where he works, Taranto, and in the OIKOS project.

OIKOS is the Franciscan network of the Mediterranean, which during Francesco Live brought to Florence some young people from countries bordering the ‘Mare nostrum‘ and who for days, in the Sala Giunta of Palazzo Vecchio, have been discussing many issues concerning the present and future of this area of the world.

The economy was the central theme of the event held on Saturday.

Source: Vatican News

Friars in Asia and Oceania discuss Franciscan life and mission

Friars in Asia and Oceania discuss Franciscan life and mission

It began with a challenge to taste balut. The look on Friar Derrick Yap’s face said it all! He managed the initial encounter. Fr Derrick embraced everything that came during the meeting of the Franciscan Conference of Asia and Oceania (FCAO) in Manila from 7 to 13 April. As did the about 100 friars gathered for the week-long meeting. They hailed from almost every corner of Asia and from the Order’s Roman headquarters, including the Minister General, Friar Massimo Fusarelli, and the general administration.

The FCAO meets every two years and brings together two separate conferences. One is the East Asia Conference (EAC) grouping of Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, China, Korea, Japan and Myanmar. The other is the South Asia, Australia and Oceania Conference (SAAOC) grouping of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore-Malaysia, Timor Leste, Papua New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand. At this meeting, Friar Derrick Yap, Custos of Malaysia-Singapore-Brunei, was elected as President of the SAAOC for a term of two years.

The conference addressed three areas: Formation and Studies (FS), Mission and Evangelisation (ME) and Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC), and the discussions revealed a trend towards a more integrated approach. For example, the formation of our friar students, in addition to covering Franciscan Spirituality, Philosophy and Theology, should also include formation towards mission and evangelisation, including the awareness that our life as friars must include elements of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation.

Asia Pacific is a vast region with extremes of riches and poverty, with a huge number of people living below the poverty line and in war zones, as refugees.

Some Franciscan entities such as India, the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia and Korea are flourishing with vocations, while others are new and emerging entities with far fewer vocations and need missionaries to strengthen their work and presence.

Overall, Franciscan entities in much of Asia work with the poor and marginalised. The varied development projects include mission parishes, schools, orphanages, trade schools, eco pastoral work with farmers and mission clinics.

One major resolution taken at this conference was in response to a request from our Minister General and Friar Franco Mirri, Director of the Franciscan Foundation in Rome (Fondazione OFM – Fraternitas). They asked the Franciscans in Asia and Oceania to embark on a study to see how an Asian arm of the foundation can be established to fund existing and new projects of the Order in Asia.

As Friar Franco explained, the Franciscan Foundation has traditionally been funded by the provinces in Europe and America. However, since the 1970s, these entities have received fewer and fewer vocations, which has reduced their work and hence their incomes. Their aging numbers also mean they have greater healthcare costs. This has significantly impacted their ability to continue funding the work and projects of the Order in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

What is needed now is for the regions of Asia, Africa and Latin America to explore what is possible for us to fund on our own. The study group has been asked to look at options and structures that would guarantee a transparent and accountable means of funding and support for the work of the Order in Asia.

Another resolution adopted was the establishment of a working team to study the setting up of an Asian Franciscan Study Centre. This would provide a needed platform for the formation, training and ongoing development of Franciscan Charism and Spirituality for Asia.

Entities in Asia would be able to benefit from the shared resources of experts in various fields of Franciscan studies. Courses and lessons could be conducted online, which would reduce the need for buildings for classrooms, offices and accommodation for the resource people as well as programme participants.

Much work was accomplished during this week but what stood out especially to many of those gathered was the gift of fraternity. Being able to see and interact face to face with friars from all over Asia as well as the more than 20 friars from our Roman headquarters helped to reinforce to us that the Order of Friars Minor is indeed a universal brotherhood. Having friars from Guinea-Bissau, Mexico, Poland, Switzerland, Croatia, Colombia, Canada, Italy and Brazil added greater flavour to our interactions. Working in English and Italian, we charted a way forward.

The FCAO meeting was forward looking in many respects. The Franciscan Order has had a lustrous history in Europe. In this century of Asia Pacific, it is up to the friars in this region to assume this mantle and make Franciscan life a catalyst for the integral development of peoples and society.

Meeting of hearts and minds

Meeting of hearts and minds

Dearest Family and Friends,

Meetings, meetings, meetings. Some of us are in so many meetings. We preside at some and at others we try to participate, the key word being “try”. Sometimes we ask ourselves why we are at these meetings and how we can contribute to the greater good.

I was recently in Manila for the Franciscan Conference of Asia and Oceania (FCAO) meeting of about 100 friars mainly from Asia. This meeting was historic not just because of the sheer number of friars present. This was also the f irst time that Asian friars were gathered to collaborate in the areas of Formation and Studies (FS), Mission and Evangelisation (ME), and Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC).

Each Asian entity sent four representatives. Representing our Custody were myself as Custos (Minister), Friar Joseph Nasanathan (Secretary of FS), Friar Robin Toha (Secretary of ME) and Friar Cosmas Francis (Animator of JPIC). Two more friars from our Custody were present: Friar John Paul Tan (Meeting Moderator) and Friar John Wong (General Definitor for Asia). Though we come from a tiny part of Asia, we were very well-represented!

There was such an amazing buzz of energy at this meeting. Friars spontaneously exchanged stories about their life, community and ministry. Some exchanged numbers as well! There were many resolutions to be voted upon and implemented. As the newly elected President of South Asia, Australia and Oceania Conference (SAAOC), I coordinated with Friar Lino Gregory, President of East Asia Conference, on how best to assign friars to each of these resolutions with a stipulated timeline for reporting and implementation.

At last year’s FCAO meeting, I volunteered to spearhead the creation of a formator’s course for Asia. With the grace of God and help from many generous people, this came to fruition within a year.

I must admit that developing this formator’s course was very time consuming, but the providence of God never fails us. I began with no programme, no trainers, no participants, no funding, and no administration, but step by step, ideas started to form, and things started to come together, and the right people started to appear. This experience is yet another demonstration to me that when God desires something, he will provide. I just have to be his instrument and trust.

It is with trust and faith that I sent Friar David Au for studies in Franciscan Spirituality and the Diploma in Formation at the Franciscan University of Antonianum in Rome. My hope is that more friars from the Custody can benefit from some time immersed in Franciscan Spirituality, not just intellectually but affectively. This wholistic and integrated experience is what makes us Franciscans human and real, authentic and creative.

I trust that you, our friends and benefactors, will continue to pray for us and support our many endeavours to impact lives and to bring more people to the beauty and mystery of God’s love!