29 May 2024

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.

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