26 September 2023

Keeping the fire of St Francis alive

Dearest Family and Friends,

I was in Indonesia in August, where my visit to Brother Marvin Voo, who is doing his Franciscan Year Exposure in Flores, turned out to be a simple yet deeply moving witness of the life that St Francis desired for the brothers. I was moved by the fact that the friars were willing to embrace the simple lifestyle of the people they were living with and, together with the people, bring about gospel values through the sacraments and spirituality, through labour and laughter.

I saw friars working in the fields planting, preparing fertilisers and then sharing a snack and coffee with the villagers at their break-time. I daresay St Francis would have enjoyed this scene of his friars sharing and building life with God’s people.

I think he would have liked too the efforts the Religious in Malaysia and Singapore are making to support and nourish the lives of our many Religious brothers and sisters. At our last meeting in early August, I initiated and organised an information session on positive mental and spiritual well-being for the Religious Superiors. As President of the Conference of Religious Major Superiors (CRMS), part of my role is to offer resources and opportunities for formation and conversation among the Religious Superiors. We are keenly concerned about Safeguarding and how the Religious can foster a culture of care for each other’s mental and spiritual well-being.

Care of each individual Religious requires the Congregational Superior or House Superior to be intentional and committed to enter into the story of the brothers/ sisters in his/her care, and have the compassion to help them heal and the discerned courage to allow the individual to blossom.

This form of personal accompaniment requires training and resources which I believe can be structured and programmed. This I can see myself doing, both for CRMS and for the Franciscan Friars here in Malaysia and Singapore. In fact, I am in the midst of developing a Formators’ Course for the Franciscan Study Centre of Asia with similar objectives in mind. When the course is launched, we will invite our Franciscan Family (brothers and sisters, contemplatives and actives) to send their potential formators for it.

Speaking of Franciscan Family, this year the Franciscan Family collectively marks the beginning of the 800th Anniversary of St Francis’ Easter (i.e. his death in 1226) and the culminating events of the last years of his life. It was in 1223 that St Francis wrote the Rule and commemorated Christmas in Greccio, and in Singapore, we will incorporate this year’s themes into our Transitus celebration on 3 October. Outside of Singapore, look out for similar Transitus celebrations at a Franciscan presence near you! That’s our Franciscan call – to be close to the people.

May we Franciscans continue to keep the fire of St Francis alive by quietly and humbly going about our ministries and bringing people together.

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