addressed to the members of the SFO International Council

and to the participants in the International Congress, 27 September 1982


Dear Brothers and Sisters,


1.         I warmly welcome you, members of the General Council of the Secular Franciscan Order, meeting in Assembly here in Rome, and to all of you, participants in the International Congress.  Through you, I wish to extend my greetings to all Secular Franciscans, formerly Franciscan Tertiaries, lay persons and priests worldwide, and to their spiritual Assistants.


            I know that this meeting, so much desired by you, is meant to show your affection and attachment to the Apostolic See and to ask for a word of direction and confirmation, in line with your tradition, since the humble Francis came to Rome to tell the Pope how the Lord had begun to act through him (The Legend of Three Companions, Chapter12; FA:ED II, pp.95ff).


            In the course of the centuries, from Nicholas IV with the Bull Supra Montem of 1289, to Pope Paul VI, of happy memory, who approved the new Rule with the Brief Inter Spirituales Familias, my predecessors have constantly and benevolently acceded to these desires. They have stimulated your enthusiasm and have confirmed you in your resolve to live according to the gospel.


            I, too, am delighted to be able to reaffirm my sincere esteem for you and my profound affection in this year that is dear to the entire Franciscan Family, in which we remember, with deep feeling, eight hundred years of the Little Poor Man of Assisi’s “life in the Church”.


            He lives still through his institution; his first, second and third Order live on, rich in numerous and inestimable saints, who walked behind Francis guided by Mary, Mother of the Church and of the Order and incomparable model of every gospel virtue.


2.         You are gathered here and you await a propitious word from the Pope, Peter’s successor. Very well, my exhortation is this: learn; love; live the Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order, approved for you by my predecessor Paul VI. It is an authentic treasure in your hands, in harmony with the spirit of the Second Vatican Council and responding to what the Church expects of you.


            Love, study and live this Rule of yours, because the values contained in it are eminently evangelical. Live these values in fraternity and live them in the world, in which you are involved and implanted by your secular vocation itself.


            Live these gospel values in your families, and pass on the faith with prayer, example and education. Live the demands of the gospel of mutual love, of “fidelity, and respect for life” (Rule, n.17).


            Let Christ poor and crucified be for you, as he was for Francis of Assisi, “the inspiration and the centre of his life with God and people (Rule, n.4).


            Above all, may you be witnesses of the Father and of his plan of love for all people and “let prayer and contemplation be the soul of all you are and do” (Rule, n.8).


            “The Church needs you to conduct yourselves in such a way, that the world can rediscover the primacy of spiritual values” (cfr. Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, III, 1, 1980, p. 945).


            Let your presence carry everywhere a message rich in joy, happiness and deep faith, of concord and peace: so, with your life and your word, you will be announcers of Christ and of the Kingdom of God.


3.         You have chosen as the theme of your Congress: “Francis, Sign of Hope.”


            In my recent Letter Radiabat velut stella, addressed to the Ministers General of the Franciscan Orders, I have recalled the foundations of joy and freedom in Francis of Assisi: deepen these foundations and the signs of the Spirit in the life of the Church, and you yourselves will be a sign of hope in the world today.


            Then, alongside the gospel values, but inherent in them, there emerge from the same Rule, in sharp characters, the human values, through which you take temporal and social commitments upon yourselves, as citizens of the earthly city and, at the same time, as Christians. You intend in this way to be a ferment in earthly realities, in which you feel, through a profound calling, as though you are at home, as though in your own native field.


            Mindful that there is a royal priesthood in you through baptism, hold for certain that no one can prohibit you from entering into every earthly, social, human reality, as you yourselves have been called to impart a Christian and human spirit to everything.


            So then, accept the invitation that I have extended to all people of good will, so that the dignity that human work has before God may be recognized, and that, in our present grave circumstances, everyone may be allowed to realize oneself and be able to collaborate serenely in the work of creation and in the good of society with a labour worthy of man (cfr. Laborem exercens, n.24).


            By so doing, you will place yourselves at the service of the global promotion of people; you will make yourselves promoters of justice, carriers of peace, mindful that all the ways of the Church lead to the person redeemed by Christ (cfr. Redemptor hominis, c.3, n.14).


            Towards this person, your brother and sister, be humble and courteous and always search out the ways of dialogue and reconciliation (cfr. Rule, nn.13 and 19; cfr. also the Bull Supra Montem of Nicholas IV).


            Always have before you the example of Francis, the brother of all and “a frontier man”, for which he does not cease to exercise an extraordinary fascination also with those who are at a distance (cfr. A.A.S. 74 [1982], p. 580).


4.         Finally, your associations are called fraternities. May they be visible signs of the Church, which is a community of love. Let them be truly ecclesial communities, built on the Gospel and in lively and active communion with the local churches and, through them, with the universal Church.


            Live “in full communion with the pope, bishops, and priests, fostering an open and trusting dialogue of apostolic effectiveness and creativity” (Rule, n.6).


            Then, continuing that movement of gospel life, which the “penitents of Assisi” embraced, know how to live this vocation of yours, in your secular environment, as “brothers and sisters of penance”, with an enlightened sense of conversion and constant renewal.


            And now, for those who have specific responsibilities in the Secular Franciscan Order, I wish them a unity of intent and a definite will so that they can be enlightened animators and guides preceding the brothers and sisters in love of the Gospel and in faithfulness to the Church.


            I thank you for what you have done until now in favour of the same fraternity, and with you I thank the Ministers General and the Assistants who are your Masters and guides.


            To all, I impart with profound joy a special Apostolic Blessing, covering also your family members and friends.


(Translated from the original Italian in Acta dell’OFS, 1982, by Carl Schafer OFM)