and the Secular Franciscan Order

Joachim O'Brien OFM, former National Assistant SFO

I would like to greet the friars gathered to discuss spiritual assistance to the Secular Franciscan Order in Asia and Oceania. I would like to express my appreciation for the wonderful gift God has given us within the Franciscan Family. I look back with joy at the time I spent as a National Spiritual Assistant, when I met some of you now present at the Congress in Manila.

Recently, in a new apostolate the Lord has given me, I have come to realize the call within the Church in Oceania to a "New Evangelization". The Exhortation of Pope John Paul II, Ecclesia in Oceania (The Church in Oceania) is an excellent adjunct in the formation of the laity. It was directed by the Pope not only to the bishops, priests, deacons, and members of the consecrated life, but also to the laity, who form ninety-nine per cent of the Church in Oceania. It can be of service to the formation of Secular Franciscans.

On 22 November, 1998, Pope John Paul II opened the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for Oceania. Together with the Pope and bishops were priests, lay people, men and women of the consecrated life, as well as fraternal delegates from other Churches and Ecclesial Communities. They met for three weeks. The Synod discussed the present situation of the Church in Oceania and wished to plan for its future. It focussed "on the hopes and challenges, the needs and opportunities, the sorrows and the joys of the vast human tapestry which is Oceania" (n.2). This is where our Franciscan Family is situated.

For you, as friars called to discuss spiritual assistance to the Secular Franciscan Order within the area, I believe the document, The Church in Oceania. On Jesus Christ and the People of Oceania. Walking His Way, Telling His Truth, Living His Life, has significance.

The Evangelization of Oceania

The Exhortation reviews the coming of Christ's Gospel into Oceania. "As early as the sixteenth century, when foreign missionaries first reached Oceania, island peoples heard and accepted the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Among those who began and carried on the missionary work were saints and martyrs; and they are not only the greatest glory of the Church's past in Oceania but also its surest source of hope for the future" (n.7). We recall that De Quiros, with five Franciscan friars aboard his vessel, reached the Great Southern Land. He dedicated the new land, "Austrialia del Espiritu Santo", and the friars celebrated the first Masses in Oceania. We think too, in more recent times, of the friars who with vigour pursued the missionary spirit and at the same time fostered the secular Franciscans.

The Call to a New Evangelization: Walking the Way of Jesus, Telling his Truth

"The present generation of Christians is called and sent to accomplish a new evangelization among the peoples of Oceania, a fresh proclamation of the enduring truth evoked by the symbol of the Southern Cross. This call to mission poses great challenges, but it also opens new horizons, full of hope and even of a sense of adventure. The call to mission is addressed to every member of the Church. A Christian community is never meant to be just a comfortable place for its members" (n. 13). "Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Church in Oceania is preparing for a new evangelization of peoples who today are hungering for Christ" (n. 18).

Living the Life of Jesus (Chapter Four)

This chapter begins with, "Spiritual and Sacramental Life" (n.36ff.). This equates very much with the second chapter of the SFO Rule in its "Way of Life". Living in Christ implies a way of life made new by the Spirit; the life of prayer and interior life in union with Christ; prayerful reading of the Scripture; the liturgy, especially the Eucharist, the sacraments of Penance and Anointing of the Sick. All these elements are included in the formation programme of the members of the Secular Franciscan Order.

The Vocation of the Laity in the Exhortation

The Exhortation takes up those areas which are dear to the Secular Franciscans by their Rule, their General Constitutions and their heritage of nearly eight hundred years. Their genesis is in the sacrament of Baptism, where all Christians receive the call to holiness. They are called to share in the Church's mission and its capability of giving leadership in the new evangelization. Both the Exhortation and the SFO General Constitutions emphasize living out their Christian vocation, by renewing the temporal order in their personal and family values, economic interests, the trades and professions, political institutions, international relations, and the arts, (n.45). Also, the SFO will be working alongside "Women in the Church" (n.46); and the "New Ecclesial Movements" (n.47).

"Given the situation in Oceania, God's call can easily go unheard, because of the global transformation affecting the region's cultural identity and social institutions. Some fear that these changes might undermine the foundations of the faith, and lead to weariness of spirit and despair" (n. 18).

If the Spiritual Assistants and the Secular Franciscan leaders have no inspiration to set them on fire, the members are unlikely to take up the challenge. My thought particularly in suggesting that The Church in Oceania is relevant to the Secular Franciscans is that, with their Rule, General Constitutions and history, they should be capable of giving true leadership within the "New Evangelization" to which the Holy Spirit is calling us.