THE NATIONAL FRATERNITY OF OCEANIA
(Australia, New Zealand, Singapore-Sabah, and Papua New Guinea)
I. THE SECULAR FRANCISCAN ORDER IN OCEANIA
Peter Keogh, National Minister SFO-Oceania
The National Fraternity of Oceania is the union of all the Catholic Secular Franciscan Fraternities that exist in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Sabah, and Papua New Guinea. This is a very large geographical area and consists of five nations and very diverse cultures. It is a mini-international fraternity that was established first of all by incorporating Australia and New Zealand in the 1970's, with Singapore and Sabah being added during the 1980's and Papua New Guinea in the very late 80's. It consists of eight Regional Fraternities, 15 fraternities in New Zealand, seven fraternities in Singapore-Sabah, 50 fraternities in Australia in six Regional Fraternities, which are determined by the State boundaries. The eight fraternities in Papua New Guinea are not yet established as a Regional Fraternity.
To animate and guide these Regional fraternities is a tremendous job for the National Executive, the major problem being distance between regional fraternities and the cost of travel, as well as the time required for such work. We have no full-time employed staff, so all the work is done voluntarily by people dedicated to the task of leadership.
The National Executive meets each second month on the second Saturday. The major tasks of Formation, Promotion and Evangelization are handled through National Executive Committees and the day-to-day organization is done by the officers of the National Executive.
The National Executive is given spiritual assistance by three National Assistants, one from each obedience in Australia: Capuchin, Conventual and Friars Minor. We are very grateful to the First Order for this national assistance and for the time and effort put into the work of the National Fraternity by the three National Spiritual Assistants, individually and as a Conference.
Each of the Regional Fraternities has a Regional Executive which animates and guides it. The development of these regional leadership groups has been the result of considerable encouragement and effort on the part of the National Fraternity over the years. Each Regional Fraternity now has effective leadership, which assists the local Fraternities in developing the Order throughout the National Fraternity. Some of the Regional Fraternities in Australia are very small in numbers, but this is because of their geographical situation. They are separated by extreme distances, so they need to operate in this way to be effective. In New South Wales we are looking at some time in the future to split the Regional Fraternity into two or three, to make for easier management. There is no regional structure as yet in Papua New Guinea, as the eight fraternities are sometimes in very inaccessible areas and operate mainly with the support of local Franciscan religious communities.
In the future, we would see the National Fraternity divided into possibly three National Fraternities, (1) New Zealand, (2) Australia and (3) Singapore-Sabah (Malaysia).
At this point, I want to make a comment on activities that have been taking place within the Regional Fraternity of Singapore-Sabah. Someone from Malaysia and the International Presidency has been contacting Secular Franciscans in Singapore to work towards forming a National Fraternity with Singapore and Malaysia. The Presidency has not made any contact with the National Executive of Oceania on this subject, and also has been contacting and working with people other than the Regional Minister of Singapore-Sabah.
I want to make clear that the National Executive would willingly work with the Regional Fraternity of Singapore-Sabah and those in Malaysia to bring this about, but we feel that the contact must come to the national body so that the correct people are involved at the regional level. The Regional Fraternity of Singapore-Sabah has not been able to operate in a totally successful way at this stage, and we see that it would in no way be capable of leading a National Fraternity. I hope that this situation will be cleared up by the Minister General and the National Minister of Oceania, before we depart from Manila.
The Regional Fraternity of New Zealand did look at forming a National Fraternity, but after consideration by the members it was decided to remain within the National Fraternity of Oceania at this stage. Perhaps this will be looked at again in the future.
Let me say that the National Fraternity of Oceania has always looked at the membership of Singapore-Sabah and New Zealand as being wholly important to the life of the National Fraternity. It is good to see that now the International Fraternity and the Presidency of the International Council are intending to put some effort into Asia and Oceania. This can only benefit the Order into the future.
The SFO in Oceania has approximately 1,250 members. Around 850 of these are active members, and 400 are inactive because of age or distance from established Fraternities. There are some 227 people in formation, whom we look forward to embracing as members in the near future. The average member is senior in age (60+), but we find many enquirers are now in the lower age groups, 30 to 50, and are often married couples as well as single people. We do not have youth groups or childrenís groups, as that is not the culture of our nations. We do at various times encourage and provide Franciscan Experience for younger people throughout the Regional Fraternities. These activities often attract people to the Order in various ways.
The educational attainment of our members is across the whole spectrum, from highly educated to normal high school, covering all walks of life, and both city and rural backgrounds. The majority of our Fraternities are in major cities and towns, although we are now seeing interest shown in many smaller non-urban areas and country towns. We see this as a challenge that we need to meet, in order to encourage and allow isolated people and small groups to experience the Secular Franciscan lifestyle and vocation. We are looking to Secular Franciscans to take up the role of spreading our spirituality to these people as the numbers of Franciscan religious diminish.
The National Executive has an established Formation Committee, and we support and provide material for the Regional Executives, whose responsibility it is, with the local fraternities and the Spiritual Assistants, to provide initial and ongoing formation for the members in local fraternities. Each Regional Executive meets the challenge in the best way suitable for their respective area.
The Conference of National Assistants also provides a Monthly Spiritual Message which is distributed to local fraternities, small groups and isolated Secular Franciscans.
We were pleased this week to receive the updated Guidelines on Formation from the CIOFS.
Local Fraternities engage in many apostolates and also many individual members work within local ecclesial structures of service. Each Regional Fraternity involves itself to the best of its ability in apostolates that can work. They are many and varied and just some are: working with the poor and underprivileged, and with the mentally ill, family welfare, hospital visitation and the sick and dying, apostolates within the Church and parishes, as well as many social and economic areas, such as street people and their welfare, including soup kitchens and other establishments. The SFO in Oceania also continues to give financial support to Secular Franciscan families in underdeveloped countries.
SPECIAL DIFFICULTIES AND CHALLENGES
The major difficulty for the National Executive of Oceania is the tremendous size of the National Fraternity and its different nationalities and customs. The tyranny of distance makes it very difficult for visitation and support. The cost of travel is so expensive. The opposite side of that coin is that we are able to keep good contact by telephone and e-mail. It also encourages the Regional Executives to take on the leadership of their area more freely and extensively, in the knowledge that the life of the Fraternity depends on their actions, and that the National Executive is not merely there looking on, but that we are available to help when requested.
The other major difficulty of the National Executive of Oceania is the composition of the National Executive. Up until 2001, the National Executive was made up of people from within the metropolitan area of Sydney, Australia. This was again because of the impossibility of distance and cost. In 2001, the National Chapter elected two members from interstate onto the National Executive, one from Victoria and one from Queensland. These two members have travelled bimonthly at their own expense to the meetings. That is one problem. The other problem is that whilst they are attending meetings, they are unable to participate in the work of the National Executive between meetings.
One of the challenges from this situation is that we need to find a better system to operate under. Be it a Secretariat that works in one place, and a National Executive made up of people from around the National Fraternity that can meet less regularly or even by telephone hook-up, etc. This is one area of our structure that will have to be investigated in the coming term.
The National Executive is endeavouring to provide support and assistance for Formation, and for Evangelization and Promotion. This again is quite difficult in the cross-cultural situation in which we work, but, thanks to most of the Regional Executives, it works well. We do have one or two situations that give us some concern with the attitude of some of the members.
PROSPECTS FOR THE FUTURE
We see the future as hopeful and full of challenge for the Order in each area of Oceania. We have a good number of people in formation; this bodes well for the future. We have the emergence of groups of people who want to become Secular Franciscans but who are currently prevented from doing so by the great distances and by the lack of Franciscan religious for spiritual assistance. I see the future of the SFO in Oceania, particularly in Australia and New Zealand, as being very bright if we are prepared to face this difficulty with confidence in our Secular Franciscans to evangelize and form these emerging groups and to be flexible enough to work within a framework that will allow the development of new groups and members who live great distances apart.
We will need to have the support of the International Council to allow this sort of development to be undertaken. This can only come with a greater understanding of the situation in our National Fraternity and the will to address it.
The SFO in Oceania also works closely with the other members of the Franciscan Family especially through Franciscan Federations and Associations. One of the main results of this collaboration has been special in promotion of membership and vocations to all the Orders, religious and secular. The whole future outlook would seem to us to be very positive and exciting.
II. SPIRITUAL ASSISTANCE TO THE NATIONAL FRATERNITY OF OCEANIA
Carl Schafer OFM, National Assistant
National Fraternity and Regional Fraternities
A national fraternity is an "organic union of the local fraternities existing within the territory of one or more states which are joined and co-ordinated among themselves through regional fraternities, wherever they exist" (GCSFO Art. 65).
The National Fraternity of the SFO in Oceania is the union of the Catholic Secular Franciscan Fraternities that exist in Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Singapore and Sabah. Just how "organic" that union is, is debatable, owing to the enormous geographical area and the diversity of national entities involved. To coordinate spiritual assistance among them is a difficult task for the National Assistants.
Why isnít each of these national areas an SFO National Fraternity? Australia on its own could well be a National Fraternity. Papua New Guinea has only eight scattered local Fraternities. Singapore and Sabah are not in fact situated in Oceania, and are moving slowly towards forming a national fraternity, including Singapore and East and West Malaysia. So, the best arrangement for the time being is still the National Fraternity of Oceania.
There is a Regional Fraternity in each of six States of Australia, one in New Zealand, and one in Singapore and Sabah combined. Papua New Guinea is not yet able to be constituted as a Regional Fraternity.
The Regional Fraternities in Oceania are not large. New South Wales has 21 local Fraternities, New Zealand 15, and Victoria nine. Singapore and Sabah together have six local Fraternities. Western Australia has five. Queensland has four. Tasmania and South Australia have only three each. Not the number of Fraternities, but the size of the areas and the distances separating them, necessitate so many Regional Fraternities.
The three branches of the First Order provide spiritual assistance to the SFO in the National Fraternity. The Third Order Regular (TOR) is not present in these countries.
In Australia, three Provincial Ministers are responsible for establishing local SFO Fraternities, visiting them pastorally, and appointing local Assistants. Each Provincial Minister delegates a National Assistant to the SFO. The National Assistants are: Patrick Colbourne OFMCap., Anthony Fox OFMConv., and Carl Schafer OFM. The three of us reside in Sydney.
In New Zealand, the Capuchin Custos and the President of the OFM Foundation are responsible for spiritual assistance to the SFO in the Regional Fraternity. Each delegates a Regional Assistant. The Regional Assistants are Lucian Armstrong OFM and Matthias Murphy OFMCap.
In Singapore, only the OFM Custos is responsible for assistance to the SFO in Singapore, and also in Sabah, where there are no resident friars. The only Regional Assistant is Gerard Victor OFM.
In Papua New Guinea, the OFM Provincial Minister of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, and the Capuchin Provincial Minister, are responsible for assistance to the SFO, and they appoint the local Assistants.
Association of Spiritual Assistance of Oceania
The Association of Spiritual Assistants of Oceania meets annually in conjunction with the SFO National Assistants attending the National Council. It is open to all Assistants, but usually only those Assistants attending the Chapter or Council meeting are able to attend. The meeting discusses matters of particular interest to the spiritual Assistants, friars and non-friars, in the SFO National Fraternity of Oceania. The meeting appoints a President and a Secretary for a year.
OFM National Assistant
Maryfields Friary, Campbelltown, NSW, where I have resided for five years, has been the OFM Provinceís Novitiate in 2003. I am Assistant Novice Master of four Singaporean novices. I took the opportunity, in July, to present a course in the Franciscan Family, as outlined for the novices, in the Guidelines for the Formation of the Friar for Understanding and Assisting the SFO, published by the Conference of General Assistants, in 1992.
In April 2001, the OFM Provincial Minister, Stephen Bliss, convened a three-day Seminar for the ongoing formation of OFM Assistants in Australia. Stephen invited also Gerard Victor OFM, who attended from Singapore. The participants worked on composing a Handbook for Spiritual Assistance to the SFO. I conducted the same seminar in June 2001, for the OFM and Capuchin Assistants in New Zealand, at the invitation of the Capuchin Provincial Minister at the time and the President of the OFM Foundation. After these two seminars in 2001, the Conference of National Assistants finalized the text of the Handbook.
Each National Assistant belongs to a Committee of the SFO National Executive. Pat Colbourne OFMCap is on the Committee for Formation, which has published a set of articles to help formators.
Together with three Secular Franciscans, I am on the committee for Evangelization and Promotion of Vocations. In 2002, we conducted three promotion workshops in New South Wales. In 2003, we conducted one in Brisbane and another in Melbourne. We compiled a Workshop Handbook, that we used and updated after each workshop. We are composing a Manual for Promoting the SFO, which will be presented to the National Chapter in February 2004, for its approval.
The Three National Assistants
The three National Assistants are individual members of the SFO National Chapter, Council and Executive. We do not function in those governing bodies as a Conference of National Assistants. We report to them regarding our activities both as individuals and as a Conference. As individual National Assistants, we met with our Provincial Ministers in December 2002. We and they want this to be an annual event. As member of the SFO National Executive, we met the Provincial Ministers of the friars in April 2003.
Conference of National Assistants
The three National Assistants work also as a Conference, and have been meeting at least four times a year since 1999. We elect a President and a Secretary for a year at a time.
The Conference delegates its members to make pastoral visits to the regional level, and to witness elections in regional chapters in Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore. It makes decisions collegially regarding spiritual assistance to the SFO above the local level.
In April 2002, the Conference conducted a Seminar for Friar Spiritual Assistants to the SFO in Australia, and in September 2003, another Seminar for all Spiritual Assistants in Australia. We held both seminars in the Sydney suburb of Kensington.
On behalf of the Conference, the National Assistants take turns in publishing a Monthly Spiritual Message, which the author sends to the Regional Ministers, who photocopy and post it to the Ministers of their local Fraternities. Each National Assistant sends it to the Regional Assistants, who photocopy and post it to their Orderís local Assistants.
We three National Assistants are also Regional Assistants in Australia, and local Assistants in NSW. Patrick is Regional Assistant for NSW and Western Australia and local Assistant in Concord. Tony is Regional Assistant for NSW and local Assistant in Kellyville. I am Regional Assistant for Tasmania and South Australia, and local Assistant in Campbelltown and Port Macquarie.
1. The Country
Australia is the smallest continent and the largest island, being eight million square kilometres. It extends 3,700 km from north to south, and 4,000 km from east to west. The British colonized the land from 1788 and dispossessed the aboriginal population. Six separate colonies developed into States and federated in 1901, to form the Commonwealth of Australia. Its population in 2001 was nearly 19 million, 86% of the population being urbanized.
69% of the population are Christians, of which 27% are Catholics, 21% are Anglicans, and 21% are other Christians denominations. 4% are non-Christians (Buddhists 1.9%, Jews 1.5%, Hindus 0.5%, Muslims 0.4%). 12% did not state any religion. 15% are of no religion.
2. The Catholic Church in Australia
The Catholic Church in Australia is organized into 28 dioceses, one Military Ordinariat, and three Eastern Rite eparchies.
The Catholic population in 2001 was five million two thousand (5,001,962). 43% are under 30 years of age. 40.7% are aged between 30 and 60. 16.3% are 60 and over. 15.3% attend weekly Mass. 52% of Catholic students attend Catholic schools, primary and secondary.
There are 1,676 active diocesan priests and 368 retired. There are 1,114 religious priests and the same number of other religious men (1,118). Religious women number 6,410. The laity number 4,991,000, that is 99.78% of the Catholic population. So, one in 500 Catholics in Australia is a priest or religious.
3. The Franciscan Family in Australia:
A. RELIGIOUS INSTITUTES
1. FIRST ORDER
Order of Friars Minor Conventual - OFMConv: 22 in the General Custody of Australia.
Order of Friars Minor Capuchin - OFMCap: 30 in the Province of Australia.
Order of Friars Minor - OFM: in 2002: 103 in Australia.
Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate - FI (from the Conventuals): At Toodyay, W.A.
Pontifical missionary institute of the First Order.
Brothers of St. Francis - FSF (from Capuchins): At Toongabbie, N.S.W.
Not included in the Official Directory of the Catholic Church in Australia 2003.
2. SECOND ORDER
Order of St. Clare, Campbelltown - OSC: 16 nuns.
Order of St. Clare, PCC (Colettines); 5 nuns
Sisters of St. Clare, Waverley - OSC: 14 Sisters, plus five in Ireland.
3. THIRD ORDER REGULAR (Women only)
Franciscan Missionaries of Mary - FMM
Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood - FMDM
Missionary Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception - MFIC
Franciscan Sisters of the Heart of Jesus - FCJ (Maltese)
Franciscan Sisters of St. Anthony - FSSA (Italian)
4. SECULAR INSTITUTES
Missionaries of the Kingship of Christ: men and women.
B. ASSOCIATIONS OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITHFUL
1. SECULAR THIRD ORDERS
Franciscan Tertiaries of the Immaculate (Third Order of Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate.)
The Hills Franciscan Community (Third Order of F.M.M. in W.A.)
Secular Franciscan Order: See the National Ministerís report on the SFO in Australia, above.
2. OTHER FRANCISCAN GROUPS AND MOVEMENTS
Franciscan Federation of Australia
Membership encompasses all Franciscan Groups in Australia: Anglican, Catholic and Ecumenical. The aim is to foster working together as Franciscans, and to foster communication among the whole Franciscan family. FFA publishes Cords Down Under.
Franciscans of New South Wales
Informal bimonthly meetings of individual Franciscans, Anglican, Catholic and Ecumenical. We publish Cords Connecting.
4. Spiritual Assistance in Australia:
In Australia, the Provincial Ministers of the Friars Minor, Capuchins and Conventuals, are responsible for spiritual assistance to the SFO. Each Provincial Minister delegates a National Assistant.
As OFM National Assistant, I write, regularly and when necessary, my Letter to the OFM Regional Assistants, and include the Monthly Spiritual Message, Koinonia, and previously, the Letter from Rome to the OFM Assistants. The Regional Assistants photocopy this material and send it to the local Assistants.
It is very difficult to find friars or other suitable and prepared persons as spiritual Assistants. Most of the friar Assistants are over 65 years of age. The oldest OFM is enthusiastic at 88. Fr Borgia Mould OFM, who died on 18 September this year, aged 69, left three local Fraternities without a spiritual Assistant. I am looking in Sydney for three OFM replacements, and in Melbourne, for four replacements of OFM Assistants who are too ill to continue.
In Australia, there are fifteen OFM Assistants, thirteen of whom are local Assistants. There are five Capuchin Assistants, and three Conventual Assistants. Only the Friars Minor have appointed non-friars as local Assistants. Three of these are secular priests, members of the SFO. One local Assistant is a Salesian priest, three are Franciscan Sisters, and one is a Josephite Sister.
Twenty-one friars and eight non-friars assist forty-five local Fraternities and five emerging fraternities or groups in Australia. A Korean emerging fraternity is attached to West Pymble Fraternity and meets at Silverwater. A Slovenian group is attached to Concord Fraternity and meets at Merrylands. I attend the monthly meetings of both groups, in Sydney.
II. PAPUA NEW GUINEA
1. The Country:
The island of New Guinea is occupied by Papua New Guinea in the east and by West Papua (Irian Jaya) in the west. West Papua belongs to the SFO National Fraternity of Indonesia.
Papua New Guinea occupies 280,773 square miles. The population numbers 4,913,000, speaking hundreds of different languages. The Constitution allows for freedom of religion. 96% are Christian. The main churches are Roman Catholic, Lutheran, United Church and Seventh Day Adventists. The Muslims are 0.04%.
2. The Catholic Church in PNG:
The Catholic population is 1,620,000, 32% of the total population. There are 323 parishes in 19 dioceses, 171 diocesan priests, 350 religious priests, 551 other men religious, and 853 women religious. Only the Catholic Church relies on foreign missionaries.
3. The Franciscan Family in PNG:
1. FIRST ORDER
Order of Friars Minor - OFM: 39 in Vice Province of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands. Two bishops. 19 priests (9 Nationals). 14 Brothers (11 Nationals), Four seminarians (Nationals). Nine postulants.
Order of Friars Minor Capuchin - OFMCap: 20 in Vice Province of Papua New Guinea.
2. SECOND ORDER
Order of St. Clare, Aitape - OSC: 9 nuns.
Order of St. Clare, Wabag - OSC: 6 nuns.
3. THIRD ORDER REGULAR (Women only)
Missionary Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception - MFIC. Practically, an indigenous Congregation now.
Previously, the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary and the Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood worked in PNG, but no longer. They had no indigenous vocations.
4. The Secular Franciscan Order in PNG:
The eight local Fraternities in Papua New Guinea (Aitape, Fatima, Lae, Lumi, Port Moresby, Wabag, Wassisi, Wati) responded to the census that the National Promotion Committee conducted in 2002. At that time, there were 112 professed members and 88 candidates, amounting to 200 Secular Franciscans. Papua New Guinea is not yet able to be constituted as a Regional Fraternity.
The political situation in PNG is fragile. Conditions for travelling are very difficult and communication is unreliable. It is practically impossible for the local Fraternities to relate to one another. The structure of a Regional Fraternity would be ineffectual.
5. Spiritual Assistance in PNG:
The Friars Minor and the Capuchins provide spiritual assistance to the eight local Fraternities.
In spite of all difficulties, the OFM friars are responsible for seven Fraternities, one on the south coast, in Port Moresby, and the rest on the north coast, at Aitape, and inland from there. The Capuchins assist one Fraternity at Wabag, in the central Highlands. In Port Moresby, I had a fruitful meeting with Fr Jonathan Williams, OFMCap. He is the only Capuchin Assistant in PNG.
Fr Tom Ritchie OFM, Provincial Minister in PNG at the time, invited me to conduct a seminar in May, 2003, for all spiritual Assistants and for all the OFM professed friars and friars in formation. One spiritual Assistant, Sr Jeannette Gaudet MFIC, is a Franciscan Sister. Some of the Sisters and some Secular Franciscan leaders also attended this seminar.
The seminar was held first in Aitape, for three days, then in Port Moresby, for two days. Fr Geoffrey Lee, secular priests and spiritual Assistant to Lae Fraternity, attended the seminar in Port Moresby. The local Assistants determined the contents of the presentations. I gave all the presentations except one, which was given by Sr Jeanette in Aitape. The texts are available for downloading on my web page: http://angelfire.com/oz/franciscans/sfo/carlschafer.htm
III. NEW ZEALAND
Lucian Armstrong OFM, and Matthias Murphy OFMCap, Regional Spiritual Assistants
New Zealand is an individual nation in the South Pacific, of four million people. It is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. The country was originally settled by the Maori and was called Aotearoa. In the mid-nineteenth century, white settlers claimed Aotearoa for the British crown and called the country New Zealand, the name given by the Dutch explorer, Abel Tasman. Since then, people from many countries around the world and from neighbouring islands in the South Pacific have made Aotearoa - New Zealand their home.
French missionaries brought the Catholic faith to New Zealand in the 1830's. A lone Capuchin friar, Fr Jeremiah OíReily, arrived in New Zealand in January, 1843, and worked in Wellington until his death in 1880. In 1860, a group of Friars Minor - Italian, French and Irish - recruited by Bishop Pompallier, arrived in Auckland and worked in the diocese until 1873.
During these pioneering days, there is no record of any Franciscan Third Order activity being carried out.
The OFM friars from Australia returned to New Zealand in the late 1930's, when they were invited by Bishop Liston to build a retreat house in Auckland. The Capuchins returned to Wellington in 1958. Prior to this, Fr Celsus Kelly OFM had come from Australia in 1932 and received a number of people into the Third Order in a number of cities in the North and South Islands. He recruited a number of diocesan priests to act as Spiritual Directors. Celsus returned the following year and professed those who had taken the then Rule seriously under the guidance of these diocesan priests. Over the years since then, many of those original tertiaries followed the way of St Francis faithfully, some to the present day. When the friars returned, they found five or so flourishing fraternities, and they took over their care as the need arose.
After the promulgation of the new SFO Rule in 1978, thanks to the enthusiasm and energy of Fr Carl Schafer OFM, then a member of the St Francis Retreat House community in Auckland, the Third Order, now known as the Secular Franciscan Order, grew greatly until at present. There are 15 fraternities, nine around the Auckland area and six more around the North and South Islands, numbering around 155 professed members, with four OFM and four OFMCap friars providing spiritual assistance.
Fr Carl became the first Regional Spiritual Assistant. The Capuchin and OFM friars in New Zealand took the interobediential concept seriously from the promulgation of the new Rule, as did the friars in Australia, and a great bond of mutual assistance grew up. Today, both Orders provide Regional Spiritual Assistants, who work together in harmony.
New Zealand has been one of the regional fraternities of the National Fraternity of Oceania since its inception. We have been loathe to forego our connection with the other regional fraternities of Oceania (the States of Australia, Papua New Guinea and Singapore-Sabah) and become a National Fraternity, because of our small numbers and what we feel we would lose by not being present at the Oceania National Fraternity Chapters and other meetings.
Characteristics of our membership
Our members come from all walks of life. We have a good balance of male and female members. Many have been Secular Franciscans for many years and have grown old. We do not attract many young members but there are several not yet middle-aged. We do have a good number of married couples, who live their Franciscan life together. The present majority of members would be classed as middle class in our society.
Number of permanently professed members: 155.
Number of established local fraternities: 15.
Number of emerging local fraternities: one.
Regional Assistants: one OFM, one OFMCap.
Local Assistants: four OFM, four OFMCap.
The formation of new members is handled by the individual fraternities, with a formator as coordinator. Continuing Formation of professed members is overseen by the fraternity council with advice from the local Spiritual Assistant. Ongoing Formation of Auckland members is provided at four Formation Days a year, at least, and at the annual retreat. The input at these Formation Days is reported in the regional newsletter Lay Franciscan, which is published at least four times a year. In addition, the National Fraternity has provided a series of formation programmes over the years, which are available to the fraternities outside of Auckland, as well as their copies of the Lay Franciscan.
We have no combined apostolate as such, except contributing to a fund, set up by the National Fraternity, known as Project India, which assists families in an area of India.
All members, of course, are engaged in the apostolate of Prayer, and many pray the Prayer of the Church daily. Individual Secular Franciscans are engaged in a multitude of social, charitable and church ministries, wherever they discern the needs of the moment. Ecumenically, some members are in dialogue with local Jews and Moslems. Last year, a Formation Day was devoted to our greater understanding of Islam, and the proceedings were published in a special issue of Lay Franciscan.
This yearís celebration of the 750th anniversary of St Clareís death began with a combined service hosted by the friars and tertiaries of the Anglican Society of St Francis.
- The advancing age of many long-term and dedicated members, no longer able to offer active service beyond prayer and example. We are blessed in these members.
- The distances between fraternities outside of the Auckland area in a country that stretches narrowly over one thousand kilometres, north to south, inhibiting travel in terms of distance, time and cost. Despite this, pastoral and fraternal visitation is carried out faithfully every three years.
- The non-appeal of the Franciscan (and Christian) way of life to the youth of modern society and culture.
- The difficulty involved in attracting young and middle-aged married people, caught up in the busyness involved in rearing children, educating them, and earning a living to support them in modern secular society.
The members we have remain faithful to Francis and the Franciscan Family. Despite the challenges, there is a steady flow, perhaps trickle would be a better word, of enquirers, many of whom eventually commit themselves to profession.
Our present Regional Minister never tires of urging the present professed members to invite others personally to "come and see" what we are about in the hope that some may stay with us.
Every effort is being made to keep the diminishing fraternities viable. We have discerned there is no cause for despair of our future.
Conscious that Catholics are one in seven, in a population of only four million, and that the SFO members are a mere drop in those figures, we put our trust in the words of Jesus, that the Kingdom of Heaven is like the lump of leaven that the woman put into the mass of dough to get the loaf of bread started (Mt 13:33).
Gerard Victor OFM, Regional Spiritual Assistant
The current population of Singapore is 4.1 million: 77% Ethnic Chinese, 14% Malay, 8% Indian.
There is only one archdiocese in Singapore, comprised of 30 parishes and divided into five districts. There are 151,655 Catholics.
42% Buddhist, 15% Muslim, 14% Christian, 9% Taoist, and 4% Hindu.
Franciscan Family in Singapore-Sabah
The SFO Regional Fraternity of St Michael, constituted in 1991, is comprised of six local Fraternities, four of them in Singapore and two in Sabah.
The OFM Custody of Singapore-Malaysia-Brunei is incorporated into the Holy Spirit Province of Australia. We have three communities in Singapore and one in Sarawak, but none in Sabah. The communities include two parishes (one in Singapore and another in Sarawak), one formation house and one experimental community (in public housing).
The Franciscan Missionaries of Mary (FMM) have four communities.
The Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood (FMDM) have presently three communities.
The Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception (FSIC) have 19 communities in Sabah.
Local Spiritual Assistants
One FMM Sister, one FMDM Sister, three FSIC Sisters and two Friars Minor.
Formation is crucial for the Secular Franciscan to be relevant today. The Regional Formator has come up with a revised programme for the enquirers so that they could have a better understanding of the life of a Secular Franciscan. We are also looking into centralized formation for the enquirers so that they would be given a common and deeper understanding of the person of St Francis and the Secular Franciscan Order. Hopefully, in the near future, the Secular Franciscans would gradually become aware of their vocation and live their lives in a meaningful manner.
- The members are aging, and they need to explore ways to attract new members.
- Some of the members are not ready for changes and do not want to respond to the signs of the present times, e.g., the Internet, new apostolates. This creates a tension between members who want to move forward and those who are comfortable to stay put.
Some members have embarked on the following initiatives:
1. Vocation Promotion Outreach. We gained 31 inquirers from the outreach at four different parishes in Singapore.
2. Collaboration with Mercy Relief (a Muslim humanitarian organization that reaches out to those people affected by war situations).
3. Beach cleanup (International Coastal Cleanup). We have participated a second time in this activity.
4. Web page about the activities and schedules of the Secular Franciscans, to reach out to the present generation who are into IT.
5. An emerging fraternity in Limbahau, Sabah.
I was unable to visit Sabah in recent times. Distance and travel expenses are factors that need to be taken into consideration. The languages used are English and Bahasa Melayu. Some of the Secular Franciscans are more comfortable with Bahasa in terms of communication and understanding. The FSIC Sisters are a great help in journeying with the Secular Franciscans and promoting fraternal living.