ST. FRANCIS AND YOUTH
Ivan Matic OFM, General Assistant SFO
St. Francis began his journey of faith during his youth. He was always seeking something greater: he had plans and projects for his life, he was a youth with great desires, he sought answers to his questions about the meaning of life. Growing up, however, Francis felt that something was missing, especially after his experience of war and of the terrible illness that struck him. And so Francis began to listen, seeking a response that could calm his heart.
We could say that he was a young man like so many others that, in our times, seek answers to the many questions that they bear in their hearts. In the field of youth pastoral activity, we find many young people who are attracted to St. Francis and who wish to deepen their faith by following his example.
Lord, what do you want me to do?
At the beginning of Francis's conversion, following a mysterious dream in Spoleto, the Lord made him return to Assisi and he, with internal expectancy, repeated many times with his whole heart the question: "Lord, what do you want me to do?" This question is also the question of many young people today.
With this question in his heart, Francis adopted an attitude of profound listening, trying to perceive what the Lord wanted of him. This could be the starting point for all of us. Lord, what do you want me to do? What do you want from me? These are the questions that many young people put to the Lord, seeking His will. To seek the will of God, as in the experience of Francis, means to adopt an attitude of listening, listening and waiting, until the Lord speaks.
One day before the Crucifix in the chapel of San Damiano, Francis heard the Lord, who was saying to him: "Francis, go and repair my house, which, as you see, is all being destroyed" (cf. 2Cel VI, 10). For Francis, this was a real encounter with Jesus Christ, risen and alive, that gave new direction to his life. Not immediately understanding the meaning of the command, Francis became a restorer of churches, seeking only to respond to the wish of the Lord.
This second powerful moment in the personal experience of St. Francis could help us to understand that a profound journey of faith cannot be ours without a real encounter with Jesus Christ. The fundamental question for young people is: Is it possible to meet with Jesus Christ even today? Where can He be found? How?
The response to similar questions could bring about a profound journey of faith. To have a real experience of an encounter with the Lord very often means, for young people, to enter into a more profound listening to the Word of God.
Another moment in the experiences of Francis that could help us to understand the second step in the service of youth is, then, his meeting up with the Word of God. Listening to the Word of God had a decisive importance for Francis. Not knowing what the second step to be fulfilled was, Francis, in the little church of St. Mary of the Angels, called the Porziuncola, listened to the excerpt from the Gospel of Matthew where the Lord indicates to His Apostles how they should go through the world preaching the Gospel. He then fully understood his vocation: to go throughout the world and to announce the Good News to all.
After the priest explained the meaning of those words Francis exclaimed with great joy: "This is what I want, this is what I seek, this is what I desire with all my heart" ( cf. 1Cel IX, 22).
The understanding of their vocation represents a great difficulty for many young people today. However, many of them have found, and are finding in the experience of Francis, a possibility and a way to understand how one's vocation can be discovered by listening to the Word of God.
Sometimes, especially at the beginning, it will be necessary to go out to meet the young, to be where they are and not to wait for them to come to us. This means going out of our own environment and going among them, sharing their life. Later it will be they, once they are convinced of the beauty of being together, who will bring their friends along to share the same experience. We must help them to discover that God has a life project for each one of us. To discover such a project means entering into communion with God and that means entering into living in true joy and love.
Many see all this in Francis: a person full of joy, love and peace. But Francis only found this interior peace, which he sought with all his heart, through accepting God's project. For that reason his life became a hymn to the Most High God and a continuous act of thanksgiving to the Lord.
Living the Gospel
From the moment he had experienced the full sweetness and power of the Word of God, the Gospel became, for Francis, the rule of his life. He heard his Lord, who spoke to him in the Gospel. How beautiful it is to have an experience of friendship with the Word of God, following the example of St. Francis. How many young people need exactly this experience. How beautiful it is to hear a young person, who, after an authentic encounter with the Word of God, confesses: God has also spoken to me; He loves me; the Lord loves me very much, he has pardoned me.
To make the Gospel their rule of life is the primary duty of all Christians. Young people, especially those attracted to St. Francis because of his way of living and expressing his faith in Jesus Christ, can be a true sign of life for the world of today.
To those young people who feel themselves called by the Holy Spirit to live this experience together, in fraternity, we can propose the form of life of the Franciscan Youth Movement or of the Secular Franciscan Order.
A brief history of the Franciscan Youth
The Fra.Youth was born officially in 1948. The Minister General OFM, Pacifico Perantoni, united all the youth groups guided by the Friars of the Order into one single federation (initially called The Franciscan Youth of Catholic Action).
Among the Capuchins, on the other hand, the Franciscan Youth was founded as a confederation of youth groups from Milan, Ascoli Piceno and Florence. The confederation gradually extended to other youth groups guided by the Capuchins. During the 50's the Conventual Friars also began a gradual promotion of Fra.Youth among their own youth groups. In 1958, after just ten years, there were already 453 groups spread throughout the whole national territory of Italy. In 1954, the Capuchins approved the first Statutes of the Fra.Youth (accepted also by the Conventual Friars in 1958).
In 1968, the Capuchins began to elaborate a second version of the Statutes of Fra.Youth, Our Face (approved in 1971), valid immediately for groups guided by the Friars Minor also, and accepted later (1974) by the community of Friars Minor Conventual. During the second half of the 70's, the need was felt for a new national document for all the young people belonging to the Fra.Youth fraternities. The inter-obediential National Assemblies of Viterbo (1977), Nola (1978) and Seiano (1980) led to the elaboration of a first draft of what was to become, a few years later, the "form of life" or third Statutes of the Fra.Youth.
The provisional text was submitted to careful examination by the International Council of the Secular Franciscan Order, at which there also arrived a request for the formulation of some orientations for Franciscan Youth throughout the whole world.
Finally, the inter-obediential National Assembly gathered in Paestum, in July 1984, approved the definitive text of the Statutes, adapted to follow the international lines of the Fra.Youth.
The international lines of the Fra.Youth
The Presidency of the CIOFS, in 1995, approved a document for those in charge and the animators of Fra.Youth. This document was intended to develop and deepen the indications furnished by the General Chapter of Mexico City (October 1993) on the topic "Youth Pastoral Activity and Franciscan Youth". The recent General Chapter, held in Rome in November 2002, also made Franciscan Youth one of the priorities of the Order and proposed to meet the needs regarding the Fra.Youth Movement made manifest from many parts.
The Presidency of the CIOFS, for this reason, decided to review the latest document for the Fra.Youth, of 1995, through an ad hoc commission for Fra.Youth, of which I form part. This document will become an orienting and common document for the whole Fra.Youth in order to give its own physiognomy to all fraternities of young Franciscans that are being developed or are arising in various countries of the world.
Reflecting on this basic document and especially on the changes that are necessary to achieve after the approval of the General Constitutions of the SFO and of the other documents, I also ask you for some suggestions with which we could, together, enrich this document for the good of the Secular Franciscan Youth.
FRANCISCAN YOUTH: A FRANCISCAN VOCATIONAL JOURNEY
1. What is the Franciscan Youth?
a. Spiritual characteristics
1. The Franciscan Youth,... is formed by those young people... (Const. 96,2). The Franciscan Youth (YOUFRA) is formed by young people, which means that it is intended to be for a specific period of life, limited to youth, which starts at the beginning of adolescence and ends upon reaching personal maturity.
2. ... who feel called by the Holy Spirit to... deepen their own vocation... (Const. 96,2). Franciscan Youth engage in a vocational journey, which presupposes an initial call developing itself into a lasting choice of life. The call solicits a personal answer from the young, confirmed by a personal pledge before God and in the presence of the brothers and sisters.
3. ... to share the experience of the Christian life in fraternity... (Const. 96,2). The Franciscan Youth is an experience of fraternity, that is a community of young believers, children of the one Father, sharing their faith on the basis of love. This fraternity forms part of the ecclesial community in which it lives and works.
4. ... in the light of the message of St Francis of Assisi, deepening their own vocation within the context of the Secular Franciscan Order (Const. 96,2). The Franciscan Youth journeys in the light of the message of Saint Francis of Assisi, that is, it discovers and progressively assimilates this life-project and its values. The Franciscan Youth belongs to the Franciscan Family as an integral part of the SFO, and accepts the Rule of the SFO as a document of inspiration. It requests spiritual and pastoral assistance from the religious Superiors and and fraternal animation from the competent secular Franciscan leaders.
b. Organizational characteristics
5. The Franciscan Youth has a specific organization... (Const. 96, 5). The Franciscan Youth has its own organization, which can be specified in its Statutes. It has is own fraternities, its own leaders at all levels and its own spiritual assistance and fraternal animation.
6. ... methods of formation and teaching methods adequate for the needs of the world of youth... (Const. 96,5). The Franciscan Youth adapts itself to the needs of the world of youth in its methods and contents of formation. This formation is organized in such a way that the young person develops mature vocational choices and enters fully into the world where she or he lives.
7. ... according to the existing realities in the various countries (Const. 96,5). The Franciscan Youth is present in many countries and constitutes an extremely varied reality defying uniformity. The socio-cultural situation determines what it is to be young, what responsibilities young people can assume, and what possibilities of formation and action are open to them.
c. Relationship Franciscan Youth - SFO
8. The Franciscan Youth, as understood by these Constitutions and in so far as the SFO considers itself to be particularly responsible for it... (Const. 96, 2). The Franciscan Youth presupposes a special commitment of the SFO as a part of its own pastoral and vocational youth work. For this reason the SFO needs to accompany the youth, to help them develop a mature vocation and to introduce them into the life of the fraternity.
9. The members of the Franciscan Youth consider the Rule of the SFO as an inspirational document... (Const. 96 3). The Franciscan Youth accepts the Rule of the SFO as a document of inspiration for the growth of its own Christian and Franciscan vocation, either individually or in a group. The relations between the Franciscan Youth and the SFO should be marked by a reciprocal life-giving communion. For this reason, the vocational journey of the Franciscan Youth leads generally, but not necessarily, to the SFO.
10. The Franciscan Youth, as a component of the Franciscan Family... (Const. 96, 6). The Franciscan Youth belongs to the Franciscan family as an integral part of the SFO, and will therefore be accompanied and animated by secular Franciscans. In addition, its leaders at higher levels are to be professed Secular Franciscan Youth (see Const. 97, 3).
11. A representative of the Franciscan Youth is to be designated by his or her council to form part of the SFO council of the corresponding level; a representative of the SFO, designated by his or her own council, forms part of the council of the Franciscan Youth of the same level. The representative of the Franciscan Youth has a vote in the SFO council only if he or she is a professed secular Franciscan (Const. 97, 4).
12. The representatives of the Franciscan Youth in the international council of the SFO are elected according to the international statutes which also determine how many there are, what fraternities they represent, and what their responsibilities are supposed to be. (Const. 97, 5).
2. Vocational journey
13. The Young Franciscans deepen their personal vocation in the light of the message of Saint Francis by an itinery of progressive formation. The whole itinery will be focusing on vocational discernment.
This vocational journey will normally consist of the following periods:
14. This is a period of seeking, of making contact, of approaching, of welcome, which ends with the decision to begin the period of formation for the pledge in the Franciscan Youth. For the young person, this is the first experience of the Franciscan Youth, centreing on the question what to do in the group and what it is all about. From its side, the Franciscan Youth informs the young person about ideals and requirements, about the method and style characterizing the Franciscan Youth. The length of this period depends on the personal situation of each candidate and on the Franciscan Youth fraternity. If appropriate, the National Statutes can determine the length of this period, e.g., between three and six months, taking into account the situation of youth coming from other groups of Franciscan youth or adolescents.
The minimum age to enter the Franciscan Youth will depend on the development of the individual young person and on the cultural situation. One should, however, keep in mind that the Franciscan Youth is not for children. If appropriate, the National Statutes can determine the minimum age to enter the Franciscan Youth, e.g., between 14 and 17 years.
b. Formation for the pledge in the Franciscan Youth
15. This is a period of formation and full integration of the candidates into the life of the youth fraternity. At the end of this period, they confirm this option with a personal pledge before God and in the presence of the brothers and sisters. For the young person, this is the time to discover and to live the Gospel according to the example of Saint Francis from within this specific youth fraternity. This requires always a willingness and constancy to confront one's own life with the Gospel, to acquire progressively Franciscan values, lived in a spirit of dedication and of service to others. From its side, the Franciscan Youth fraternity accompanies the young person on this journey of searching and growing in the spirit.
The National Statutes of the Franciscan Youth can establish the minimum length of this period, which cannot be less than one year. If it seems appropriate, they can also determine the maximum length of this formation for the pledge in the Franciscan Youth.
It belongs to the local Council of the Franciscan Youth to admit the candidates to the pledge, according to the provisions established in the National Statutes.
c. Deepening one's vocation
16. This is a period of verification of the vocation, in which the young person grasps and deepens the values composing Secular Franciscan spirituality and its mission in the Church and in society. It comes to a conclusion at the moment the young person makes adult life choices.
For the young person, this is the moment to assimilate the inspiration of the SFO Rule and to translate it into daily life, in order to verify her or his real vocation in life and which answer to give to God's call. It entails lived experiences of communion and participation with the brothers and sisters in the context of the Franciscan Family and experiences of mission and service in the Church and in society. From its side, the fraternity helps the young person to clarify and discern which vocation better responds to one's own capacities and desires.
This period is temporary and cannot be prolonged indefinitely for the simple fact that the period of initial life choices, the stage of discernment, is only a passing moment in the life of any person. At the point where the young adult takes a definitive choice, he or she has to leave the Franciscan Youth. The maximum age to leave the Franciscan Youth depends on the individual and social situation of the person, e.g. marriage, completion of professional preparation, acceptance of a definitive job, fundamental life choices. The national Statutes must determine the maximum age of belonging to the Franciscan Youth, e.g. between 25 and 30 years, but no more then 30 years.
3. Relation Franciscan Youth - SFO
a. Passing over to the SFO
17. The members of the Franciscan Youth who wish to make profession in the SFO should satisfy the requirements of the Rule, the Constitutions and the Ritual of the SFO (Const. 96, 4). The vocational journey of the Franciscan Youth generally, but not necessarily, leads to the SFO. For this reason, the Franciscan formation received in the Franciscan Youth by a young person who wants to enter the SFO can be considered valid for the period of initiation (postulancy) in the SFO. The period of initial formation (novitiate) in the SFO has to be lived under the responsibility of the Council of the SFO Fraternity which the young person wants to enter, in conformity with the Rule and the Constitutions of the SFO.
b. Simultaneous belonging to Franciscan Youth and SFO
18. Because of the continuity of the vocational journey from the Franciscan Youth towards the SFO, the profession in the SFO does not necessarily exclude the young person from the Franciscan Youth fraternity. The young person, who by profession in the SFO accepts the Rule as a life-project, can continue this journey together with the brothers and sisters of the Franciscan Youth, who take that same rule as a source of inspiration. Various reasons can recommend that the young person be simultaneously active member of both fraternities: the Franciscan Youth fraternity and the SFO fraternity. It might be that the Franciscan Youth fraternity needs the contribution of the young professed to animate the other youth, either as a leader in the Franciscan Youth fraternity or as a simple active member.
It is in any case important that the young professed actively participates in both fraternities, even when, in accord with the SFO Council, these activities refer in preference to the Franciscan Youth.
c. Animation of the Franciscan Youth
19. The SFO will seek the most appropriate means to promote the vitality and the spreading of the Franciscan Youth. It will stand by the youth to encourage them and to procure the means which can help them to progress in their journey of human and spiritual growth (Const. 97, 1).
20. These means will vary according to the situations, but one of the most important means will always be a living contact with the SFO fraternity. Therefore, local fraternities should create space for welcoming young people into the dynamics of the meetings and for giving young people specific tasks in the fraternity. It is equally important that the meetings of the SFO fraternity be flexible in their organization, by a more creative use of the possibility to form specific sections or groups inside the SFO fraternity.
21. Another indispensable means of animating Franciscan Youth is the direct accompaniment by capable members of the SFO. The Constitutions of the SFO contemplate fraternal animation to the Franciscan Youth and the presence of an SFO representative in the councils of the Franciscan Youth at all levels. Normally, even if not necessarily, the SFO representative in the Franciscan Youth council will also be the fraternal animator of the Franciscan Youth.
d. Spiritual and Pastoral Assistance of the Franciscan Youth
22. Equally indispensable is the spiritual and pastoral assistance of the Franciscan Youth by Franciscan religious. The Franciscan Youth, as a component of the Franciscan Family, needs spiritual assistance in order to guarantee its fidelity to the Franciscan charism, its communion with the Church and its union with the Franciscan Family (Const. 85,2). The appointment of spiritual assistants and animators of the Franciscan Youth belongs to the competent Franciscan major superior, in analogy to what is established by the Statutes for spiritual and pastoral assistance to the SFO (see Stat. Assist. 5, 12; 15). As far as possible, the service of spiritual assistance to the Franciscan Youth and to the SFO should be rendered by the same person, and in any case, in close cooperation between the respective animators and assistants.
23. At times the young prefer certain Assistant, who easily understand their problems. This natural facility of an Assistant, however, can also constitute a very subtle temptation of "-command-", to appropriate power for oneself and to dominate the young. Not without reason Francis often exhorts us to expropriate ourselves from all things to be "-subject to all human creatures for the love of God-". All the good which the Lord operates through the Assistants should not be retained, but put at the humble service of the young.
4. Form and content of formation
24. The Franciscan Youth has specific... methods of formation, and teaching methods adequate for the needs of the world of youth... (Const. 96, 5). To be adequate for the needs of the world of youth, the methods of formation must be flexible in their form and content. Youth trends in all countries change continuously and develop rapidly. A strong sense of one's own identity will be important to discern what needs to be changed and what would be only following some fad or fashion.
25. ... according to the existing realities in the various countries (Const. 96, 5). Existing realities in various countries also present a factor of diversity in the form and content of formation. On the other hand, this diversity should never invalidate the basic unity of formation criteria. To reach its goals, this formation should incorporate human, Christian and Franciscan aspects.
5. Franciscan Youth organization
a. The local fraternity
26. The local fraternity is the constitutive cell of the Franciscan Youth and the context in which the young share their experience of our Christian life in fraternity, in the light of the message of St. Francis of Assisi. The fraternity should meet frequently, e.g., each week, to live together its relationship with God and with the brothers and sisters. It is important that the meetings integrate moments of prayer and formation with elements of action and recreation. The meetings should be organized in such a way as to favour the insertion of the Franciscan Youth fraternity into the Franciscan Family and into the local Church.
27. The official recognition of the local fraternity of the Franciscan Youth belongs to the Franciscan Youth council of a higher level in collaboration with the council of the local SFO fraternity, i.e., the two councils with whom the new Franciscan Youth fraternity will be in relation. In absence of structures of the Franciscan Youth, the interested SFO councils should provide. The competent religious superior from whom spiritual assistance is to be requested, should be informed.
28. The local fraternity is animated and guided by a council of five members, elected, for a limited period, by and from among the members of that fraternity who have made their pledge in the Franciscan Youth. The representative of the SFO and the spiritual assistant are also members of the Council. It belongs to the local Council of the Franciscan Youth to admit candidates to the formation for the pledge in the Franciscan Youth and, after completing the formation, to the pledge itself.
b. The regional fraternity
29. If deemed appropriate, the national Statutes of the Franciscan Youth can determine whether regional fraternities of the Franciscan Youth in the country should exist and how they should be established. In such a case, these Statutes should also determine the composition and competencies of the regional Chapter and Council.
c. The national fraternity
30. The national fraternity of the Franciscan Youth is the organic union of all local Franciscan Youth fraternities, existing in the territory of the corresponding national fraternity of the SFO. The official recognition of new national fraternities of the Franciscan Youth belongs to the national Council of the SFO. The national fraternity of the Franciscan Youth can draft its own Statutes, which should be approved by the National Council of the SFO or, in the case when it does not exist, by the Presidency of the International Council SFO (cf. Const. 96, 5).
6. Other Franciscan youth groups
a. Specific properties of the Franciscan Youth
31. In the field of youth work, we find young people attracted to Saint Francis, who want to deepen their Franciscan vocation. To them we should propose the options of the form of life of Franciscan Youth and of the SFO, fully respecting the needs of the world of youth with its crises, problems and questions.
32. Some essential elements of their vocational journey are:
- a feeling of being called by the Holy Spirit to live in fraternity the experience of Christian life; - a progressive discovering of Saint Francis, of his life-project and his values; - an ecclesial and social presence, as a condition to living concrete experiences of apostolate.
33. The Franciscan Youth, as meant by the SFO General Constitutions, differentiates itself from other groups of young Franciscans by:
- its acceptance of the Rule of the SFO as a document of inspiration; - the personal and formal commitment taken before God and the fraternity to live out this inspiration; - its belonging to the Franciscan family as an integral part of the SFO; - its being accompanied and animated by Secular Franciscans; - its own organizational structure and specific methods of formation, in a vocational journey which generally, but not necessarily, leads to the SFO; - its own national Statutes, approved by the national Council of SFO, or, in the case when it does not exist, by the Presidency of the International Council SFO (cf. Const. 96, 5), which regulates the conditions of belonging to the Franciscan Youth.
b. Groups of children and youngsters
34. Already for a long time there exist, in the context of the Franciscan Family, groups of youngsters or of children, who are called Heralds, Cordbearers, Franciscan Children, Little Flowers, Troubadours, Micro-Franciscan Youth, Mini-Franciscan Youth, etc. Many of these groups are animated by members of the Franciscan Youth or by secular or religious Franciscans. It is at times easier to start and to animate groups of children, mostly of Secular Franciscans, than groups of adolescents or youth.
35. The life of these groups will be very much linked to the local fraternity of the Fra.Youth and of the SFO and its development will depend heavily on the presence of suitable animators. In any case, it is important that the national councils of the SFO and the Franciscan Youth, in collaboration with interested religious, coordinate this service of animation and prepare didactic material in support of these groups (cf. Const. 25).