NATIONAL SPIRITUAL ASSISTANT
1. Any consideration of the job description of the National Spiritual Assistant must begin with Article 26 of the SFO Rule: “As a concrete sign of communion and co-responsibility, the (SFO) councils on various levels ... shall ask for suitable and well prepared religious for spiritual assistance. They should make this request to the superiors of the four religious Franciscan families, to whom the Secular Fraternity has been united for centuries.”
From this, we gather that the National Assistant is to be “suitable and well prepared”, and be an instrument of “communion and co-responsibility” in relation to the SFO National Council.
2. After the SFO Rule, the SFO General Constitutions are the most authoritative source of information for arriving at the job description of the National Assistant.
First, the Constitutions establish the identity of the National Assistant. The National Assistant should be a Franciscan religious, member of the First Order or the TOR (89.3). This should always be possible. He is to be: a witness of Franciscan spirituality; a witness of the fraternal affection of the friars towards the Secular Franciscans; a bond of communion between his Order and the SFO (89.3).
Then, the Constitutions establish the job of the National Assistant. His principal task is to communicate Franciscan spirituality and to co-operate in the continuing formation of the members of the National Council (90.1). His co-operation in the initial formation of Secular Franciscans involves him possibly in the preparation of suitable texts and certainly in their approval for use in the local Fraternities.
The National Assistant gives his service to the National Council, and collaborates with it in all its activities. He is a voting member of the National Council, except that he does not vote in its elections or on its financial dispositions (90.2).
The National Assistant sees to the spiritual assistance to the SFO in the whole territory of the National Fraternity, wherever his Order has established local Fraternities. With the two other National Assistants, they form a Conference and give their service to the National Fraternity collegially (90.3.b).
The National Assistant co-ordinates the Regional Assistants at the national level (90.3.b).
Much of the job of the National Assistant is described in his making pastoral visits.
Article 26 of the SFO Rule outlines the goals of the National Assistant’s pastoral visit: to promote fidelity to the Secular Franciscan charism; to promote observance of the SFO Rule (and General Constitutions, 95.1); to support the life of the National Fraternity.
The SFO Constitutions add some more goals: to revive the evangelical Franciscan spirit; to reinforce the bond of the unity of the SFO; to promote its most effective insertion into the Franciscan family and the Church (92.1).
It would not normally be the task of the National Assistant to visit the local Fraternities, since that is properly the job of the Regional Assistant. It belongs to the job of the National Assistant to visit the Regional Fraternities.
The National Assistant, as Visitor, gives attention to the relations between the Regional Fraternity and its Regional Spiritual Assistant and the local Church, the diocese. If possible, he meets the bishop, to foster communion and service for building up the local Church (95.2).
The National Assistant-Visitor promotes collaboration and co-responsibility between the Regional Assistant(s) and the Regional Minister and Council. He examines the quality of the spiritual assistance given by the Regional Assistant(s) to the Regional Fraternity, encourages the Regional Assistant in his service, and promotes his spiritual and pastoral formation, e.g., by conducting national seminars for Assistants (95.3).
The National Assistant-Visitor gives special attention to programmes, methods and experiences of formation at the regional level, also to the liturgical and prayer life, and to the apostolic activities of the Regional Fraternity (95.4).
3. After the SFO General Constitutions, the Statutes for Spiritual and Pastoral Assistance to the SFO are an authoritative source of information about the job of the National Assistant. Articles 19 and 20 of the Statutes are basically a summary of the indications of the SFO Rule and General Constitutions as they apply to the National Assistant, but they also include some other elements.
With regard to his own Order, the National Assistant is to keep his Provincial Minister, and any other major Superiors of his Order, informed about the life and activities of the SFO in the National Fraternity of Oceania (20.1).
He is to deal with matters regarding the service of assistance given by his Order to the SFO in the National Fraternity. He is to meet the local fraternities assisted by his own Order and keep constant fraternal contacts with the regional and local Assistants of his own Order, e.g., by regular newsletters (20.2).
When Article 13.3 of the Statutes for Assistance is applied specifically to the National Assistant, we see that the National Assistant participates actively and votes in the discussions and decisions taken by the National Council or by the National Chapter. He is specifically responsible for the animation of liturgical celebrations and spiritual reflections during the meetings of the National Council or of the National Chapter.
Conference of National Assistants
The Statutes describe the job of the National Assistant mostly in his working in a Conference of National Assistants (19.3).
It is the responsibility of the Conference to collaborate with the National Council in the task of spiritual and apostolic animation of the secular Franciscans in the life of the Church and of the society of the countries that comprise the National Fraternity, and in a special way in the formation of the SFO leaders.
The Conference is to provide for the pastoral visits of the Regional Councils and to ensure a presence at the regional elective Chapters.
The Conference coordinates at the national level the service of spiritual assistance, the formation of the Assistants, and the fraternal union among them.
The Conference is to foster the interest of the friars in the SFO and in the Franciscan Youth Movement.