FRANCISCAN YOUTH AND SPIRITUAL ASSISTANCE
Br. Ivan Matić, OFM
In this discourse we wish to reflect together on the Franciscan Youth (YouFra), studying, in a particular way its identity and mission, and in a second moment, the theme of spiritual and pastoral assistance, and the role of accompanying the young people who feel attracted by the example of Francis of Assisi, which has been entrusted to us by the Church.
Right from the time
of its birth in
All this was present in the new YouFra, which, in its youthful way of living and giving witness to Franciscan spirituality, became a new light and hope for society and for the Church. After almost 60 years, the Franciscan Youth continues to be attractive to many young people in many countries and, at the same time, continues to be a wonderful experience of the Franciscan spiritual journey for the young people of today.
Some excerpts that I selected from the document “YouFra: The journey of a Franciscan Vocation”, approved by the CIOFS Presidency in 2004, will help us to enter into the subject of “YouFra”. This document is a collection of all the experiences of the various Fraternities of YouFra throughout the world which presents, in a clear and synthetic way, the definition, identity, nature and mission of the YouFra.
Specific characteristics of YouFra
In the field of pastoral care of youth, it is found that young persons are attracted to St. Francis and that they wish to deepen their Christian and Franciscan vocation. To these young persons, Franciscan Youth and the SFO provide options, while respecting the demands of the youth in modern times, their crises, problems and questions.
Some of the essential elements in their vocational journey are:
- To feel the call of the Holy Spirit to undergo, in fraternity, the experience of Christian life;
- Progressive discovery of St. Francis, his project of life and his values;
- Ecclesial and social presence, as a condition for having concrete apostolic experiences.
The Franciscan Youth, as described in the SFO General constitutions, differs from other Franciscan youth groups by:
- The acceptance of the Rule of the SFO as an inspirational document;
- The personal and formal commitment made before God and the fraternity to live that inspiration;
Belonging to the Franciscan Family and deepening their own vocation within the context of the SFO
- The accompaniment and animation provided by Secular Franciscans;
- Spiritual and pastoral assistance;
- Its organisational structure and specific methods of formation for a vocational process which normally, but not necessarily, leads to the SFO;
- Proper National Statutes approved by the National Council of the SFO or, in its absence, by the Presidency of the CIOFS, which sets down the conditions to belong to the Franciscan Youth.
Members of the YouFra deepen their own vocation in the light of the message of St. Francis through an itinerary of progressive formation. Vocational discernment will be the main focus during this journey.
Normally, this vocational journey is made up of the following stages:
b. Formation for the promise in the YouFra
c. Deepening the personal call
SPIRITUAL AND PASTORAL ASSISTANCE
TO THE FRANCISCAN YOUTH
As a component part of the Franciscan Family, linked in a special way to the SFO, each YouFra fraternity should, in accordance with the General Constitutions of the SFO, request:
a) Fraternal animation from the authorities of the Secular Franciscans;
b) spiritual assistance from the competent religious Superiors.
With regard to fraternal animation, the SFO Fraternities, from among their responsibilities related to YouFra, must:
§ promote the Franciscan Youth vocation, through appropriate initiatives and dynamics;
§ take care of the vitality and expansion of the YouFra Fraternities;
§ accompany the young in their process of human and spiritual growth, through proposals of activities and of thematic contents.
Another important duty that the SFO Fraternities should take care of is that of giving the YouFra a fraternal Animator, who, together with the spiritual Assistant and the Council of YouFra, should guarantee a suitable secular Franciscan formation.
Spiritual and pastoral assistance
The Secular Franciscans, during their eight-century long history, always had close relations with the Friars of the First Order and TOR and, together with the Poor Clares of the Second Order, are an integral part of what we call the Franciscan Family. The Franciscan Youth, in so far as they are young lay people called to live the charism of St. Francis, also form part of the same Family.
According to the Code of Canon Law (CIC), the SFO and YouFra are considered to be associations of faithful with a specific mission in the Church and in society and must, therefore, be subjected to vigilance and have an Assistant. For this reason, and because of the historical and particular bonds between the secular and religious Franciscans, the Church has entrusted this pastoral and spiritual care to the Friars of the First Order and TOR. We find the following expressions in the General Constitutions of the SFO:
The spiritual and pastoral care of the SFO, entrusted by the Church to the Franciscan First Order and the TOR, is the duty above all of their General and Provincial Ministers. The altius moderamen, of which canon 303 speaks, belongs to them. The purpose of the altius moderamen is to guarantee the fidelity of the SFO to the Franciscan charism, communion with the Church and union with the Franciscan family, values which represent a vital commitment for the Secular Franciscans.
What this spiritual and pastoral care consists of and what the responsibility of the Major Superiors is are also expressed here. They must guarantee three fundamental aspects of the life and mission of the Secular Franciscans:
§ fidelity to the franciscan charism;
§ communion with the Church;
§ unity with the Franciscan Family.
It is shown in the Statutes for the spiritual and pastoral assistance to the SFO how to carry out this service. We read in art. 2 §1:
The spiritual and pastoral care is provided as a two-fold service:
- the fraternal office of the altius moderamen on the part of the Major Superiors;
- spiritual assistance to the fraternities and their Councils.
There is, therefore, a two-fold service: that of pastoral care (altius moderamen) and that of Spiritual Assistance to the Fraternities and their Councils.
This service can be exercised by the Major Superior personally or through his delegate, always assuring, however, assistance to all the Fraternities.
By virtue of the vital reciprocity between the religious and the secular members of the Franciscan Family and in regard to the responsibilities of Major Superiors, spiritual assistance to the fraternities of the SFO at all levels must be assured as a fundamental element of communion.
In the Statutes for Assistance (art. 2,3) we also find an explanation of what should be the aim of spiritual assistance:
The purpose of spiritual assistance is to foster communion with the Church and with the Franciscan Family through witness and sharing of Franciscan spirituality, to cooperate in initial and on-going formation of secular Franciscans and to express the fraternal affection of the religious towards the SFO.
According to the General Constitutions of the SFO the pastoral and spiritual care of the Secular Franciscans, on the international level, should be exercised collegially by the Ministers General of the First Order and TOR. On the National and Regional levels, the Major Superiors, who exercise their jurisdiction in the same territory as the SFO-YouFra, should agree on their duty collegially.
In this regard, we find the following expressions about collegial assistance by the spiritual Assistants on various levels in the General Constitutions (art. 90,3):
§ On the international level: The general assistants give their service to the Presidency of the International Council of the SFO, form a conference, and collegially see to the spiritual assistance to the SFO as a whole.
§ On the national level: The national assistants give their service to the national council, see to the spiritual assistance to the SFO in the whole territory of the national fraternity and, at the national level, to the co-ordination of the regional assistants. If they are more than one, they form a conference and give their service collegially.
§ On the regional level: The regional assistants give their service to the regional council and see to the spiritual assistance to the regional fraternity. If they are more than one, they form a conference and give their service collegially.
The Spiritual Assistant
In art. 89 §§2 and 3 of the General Constitutions of the SFO, we find a broad and complete definition of the spiritual Assistant:
2. The spiritual assistant is the person designated by the competent Major Superior to carry out this service for a specific fraternity of the SFO.
3. To be a witness of Franciscan spirituality and of the fraternal affection of the religious towards the secular Franciscans, and to be a bond of communion between his Order and the SFO, the spiritual assistant should be a Franciscan religious, member of the First Order or the TOR.
It is interesting to note how the expression “the person designated” is understood, first, a Franciscan religious, who is designated (appointed) by his Major Superior to carry out the service of assistance, but, as it says in art. 89 §4, it can refer to other people, who may be appointed to this service.
Nothing is said in the article about the priestly state of the Assistant, since his specific task is not that of sacramental but rather of spiritual assistance. This article, therefore, permits the Major Superiors of the First Order and TOR to appoint a religious who is not a priest to assist a certain Fraternity spiritually.
Through his appointment, which should be made in writing by the Major Superior, the Assistant becomes a member by right, with vote, of the Council of that Fraternity to which he gives assistance and with which he collaborates in all its activities. The Assistant does not enjoy, however, the right to vote in economic matters or in elections on the various levels. Through his appointment, the Assistant becomes a witness to Franciscan spirituality and to the fraternal affection of the religious towards the secular Franciscans, and to be a bond of communion between his Order and the SFO.
There is another very important thing, which, in practice, constitutes something new in the General Constitutions of the SFO. Given that in different countries, because of the lack of Franciscan religious, many SFO-YouFra Fraternities are without a spiritual assistant, art. 89 §4, as has already been pointed out, offers new possibilities to the Major Superiors in the appointment of Assistants. Whenever, indeed, there are no Friars available, the Major Superiors may appoint other people for the service of spiritual assistance.
When it is not possible to give such a spiritual assistant to the fraternity, the competent Major Superior can entrust the service of spiritual assistance to:
a) religious brothers or sisters of other Franciscan institutes;
b) diocesan clerics or other persons, specially prepared for such service, who are members of the SFO;
c) other diocesan clerics or non-Franciscan religious.
As we can see, the General Constitutions of the SFO indicate some preferences which are in function of the vital reciprocal communion between the SFO and the First Order and TOR. We can say that an Assistant who is a Franciscan religious belonging to the First Order or TOR would be preferred because only such an Assistant can be fully witness to Franciscan spirituality and to the fraternal affection of the religious towards the secular Franciscans, and to be a bond of communion between his Order and the SFO.
When this is not possible, and in order not to leave the Fraternities without spiritual assistance, the Major Superior may appoint other people: a religious belonging to another Franciscan Institute, because the religious way of living the franciscan charism integrates better the secular way of living the Gospel after the manner of St. Francis; people belonging to the SFO, who could be diocesan priests or other Secular Franciscans specifically prepared for this service; or diocesan priests or non-Franciscan religious.
In the appointment of spiritual Assistants, when they are requested, the Major Superiors are asked to listen to the requests of the SFO-YouFra Councils, guaranteeing dialogue and an exchange of opinions about the appointment.
The Spiritual Assistant to the YouFra
The YouFra is a process which offers young people the possibility to live their own vocation in the light of the Franciscan ideal in the ambience of the SFO and within the Franciscan Family.
In the document YouFra: The Journey of a Franciscan Vocation, a basic document for the YouFra, approved by the CIOFS Presidency in 2004, we find the following in point 6:
YouFra, as a component of the Franciscan Family, needs spiritual assistance in order to guarantee its fidelity to the Franciscan charism, communion with the Church and its unity with the Franciscan Family.
The main role of the Assistant is always the spiritual role of nourishing the Christian and Franciscan life of the Fraternity and of helping the Council to discern what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Fraternity. This does not only mean “giving”, but implies being able to receive, to allow oneself to become involved in the reciprocity of communion and of fraternal love for the YouFra.
As the delegate of his Major Superior, the Assistant to the YouFra must give witness to the franciscan religious spirituality and to the fraternal love of the religious for the YouFra, to the communion between the franciscan religious and the Franciscan Youth; he must be a guarantor of the fidelity of the YouFra to the franciscan charism, of their communion with the Church and of the unity of the YouFra with the Franciscan Family.
Since it is a question of spiritual assistance to the young in their vocational journey and of deepening their vocation, the Assistant has the very particular task of helping the young people in their vocational discernment, which should be based on an integral human, Christian and Franciscan formation.
The document, YouFra: The Journey of a Franciscan Vocation then pauses on the appointment and profile of the Assistants:
The appointment of Spiritual Assistants pertains to the competent Franciscan Major Superiors in an analogy with what is established in the Statutes for the Spiritual and Pastoral Assistance to the SFO. In so far as is possible, the service of assistance to the YouFra and SFO should be carried out by the same person.
I would like, in this regard, to underline an aspect of relations between the SFO and the YouFra. It is advised, in the document, that as far as is possible, the spiritual Assistant of a Fraternity of YouFra should be the same as that of the SFO Fraternity in order to favour stronger communion, knowledge and sharing between the two Fraternities, thanks to the Spiritual Assistant.
The Assistant must help the Fraternity to live unity in diversity and to respect autonomies, different ways of living fraternal life, different formative methods, the way of holding meetings or doing the various apostolic activities, keeping in mind, however, that it is certainly very nice and important to share some moments of prayer, encounter, formation and apostolic activities together in order to give witness to the common mission.
The Assistant in the formation of the YouFra
The Assistant has a particular role in the area of formation, that of cooperating with the fraternal animator and the Council of YouFra in the formation of the young. However, the responsibility of all the Fraternity of the YouFra for the accompaniment of its members is not diminished by the fact of having a Spiritual Assistant and Fraternal Animator. The two figures are complementary but do not substitute for the work of the YouFra as a Council, as a Fraternity and as people.
It is necessary for the Franciscan Youth to receive a solid human, Christian and Franciscan formation in order to be able to live their Christian life in Fraternity. They must be helped to know Franciscan spirituality and the Franciscan Family better. It is a question, therefore, of a more practical rather than a theoretical formation, which is based on lived experiences in the Fraternity and, as far as possible, with other Franciscans, religious and secular.
The Spiritual Assistant, in his cooperation with the accompaniment of the young Franciscans, must:
- accompany the young in living their life according to the Gospel;
- help and accompany the young in the continuous conversion requested by the Gospel;
- know how to listen, wait, have patience and, above all, to love;
- enter into personal dialogue with the young, help them in their progress and, in a particular way, in their vocational discernment;
- collaborate in forming the young to the fulfilment of their mission in the Church and in society.
I wish to conclude this discourse with the words of the four Ministers General on the occasion of the presentation of the Rule of the SFO, words which express all the affection and fraternal love of the Franciscan religious for the Secular Franciscans and Franciscan Youth:
We, the Franciscan Ministers, with all our Friars are ever ready and open to offer you all our assistance so that we may walk together in the way of the Lord.
 Cf. Const. 96,6.
 Cf. Const. 97,1.
 Cf. Const. 97,2.
 From Franciscan history and from the Constitutions of the Franciscan First Order and of the TOR, it is patently clear that these Orders recognise that they are involved by virtue of their common origin and charism and by the desire of the Church for the spiritual and pastoral assistance to the SFO. Cf. Constitutions OFM, 60; Id. OFMConv, 116; Id. OFMCap 95; Id. TOR, 157; The Rule of the Third Order of Pope Leo XIII, 3,3; The Rule approved by Paul VI, 26.
 CIC, 301,3; 312; 313.
 CIC, 305,1.
 Cf. Const. 85,2.
 see CIC 303
 Cf. Const. 86,1.
 Const. 89,1.
 Cf. Const. 89,3; 90,1.
 Cf. Const. 87,1.
 Cf. Const. 87,5.
 Const. 90, 3 a.
 Const. 90, 3 b.
 Const. 90, 3 c.
 Cf. Const. 90, 2; Statutes for Assistance, 12, 3.
 Cf. Const. 89, 3.
 Cf. Const 91,3.
 Cf. Const. 85,2.
 Cf. Statutes for Assistance, 5, 2; 11, 2.
 Cf. Const 97,2.