THE NATIONAL FRATERNITY OF OCEANIA
(Australia, New Zealand, Singapore-Sabah, and Papua New Guinea)
Helen Britton, National Minister SFO-Oceania
Fraternity of Oceania is the union of all the Catholic Secular
Fraternities that exist in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore-Sabah and Papua New Guinea. This is a very large geographical area
and consists of five nations and very diverse cultures. It
consists of eight Regional Fraternities: 37 fraternities in Australia (within six Regional Fraternities which
are determined by the State boundaries of the country); 13 fraternities in New Zealand (one Regional Fraternity); six
fraternities in Singapore-Sabah (one Regional Fraternity) with eight
fraternities in Papua New Guinea (not yet established as a Regional
To animate and guide
these Regional Fraternities is a mammoth task 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. All the work is done voluntarily by members
dedicated to the task of leadership.
Executive is given Spiritual Assistance by the Conference of National
Assistants which consists of a friar from each Obedience in Australia: Capuchin, Conventual and Friar
Minor. We are extremely grateful to the
First Order for this National Assistance and for the time and effort these
three friars give to our Order.
Fraternity has a Regional Executive which animates and guides it. Each 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 but this is because of the geographic situation. They are separated by extreme distances so they
need to operate in this way to be effective.
There is no regional structure as yet in Papua New Guinea.
The eight fraternities are often in very inaccessible terrain and
operate mainly with the support of the local communities of Franciscan
Recently, late in
2006, moves have come from Papua New Guinea regarding the formation of a Regional
Fraternity. Much education and formation
needs to be
done before a
Regional Fraternity can be established.
As was mentioned in
the Report to the First Asian-Oceania Congress, it had been envisioned by the
National Fraternity of Oceania that when the time is ripe the National
Fraternity of Oceania divide into possibly three National Fraternities:
Australia; (2) New Zealand; (3) Singapore with Malaysia.
It was also mentioned
in the Report that the Regional Fraternity of Singapore/Sabah has not been able
to operate in a totally successful way at this stage and we see it would in no
way be capable of being constituted as a National Fraternity. Nor can we see at
this stage that Singapore and Sabah are ready to be constituted by the
National Council of Oceania as separate Regional Fraternities.
In the past 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.
General Description/Characteristics of Membership
The SFO in Oceania has approximately 1,200 members, around
860 of whom are active and 340 are inactive because of age, sickness or
distance from established fraternities.
There are approximately 200 in Formation. The average member is in the 60+ age
bracket. Up till now, we have not had youth
groups or children’s groups. However, in recent years a group of young people
of Croatian heritage has been meeting at St Johns Park, in suburban Sydney.
Hopefully it will emerge as a Franciscan Youth Group. Yet another hopeful sign is the recent (2006)
initiative of the Victorian Regional Council in establishing a youth group at
Springvale, in suburban Melbourne, Victoria.
Most of our members
have completed secondary schooling while many have completed tertiary
education. They work in varied occupations
and come from both urban and rural backgrounds.
Most of our Fraternities are in major cities and towns, although we are
now seeing interest shown in smaller non-urban areas and country towns.
Executive, in acknowledging the prime importance of Formation, voted to send
our National Formator, Susan Casey, to attend the first of the Formation Courses
for Formators organized by the International Formation Commission, held in Rome in March 2006. Susan was accompanied by our National Vice-Minister
Helen Jarick who subsidized her own way to the Course. Since returning from Rome, the two have formed a committee within
the National Executive and they plan Formation Days. Sue and Helen both addressed our National
Council Meeting held in Sydney
in April 2006. Sue visited the Victorian Regional Council in late 2006. Later this year, Sue and Helen will visit Singapore to impart their knowledge to the Formators
of the Singapore/Sabah Regional Fraternity.
engage in many apostolates, e.g., support of Franciscan Missions, work within a
soup kitchen, financial support of homeless children in the Philippines, financial support of “Genesis” a Pregnancy
Support Service. Individual members serve within local ecclesial structures
as catechists, readers, Extraordinary
Ministers of Holy Communion, choir leaders as well as working with street people in an inner city area,
visiting the sick, elderly and lonely.
Fraternity has its particular apostolates, e.g., annually writing to Members of
Parliament enclosing the Franciscan Prayer Calendar and supporting Putting Christ in Christmas advertising
campaign. The SFO in Oceania supports underprivileged Franciscan Families
in India through Project Adoption, which provides ongoing financial support.
Special Difficulties and Challenges
As was mentioned in
our first Report, 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. In
most cases, our Visitations are carried out at the time of presiding at
Regional Elective Chapters, which is not the ideal, but travel is so very expensive.
By means of the Internet,
we are able to keep our Regional Ministers and Regional Assistants up-to-date
with both National and CIOFS exhortations.
Through our National Fraternity Newsletter, the Oceania Newsletter, we endeavour to keep our members informed of
both national and international (CIOFS) affairs. This publication is usually
published three times a year.
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 the last two Executive terms, two members
have been elected or have moved interstate.
Since 2001, two
members have traveled
bi-monthly to Sydney at their own expense. Currently, both the International Councillor
and the National Minister travel from Victoria to Sydney for the National Executive meetings. This situation, which was raised at the first
Asian-Ocean Congress, still remains, although raised at the 2004 Elective
Chapter. We need a better system to work
Prospects for the Future
Despite the fact of
our ageing membership, there are signs of growth in many areas of Oceania. Those
in Formation have increased, particularly in New Zealand and Sabah. There is the emergence 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 and others for
Committee for Care of Inquirers was formed in 2006 in an attempt to answer the
need to do something positive for isolated inquirers.
The emergence of the
young Croatian group in suburban Sydney
and the young Franciscan group in Springvale, suburban Melbourne augurs well
The Weekend Workshop
for Formation of Secular Franciscans as Spiritual Assistants, to be held in
Sydney on the weekend of 8 to 11 June 2007 is a positive initiative to try to augment
the number of Spiritual Assistants.
It is hoped that the
establishment of an Office of Franciscans International in Bangkok to serve the endeavours of Franciscans at
the grass roots level in the Asia Pacific
region will be an impetus for our way of life.
The SFO has worked and supported prayerfully and financially this common
Franciscan project since it was first mooted with our National Minister
attending the Franciscan Superiors’ Meetings both in Singapore (2005) and Bangkok (2006).
Let us look to the
future with faith and trust in the Lord, bearing in mind that we “are called to
build a more fraternal and evangelical world so that the kingdom of God may be brought about more effectively.” Rule 14.
Helen Britton sfo
SFO – Oceania
24 March 2007