1. LETTERS FROM THE NATIONAL ASSISTANTS
I. TO ALL FRANCISCAN RELIGIOUS
From: The National Spiritual Assistants to the SFO.
To: All religious members of the Franciscan
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
We thank God every time we think of you, and every time we pray for you, we pray with joy (cf. Phil 1:3). Pax et Bonum!
In February 1986, we three Spiritual Assistants to the Secular Franciscan Order in the Philippines met together in the City of Tagaytay . That was an excellent occasion to reflect together, with the help of the Lord, on matters of common interest regarding the Secular Franciscan Order.
One of our decisions was to send you this letter to introduce you to the Secular Franciscan Order or to give you more information about it, and to ask for your precious assistance in guiding and animating these brothers and sisters who, of course, are an integral part of our Franciscan Family. We believe that, in one way or another, your own Constitutions mention something about the laity, even specifically about the Secular Franciscans, and your relationship with them. We are convinced that our Franciscan life calls us to be co-responsible with them in the rebuilding of the Church, which is “falling into ruin”.
The 1978 Rule of the SFO identifies it as a vital part of the whole Family of St Francis and points out its secular character. Francis gives a distinctive cast to his spiritual family, with its common charism but varied expressions, as it binds together the laity, the religious and the clergy in the life and mission of the Church, and strives for holiness (SFO Rule, Chapter 1:1-2).
The bond that unites the Secular Franciscans to the brothers and sisters in the Family of Francis is so strong that we cannot touch it without affecting the other bonds. Moreover, we can well imagine that the First Order itself would lose its inspiration and perhaps its existence, if it refused to extend to the secular branches, whether clergy or laity, the nourishment of its sap, the sharing of its treasures, and the sanctifying demands of its spirit.
These forceful words mean that the fresh start for the Secular Franciscan Fraternities goes hand and hand with our own progress and yours, that the degree of vitality of the SFO in our country will be a reflection of our vitality and yours.
With this message, we are renewing our commitment to work with the Secular Franciscans and to grow with them in the way of St Francis of Assisi. May we invite you to work with us in sharing our Franciscan spirit with our brothers and sisters in the Secular Franciscan Order? May God bless you all!
(signed by the three National Assistants)
II. TO FRIARS, SISTERS AND PRIESTS
(Updated to 2004)
We are aware of the importance of our role for the spiritual growth of the SFO, as well as for the unity of the Secular Franciscans among themselves and with the rest of the Franciscan Family and the Church, as indicated in the SFO Rule, 26.
We are making efforts to become the "suitable and well prepared” Assistants that the Church expects us to be, so that we can promote fidelity to the Franciscan charism as well as to the observance of the SFO Rule.
This year, 1992, we have already held a three-day "encounter" in Tagaytay in January, another three days in Cebu, and three more days in Sampaloc, July 2-4. Only three of us have repeated the seminar; the other fifteen or twenty participants attended only one of these seminars.
Still, I regret to say that some of the friars assigned to the SFO have not attended any of these seminars. The same is true of the Sisters and more so of the diocesan priests. Not one of you has yet been able to accept my invitation to attend. This letter intends to reach you too.
To start with, do you have a copy of the SFO Rule and General Constitutions? If not, ask for them from your Fraternity or from the National Council. We need to be familiar with them and to have also an authorized interpretation of the Rule, such as "Catch Me A Rainbow Too", by Lester Bach, or “To Live As Francis Lived”, by Foley/ Weigel/ Normile. Please, read carefully also the General Constitutions, Articles 85 to 91, which speak directly about spiritual and pastoral assistance to the SFO.
During our last seminar in Sampaloc, the group made the following recommendations:
(1) That each constituted Regional Fraternity have at least one friar assigned as Regional Assistant. There can be one from each of the different Obediences of the friars who are providing assistance.
(2) That all established local Fraternities have a duly appointed spiritual Assistant, if necessary co-ordinating friars and Franciscan Sisters.
(3) That all the friars, beginning in the years of formation, and not only the spiritual Assistants, be encouraged to be involved in the spiritual animation of the SFO.
(4) That the Provincial Communications Office, or the National Assistant, distribute SFO-related material to the spiritual Assistants.
(5) That closer collaboration be fostered between all of the spiritual Assistants and the SFO National Formation Committee or Council.
The friars and Sisters attending those seminars focussed their
attention on the formative role of the spiritual Assistant. We agree that the
new vision of the SFO as presented by Pope Paul VI in the
Rule of 1978 needs deeper study and courageous implementation. The Rule is a summary of the gospel values. And, as Pope John Paul II has said, the best service that the SFO can give to the Church is faithfully to observe the Rule.
We agree on the need of a deeper formation as the basis of fidelity and perseverance in the SFO after the act of commitment.
We are convinced of the relevance of the SFO and we find that our pastoral ministry to the Secular Franciscans is meaningful and helpful to our Franciscan vocation. At the same time, we feel the need to be better prepared and equipped for this ministry.
We feel the need of more friars from all three branches of the First Order and from the Third Order Regular, and of more Franciscan Sisters and diocesan priests to help us. Our common concern for the SFO demands that we be united and committed to guide and animate them as the Church expects of us. Since the responsibility rests mainly on the major Superiors of the friars, we earnestly request them to motivate, prepare and appoint their religious to this ministry.
We acknowledge with gratitude the plan of the OFM Minister Provincial, giving priority to the formation of the SFO during this triennium. We wish that all the other Franciscan Ministers Provincial would do the same.
We see the urgency of providing a special plan of formation designed for the diocesan clergy, including a program of promoting the spirit of St Francis among their seminarians and parishioners.
We agree that while we promote leadership among the Secular Franciscans, particularly in the area of formation, we must be present to them and guide them as much as they may need, and as much as we can.
I welcome opinions, suggestions and complaints, positive criticism and concrete ideas and support.
Serving you, and with you serving the SFO, the Order and the Church, I remain
Agapito Diez OFM
National Assistant SFO