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Catholic Laity Congress

Emanuela De Nunzio

I had the privilege of representing the SFO at the Catholic Laity Congress on the theme "Witnesses of Christ in the new Millenium" held in Rome from 25th to 30th November. Also present were Emerenziana Rossato, Presidency Councillor, and Tibor Kauser, International Councillor of the SFO in Hungary.

Cardinal Sodano opened the Congress with a message from the Holy Father, reminding us of the image of the Church and laity in the Second Vatican Council documents, and stimulating us to renovate our missionary zeal and an intensify our missionary "passion". He:

Once again, as in every occasion of the Jubilee Year, the Pope sent a message of hope, the signs of which are to be found in the radical choice of faith, the authentic holiness of life, the extraordinary apostolic zeal of many lay faithful people, women and men, adults, young and old.

The Pope concluded reminding us that our generation has the commitment to transmit the Gospel to the generations of tomorrow and encouraged us to be conscious of this responsibility by which we should abide with prompt faithfulness.

The Congress, introduced by great cultural knowledge and spiritual afflatus, was a time for meditation, but it was also a time to talk, sharing faith and prayers. It was attended by over 500 people: cardinals, bishops, priests, religious people, but particularly by many lay people from every continent. It provided us many interesting opportunities to exchange information and experiences in order to grow up together in ecclesial communion and reciprocal acquaintance. Many of the people with whom I spoke said they knew about the SFO in their country or were even members of it: they came from Uruguay to Thailand, from Rumania to Poland, from France to Great Britain ... It is wonderful to know there is such a vast and appreciated ecclesial reality!

During the Congress I gave a short intervention on the SFO vocation. Since I spoke in the name of all of you, here it is for you to read. Don't make me turn out to be untruthful!

The SFO vocation is a vocation to live the Gospel in fraternal communion: this is the definition in Article 3 of the SFO General Constitutions. When thinking about the Secular Franciscan vocation one must start from a spirit of fraternity, just like Francis of Assisi - father, inspirator and model of every Franciscan - started his spiritual adventure when he realized that each human being is a brother or sister and went out to meet the lepers.

Leaving aside all conscious or subconscious reasons for approaching the SFO, for every secular Franciscan a life of fraternity, life in the Fraternity represents the litmus paper of his vocation. Before becoming "richer in spirit"; each one of us must "become poorer" or may I say "undress". Individualism is slowly, slowly wiped out to make room for a spirit of sharing, helping and listening: listening to others, accepting others (as they are and not as we would like them to be), discovering the human being behind his appearance. In this way we step out of ourselves and go towards those whom we would prefer to avoid, towards the "lepers"; and at this point the gist of the Franciscan experience is discovered: "living the Gospel in Our Lord Jesus Christ".

In fraternal communion and not individualistically, the Secular Franciscan learns to live the Gospel as St. Francis wanted to live it. His Testament quotes "After the Lord gave me brothers, nobody showed me what to do, but the Most High revealed to me that I had to live according to the holy Gospel." This is the penance/conversion that Francis expected also from the Penance Brothers and Sisters, the lay people that eight centuries ago wanted to follow his footsteps and of whom the present day Secular Franciscans are the continuators and direct heirs.

By living the Gospel in fraternal communion you learn and practice "minority", so dear to Francis.

In the historical context in which we are living our penitential spirituality, minority, for Secular Franciscans, means