Carl Schafer OFM

After the publication, on 20 September 1996, of "A Franciscan Vocational Journey" by the Presidency of the SFO International Council, interest has been aroused in the "groups of children and youngsters" that the document refers to in its final paragraphs:

"Already for a long time, there exist, in the context of the Franciscan Family, groups of youngsters or of children, who are called [by a variety of names. Many of these groups are animated by members of the Franciscan Youth or by secular or religious Franciscans. It is at times easier to start and to animate groups of children, mostly of Secular Franciscans, than groups of adolescents or youth.

"The life of these groups will be very much linked to the local Fraternity of the SFO and its development will depend heavily on the presence of suitable Animators. In any case, it is important that the national councils of the SFO and the Franciscan Youth, in collaboration with interested religious, coordinate this service of animation and prepare didactic material in support of these groups (cf. Const. 25)."

This is the first statement that the international level of the SFO has made about Franciscan Children, after Article 25 of the General Constitutions. It has aroused interest especially among those who are already engaged in conducting local groups of Franciscan Children.

Some questions have been addressed to me as General Assistant, which I have referred to Fr Luigi Moro OFM, Italian National Assistant, who for some time has been assisting the Franciscan Children in Italy. I then referred the questions and answers to the Conference of General Assistants, who helped to refine the answers.

The answers are given in the context of a Franciscan Children's Movement organized at the local, regional and national levels of the SFO, as it is in Italy and Mexico. The Franciscan Children do not have local, regional and national Councils of their own.

Unlike the Franciscan Youth Movement, Franciscan Children are not organized at the international level of the SFO or of their own. In a number of countries, groups have been initiated at the local level of the SFO, but not at the regional or national level.

The Conference of General Assistants recognizes the responsibility of spiritual Assistants and Animators towards groups of Franciscan Children. We are keen to cooperate with the Presidency, as we did in the process of publishing the document, "A Franciscan Vocational Journey", in consulting the spiritual Assistants and Animators of groups of Franciscan Children.
The Conference invites the spiritual Assistants and Animators to contribute your own answers to the following questions that have come to us and which we have attempted to answer. You may wish to add more questions and answers out of your own experience. The results will be offered to the Presidency of the SFO International Council for consideration in drawing up guidelines for conducting a Movement of Franciscan Children.

1. What is the relationship between the SFO and Franciscan Children?

The only reference to groups of children in the General Constitutions, found in Art.25, answers your question adequately.

"Out of the conviction of the need to educate children to take an interest in community, 'bringing them the awareness of being living, active members of the people of God' (6), and because of the fascination which St Francis can exercise on them, the formation of groups of children should be encouraged. With the help of a pedagogy and an organization suitable to their age, these children should be initiated into a knowledge and love of the Franciscan life. The National Statutes will give an appropriate orientation for the organization of these groups and their relationship to the Fraternity and to the groups of Franciscan youth."

2. What are the competencies and responsibilities of the SFO Councils towards the Franciscan Children?

The National Council is responsible for presenting the draft of the National Statutes to the National Chapter. The Regional and local Councils must be involved in formulating their own competencies and responsibilities. The results of consulting them arrive at the National Chapter in the draft of the National Statutes, which may well include alternative texts to be voted on.

There should be a delegate for the Franciscan Children, preferably a professed Secular Franciscan, within the SFO Councils, both the regional and the local. This delegate is not a member of the Council and so has no right to vote in the Council. The delegate is rather a consultant who is required to report on the Franciscan Children's group and to report back to the group.

3. What are the responsibilities of Franciscan Animators towards the SFO Councils? What kind of autonomy do the Animators have?

The SFO National Council decides on the course of formation that the Animators are to put into effect. When drawing up the course of formation, the National Council, or its Commission for Franciscan Children, would look at the various courses that local Fraternities have already experimented with, and would adopt their strong points.

The SFO Regional Councils are to apply the approved course of formation to the Regional Fraternity. Sometimes this involves translating the course into a regional language. The SFO local Councils are to ensure that the course is followed in the groups of Franciscan Children connected with the local Fraternities.

The Animators have the responsibility to present the course of formation to their particular group of Franciscan Children and are answerable to the local Fraternity Council. The Council can call for a report annually or more frequently.

Each Animator brings to the task of formation his or her particular professional formation, personal gifts and initiative, and the adaptations judged necessary to meet the needs of the children, while always fulfilling the requirements of the approved course. Clearly, the Animator is not free to disregard the approved course of formation and to do whatever he or she pleases.

4. How to carry out the transition from Franciscan Children to Franciscan Youth?

The National Statutes determine the minimum and maximum ages of Franciscan Children and Franciscan Youth. The maximum age of Franciscan Children would be the minimum age of Franciscan Youth. A clear indication is given by the educational system of the country. Children are of primary-school age. Youth begins with secondary school.

A specific preparation should be given to the older children in order to help them make the passage from childhood to youth and from the group of Franciscan Children to the group of Franciscan Youth attached to the same local Fraternity of the SFO. A specific preparation should also be given to the Franciscan Youth so that they will welcome young members, especially those coming from the Franciscan Children, into their group.

The transition for the children should be made easier if members of the Franciscan Youth group are involved as competent Animators or as members of a team that helps the Animator. They would then serve as models to the children, who would be naturally attracted to the Franciscan Youth.

5. What is your opinion about the promises that the children make?

The promise is the setting-out point for the life of the Franciscan child, not the point of arrival at the end of childhood.

Since childhood is a temporary period, the promise must be appropriate to childhood. Certainly, children are capable of understanding what it means to make a promise and they feel their commitment. Care should be taken that the children are not overwhelmed by their feelings, especially by feelings of obligation or of guilt, when preparing for and making their promise. The simple connection between the Franciscan Children's promise and their baptismal promises should be pointed out. It is a way of owning their baptismal promises, freely and joyfully.

The Franciscan Children's promise does not have any juridical effects, so there is no sense in giving it an annual expiry. The children can renew their promise each year, or as often as they wish, as an act of devotion.

It would be a mistake to give an excessive external solemnity to the making of the promise by the Franciscan Children. It should be made not during Mass but in the presence of the Franciscan Children's group, and of their parents and Animator. The rite should be kept very simple, in language adapted to the children's understanding.