FIOR (Franciscan Institute Outreach - Malta)

11. Franciscan Missionary Charism (1)

Background

11.1. The Franciscan Order was born as a missionary movement. The fact that the Earlier Rule (Chapter 16) and the Later Rule (Chapter 12) dedicate particular attention to the missions of the friars among non-believers, is a proof that Francis wanted his friars to be evangelisers and harbingers of the Gospel to Christians and non-Christians alike.

11.2. "Besides apostolic ministry in Christian lands there very soon appeared real missionary activity among non-Christian peoples, which introduced a new epoch in the missionary history of the Church ... In the Rule for the Order Francis gives those friars that hear God's call to the missions among the heathen the possibility of answering it. However, they must have the permission of their minister beforehand. The Saint's own experience is obviously crystallized when he sets before the friars two ways of the missionary life. One is the simple Christian life, in minorite humility especially, which must bear witness to the truth. The other is the proclamation of the faith; for this, Francis required careful attention to the will of God. In any event, he expects of his friars a readiness to suffer persecution - even death, if necessary. This was for him the absolutely natural consequence of the life according to the Gospel" (K. Esser, Origins of the Franciscan Order, pp. 222-224).

11.3. The Earlier Rule lays down the foundations of the Franciscan missionary charism. "The friars should begin neither quarrels nor dissensions, but should be subject to every human creature for God's sake and acknowledge that they are Christians" (Chapter 16). This is the first and most fundamental way in which the first fraternity gave witness to the Gospel, especially in the missions. We shall see later on that this principle was not always given priority, particularly when the friars went upon missionary expeditions with the conquerors of the New World. Nevertheless, the genuine Franciscan spirit of peace was never absent from the evangelising mission of the friars.

11.4. The second way of evangelising, according to the Earlier Rule, consists in the ministry of preaching of the Word. "Another way is to proclaim the word of God openly, when they see thay it is God's will, calling on their hearers to believe in God almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Creator of all, and in the Son, the Redeemer and Saviour, that they may be baptised and become Christians".

11.5. In this lecture we shall attempt to see how the friars translated into practice this salutary admonition of the Earlier Rule. We have already reviewed the early history of the Franciscan missions in the Holy Land and in the Far East. We shall rather concentrate upon the first missionary endeavours of the friars in the New World, and in the meaning of the Franciscan missionary charism today. But first, let us briefly review Francis' own example at missionary evangelisation.

© copyright FIOR-Malta
Text by Fr. Noel Muscat ofm


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