11. Franciscan Missionary Charism (2)
Francis' concept of missionary evangelisation
11.6. The missionary experience of Francis began in 1212, when Francis tried to
go to Syria, but had to relinquish his plans after he was shipwrecked on the
Dalmatian coast (1 Cel 55; LegMaj IX,5). In 1213-1214 he left for Spain, in
the hope of going to Morocco to meet Muhammad al-Nasir (or Miramolin), but
again he had to return to Assisi because of an illness (1 Cel 56; LegMaj IX,6).
In 1219 he succeeded in going to Egypt during the fifth Crusade (1 Cel 57;
LegMaj IX,7-9). He arrived in Damietta on 29 August 1219, together with Pietro
Cattani. Together with Brother Illuminato he crossed over to the Saracen camp
and personally met the sultan Al-Malik al-Kamil (Jacques de Vitry, Historia
Occidentalis, 14; Letter written in Damietta, 2). The sultan gave Francis
permission to travel through his vast domains, which included the Holy Land
(Golubovich, Biblioteca biobibliografica della Terra Santa e dell'Oriente
francescano, Vol. I, pp. 2-84).
11.7. In the same period a group of five friars died in Morocco (cf. Analecta
Franciscana, Vol. III, pp. 579-596). We have already referred to the martyrdom
of friars Berard and companions in Marrakesh, under the direct intervention of
the sultan Yusuf al-Mustansir, the son of Muhammad al-Nasir. Many more were to
follow in the long list of Franciscan missionaries who died a martyr's death.
11.8. The Franciscan endeavour to evangelise the non-believers was truly a new
initiative in the 13th century. The Earlier Rule is fundamental in order to
understand Francis' concept of missionary evangelisation.
11.9. We can start by stating that the mission is that of Christ and the
apostles, the same mission which Francis received in the Porziuncola chapel on
24 February 1208. The friars are portrayed as itinerant preachers of the good
news and of peace. This attitude is further emphasised in Chapters 16 and 17,
which deal respectively with the missionaries and with preachers.
11.10. Chapter 16 is built upon Mt 10,16, which forms part of Christ's mission
to the apostles to go and preach to all men. The two ways in which the friars
are to give witness to the Gospel have already been outlined above. It is
intersting to note that the ministry of preaching the Word comes after the duty
of giving witness of a fraternity which lives in a true bond of peace and
11.11. The same chapter gives great importance to the theme of witness, even
unto martyrdom. In the same atmosphere of Christ's words in Mt 10,32, the
friars are to bear witness to the Gospel in an attitude of total
self-abondonment. "They should be prepared to expose themselves to every
enemy, visible or invisible, for the love of Him. He Himself tells us, He who
loses his life for My sake will save it". Persecution is a sign of the
fruitfulness of the Gospel. It is a proof of the prophetic witness of Christ's
little ones among the powerful.
11.12. The missionary charism of the Order is also the result of divine
inspiration. The Minister is bound to ask for divine inspiration in order to
discern an authentic call to missionary evangelisation. The friar who asks to
evangelise non-believers receives his calling under divine inspiration.
11.13. If we are to translate the spirit of the Earlier Rule in today's
Franciscan spirituality, we can find inspiration in what the General
Constitutions of the Order of Friars Minor state in article 1, par. 2: "As
followers of St. Francis, the brothers are held to live the gospel vision
completely in the spirit of prayer and devotion and in brotherly sharing. They
are to give witness to a life of penance and lowliness and, with love for all,
they are to bring the Gospel message to the whole world, proclaiming
reconciliation, peace and justice their works".
11.14. The concrete witness of fraternal and evangelical life according to the
spirit of St. Francis, is expressed in various forms. It is, first and
foremost, a witness of a contemplative attitude to life. It is then a witness
to a life of penance. It is a witness to a fraternal life in minority, in such
a way that the friars truly become subject to all for the love of God. It is a
witness given in a spirit of poverty, and it is also inserted in various types
of social environments, both in areas of social and economic poverty as well as
in areas of secularised groups. In this way the mission of Francis today is
not out of place in our modern cities, as it is not out of place in the poorest
regions of the world. As long as the brothers proclaim the Gospel in a spirit
of minority, as itinerant and humble apostles of peace, all the world becomes
their home, in order to bring the Good News to all men.
© copyright FIOR-Malta
Text by Fr. Noel Muscat ofm