FIOR (Franciscan Institute Outreach - Malta)

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 charity.

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


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