UFME - EUROPEAN UNION OF FRIARS MINOR
COMPI DELEGATION VISIT
The assignment of representing The Order of Friar Minors for the visitation to The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, on the occasion of the feast day of their patron, The Apostle St. Andrew, on November 30, 1999, was entrusted to The COMPI (Conference of OFM Provincial Ministers of Italy). The delegation was composed of The Vice-president of The COMPI, Friar Giuseppe Ferrari, Provincial Minister of Bologna, of Friar Angelo Stellini, Provincial Minister of Florence and President of UFME (EUROPEAN UNION OF FRIARS MINOR), and of Friar Tecle Vetrali, President of the Order's commission on ecumenical dialogue, Secretary of the commission of COMPI for ecumenism and dialogue, and Secretary of UFME.
The first expression offered by The Patriarch to the visitors was one of grateful appreciation: "By now this visitation has become a tradition. Our brotherhood grows stronger." It is befitting for the consolidation of this sense of fraternity between all churches and with these orthodox churches in particular, to communicate what The Order's Commission for Ecumenical Dialogue has suggested to put into practice from these visits. The decision to develop a constant rapport of friendship with The Ecumenical Patriarchate is intended to be both a symbol and also serve as a stimulus, with this direct contact of actual experience in Christian life between the sons of St. Francis and those of the Orthodox monastic life. This authentic expression of the spirit of St. Francis is a real contribution to Christian unity. It was confirmed once again by Cardinal Cassidy, President of The Pontifical Commission for Christian Unity. At the conclusion of the colloquium with The Patriarch, in the anti-chamber, the Franciscan delegation encountered the Pontifical Delegation, which had just arrived for its appointment with The Patriarch. It was here that Cardinal Cassidy thanked the Franciscans for their contribution offered for Christian unity in the manner of these friendly exchanges between church groups. Among other things, these such informal encounters render less difficult the official dialogue between the churches. On other occasions he had already had occasion to express these same sentiments.
The choice of The COMPI and the Provincial Minister of Florence for the visit coming immediately after that which was most effectively accomplished by The Vicar General the preceding year, was not accidental. In Istanbul there exists a house of friars belonging to the Tuscan province. While meeting The UFME at Santiago de Compostela in October 1995, the then Minister General, Friar Hermann Schalück, had precisely mandated that this very house come into existence. It was then presented that it be located in Istanbul, as a new witness which was to furnish both Christian and Franciscan testimony and to place itself strategically available to the Orthodox and Muslim world for continuing dialogue.
The project was not left abandoned, and this visit offered an occasion for reflection upon the value of the house and in relaunching these aspects. This was reaffirmed and other side issues of the project were clarified. These involved both the physical aspects of the house and the fraternal activities. Above all else the first concrete steps, having already been made, were reviewed as to the gradual realization of the project itself.
According to the line of thought initially mapped out, the house was visualized to be one which was to be characteristic of fraternal life, of contemplation, of minority position, and of evangelization. The evangelization factors were to be expressed above all else in terms of witness, of dialogue and of hospitality. It was established to be a house of open fraternity, in a more extensive usage of the term. That is, one of international comportment, as a witness of plurality and hospitality before all peoples. This opening being meant to lend particular attention to The Orthodox, to Islam, and to those people of the locality, with preference to the poorest and the most needy.
The presence of the fraternity was not to be dictated by past types of specific activities, but rather open to the possibilities of many diverse types of activity. Subsequent to this must be serious planning to arrive at and maintain contact especially with the various Islamic ambients, and also with the various academic groups.
The work of the local fraternity was not to be spent in following the normal habitual community types of activity. The fraternity is to be open and to serve as a base and point of reference for any entity or single friar of The Order. Specifically, those who desires, for a limited period of time, to know and live in contact with the convention and reality which is the Orthodox and Islamic world. Among other things, it will serve as a point of reference in which to organize spirituality dialogues between The Order and The Ecumenical Patriarch. That is, to be able to accommodate or serve as a base point for organizing courses on ecumenical formation and of dialogue. This would also include dialogue between the house friars and the centers from which these visitors come.
To pass from these principles to concrete actions, a plan of action was delineated, which was one of awareness making and of preparation. The center must make contact with various entities of The Order, offering financial grants for study to young friars who are specializing in the problems of the ecumenical world or with Islam. At a minimum, one friar from each sector should be involved. These should be offered in the first place to those of formative character, in a manner in which the friars make direct contact with the reality of the situation and in fact enter into the world of dialogue. The ambient offers the possibility to encounter not only Moslems, but the entire spectrum of the Orthodox Church made up of the various ancient Middle Eastern churches.
As is evident the project asks for a radical change in organization and in mentality. It will deal with a true possibility for the participation of all of the friars of the entire Order, who wish to place themselves at the service of the Order and into the entire reality of the locale. If this project recaptures its mission the journey of the delegation of COMPI was not in vain and The UFME was able to respond in concrete terms to the mandate it received from the Minister General.
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