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Saturday, June 2, 2018

An Extraordinary Chapter--A New Beginning for Franciscans in the US

   As I shared news this week that 6 of the 7 US provinces met in chapter and decided to merge into one province several people asked, "What is a Chapter?"  Good question. Sometimes the workings of religious orders are a mystery even to practicing Catholics so I thought I would shed some light on how we operate. In religious orders members meet periodically to elect leaders, pass legislation and to take stands on various issues in the Church and the world.  In our Franciscan order there are general chapters, usually held in Assisi, every 6 years, to elect the leadership for the order.  In each province chapters are held every three years.  These are ordinary chapters.

   Occasionally an extraordinary chapter is held, not for the usual purpose, but for some specific reason.  In 1967 my province, Holy Name, met in extraordinary chapter to implement clearly the changes called for by Vatican II.  This past week 6 of the seven US provinces met in extraordinary chapter to decide whether or not to become one province.  The motion passed in all 6 provinces and will go to our leadership in Rome for final approval. The full implementation of this merger will take about 4-5 years.  In the meantime we are fully engaged in collaboration and cooperation with each other.

   With this explanation I would like to share my own experience of participating in this process which began several years ago when each province faced the fact that the present situation, with diminishing numbers, was not sustainable.  From the point on there have been several inter-provincial meetings as well as a coming together of our formation programs.  The recent chapter then did not come out of the blue.  It was carefully prepared for.

  More important than the result for me was the fact that the chapter was a deeply spiritual experience.  Believe me when I tell you that sometimes they are more political than spiritual.  We are, after all, human beings.  At this gathering there was a palpable sense of the presence of the Holy Spirit guiding our deliberations.  Many fears and doubts were expressed but in the end we decided to stretch beyond our comfort zone and do what was best both for the Church and the order in our country. There were friars voting against the motion to unify but after results were published they seemed to unify behind the proposal.  Also, with the help of modern technology the results were broadcast to each of the 6 provinces at the same time, leaving us with a sense of unity with all of our brothers across the country.  I was personally buoyed and uplifted by participating in this great event.

  I do ask that you keep all of us in your prayers as we move in the years ahead towards full implementation of this great decision.

  



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