About Capuchin Franciscans
Almost as important as the brothers given to Francis was his commitment to be a minor or little brother.
In fact, some would suggest that friar minor be considered one word because it is only one concept. There had been many fraternities before Francis founded his community of brothers, but his was the first community of minor brothers, men committed to walk with the underclass of their society so completely that they became one with them. When Francis took off the clothes of his rich merchant father and put on the clothes of the poor he made a statement about his understanding of the gospel that endures to this day. Francis wanted no power over others, only with them. By dressing like the poor and renouncing all property, Francis set his community on a path of simplicity and itinerancy that continues to attract followers even today.
Francis knew he could not sustain his commitment to the simple life of minority without long periods of quiet, contemplative prayer. A visit to Assisi confirms this when pilgrims make their way, usually on foot, to the Eremo della Carceri or hermitage atop Monte Subasio, a place where Francis went often especially during Lent. Quiet, almost surreal, the Carceri is a place of beautiful views and wonderful nooks and crannies where one can pray in private for hours. Stark and intensely simple, the Carceri invites pilgrims, even today, to slow down, listen and discern God’s will.
Another direct effect of Francis’ choice of minority is that first friars became itinerant preachers. Owning no property and refusing any office in the church that would tie them to a particular place allowed the earliest Franciscans to go from place to place announcing the good news of Jesus Christ. The ministry of the friars, therefore, emerges from what they encounter as they go from town to town. No doubt in part because Francis experienced the painful breakup of his own family by choosing to live among the poor as one of them, the friars found themselves preaching peace and reconciliation. But reconciliation as a preaching theme was even more important because so many people Francis knew were poor. Some historians speculate that as many as 80% of the people Assisi were poor at the time of Francis, making it impossible for Francis to ignore the terrible disparity in life and lifestyle all around him.
Finally, faced by a society sharply divided along class lines, the early friars did everything they could to bring people together and establish a system of justice, peace and respect for all creation. Raised in a feudal society, Francis dreamed of a rebuilt church that would foster reconciliation among the minors, the military and the wealthy, and a world that embraced the gospel call to simplicity and compassion. Thus, he also found himself at Damietta in Egypt visiting the Sultan and trying to convince him to be a Christian. That Francis was not martyred by the Sultan for his boldness is ample evidence to Francis’ peaceful spirit and gentle ways. The ministry of justice, peace and ecology for Franciscans today, therefore, is not confrontational or dismissive of others, but a work of reconciliation and healing among all the people of the earth.
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