The meeting room at St. Meinrad
Remembering those who diedPHOTO BY FRANK JASPER, OFM
The schedule spelled out the All-Province Assembly in black and white. From the perspective of mercy, friars would discuss who they are and how they feel about the future.
But his was just an outline. As it unfolded last week at St. Meinrad Archabbey, the meeting had multiple layers with many moving moments. “You had to be there” is the best way to describe what went on. The next-best thing: Scroll through Facebook, crammed with capsule reviews of sessions, photos by Frank Jasper and Greg Friedman and interviews recorded by Colin King and Roger Lopez (www.facebook.com/Franciscanfriars).
From May 23-27 new ties were established, old ties were reinforced, opinions were aired and respectfully assessed. All this was bookended with a welcome from ESC General Definitor Caoimhin Ó Laoide and an introduction to fellow Irishman Gerry Evans, SJB’s new General Visitor.
What the meeting is about, Caoimhin said Monday, “is attending to your life as brothers.” Sounds simple, but introspection is a luxury for people who spend their lives ministering to others. At a time when plans are being made that will shape the future of the Friars Minor, the best advice is, “Think about it.” APA planners provided the time – an unhurried schedule – and a peaceful, remote setting in which friars could do just that.
Expectations for the week seemed to be embodied in “Hope Arisen”, a poem Clifford Hennings recited on video for Facebook (see Page 6). It reads in part: “What approaches is a mystery, and yet its promise so enthralling. A time to find that which my heart has for a lifetime sought.” Written by Clifford years ago, it could have been composed for the occasion.
On Thursday, a vote would be taken to gauge sentiment for models of restructuring in the United States. But for the time being, friars were asked to take stock of who they are and what they need.
“Love one another with brotherly affection,” Caoimhin said. “Talk about the qualities needed in living in fraternity,” such as kindness, sincerity, self-control, tactfulness, a spirit of sharing, a sense of humor, and “the certainty of being infinitely loved.”
“It’s always a powerful moment when the brothers extend their hands and pray over you,” Chris Meyer said Thursday after being commissioned to serve in the Diocese of Montego Bay, Jamaica. Provincial Minister Jeff Scheeler asked this blessing: “Almighty God, in every age you have chosen servants to proclaim your Word to the ends of the earth. Hear our prayer for our brother who will serve your Church as a missionary. Fill him with your Spirit that he may have the mind and heart of Jesus who lives and reigns now and forever.” Amen.Sent forth to JamaicaPHOTO BY GREG FRIEDMAN, OFMThe message of taking stock and taking care was reinforced by the presence of the Health and Wellness Committee and the proactive province nurse, Michelle Viacava, RN. From a dining room table flagged with a balloon, they handed out pedometers and turned movement into a competition. It was clear that more than minds would be exercised.
Tuesday began with a touching ceremony repeated through the week. As in past assemblies, deceased friars were remembered. This year, as names were read, portraits of departed brothers were brought to the front, then slowly, reverently carried to the back of the chapel. Recognition, pride, sorrow: All were mirrored in the faces in the pews.
That set the stage for a morning of discussion centered on mercy. “We want to reflect on our own experience of mercy as well as what it’s like giving it away,” said facilitator Mark Soehner, introducing a series of short films on the Seven Spiritual Works of Mercy produced by RedemptoristTV and hosted by Daniel Francis, CSsR. (Online at: www.youtube.com).
That afternoon Page Polk, representing the Franciscan Interprovincial Team, asked for feedback on the four models for restructuring, and he got it. Forty friars handed the microphone off to each other during Tuesday’s spirited session. “Every model’s got its pluses and minuses,” Page said. “We ask that you speak honestly and listen very intently to each other. If you think No. 4 should be thrown out in the garbage, explain why.” Thoughtfully and respectfully, they did just that.
In his homily that afternoon Deacon Clifford, whose ordination is scheduled for June 11, talked about the future. “It’s good to pack light,” he said. “We’re gonna be on a long journey. Most of us know what it is to give things up. As we gather at the APA, what else can we unburden? It’s not all about what we’re giving up. It’s about where we’re going.”
Clifford reminisced about a previous visit to St. Meinrad. “The first time I was here nine years ago, I was a lowly postulant” who was impressed with “all these holy men.” He soon realized they were mere mortals. “It’s a good thing they don’t have it all together,” he thought. “I don’t.”
Wednesday morning was a bit like a wake – but more celebratory than sad. Examining “Mercy in the Franciscan Tradition”, friars talked about the imprint three brothers left on their hearts and minds.
Neri Greskoviak on the late Charlie Miller: “I read that mercy is by definition undeserved grace. In Charlie Miller I felt like I got a lot I didn’t deserve. As a hospital chaplain for 18 years he would be up in the middle of the night with patients. He was a gentleman and a gentle man. When someone died he would get the Sisters who ministered to patients and drive to the funeral home to comfort families. [He knew that] Sometimes there’s heavy things in our lives and they hurt, but behind it all is a God of mercy. Charlie greeted people with a smile. I learned a lot from him.”
PHOTO BY FRANK JASPER, OFMPoet Clifford Hennings“I wrote it years ago,” Clifford Hennings says of the poem he recited for video during the All Province Assembly. We thought it aptly captured the spirit of the week. (Clifford’s Facebook rendition was posted May 24 at www.facebook.com.)Hope ArisenO what a new day, the sun picking up and the darkness fallingBristling rays paint colors clean and the earth shrugs the dew.Early melodies fill the air and charm the wind to dance anewAnd I greet it with a quieted soul, still and reverent to its calling.The dreams that caged this restless spirit have now dropped awayFleeing with the somber moon to leave me with this day.What approaches is a mystery, and yet its promise so enthralling.A time to find that which my heart has for a lifetime soughtThe cache for which by heavenly grace I have so sternly foughtIs glimmering in the dawning light, to it my soul is crawling.To cast aside this awesome promise and fritter away the timeWould be to rebuke what lies ahead, a covenant sublime.Yes, that ignoble deed would be an action most gravely gallingTo the righteous hand that has shaped beauty by a wordAnd wrongly call the breath of life, a curse idly slurredSo yes I say to the risen sun, I will heed the master’s calling.I will chase what eternal providence has so kindly borne for me,Starry eyed with arms outstretched, enraptured and wholly free.– Clifford Hennings, OFMMorning PraiseJuniper Crouch on the late Damien Murkley:
Joe Ricchini on the late Nick Lohkamp: Joe Rayes
Speakers pulled friars back into the present that afternoon when the talk turned practical during a session on “Mercy in the Midst of Change”. Larry Zurek, commissioned as a Missionary of Mercy in Rome, built his talk around the letters M-E-R-C-Y with advice from Pope Francis: “We are called to be the living expression of the Church.”
Vicar Frank Jasper presented profiles of “Time Orientation” through which friars could examine their perceptions and responses to change. “We’re not slaves to our preferred way of doing things,” he said. “Restructuring is going to happen whether we like it or not. As Jim Van Vurst said [earlier], it’s really a matter of choice whether we want to be revitalized or not. Whether we like it or not something’s going to happen and there’s going to be change. It’s up to us to decide how we’re going to deal with it. Do we want to renew ourselves? Are we willing to take that risk in going forward?”
Thursday, Page reiterated the many “what ifs” and possibilities inherent in the restructuring process. “Where are we today?” he said, opening the floor to questions. Most involved logistics, ministries, demographics, and participation by provinces. “See how confusing and unanswerable this is?” was Page’s reply as ballots were distributed to gauge sentiment for the establishment of one, two, three or four provinces. From beginning to end, the process was restrained, orderly, courteous.
That spirit of fraternity was something that General Visitor Gerry Evans tapped into after spending a few days with SJB friars. Introduced Friday by Provincial Minister Jeff Scheeler, Irish native Gerry said he was “quite humbled by the deep, deep sharing that went on during these days and the respectful listening that was going on. You are friars who care about each other, who are looking out for each other. I didn’t hear one judgmental word about anybody or anything. There is a very strong sense of brotherhood. That’s something that doesn’t just happen; it’s created by each friar.
“I also get the feeling it’s a province that has worked on itself. I can sense many friars have been through the mill, gone through difficult times and come through, been changed, transformed, humbled. That is very hopeful.”
Gerry spoke of his own growth, “brought up in Ireland but formed and transformed in Latin America” during service in El Salvador, Costa Rica, and Panama. In restructuring, “The key for us was deciding we were going to be a province on the margins.” Friars would “accompany people, stay with people and form people in a democratic mindset, educating and forming people in the democratic principles of participation.”
Gerry’s trial by fire came following the murder of six Spanish Jesuits in El Salvador in 1989. “The temptation was, ‘It’s time to go. This is mad; this is like a jungle.’” A woman named Yolanda, whose husband and two brothers were murdered by death squads, challenged Gerry with: “When we need you most, you’re going. A good pastor never leaves his flock, especially when they’re under attack.” He decided to stay. “It’s amazing how living in a war situation makes you aware of the poverty in oneself.”
Similarly, Gerry said, friars in America are wondering, “Where do we need to be? What are the priorities? How do we respond to this historical moment?” Rest assured, “The Lord has the United States in His hands. This has to be a journey of listening, discerning, trying to find where and how the Lord is leading.”
The final message in a week of contemplation, it was a stirring sendoff.
PHOTO BY FRANK JASPER, OFMPromoting pedometers: Bill Farris, Dan Kroger, Larry Zurek and John Joseph Gonchar with Michelle Viacava, RN.Mark SoehnerMax LangenderferLarry Zurek
Thanks to all who participated, and thanks to our provincial nurse, Michelle Viacava, for her services during the assembly. Our committee will be preparing a friary Chapter aid on transitions, as well as some more activities for the fall.
–The Health and Wellness Committee
PHOTO BY GREG FRIEDMAN, OFMJubilarians Kevin Duckson, Chris Cahill, Joe Ricchini, Tony Walter and Martin HumphreysAt Wednesday’s Jubilee Mass, celebrant Jeff Scheeler invited those watching to pick up their programs and “take a long look at the brothers we are celebrating, honoring today. Whisper a prayer of gratitude to them and their God. As we look at their faces we see the face of God.”
Speaking for the Jubilarians, homilist Tom Richstatter said, “I think all of us come here with thoughts of gratitude. I’m grateful to be asked to speak on this occasion” about a subject dear to his heart as a friar: “The ‘M’ in OFM,” minoritas. “Men love power; it’s in us, ” Tom said. “To be in charge is to have authority over others. Francis saw what it might do to people when he was in prison and had power used against him. Jesus himself was tempted to power but he preached a kingdom of powerlessness – to serve, not to be served.”
Tom offered an everyday example. “Men hate to lose their jobs because it’s a loss of power. If you haven’t been fired there have been times you were rejected. They’re painful, but they’re what lead us to minoritas. They are to be rejoiced in.”
That afternoon and evening, friars rejoiced in the breadth of the talents and accomplishments of 20 inspiring Jubilarians. Each group is unique, and the statistics in this one were staggering, 20 friars with a combined 1,140 years of ministry as brothers and priests. As Fred Link said in one of the carefully crafted tributes he wrote for the Jubilee dinner, “For sharing your gifts so lavishly, we honor you and say thanks!”
(Tom’s Jubilee message will soon be available via video on YouTube.)
FROM THE VATICAN TELEVISION CENTER
Our own Richard Goodin was chosen to represent English speaking American priests in greeting Pope Francis this morning at the Mass for the Feast of the Sacred Heart in St. Peter’s Square. Richard is in Rome with fellow SJB friars Don Miller, Robert Seay and Luis Aponte-Merced for the Jubilee for Priests. In his homily, the Pope called priests to follow Christ’s example of the Good Shepherd. Video of the meeting from CTV is posted at: https://youtu.be/W2ijmvUEPJo. Start watching at minute 1:50:00 to catch Richard. Read the Pope’s homily at: radiovaticana.va/news.
Our All-Province Assembly served to remind me of the blessings that await the humble servant, for it is in the service of one another that our Lord is best served. Martin Luther King once said: “We are all called to greatness because we can all serve.” I saw such greatness in my brothers during our All Province Assembly because we came and we parted having served one another. This became my greatest blessing of the week. Thank you.
– Ed Gura, OFM
PHOTOS BY FRANK JASPER, OFMAbove, Alex Kratz, right, welcomed Pakistani friars David Masih and Gul Shahzad to the APA; right, Visitor Gerry Evans with Mark Soehner.
I am cherishing: Feeling awe and wonder at all our jubilarians have shared over the years. Mulling over minoritas as Tom Richstatter preached the Jubilee. Feeling proud as soon-to-be “Father” Clifford Hennings preached at Mass. Feeling the release of celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation. Enjoying the international presence of our Pakistani brothers, Gul Shahzad and David Masih. Missioning Chris Meyer to Jamaica. Remembering the mercy that I experienced from Ron Nunlist when I was newly ordained at Our Lady of Guadalupe in Galveston when we had the chance to share our stories in small groups. Appreciating the personal greeting from Michael Perry, our General Minister. Enjoying the Irish accents of our General Definitor Caoimhin Ó Laoide and General Visitor Gerry Evans, and thinking about the “formation and transformation” that Gerry experienced in Central America. Thanking God for the directness of Yolanda who helped him decide to stay after the offensive. Feeling grateful about his intention to listen to us and help us listen to God as we discern the future. Watching The Priest and the Politician and feeling proud of Chris Schneider’s stance during the integration of the school in Buras, La. Appreciating the open and respectful discussion as we talked about revitalization and restructuring. I could go on, and I am sure you have your own memories to cherish. The first reading of last Wednesday, when I am writing this reflection, includes these lines: “I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God you have…” I hope we can allow the gift of fraternity we experienced to be stirred into flame as we cherish one another into the future. Thanks again to all who made the APA possible.
– Jeff Scheeler, OFM
JUNE 3, 2016
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PHOTO BY FRANK JASPER, OFMPromoting pedometers: Bill Farris, Dan Kroger, Larry Zurek and John Joseph Gonchar with Michelle Viacava, RN.Congratulations to the winners of the walking competition that took place during the APA. The first place winner (and recipient of a valuable prize) is Mark Soehner, with 48,523 steps. The second place winner (and recipient of a less-valuable prize) is Max Langenderfer, who walked 40,998 steps. Coming in third (and sadly, there is no prize for third place except being mentioned by name in the newsletter) is Larry Zurek with 34,112 steps. Based on the 28 participants who turned in their tally sheets, a total of 532,653 steps were logged. The actual total would be much higher if not for the pesky reset button on the pedometers!