Secular Franciscan Order

Ordo Franciscanus Sæcularis

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Aparecida, October 23, 2011 – Mass of 30th Common Sunday

Beloved brothers and sisters,

According to the love of Francis for the Mother of God, I would like to start your General Chapter XIII of the SFO, coming on pilgrimage to this shrine to lead you to the feet of Our Lady of Aparecida, Brazil's patron saint and the mother of all Brazilians, begging her intercession for the success of your General Chapter. The statue of Our Lady was fished from the water by three humble fishermen in 17l7. The blessings of Our Lady began to be manifested immediately, when the fishermen threw in new nets and they came out filled with fish, on a day that fishing started early but had produced nothing for them. After that, in a persistent and continuous form, the blessings were poured out to the families of the fishermen from the local community and, ultimately, throughout Brazil, to whoever begged and beg the intercession of Our Lady Aparecida.
I am happy to preside, as a Franciscan, the celebration that brings together brothers and sisters of the SFO, coming from various parts of the world, among many other pilgrims from all over Brazil, and greet you with Peace and All Good with Mary, myself, and the other pilgrims, to enter into spiritual communion with you for the success of your General Chapter.

I also have the pleasure of bringing to you the greetings of the Presidency of the CNBB (National Council of the Bishops of Brazil.) Of its President, Cardinal Dom Raymundo Damasceno Assis, Archbishop of Aparecida, who has been a Third Order Franciscan from his years at the Seminary in Mariana; of the Vice-President, Dom José Belisário da Silva, OFM, Archbishop of São Luís; and of his Secretary General, Dom Leonardo Ulrich Steiner, OFM and Bishop of Brasília. On behalf of those most worthy prelates, exponents of the Brazilian episcopate, and our Franciscan brothers, I bring you their words of welcome to Brazil and Aparecida, their Franciscan greeting of Peace and All Good, and their declaration of communal prayers, wishing you blessed fruits of holiness and strength of testimony, and missionary witness of the SFO in the Church and society.

Convido-vos a termos presentes a Palavra de Deus da Liturgia dominical, neste Dia Mundial das Missões, em que o Senhor no seu Evangelho nos fala sobre o mandamento maior.

I invite you to pay attention to the Word of God in this liturgy in this World Missions Sunday, when the Lord in his Gospel tells us about the greatest commandment of all.

In the first reading, the text of Exodus reminds us of the commandment, coming from the Covenant, of protection and love for the poor personified in those times by the widow, the orphan, and the aliens. Especially requiring that, among brothers and sisters, none lend money by charging interest, and if you do, if you take their coat as a pledge, be sure to return it every night so that the poor do not go cold. - To love the poor.

The faithful of Thessalonica (2nd reading) left paganism to serve God and follow Jesus, and thus became an example of faith, hope, and charity, and a model of openness to the poor, and a center for missionary zeal, spreading throughout the region of Macedonia and Achaia.  Paul praises God for them. - Community hospitable and missionary.

In the Gospel, Jesus approaches the two commandments to love God and love neighbor together, even declaring this as the sum and essence of the law and the prophets. - Love is the greatest commandment.

Reflecting, I ask you: is it not here the essentials of Christian life then and now: the love of God and neighbor, preferably the poor, and of being the hospitable people, community and mission?  Are we not very close to the Gospel when we think that this was the discovery, and this the secret, and this the legacy of Saint Francis and Saint Clare?  Did they not show us that love was not loved, whether in relation to God or the poor, and that the Church needed to be rebuilt from the inside, deep down, in love, to be the welcoming home of all men and women?

In reality, yet I ask you, are not these our needs, in this contrasting and paradoxical world we live in? Is this not a world without God, worldly, atheist among the upper classes of modern society, and of a deep religiosity among the lower classes of poor and abandoned who allow themselves to be seduced and led astray by false prophets in this great public fair of churches and religions, at least in Latin America?

Applying, I recall that the blessed Pope John Paul II in LaVerna, prayed a prayer which he started by saying: "Francis, the world needs you."

As we are in need of Francis, today we need the Franciscans to help us love God and neighbor, and preferentially love the poor, to help us to live in community and to multiply small communities of life and prayer among our extensive and populous ecclesial communities, and to be Church, evangelizing and missionary in the service of the fullness of life for all, as we are asked by the conclusions of Aparecida.

The Aparecida Document, was approved at the Fifth General Conference of Latin American and the Caribbean Bishops, held here in this sanctuary in 2007 and opened by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI; it asks, at least for us in Latin America, a dedicated commitment to personal and pastoral conversion  and a decision to enter into a permanent state of mission in view of the New Evangelization that the Church is proposing to us, and in response to the yearnings of humanity, to the cries of the poor and the suffering, and to the cries coming up from Mother Earth, polluted and damaged.

How nice to know that you desire and seek in this Chapter is to be evangelized to evangelize. It is also what we all wish and the Church of Brazil seeks with all its might. The General Guidelines of Evangelization of the Church in Brazil, looking like it is inspired by Saint Francis, tell us that we must begin to "evangelize, from Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit as a church disciple, missionary and prophetic, nourished by the Word of God and the Eucharist, in the light of evangelical option for the poor, so that everyone has life on the way to the Definitive Kingdom.”

As Francis and Clare teach us, it is only after the encounter with the crucified and the poor and suffering in the world that it is possible to discover what love is. Then the conversion will constitute the joy of life, as a loving consequence of a happy answer to the love that is not loved. From this meeting they discovered the Gospel of forgiveness and peace, called to renew the Church, called to fraternal life, and the call to mission.

As seculars, that is, living in the world in the midst of family commitments, professional and social, you embraced the ideal of Francis and Clare and have decided to live the Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order in the Church to better serve and love God and neighbor, brothers and sisters near and far, as well as all creation, because all and everything are sons and daughters of God.

In conclusion, I invite you to take with you into your Chapter, all week, the Lady of Aparecida who is the same Lady of the Angels of the Portiuncula so loved by Francis and Clare; she is also the Immaculate Conception, but Brazilian, the Servant of the Lord, the Spouse of the Holy Spirit and the Mother of Divine Grace who will be praying with you that your Chapter is in fact a new Pentecost. May it be the strengthening of your faith and your Franciscan charism, to revitalize your life in fraternity, missionary and prophetic, of service to the Church and the people of God in this world. May you ever be messengers of peace and goodness. Amen!