By Friar Pepe Martinez, OFM
I recently visited Saint Peter’s in the Loop, because I heard that Michael Perry, the General Minister of the Order was going to be there for a short visit. I was so lucky that I had the chance to spend a few minutes with him, enough to ask him a couple of questions.
The intention of that visit was mainly because I wanted to know - as I believe many of us do – what Michael Perry’s thoughts are with regards to our approach to “Restructuring.” I believe Mike’s responses were full of insight, and hopefully this will give us a different understanding about the future of the US provinces. The responses will come in two parts.
Now that you have been elected General Minister of the Order, and knowing about the situation in the US provinces when talking about restructuring, what do you think is the best way to go, and if this is to happen, is the GC having any expectations from the USA provinces?
MICHAEL PERRY: First, it is important to say that restructuring is going on in every part of the world. The US provinces asked for assistance from the curia to look at restructuring in the USA. There are three types of restructuring that are taking place. One type of restructuring is because, in some regions, our numbers are declining and so we are trying to make sure that the structures that are existing do not keep us from expressing our Franciscan charism in the best possible way.
The second form of restructuring is in the areas where there is growth in the order. In Asia and in Africa we have a numerical growth with more people coming seeking to live our way of life. In Provinces in Asia and Africa that are experiencing this growth, we are trying to help the provinces devise the best way to be able to maintain the relationship between the ministers and the friars. We are asking how can that best be done if the numbers get so large, or if the geographical areas are so stretched within a given country (e.g In the case of East Africa where there are nine countries). We are listening to what the friars are asking [of the Curia]. The Friars in those areas are saying that for the sake of being able to carry forth the Franciscan mission, they need to be restructured; they need to create new entities. Thus we have two different things. The first is that of decreasing the number of entities to respond to a smaller number of friars, and at the same time where we can be more effective with our mission and identity in those fraternities.
The second is by increasing the number of entities so we can respond more to our mission, our identity, and our fraternity. And the third type of restructuring is what is called “creation of new types of “presence” in regions.” For example, in France, we have some new communities that are inserted into a very mixed immigration community and are trying to establish a Franciscan presence in the midst of many Muslims from Africa who live there. Or in the case of Milan and Firenze (Florence) new communities that are being created in order to respond to the Chinese population, to have a presence among the Chinese… and this goes on. In other ways we are trying to do this with inserted communities keeping in mind three priorities: First, Who are we as Franciscans? Second, how do we live together more effectively and in a Franciscan way? And Third, How do we carry forth our mission to a world that is changing? Are we trying to respond to a world that is changing?
Would you, as General Minister have influence in this process of restructuring?
MP: On the question of the timing of restructuring, we have actually had to encourage several provinces or entities, Franciscan foundations or federations, around the world to be a little more direct, a little more serious and a little more timely in accepting the changes that are taking place within their own entities. The point of restructuring is that we are not trying to create something for which we have no need. We are trying to respond to the needs of the order in a changing world.
Your question is more specific to the USA and the seven provinces. Well, in December of 2012, we met with the seven provinces, in Milwaukee, WI and during those meetings it became clear to the provinces, not to do what the general minister wanted to, or the General administration in Rome.
What became clear to the provinces is that the future is changing. In 2012 the number of friars [in the USA] was 1170. In 2025 [it is project-ed that there] will be 640 friars. So the question is what do we do to respond? That is a numerical question. But if we talk about numbers this restructuring is about process; a process we hope will lead to deepen our Franciscan identity, to deepen our commitment in fraternity, and to a “New call to mission.”
This article originally appeared in Around the Province, the newsletter of the Sacred Heart Province.