The “canonical month”, towards the solemn profession

The “canonical month”, towards the solemn profession

From 30 June to 28 July, the Franciscan friars who will make their solemn (perpetual) profession in October in Jerusalem spend a month in retreat in preparation for this step, which admits them conclusively into the Order of Friars Minor. This period is commonly known as the “canonical month,” as it is required by the Constitutions of the Order. “It is an instrument that the Order places at our disposal to explore in greater depth the various aspects of Franciscan life and our vocation, in view of the solemn profession,” fra Ulise Zarza, Secretary for Formation and Study, explained.

The groups

This year 18 friars are taking part in the “canonical month”: three of them are from the Custody of the Holy Land, 14 are from other provinces of the Order (Peru, Kenya, Congo, India, Mozambique, Slovakia) but who are studying in the Holy Land and will make their solemn profession here, and one Italian who joined the group only for this month. The high number has suggested the division into three groups, each dedicated to a saint of the Franciscan Order: St Anthony of Padua, the patron saint of the Custody of the Holy Land, the Blessed Mamerto Esquiú, an Argentinean Franciscan, who was also a pilgrim in the Holy Land, and the Blessed Manuel Ruiz, one of the Damascus martyrs along with seven other friars and three lay Maronites (they will all be proclaimed saints on 20 October 2024). “We are asking for their intercession so that they can be an example and guide for these young men who are getting ready to solemnly profess their vows,” said fra Ulise.

The places

The first three weeks, the groups alternate in the three places of retreat, while the three accompanying friars stay in the same place. At the Romitaggio of Gethsemane, the retreat is led by the Director, fra Diego Dalla Gassa, at Emmaus el-Qubeibeh by fra Piermarco Luciano, Deputy Master of Formation, and at St John of the Desert (near Ein Karem) by fra Marco M. Baldacci, pro secretary of the Custody. The last week, all the friars take part together in the Spiritual Exercises in Jerusalem, taught by the Custos of the Holy Land, fra Francesco Patton, who will conduct a path summarizing the vocation in the light of the Gospel according to Mark and the vows of obedience, poverty (sine proprio) and chastity.

The programme

In each place, the rhythm of work and prayer is harmonized with that of the host community. The accompanying friars hold daily meditations on a topic agreed with the Secretariat for Formation and Study. The day includes moments of manual work, even though most of the time is devoted to prayer (Office, Mass, adoration) and to personal meditation. There are also moments of fraternal sharing, one of the positive aspects underlined by the accompanying friars: the dimensions of the groups allow an effective exchange, both during the meditations and in the moments dedicated to dialogue. Fra Marco Maria says, “For us, the first dimension if fraternity.  It is moving when one friar opens up to his brothers,” because “where there is charity it is easier to keep the vows.”

Ora et labora

The part of manual work is more challenging at the Romitaggio. In addition, following the proposal made to all the guests, the friars cook and eat on their own in their hermitages. “The dimension of work and the practical dimension help remaining in contact with reality,” fra Diego stressed, who for eight years has devoted the month of July to accompanying the friars who are preparing for the solemn profession. “They are things that are also part of our community life. They also allow living a dimension of ‘inhabited solitude’, a physical solitude but which opens up to welcoming the Lord and therefore others. The Lectio Divina I also a fundamental part of the week in Gethsemane: “The contact with the Word is essential: the Word gives us everything, the rest are aids.”

“Yes, I do”

The topics proposed by fra Marco Maria include every day one of the six questions that the friars are asked during the solemn profession, the answer to which is always “Yes, I do.”  He offers the friars some ideas that come from the path that he himself followed, personally, after the profession. “I believe it is important to have the possibility to reflect on this first. Not because it changes the answer, but to be more aware when reaching that moment.” Moreover, he underlines, “the solemn profession is the summary of a path but not a point of arrival, if anything, a point of departure.  Our yes must be renewed every single day.”

Life project

The friars who are about to solemnly profess their vows are asked to compile a “personal life project,” i.e., fra Ulisse explains, “to identify concrete ways of making the Rule up to date in their lives, depending on their skills, talents, the services assigned to them, their studies and the place where the friar lives.” More than things to do, it is about “identifying lines of personal ascesis which take into account all the human and spiritual dimensions: prayer, work, service and contact with others.” This is why the friars are given as an instrument some worksheets produced by the Custody of the Holy Land.

Marinella Bandini