Growth in Franciscan Life and Mission: Holy Land visit by members of the Saint Francis of Assisi Foundation in Russia and Kazakhstan | Custodia Terrae Sanctae

Growth in Franciscan Life and Mission: Holy Land visit by members of the Saint Francis of Assisi Foundation in Russia and Kazakhstan

13-20 April, 2012

Visiting the Holy Land from the 13th to the 20th of April, is the Saint Francis of Assisi Foundation in Russia and Kazakhstan, an international entity of the Order of Friars Minor since 1997, responsible directly to the Minister General. The Foundation’s purpose is to testify to the Franciscan charism, living out the Order's priorities in their social and cultural context. In particular, they announce the gospel through their life engagements, promoting pastoral service to the Latin community in cooperation with the local church, favoring the Implantatio Ordinis, which means vocational ministry and permanent formation, and pursuing dialog with Orthodox Christians and other religious communities, particularly Muslims, who are widely present in Kazakhstan. The Foundation's patron is Saint Francis of Assisi, so it belongs to the Franciscan Family in communion with the worldwide Catholic community.

Every year the Foundation's Assembly takes place: a periodic evaluation and planning meeting with the Minister General, which took place this year in the Holy Land, making it a very special event for the participants, who this year celebrate fifteen years since their foundation. The group consists of 18 friars belonging to the Foundation who are engaged in the Assembly's work, with the Minister General of the Order, Brother José Rodriguez Carballo, presiding. Also taking part in the important event were the Minister General's delegate for the Foundation, Brother Klaudio Michalski, and two friars from the General Curia: Brother Ernest K. Siekierka, Definator General for Eastern Europe, and Brother Massimo Tedoldi, Secretary General for Missions and Evangelization. Brother Sergey Loktionov of the Custody of the Holy Land was charged with organizing the visit and accompanying participants on their excursions.

The meeting opened on the morning of April 13th with a Holy Mass celebrated by the Minister General in Gethsemane. He encouraged the friars to accept and follow God's will, following the example of Jesus who, there at Gethsemane, gave himself entirely over to the Father in the Passion. Then followed, on the 13th and 14th of April, the Assembly's work, which took place at the Franciscans' Saint Saviour's Monastery in Jerusalem, and whose principal objective was to evaluate and implement the Project of Life and Mission in Russia and Kazakhstan after the year of experimentum. After talks by Brother Eliot Marecki, President of the Foundation, and by the Minister General, which took almost the whole morning of the first day, work continued in the afternoon by dividing into two study groups for deeper reflection on the Project of Life and Mission. The day closed with the two working groups reconvening to share their observations and conclusions.

The morning of the second day, April 14th, saw Brother Massimo Tedoldi's presentation of the final document and approval of the Project of Life and Mission in Russia and Kazakhstan, followed by a discussion in Assembly. That afternoon at 3:00 p.m. the participants met for a celebration of thanksgiving for the Foundation's fifteen years, and then the group left on foot for the Sanctuary of Saint Francis of the Cenacle, known as the "Cenacolino" (little Cenacle), on Mount Zion where, at 5:00 p.m. the Minister General was the principal celebrant of the Holy Mass.

Awaiting the Foundation’s friars over the next days, from the 15th to the 20th of April, was an itinerant retreat, in the course of which they were able to visit the many sanctuaries and the most significant cultural and spiritual sites in Judaea and the Galilee, with daily Mass and the chance for meaningful times of meditation, always thanking the Lord for the years leading up to this fifteenth anniversary of the beginning of the Foundation.

Many of the friars who participated were visiting the Holy Land for the first time. During a one meeting the Custos, Brother Pierbattista Pizzaballa, presented Franciscan activity here, speaking of the centuries of presence of the brothers of Saint Francis in the service of the Holy Places, the many liturgical, pastoral, social, cultural, educational and welfare activities carried out in this context, not always an easy one, of uncertainty and of the daily problems that are met; of the vocation that constantly sustains and animates the life of the Custody of the Holy Land. This group of friars that has also come with deep sincerity to support parish activities, promote social and pastoral work in favor of the most needy, of the many street children, of numerous immigrants, particularly Koreans, advancing precious initiatives, can also be a sign of religious and cultural hope in the post-Communist era in countries like Russia and Kazakhstan. Discovering and confronting the intense activity of the Custody of the Holy Land, along with the joy of knowing that here in the land of Jesus the Franciscans are a living, active, working presence, the friars of the Foundation were strengthened ever more in the conviction that here, as in their own setting, working and testifying to the gospel is difficult, but possible and irrefutable.

Text by Caterina Foppa Pedretti
Photos by Bro. Giorgio Vigna