Sunday, August 26, 2012

Seed Sown in the Desert

A Franciscan presence on the streets of Taranto

“If a grain of wheat… dies, it produces much fruit” (John 12,24)

Taranto, Paul VI neighborhood: here the Brothers Minor Conventual from the province of Puglia work in one of four parishes in the district that sprang up in the last 50 years to house industrial working families. The area has almost nothing to offer, the inhabitants are isolated in huge cement apartment buildings that rise amidst acres of abandoned, undeveloped land.

In this vast, difficult, often dangerous neighborhood the church becomes “yeast” of humanity and of hope. Here fear, hatred and anger reside. The inhabitants are deeply wounded, having learned from early childhood the language of violence; one must be strong in order to not be crushed, one must defend oneself against everyone, no one can be trusted.

During the month of July, spent with the friars in Taranto, the challenge of how to create human relationships with the locals provoked me to seek out the correct attitude to have, the right words to say in the midst of this conflict-oriented atmosphere. What to do in this situation? How can the friars, the church, testify to the love of Christ in this mission-field.

I found the answer in a single word, “compassion,” in other words: being present, simply standing alongside the other, feeling that which the other feels.

The most significant experience from my time in Taranto was the “Street Oratory” (street camp) organized with a group of volunteers in the most difficult part of the neighborhood, where children and youth group up sharing the street with wild dogs that populate the area.

Forced to grow up far too quickly, these kids come from dysfunctional families, parents in prison or in drug rehabilitation centers. Many of them have stopped dreaming because early on their life was marred by suffering and injustice, and they have learned to respond with violence and the same injustice.

However when their eyes meet a loving gaze that does not desire to judge or criticize them they once again are free to laugh. The little onese act like adults, but give them a ball, carry them on your back or make them run and they revert back to their true identity: children. It is important to recognize in them the profound need to be loved and to love, to receive a hug or a kind word, to feel important in the eyes of another.

Seeing this situation, the fear that attacks my heart comes from the knowledge that a true change, a radical turn-around, is very difficult; these children’s destinies seem determined from the outset! Their only option is the street and all that it has to offer. Sometimes after being with them I had the impression that all our work had been in vain. There did not seem to be any positive results or changes. So after it was all over many of the volunteers, resigned, said, “It’s a waste of time.” These children relax during the games but then return to their normal lives of fights, provocations and vendettas.

This mission is difficult and yet at the same time stimulating! Here our conventual fraternity can truly live out the Franciscan charism in its “purest” form, serving the marginalized. Though often in discouraging situations and with no gratification, the community moves forward rebuilding where others have destroyed, becoming channels of peace in the logic of unconditional love, in a constant openness to listen to others and in being a welcoming presence. Practically speaking they seek to create alliances with the various agencies present in the area, developing common projects (like the aforementioned “street oratory” as well as soccer camps, dance lessons etc…) Already there has been much fruit, not the least of which is the construction – finally! – of a church building after many years in which the parish has had to make do without one.

There are many possibilities hidden behind the faces of the brothers and sisters that could truly change this little world! Many collaborate with the parish in order to build a better Paul VI neighborhood, offering their personal resources and talents. Drop after drop the stone is worn smooth and takes form: this presence is a seed in the desert that, once grown, will help bring salvation.

Friar Vito Cosimo Manca

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Youth and Vocations

A Summer Camp in Search of God's Calling

Last month I participated in a summer camp in Mormanno, a beautiful little village at the foot of mount Pollino. Organized by the Center for Vocations of the diocese of Cassano allo Jonio, the week-long camp was set up to help this lively group of kids reflect on their life-calling. It was a challenge, I would say, getting these young campers to think about their life-calling; a challenge that the organizers accepted and in turn used to provoke the campers to think.

When talking about vocations, it’s easy to think only about religious life and the priesthood. There are two typical reactions when the topic comes up: either you embrace the idea or you distance yourself from it. This is what happened when these young campers listened to talks about their vocation. Many of them affirmed that they weren’t at all interested in becoming a priest, a brother or a nun.

In order to dig into the authentic meaning of the word “vocation” we used the character of Pinocchio as an example. It turned out to be a useful means of self-discovery, and day after day I watched the young campers open up more fully to comprehending their personal calling.

We did not experience an extraordinary intervention of the Holy Spirit coming down upon these young people, but they did slowly begin to accept their true calling to grow. One can only grow if one is happy, and therefore these campers are called to happiness. This is their true vocation, everyone’s true vocation: to be truly happy.

This, in brief, was the message Mons. Nuncio Galantino gave the campers while meeting with them. He encouraged them to always be special and happy, to bring this knowledge to bear on their daily lives, entering each day with courage.

This message is not only true for the campers, but also for each of us, because our calling is a “supreme,” most beautiful, happiness: to be children ceaselessly loved by God. For this reason it is impossible for us to not enjoy the “taste” of each activity, each work that our hands undertake; hands that have the capacity to create something great.

Having observed the difficulty of these young campers in reflecting on their vocation, I stopped to think about their expectations with regards to us camp counselors. I believe they desire something “different,” something better from us, and before this expectation I once again sense that I am a brother of Francis of Assisi, sent directly from Assisi to testify to them about my life with Christ, even through a simple smile, a hug, a chat.

When it was time to depart the camp I felt like a pilgrim, free and light, just as Francis desired us to be. I will no longer be with these kids, I won’t have a further role in observing and guiding their growth, but I take with me the joy of having been for them more than a guide, a brother: a simple friar...

friar Rocco Predoti


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Assisi International Youth Meeting

Friars hosted the 6th annual ASSISI INTERNATIONAL MEETING 5-12 August. Members of our community joined the fun and helped out organizing the liturgy and doing translation for non-Italian speaking participants.

More photos can be found by following the links below.

Young people arrive

Each group presents their country

Hanging out and morning prayer at St. Peter's - Assisi

Saturday night mass and evening festivities

More photos...

Photos courtesy of friar Martin Breski

Monday, August 13, 2012

We are "Reserves of Love"

Serving the Sick in Assisi

I spent the month of July at the Sacro Convento in Assisi living with brothers in need of care. It was an intense experience that helped me to discover the value of caring for the sick. In a recent admonition given to all health workers, Pope Benedict XVI said that, yes, professional competence is necessary, but that this must also be accompanied by much humanity, in other words, love. Our elderly brothers give us the possibility to be “reserves of love.” I feel that this statement sums up well my own experience.

In caring for the sick, I can say that I give very little compared to that which I receive by listening to their experiences of religious life, lived out as a complete offering of themselves to their brothers. For me this is a treasure that I guard jealously, a treasure that enriches my experience of faith.

Our great saint Maximilian Kolbe said: “only love creates.” I can experience this love through my work at the front desk of the friary, receiving people who need the chance to talk, opening their hearts in asking the brothers to pray for a wide range of personal situations. It’s an important service that helps me become more grounded in vocation and at the same time makes me aware that the vocation is not a personal gift only for myself, but a gift to be placed at the service of my brothers. In this spirit and with certain faith in the help of God, I continue my life journey.

Peace and all good.

Friar Nicola Solente

Monday, July 23, 2012


Most high and great God, Father
Creator of heaven and earth
In the name of your only begotten son Jesus Christ,
Through the Holy Spirit
And with the intercession of Mary our mother

We ask you to teach us to prepare the good soil of our souls
To receive the seed of your Word which you desire to give us today
Through events, people and Holy Scripture;

That this Word may not fall on the path of our distractions,
Nor on the rocks of our superficiality
Nor among the thorns of our anxieties
But that it may bear abundant fruit for eternal life
And for the good of the Kingdom of Heaven.

friar Alfonso

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Servant of the Word

Friar Alfonso recounts receiving the ministry of lector

I received the ministry of lector Sunday May 13 during the 10:30 a.m. mass in the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. Concretely this means that the Church, through the hands of father Giuseppe Piemontese, custos of the Sacro Convento who presided in the liturgy, officially and publically gifted me with the responsibility of proclaiming the Word of God during the liturgy, especially during the Eucharistic celebration, and the missionary mandate of carrying the Gospel of salvation to those who have not yet heard.

For me this ministry is gift that has its source in the love of God the Father. It is a sign of the trust and of the esteem that He has for me, and that requires of me a daily decision to meditate on, pray, and put into practice the Holy Scriptures, such that I can announce and testify to the Christian faith above all through my life, day after day.

This moment of grace and personal commitment is the fruit of a journey that has lasted several years, beginning with my service as a catechist for children preparing for first communion in Silvi Marina (PE) and Brescia, then later in Assisi with young people preparing for confirmation. Most recently in Cannara, Perugia, I have served as the spiritual assistant to OFS, the Third Order Seculars founded by st. Francis. In addition to these pastoral experiences, I have been formed by serving during liturgical celebrations in the Basilica of St. Francis, through my own journey of Franciscan formation, and through the diocesan mission in Assisi and the mission in Pavia, during which I met many who were fragile in the faith or who were not believers. Last but not least, my interaction with Jehovah’s Witnesses, present in my own family, has influenced me.

In conclusion, I can say that the ministry of lector has caused me to grow in enthusiasm to serve and do good for the Kingdom of God. And it has also instilled in me a tiny sliver of pride, because the Church has placed in my hands one of the greatest treasures that Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, has given to the world: his Word! I entrust my service to the intercession of Mary, especially to Our Lady of Fatima, whose memorial was celebrated the same day that I received the ministry, as well as to the prayers of everyone who reads this blog.

May the Lord grant you peace and all good!

With much love,
fra Alfonso Di Francesco

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

TV Interview with European Friars in Formation

Minister General fr. Marco Tasca and young friars gathered in Assisi for European youth conference discuss franciscan charism in interview on RAI1, TG1 Dialogo (in Italian).