S E C U L A R F R A N C I S C A N O R D E R
Who are those people? What do they do? Where do they live?
The most unique person in the history of Catholic Church was St. Francis of Assisi (1182 - 1226). During the last eight centuries he kept arising people's interest in the Gospels and encouraging them to inherit Jesus Christ humble, resigned, meek, gentle and always joyful in love.
Francis, as, every young person, was seeking the meaning of life. He found the sacrament of real freedom, joy and happiness when trusted God completely and followed His call. St. Francis and his friends' way of life has always arose an aspiration for perfection in many people after the example of Christ and first Christians. People who admire his outstanding personality unite in communities which adopt an experience of evangelic life from St. Francis' followers.
The foundation of Secular Franciscan Order began in XIII century. St. Francis' special way of life gave a start to a great movement of the Church renewal, which involved those people who couldn't join the First (men's) Order and the Second (women's) Order. That secular movement came into history under the name of The Third Order (Tertiary) which is now called Secular Franciscan Order or Secular Franciscan Family. (The old name is Brothers and sisters of Confession). St. Francis and his friends helped people understand that it wasn't necessary to be behind the monastery walls to perceive the perfection of Christian life. Thus, secular people could become saint: in family life and completing their professional duties.
Thomas of Chelan, the first biographer of St. Francis (XIII century) wrote about the beginning of Franciscan movement: “Many people, both noblemen and simple people, clergymen and secular, felt that the God's spirit touched them, and began to cling to St. Francis, as they yearned to live under his spiritual leadership. He, like a river full of Heavenly grace, washed them all with the rain of grace, and planted the flowers of virtues on the ground of their hearts” By St. Francis' call, both men and women go to salvation, following his example, statute and teaching. He gave the rules of life and showed the way to salvation for people of any social state. (1 Chel 37)
In the statute of Secular Franciscans saint father Francis obliged to people for public profession of faith and obedience to the Church. He prohibited wearing weapon and summoned people to reject any forms of violence as well as to complete their duties honestly. He also demanded from his followers caring for gentleness, clear heart and sacrificing spirit in serving to the poor.
St. Francis, although remote from us in time, is close to the modern person with his values, because they are actual and everlasting, like actual and eternal Gospels.
Who are we?
We belong to a civil organization of Rome-Catholic Church and live in Franciscan spirit in communities lead by priests of the First Franciscan Order. The Order renewed after the II Vatican Council which paid special attention to presence and testimonies of secular Catholic in any environment. In 1978 the Pope Paul IV confirmed the Tertiary Statute, and in 1990 the Pope John Paul II confirmed new constitutions, according to which all Catholics: adults, young people, children can, following God's calling and accepting St. Francis spirituality, inculcate Gospels in people's life.
We carry out apostolic and evangelization activities in order to achieve Christian perfection. Being secular Catholics, men and women, people of different countries and different jobs we aspire to form our everyday life on the basis of very simple and understandable Evangelic principles. Today our fraternal communities are spread all over the world. There are about 450 thousands of us.
During the past 800 years hundreds thousands of people followed the way which was found by St. Francis of Assisi. Among them there are such people as St, Ludowicus IX, the King of France, St. Elizabeth, a daughter of a Hungarian king, Pope Leo XII, Pope Benedict XV, Christopher Columbus, Thomas Bacon, and others.
In Ukraine the first Franciscan community appeared in XIX century. Many people of our country have always been enraptured by the way of life in Evangelic fraternities. After the coup of 1917 the Church was persecuted severely, which, however, could not break people's spirit and obliterate the wonderful way to Our Heavenly Father, shown by St. Francis.
Now in Ukraine there are about 1200 followers of St. Francis, who unite in approximately 50 communities in Rome-Catholic parishes. Among us there are people of different social status, education, occupations. To our great joy, more and more young people join the Order. Answering the needs of the modern society, the Order has created a Franciscan Evangelization School, which serves the renewal of parishes and local Franciscan communities.
What do we aspire?
Working hard for our spiritual growth, we strive, as St. Francis did, to create in ourselves a heart of a child in God's eyes, a heart of a mother in people's eyes and a heart of a stern judge in our own eyes. We want to think, feel, pray and act as Jesus Christ did. This way we want to achieve the ideal of Christian maturity, which is displayed in not saying anything bad about our neighbour. For this reason we aspire to make our community something more than a group or organization of people who just get together. We especially care about the family atmosphere of our meetings, supporting each other in difficult life ordeals (for example, unemployment, disease, surgery, death of a relative).
Basic features of our spirituality and life:
- Living according to the Gospels (Jesus Christ is our inspiration and centre of our life. A secular Franciscan gives a testimony of Christ by their life and word, seeks Christ in brothers, the Bible, Church, and especially in Holy Liturgy);
- Living in complete unity with the Church – with the Pope and Bishops (we always want to be a support for the Church and its Pastors);
- Living in fraternity (a community is a place where a model of Evangelic life becomes a reality due to prayers and constant conversion of every person. Like in a family, we treat each other with respect, politeness and love, help each other and solve problems together);
- Life with apostolic heat (in search of light and the force of Holy Spirit we try to preacher the Gospels and complete all our tasks individually and together with members of local communities. Greeting each other with the words “Peace and the good” we want to be peacemakers in our families and surroundings);
- Serving the poor, ill and lonely, and those who need help (it's a typical feature of our activity);
- Glorifying God-Creator in all His deeds with joy (admiring the nature, we collaborate with ecological movement.)
What do we do?
We willingly pray and share our spiritual experience and understanding of the Gospels in our communities. We strive to be endowed with various gifts of Holy Spirit to serve each other even better.
Treating everyone as a unique personality, we unite our efforts in completing apostolic tasks. Also, in every person we arose sense of being not alone on their way to heaven, loved and needed.
We keep in touch with other local FSO communities. For all people we are like servants and brothers, and recognize the image of God in every person. We sympathize and help those ill-fated, hurt, neglected, those who are in trouble, suffer from family problems, or have to face life difficulties.
What makes foundation of our life is: the prayer, the Bible, the Church and spirit of fraternity. After the example of the first Christians we get together regularly at certain time to experience and cognize the Living God in a community of brothers and sisters. We listen to the Word of God which is light of our life, God's wisdom and force, and the source of real freedom. Especially important is participation in Holy Mass (certainly with the Holy Eucharist!) and a prayer of Adoration (worshiping) of Jesus Christ, who is present in All-holy Gifts. A typical feature of our Order is private and common reflections about the Passions of the Christ (during the whole year). In this spiritual flame our souls are cleared and our personal conversion to God and people is realized.
We feel responsible for renewing life of the parish and the whole Church after the example of St. Francis, who, as he was praying St, Damian Church near Assisi, heard the words which Christ said to him from the Cross: “Francis, go and build my Church that is being destroyed.” That is why we are always subordinate and obedient to our Ministers.
We take part in a great work of evangelization of Ukraine, helping to organize recollections, parish groups, and meetings between confessions. Members of the Order work in orphanages and serve old people, the blind, the homeless.
Franciscan secular family wouldn't be an environment for spiritual growth in the community without its structure necessary for fruitful functioning. Each fraternal community has its Council which is elected for three years.
Franciscan secular order includes communities on different levels (local, regional, state, international). Spiritual care on different grades is carried out by priests of the First Franciscan Order or delegated diocese priests (in some local communities)
Accepting secular Catholics to Franciscan community is performed in three stages:
Postulate is the stage of preparation to a period of formation; it is necessary to learn Franciscan spirituality, recognizing your calling and also mutual acquaintance of the community and a candidate.
Novitiate is the probation period (about a year), the aim of which is forming of a calling, trying Evangelic life in a community and better acquaintance with the Order.
Giving yearly and eternal wows of evangelic life.
Members of every local community usually get together every month. For more intensive spiritual growth and serving the Church and society small groups are organized in local communities. (For example, biblical group, liturgical, prayer, charitable groups, etc).
Who can join us?
There are many Christians. Men and women, married and single, who would like to be more useful for the Church and society and have an opportunity to give a part of their free time to serving God and people, remaining secular person, living in their families and carrying out their professional duties.
A sign which allows recognizing that God is calling you to His family is strive for intensive experiencing of the Gospels, as well as wish to be an instrument of peace and the good in the world in St. Francis' spirit.
Composed by: Sisters and brothers of FSO community in Kiev
And p. Jerzy Zielinski OFSMCap (capuchin),
Spiritual assistant of FSO in Kiev and Ukraine