Congress of the Latin American friars at Tarata (Bolivia)

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From 19th to 23rd July 2010, 64 years after the arrival of the Friars Minor Conventual in Latin America, immediately after the 800 years of the oral approval of Francis of Assisi’s ‘form of life’, we met in the historical friary of the Friars Minor at Tarata (Bolivia), for a Congress on “Our conventual identity and presence in Latin America, in the light of the 8th centenary of the origins of the franciscan charism”. For the first time our Order in Latin America met in such a large repre­sen­tation to carry out a commemorative and reflective event together. We were 42 friars representing various jurisdictions and ministries in our continent: ministers, formators, friars in formation and invited guests. Organized by the group entrusted at federation level with the ministry of reflection (Mirefalc), it has been an occasion to share on the wealth of the franciscan and conventual diversity in this continent, in a climate of openness to the other, of mutual questioning, of listening to the Word and of fraternal joy.

Every day one of the following themes has been presented: Formation for the mission, Memory of the martyrs, and Present contributions to ecclesiology. The place itself where we met, chosen for its capacity to host such a number of friars, providentially contributed to the unfolding of the themes. In fact the franciscan missionaries directed towards the indigenous peoples of Bolivia used to be formed in this friary of Tarata, founded in 1792, an example of dialogue and inculturation. The friary is built on the upper part of the village, not to dominate it, but to be an evangelical point of reference. Besides, Tarata village is made up of ethnic Quechua, with proper traditions, habits and language. The friary is a meeting place, for intercultural dialogue, welcoming and announcing.

Today we are invited to form ourselves at the school of the Holy Spirit, in order to answer efficaciously to the present challenges in announcing the gospel, without merely repeating patterns of the past. The conventual fraternal charism pushes us to be people of dialogue with the different cultures that make up our continent, to become artists building up a harmony among beauty, truth and good, in a society always more pluriculturale. The preferential option for the poor, in all its aspects, continues to be the privileged proposal of the Latin American Church, especially for followers of Francis of Assisi. We shall be meaningful friars if we shall be able to narrate God with our life and witness. It is like returning to the franciscan penitential preaching. In the area of formation, we must prepare ourselves to have an evangelically critical vision of the world, at the same time with a great passion for God and for the contemporary person, often fragmented and ‘fluid’.

Mission requires radicalism. The conventual martyrs of the continent, whose joint memory has been kept for the first time in such an important occasion, press us on to give our lives up for the Kingdom, by living daily in a life style closer to the people, to the poor and simple, to the extreme consequences. We are called to decolonize our thoughts; to recover the historical memory; to strengthen intercultural spaces and relationships; to be pilgrims in our life, avoiding isolation and comfort; to live and transmit communion with the Trinity; to discern the signs of the times in the light of the Holy Spirit and of the Word.

Finally we have kept the historical memory and have looked again at the development of our presences, reaching the conclusion that we are challenged to think again about our fidelity to the charism within new ecclesial, social and cultural environments. The parish apostolate continues to be the most common form of our presence in the continent. We want to confirm its validity; nevertheless we must continue to search for a conventual franciscan modality to carry our apostolate out, open also to the wise discernment of other forms of presence and service. Considering a world characterized by a provoking plurality, we have identified the truly franciscan way in minority and goodness, the same way in which God communicates with humankind.

To conclude, the congress has truly been God’s gift. The methodology of alternating talks, life witnessing, group discussions and exchanges of opinions in the assembly has been appreciated. We hope that the wealth experienced in the celebrations, in the exchange of experiences, in the oral and corporal communication of contents and challenges, in a fraternal climate, may be passed on to all the friars and may achieve a positive reception in our conventual presences of the continent, so that they may be always more meaningful and prophetic.

 

Fr. Matteo Ornelli