Gathered in Rome for their general chapter meeting, members of the Order of Friars Minor – better known as Franciscans – said that while vocations in general have been down in recent years, numbers have begun to rise again after Pope Francis’ election.
Polish Friar Fr. Filemon Janka spoke with EWTN News after the order’s May 26 audience with Pope Francis, saying that his papal name selection “is significant for all Franciscan friars.”
In his province of Posen, the effects of having a Pope named Francis have been particularly strong among the youth, he said, adding that the Franciscans “have new vocations because of that.”
“It is also the reason that young people love our spirituality, and when the Pope chose the name Francis it was an important issue for these young people, so thanks be to God for new vocations.”
The friar said that his small province has nine new novices this year, a significant number considering the size of the province.
To have nine new vocations “is a good sign for the future for our order in Poland,” Fr. Janka said, noting that it’s been 10-15 years since his province has had so many new novices. In 2012, the year before Francis’ election, he said they only had two or three, and in the years before that maybe five at the most.
“I think it is a sign of Pope Francis choosing this name and young people love him so much,” the friar said. “All people in Poland love Pope Francis.”
Founded by St. Francis of Assisi in the early 1200s, the Order of Friars Minor are a religious order committed to living a life of poverty, and can easily be identified by their long, brown, hooded habits often paired with a beard and leather sandals.
Due to their name, originally “Ordo Fratrum Minorum” in Latin, the friars were frequently called “fraticelli,” meaning “Little Brothers,” by their founder.
The order is currently gathered in Rome for their general chapter meeting, which will conclude June 7.
In his May 26 audience with the friars, Pope Francis emphasized the importance of “minorita,” or “smallness” for a Franciscan, saying the call to be “minor” means “to be and to feel small before God, completely entrusting oneself to his infinite mercy.”
Mercy is something incomprehensible for those who do not see themselves as small, needy sinners before God, the Pope said, adding that “the more aware we are of this, the closer we are to salvation; the more convinced we are of being sinners, the more we are able to be saved.”
Pope Francis explained that this “smallness” also means going outside of oneself and letting go of personal plans and opinions.
A friar, he said, must be able to go beyond habits and securities, so that he can bear true witness to the poor, needy and marginalized.
Pope Francis also spoke of the importance of fraternity for the friars, noting that in the time of the early Church, people “were amazed” to see how united the Christians were in love, service, benevolence and reciprocal help.
The Franciscan spiritual family “is called to express this concrete fraternity,” the Pope continued, through a recovery of mutual trust “in interpersonal relationships, so that the world may see and believe, acknowledging that the love of Christ heals wounds.”
The Pope warned against losing oneself amid disputes and gossip, saying that instead the friars must always seek to foster peaceful dialogue with gentleness, meekness and humility.
He also encouraged them to be content with what is given to them, which he said “requires a strong commitment to transparency, ethics, solidarity of goods, in the style of sobriety and dispossession.”
“If instead you are attached to goods and to worldly richness, and your security there, it will be precisely the Lord who strips this worldly spirit off in order to preserve the precious heritage of ‘smallness’ and poverty to which he has called you through St. Francis,” the Pope continued.
“You have inherited an authority among God's people with ‘smallness,’ with fraternity, meekness, humility, poverty. Please, conserve it! Don't lose it!”
The Holy Father concluded by telling the Franciscans that their spirituality is important and needed in the world. He said that while society views it as acceptable to sneer at priests in general, Franciscans have gained “authority” due to their commitments to ‘smallness’ and helping the poor.
Francis closed by entrusting the order to the protection and intercession of the Virgin Mary, and asked that they pray for him.