"Stay true to your charism!" This was the core of the message that Pope Francis delivered to the general chapter of the Order of Friars Minor (Franciscans) on May 26. The Holy Father urged the Franciscans to remain true to the spirit of St. Francis by living out the charism of fraternity, humility and poverty. He warned them not to lose the respect of the people which they have earned over many long years by embodying these ideals.
Truly living out the charism of their Franciscan identity can be a a powerful witness before the world. At the same time, however, failing to fully embrace these ideals will lead to a witness that is not very credible.
During his address, the Holy Father emphasized the need to restore mutual brotherhood among Franciscans in order that, "the world may see and believe, recognizing that Christ's love [brings healing and unity]."
Pope Francis set aside his prepared notes and spoke frankly: "The people of God love you." He recalled the words of his late predecessor in Buenos Aires, the late Cardinal Antonio Quarracino, who had told him how respected the Franciscans were among the people, even among those with strong anti-clerical feelings. "In cities there are groups of individuals who are a bit 'priest-bashers' When a priest walks by they say things, like 'crow' -- this is what they say in Argentina (meaning someone who is unscrupulous or heartless). They throw insults, not bad, but they say something, but never ever, do they say something to someone in a Franciscan habit. Why? Because you have inherited good standing in the people of God with this minority, with fraternity, with meekness, with humility."
The Holy Father exhorted the friars to retain these characteristics of their founder by remaining true to their charism. "Please preserve this; do not lose it. The people care about you, they love you."
The Pope reminded the Franciscans that it is necessary to be detached from the things of this world if they are to be authentic witnesses of the Gospel: "If you are attached to goods and riches of the world, it will be the Lord Himself to strip you of this wordly spirit in order to preserve this precious patrimony of minority and poverty to which he called you through St. Francis. Either you are freely poor and minor or you will end up stripped."