by Roxanne King
Born to a wealthy family, St. Francis of Assisi gave up riches and in his radical conversion to Christian life was called Il Poverello, “the little poor man.” He was also known as “the joyful troubadour of the Lord.”
The Capuchin brothers of San Lorenzo (St. Lawrence) Friary in San Antonio bring to life these hallmarks of St. Francis in a three-year-old ministry to the poor called Franciscan Joy. Done in partnership with other Franciscan groups, the friars seek out the homeless and needy, feed and clothe them, spend time with them and pray with them. Capuchin Brother Jason Moore said the idea for the collaborative apostolate came from Brother Donald Rank.
“There were several different groups of Franciscans in San Antonio: the OFMs (Order of Friars Minor), the Conventuals (Order of Friars Minor Conventual) and us (Order of Friars Minor Capuchin),” Brother Jason said. “(Brother Donald) wanted to do something that would bring us together and share our Franciscan charism with the community in a larger way.”
Initially, the Franciscan groups would meet monthly, celebrate Mass or Morning Prayer together, and then cook food for the homeless. “At first we’d go out in cars and find people under bridges or wherever they were and hand out breakfast burritos or breakfast tacos. We weren’t just handing out the food, we’d also spend time visiting with the people.”
Then the groups would reconvene and spend time in Eucharistic adoration, lectio divina or common prayer and have a meal together.
The ministry has since evolved to seek out the homeless and needy and invite them to share a meal with the Franciscans at a park, where they engage in conversation, play music, hand out clothing and pray with their guests.
“It’s a more inviting atmosphere,” Brother Jason said. “Sometimes when you get in peoples’ space it can be uncomfortable for them.”
Originally called Franciscan Alliance, the current name better describes the nature of the monthly happening.
“It’s a joyful event,” Brother Jason said.
“Franciscan joy” is Christian joy and is rooted in the Gospel. Pope Francis—the first Jesuit elected pontiff who chose as his papal name that of the beloved Franciscan saint—described this joy in a homily in 2016:
“(It’s) the joy of having been chosen by Jesus, saved by Jesus, regenerated by Jesus; the joy of that hope that Jesus is waiting for us, the joy that—even with the crosses and sufferings we bear in this life—is expressed in another way, which is peace in the certainty that Jesus accompanies us, is with us."
In his first apostolic exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel,” Pope Francis—in keeping with the spirit of St. Francis—also said: “I want a Church which is poor and for the poor.” He added: “They know the suffering Christ. We need to let ourselves be evangelized by them.”
That, too, is part of the Franciscan Joy ministry.
“Everybody needs somebody to share their experiences, their life with,” Brother Jason said. “The poor are in need of someone to talk with. Giving people an opportunity to share their life can be quite meaningful for them.” The food helps to break the ice, but then when you’re able to talk about what’s going on in their lives, that’s the most important aspect of the ministry, sharing their life with them.”
“We encounter Christ in the poor and the poor are also our teachers, we learn a lot from the poor. Both aspects are quite important.”
The ministry not only offers an opportunity for the different Franciscan groups to enjoy fellowship—secular Franciscans and a Franciscan youth group have also joined the effort—and share resources as they serve the poor, but it gives the friars of San Lorenzo, which is a house of study for men in priesthood formation, a welcome break from the mainly solitary act of schoolwork through the opportunity to do hands-on ministry.
“We’re busy with school, but the Holy Spirit provides,” Brother Jason said. “There’s always someone sharing their story or who really needed someone to talk with. It’s a mutual sharing that always gives me strength to persevere in what I’m doing. It’s a positive experience.”
Although the name and some of the faces have changed, the Franciscan Joy ministry has stayed true to its original mission.
“It’s not too complicated,” Brother Jason said. “We just go share a meal with people, talk with them, pray with them. It’s quite basic, but meaningful.”