CAPITULARS OF THE SPECIAL GENERAL CHAPTER
On September 30, 1974, at 12:40 in the afternoon, the Holy Father received the 200 Capitular Friars of the Capuchin Order who participated in the Special General Chapter of the Order, in a special Audience in the Consistory Hall at the Vatican. At the beginning of the Audience, Fr. Paschal Rywalski, Minister General, in the name of the whole Order, delivered the following address of homage to Pope Paul VI:
Most Holy Father:
The first words which spring from my heart are: Thank You. Thank you for the gift of this Audience which we so greatly desired. It is a gift added to countless expressions of your kindness to the Capuchin Order. Among these I wish to make particular mention of your esteemed Letter to our General Chapter and finally of this Audience which, in so graceful a way, you have included in your already busy schedule connected with the work of the Synod. Thank you, Holy Father, thank you!
Please allow me to say in your presence what I often say to my brothers: "Among the many gifts for which we must be grateful to God, one of the more precious is that He has given us good Fr. Provincials and zealous superiors."
Most Holy Father, these major superiors are here with me today before you, along with our General Definitors, our able and dear co-workers, with the delegates from various regions of the Order, with periti and officials of our Extraordinary General Chapter. Also included are our beloved Capuchin Bishops, His Excellency Mariano Gutierrez Salazar, Titular Bishop of Bramacora and Vicar Apostolic of Caroni in Venezuela and His Excellency Salvator Schlaefer, Titular Bishop of Fiumepicense and Vicar Apostolic of Bluefields: in all, nearly 200 Capuchin Friars coming from every part of the world, belonging to 96 regions of the Order, laboring in 75 nations. Holy Father, we are here to express our humble and filial homage and to assure you once more of our irreversible fidelity to the Chair of Peter and to your August Person. We are concluding our Chapter in which we are undertaking, with courage and a sense of responsibility, the study of vital subjects for the life of our Order, namely: authority and loving obedience, apostolic life which combines action with contemplation, unity and pluriformity, penance in the sense of ongoing conversion.
It has not been an election-chapter, Holy Father, nor even directly legislative but rather it dealt with community, the sharing of experience, a re-evaluation, with prayer, in a word: a Chapter dealing with renewal of our life and with conversion.
The Capitulars will return home not merely with new laws, but with an objective report on the experiences and state of the Order in areas relating to matters being considered. Above all they will return home with the memory and the enrichment of an experience of fraternity intensely lived.
In order to continue with courage and joy our marvelous but difficult walk (yes, because our Savior Jesus Christ walks before us), Holy Father, we ask in a childlike and humble way, for your trust, your paternal affection, your prayers and blessing, your enlightened word.
And so, in the Holy Year of Conversion and Reconciliation, on the 750th anniversary of the Stigmata of our Father St. Francis, in this historic hour of the Third Synod of Bishops, the message of your Holiness will be an encouragement for us and a stimulus to continue with great care in the spirit of the best Capuchin tradition, to which so many great figures of the past clearly testify, along with eminent and humble brothers personally known to many of us, namely, Fr. Leopold of Castelnuovo, Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, Fr. Mariano of Torino and others from various Provinces of the Order.
Most Holy Father, with simplicity and honesty we reassure you that we want to be true sons of St. Francis in our times. May your blessing and your message be both a sign and a guarantee of the blessing and efficacious grace of God.
• • • • •
(After Fr. General's Address, the Holy Father spoke. He addressed a few words in Italian, and then gave a prepared speech which he read in Latin. But every few paragraphs, he added what he called his own "marginal glosses." The spontaneous remarks were recorded by some friars at the Audience. They are in italics in the Holy Father's address, here translated from Latin as printed in L'Osservatore Romano, dated October 1, 1974. Those friars present were struck by the Holy Father's warmth, simplicity and obvious regard for our Order. The remarkable atmosphere of this Audience is quite apparent, more from the “marginal glosses” than from the prepared Latin Address.)
The Holy Father spoke:
A few preliminary points: first of all, you must forgive me for arriving late, but the meeting of the Synod has kept Us until this moment. The second point stems from a desire for what I would call spontaneity. Your Minister General’s word in Italian , so clear, so perfect, move Us to express Ourselves likewise, as long as you can understand Us. And this should tell you how much your visit means. It fills Our heart with so many thoughts. Only last night I was thinking of the times, places, people connected with your Order, that have linked my long life to it.
To mention one, which perhaps even the Minister General might not remember–where did Innocent of Berzo live? Even as children (and that is going back a while!) We would make our slow wearisome way up the sides of the Valcamonica to reach Osino at Borno and would always stop at the Friary of Annunziata. We still remember the very beautiful fresco by Peter of Cemmo, which we hope is still in good condition.
Another thing–it touches my heart as a human being–you are the custodians of the cemetery where my family is buried, my parents and relations. And I know that the friars look after the graves with devoted care and attention in the cemetery at Brescia, opposite the Church of the Sacred Heart. As children We went there so often with Our father who used to go to Confession to the Capuchin Friars who cared for the cemetery.
And there were some frescoes in the church, which was rather new then, and paintings which at the time seemed magnificent to me because they were new and painted with total simplicity by a simple painter of the time by name of Epis. The friars as well as the people used to tease him by quoting St. Paul: "Si quis Episcopatum desiderat, bonum opus desiderat [if anyone aspires to be a bishop, he desires a noble task]." I say this jokingly because they were simple paintings of the time, but they did give me, as a small child, a vision of what they were trying to express. And so many other memories...But let's put this aside...!
There is another thing I remember too. As a young priest, looking for a companion in Munich, I called at the Nunciature because I knew Msgr. Pacelli there. He was already well known. But he was out. So what was I to do in a strange city? Where would I be able to sleep? And I did not know much German. Then I remember a good Sister (it must have been Sister Pasqualina) saying: ''I'll ask around." She phoned and then sent me to the Capuchin Friars in Munich, where I slept very well. But those narrow beds of yours!
What I want you to understand is that this Audience, this meeting, means very much to me. You might say: "But the Pope sees so many Audiences." True. But this one is so full of significance, of value, which fills my heart and really deserves an apologia, a very long talk, an opening of hearts a vision of the world which I see in you shining forth in your Capuchin appearance: the poor man of Christ who still knows how to draw close to the multitudes of ordinary, working people which others no longer seem able to approach. "If it's a Capuchin, then we'll go to Confession." Yes! What does it mean? It means trust–the trust of the people. You friars–what do you represent? You know that the Church is very eager that you should be, as they say today, authentic. Isn't that true? The people love you precisely because they see that you give them a chance to be at ease and to talk freely, and this leads to a return to religious living, to sacramental life, to the grace of God.
Lastly, to conclude this introduction–though I cannot stay silent–I see there our Apostolic Preacher. You see, he preaches sermons for us that are university lectures, but sermons! Recalling Us to religious, ascetic and spiritual principles which every now and then give Our heart a little spiritual uplift. We thank him publicly because be is one of your confreres and because he merits for your entire family all our esteem and gratitude. Shall I speak in Latin now?
Dearly Beloved Sons:
We welcome you with all our heart. You, the General Chapter of your Order have come here, not only to pay respects to the Vicar of Christ like faithful and loving children, but also to ask Our blessing for yourselves and for the work of your Chapter. This We willingly do impart. Your Chapter, though it primarily concerns the Capuchin Family, also affects the life of the Church which receives vigor in great part from the flourishing condition of Religious Institutes, as also its apostolic zeal and its burning desire for holiness.
(And this alone could provide material for a wide-ranging discourse. In humility you bow your heads and say: "But we are only poor friars!" I say to you that you are prophets, you are the heralds of the Gospel, you have a great impact on the life of the Church and must have, precisely because of your desire to be like St. Francis, who himself was so anxious to be, literally in clothing, form and spirit, like Jesus Christ our Lord. Consequently, for Us you are a most precious treasure deserving of Our esteem, Our encouragement, and all Our confidence too. Go on being what you have been until now for the Church of God.)
The General Chapter is a wonderful opportunity for each institute to reexamine its very nature, the goals it wishes to achieve, the office it could fulfill in the Church and to issue effective guidelines to renew the life of its members. This demands that you carefully refer to the beginnings of your family. As Vatican II teaches, the true renewal of a religious family essentially consists in an increased fidelity to one's vocation.
(It is not a matter of archeology, but of going back to sources. It means discovering yourselves as Capuchins. Be what you are!)
However, it is not enough to consider only the past, it is also necessary to look to the future. Here one can go on to ask: considering the turmoil of present times, is the Capuchin way of life still capable of responding to the expectations of the Church?
(A doubt can even arise among you, even though it may stem only from the discussion that is part of our fidelity itself: a doubt about yourselves: "Are we men of our times or not? Are we religious with a past history that is over and done with or have we still a role to play, just as we are?” To that question I am happy to give our an unequivocal reply: Yes, Brothers, yes! You are modern, you are relevant, you belong to the future, you have the guarantee of your past history providing a promise of what is still to come.)
By what ways and means can your Order flourish with a new richness of life? Last month We sent you a letter giving Our opinions on this point. And it is a great satisfaction to Us to learn that you have used it as a source and norm in your work. Now, by way of confirming and continuing what We wrote then, there are some things We wish to say which, while not new or strange to you, will nevertheless reveal more fully the Fatherly concern We feel for your Order.
First of all, let Us remind you again of the need to preserve and foster that contemplative spirit which is such a shining feature of the first Franciscan generation. This requires, according to the Council, that interior renewal must always be given the leading role, even in the promotion of external works.
(Now, if you don't mind, another "marginal gloss." We make this recommendation not only for your benefit, but also for Ours. On this point We are not so much the master of spiritual life as We are full of admiration for the example you give us and eager to learn from you how to live literally, interiorly and strongly, the Franciscan gospel.)
From this source, your Order has produced a rich harvest in the past. For the present and the future, it is likewise necessary to produce new shoots whereby your way of life can receive an uninterrupted supply of the desired new vigor for your religious life. Does not St. Francis give you a wonderful example in this matter? For him, the safest refuge was prayer; not a momentary, meaningless or presumptuous prayer, but prayer of long duration, full of devotion, serene in humility. If he began at night he was hardly through by morning; whether walking, sitting, eating or drinking, he was always intent upon prayer so that in his whole being he was not so much praying, as becoming himself a prayer.
Furthermore, the example of St. Francis should be a powerful stimulus to you to love the cross; this cannot be separated from your vocation. The Stigmata which he received in his body from Christ on Mount Alvernia, proclaim for all time a primary condition for following Christ: the need for a more austere way of life, for penance, which has always held an important place in Franciscan living. If ever the Church expects this of you, she does so today, more than ever before.
(Brothers, we need your example. We just need to see that the Cross is alive in your lives, in your example, in that arduous and difficult life you have chosen; it is the Cross.)
We live in a society completely devoted to pleasure, materialism and geared to communing more and more. And unfortunately it has even become a common thing for many Christians to make up their own religion–one which caters too much to personal convenience, without effort, without duties, without self-denial, in a word, without the Cross. You, on the contrary, must never stop applying to your own lives the words of Christ our Lord, "Amen, amen, I say to you unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit."
This love of the Cross stands out especially in evangelical poverty, which St. Francis bequeathed to his sons as a sacred inheritance and which is the most characteristic sign of your Order.
(It is precisely because you are like this, that the affection and admiration of the world follow you wherever you go. No one, I would say, could ever insult you or make fun of you. No! "That's a Capuchin, a Franciscan friar." But why should this be so? Because there is a radiance [you know this yourselves] about your humility, your poverty. You are the "blessed poor in spirit" of the first beatitude.)
Surely this is the reason why the Capuchin Friars were always more acceptable to people, who were accustomed to see them as humble, simple, joyful, always ready to help their neighbor, especially the poor, the sick and the sinners. People are not asking you to conform to worldly ways. What they do expect is that you continue to show the dignity of this life of poverty. Be, therefore, guardians of that hope in the world! But besides personal poverty of each member, do not neglect the poverty which should adorn your Institute. Thus, in the use of material goods, in buildings and in whatever works you undertake your Order should avoid any lavish standards of lifestyle and equipment, as well as anything smacking of luxury or profit-making. There should be nothing about you to obscure the image of Christ who far our sake made Himself poor, though He was rich, so that we might become rich through His poverty. (cf. 2 Cor. 8:9)
My very dear Capuchin Friars! You have already adorned the Church with the holiness of your members, and through your apostolic activity you have brought the light of Divine Grace to so many souls. May the occasion of this General Chapter give you a fresh impetus to persevere in your outstanding vocation, and if need be, renew your strength, redouble your efforts, so that, as in the past, the Church of God may fully benefit from your service.
(And we have said nothing about all the works you are involved in, though they are in Our mind and we want you to know this. Also the parishes in your care; the good you do for so many other religious communities; your activities in the field of studies, they too are not against your tradition; and above all, your closeness to the poor, the humble, the people! Also the apostolate of preaching which finds in your friars, voices of such resonance that We are still happy to listen to their echo. You really are staunch, good and humble preachers of the Word of God. All I say to you is this: if you really live out what you are, you will be able to apply to yourselves the words of the Gospel: "Do not be anxious about what to say or how to say it: when the time comes you will be given your message." You will be able to speak with open heart, if your hearts are full of Christ, radiating the brilliance of His holiness. Then your very lives will overflow with the word, and it will be the most effective form of your persuasive influence.)
Encouraging you paternally in all this, We lovingly bestow Our Apostolic Blessing on you here present, and on every one of your members.
(Cf. Analecta, Vol. 90, n. S  pp. 289-291)