The interview with Br. Roberto Genuin, General Minister of the Capuchin Friars Minor, conducted by the friars of the Province of Spain in August 2021.
We thank the friars for sharing this interview with us.
The text is the transcript of the video interview, transcribed by Tarcisio Mascia OFMCap.
Br. Roberto was invited to introduce himself.
I am Br. Roberto Genuin – note “Genuin” … that only an “o” (in English “e”) is missing to be perfect (he said with a smile); I am the General Minister of the Capuchin Friars Minor. I was born in the Dolomites. You all know where the Dolomites are: upper Italy, Veneto, in the mountains; I’m from a small mountain town.
Even during elementary school I had half an idea that I would become a priest. Then I met the friars, entered the friars, became a religious, a priest; I did all my years of seminary; from middle school onwards, my education has always been under the Capuchin Friars of Veneto.
After my ordination, I became responsible for the minor seminary for 4-5 years; then they sent me to Rome to study for a degree in Utroque Iure (canon law and civil law). From that point on, I was guardian in Venice, then 9 years as Provincial Vicar, and then 9 years as Provincial Minister; there followed an interval of one year when I finally had peace: and then they elected me General Minister of the Order. I have been General Minister of the Order for three years.
How was your experience of being elected General Minister?
To be truthful, I was amazed at how serenely I took my election as General. We don’t find success from going in search of positions. But when this kind of thing happens, we try to do the best we can, and then we also obey the Spirit when he prompts us. So, I was very peaceful. If the brothers wanted me there, if the Lord wanted me there, then it’s my honor to offer myself and my gifts, and to do that without worry; it is not I who lead the Order, or who lead part of the Church, no, no, ... it is our Lord! Certainly, the Lord asks for our cooperation. But it was all very peaceful. And maybe this also has to do with past experiences; because our experiences of responsibility undoubtedly help us to develop a capacity for endurance, and then, when such as great responsibility comes our way, we can do it without great difficulty, with the help of the Lord and with the help of the brothers, because we are many parts who work together.
What challenges does the Capuchin Order face today?
This is a sexennium which you can imagine is very difficult due to the fact that as Minister General, my activity is very limited with regard to visiting the friars. I was able to do it for a year and a half, before the pandemic, and after that, my efforts were almost completely blocked. Therefore, all the initiatives of the Order at the global level and at regional levels have been continually postponed, and this creates many difficulties. But all the same, I say, it is the Lord who carries things forward! We’re taking steps to animate this great Order online; it’s presenting for us a great range of diversity. We are all Capuchins, but the cultures are very different: Africa, Asia, South America, North America, Europe. It’s interesting. A great vitality. But for my part, I am undoubtedly a bit limited, because it’s not the same to know the friars or the situations through written reports as it would be preferably through direct experience and direct contact. Let's hope things gradually open up. Recently, I've managed to get to Spain… even this was postponed several times… what little you’re able to do, you do with a willing heart.
Ours is a beautiful Order, ... great!
How does the Order face the challenge of vocations?
First of all, I would say to the European friars who are experiencing a period of very few vocations, that the hand of the Lord, the arm of the Lord has not been shortened. The Lord knows how to lead us. Having said that, I would also say to Europeans: "Get busy!" It is not true that people are indifferent to God's message, to God's call. It is not true! The problem is that perhaps we don’t always find the right ways to be effective among today's young people. Here you have to work with all your heart, and never give in to despair. When we least expect it, the Lord does extraordinary things, inspiring vocations even where we would not think. Although this is a period that, humanly speaking, puts the friars in difficulty, of course! We are in very strong decline here. But then, from a global point of view, while the Order may be decreasing here, it is growing in other areas, even very markedly. During the course of history, there have been many fluctuations here in Europe, including tragic ones, with the suppression of religious orders. Orders have always rebooted themselves afterwards. The path we take is in God's hands more than ours. This gives us a lot of strength and a lot of serenity. That despite things not going well, if we are faithful to our vocation we will increase in number and things will get better and better and better … and with greater authenticity!
What does it mean to be a Capuchin today?
Who knows how many times this question has been raised? I’ll try to limit myself by simply saying something in the context of the isolation we’re currently being faced with. And although we are very isolated, we as Capuchins who experience the life and spirituality of St. Francis have enormous strength in fraternity, which we ourselves must rediscover in all its breadth. This means openness, it means welcoming all people, it means simplicity of relationship. I believe that another strength of ours, typical of the Capuchins is the simplicity of relationship. If we manage to salvage a cordial, a truly cordial, simple relationship with people, we can gain access everywhere from the smallest, the poorest, the most marginalized to the greatest on the face of the Earth. With humble simplicity. I would say these two things; obviously, that's not all, but in my opinion these two aspects are really important today. If we can bear witness to living in harmony with people from different countries, from different backgrounds, from different cultures, even with different gifts: this aspect is a gift from God; but so is the other, the ability to be among people in a simple way. these I believe are our two greatest strengths today.
How was the pandemic handled in the Order?
I reside in Rome, in a big fraternity: we are almost forty. It was interesting to see that although we are all religious, all Capuchins, reactions to the pandemic depended a lot on the person: they are not all the same. It has created no small concern in the Order, because enough friars have been infected and we’ve had a good number of deaths (almost a hundred). We are present in all corners of the earth and therefore it is easy to understand this … One good thing that’s undoubtedly come of it, in my opinion, is a reflection upon our state of affairs, on how we respond to the Lord today and, with respect to this interview, perhaps our need to make better use of this kind of communication. I think what we were able to accomplish was done through social media, virtual connections, which will never replace the personal relationship; but undoubtedly, in some cases, we probably found that they proved the most viable option for sharing and confronting the difficulties. I would stress these two things. Then, I perceived something so noteworthy, I had to write it down: in different areas of the world, where we are present, the public apparatus provided no help, no help; in the villages, nothing, nothing - Covid or no Covid, - no one came. As far as we could, we helped several small fraternity projects that went to the villages to bring the minimum necessary, a little food, a little soap, a few masks…. Very nice to see the many photos of these friars who despite the pandemic are among the people, distributing these things! Tiny, tiny drips, because it's not that we are some powerful force; we are many, but… but very remarkable. Even if the pandemic returns to necessitate once again this humble service for the least, to whom no one bats an eye, it will be a modest effort, but is worth so much in the eyes of God! There have also been many such initiatives in our fraternities; very many, very many.
Are social networks an evangelization tool?
An excellent means. And their use will probably be expanded in the future, but not without some precautions; they can never replace the personal relationship, this is for certain! But there are many applications in place: for staying close to the people, for a prayer in the morning, to hear how they are, to make available the celebrations online, whatever possible, to stream catechesis… many actions have been taken in many ways. I was pleased with its use myself, not being able to do otherwise….
What would you say to those who will see this interview?
I would say that our Lord is a good Lord who brings happiness to our life. This I would say with all my heart ... do not be afraid! The Lord brings happiness to our life! This does not mean a life without problems or difficulties or sacrifices, - there’s no such thing as a life without these - but God introduces into this life of ours, which at times can be tedious and burdensome, a strong dose of energy and a strong dose of simplicity. I would say this: when our lives are in good harmony with the Lord, there comes the possibility to be calm despite everything, even in the face of the most serious difficulties!
A question about formation.
At the last General Chapter we had the approval of the Ratio Formationis Ordinis for the whole Order, obviously focusing on the standards that represent us, the values that distinguish us, and how to implement them in the context of today’s world. I maintain that it is a formidable document, not only because it was conceived amid the widest possible participation of all the friars, but because it is very much ours in the words it uses and in the way it expresses our values! It is very indicative of us.
What is the great challenge at present? In addition to providing quite concrete, albeit general, guidelines, the great challenge is to render the same values across the board culturally; both the values themselves and the manner in which they’re carried out. Because the ways we put them into action actually convey the value! This, in my opinion, is the great strength of our Ratio. Who knows how long it will take, but without a doubt in the little time I’ve been getting around, I ask myself: how will this play out? Presently, it seems to me that these things don’t correspond with our life today…
“Take the Ratio, think about it!” Try to implement it for this or that cultural setting … How does respect for the family, our relationship with money translate? … Admittedly, we have not yet implemented everything. These things convey an identity that still needs to be realized. And it can’t be achieved in just a few years. It took a great effort to make a Ratio like this, that’s clear now. It was done slowly and with great care … because we have a great need for it. There is little that remains to be done!
If we succeed in its implementation, we also give strong vitality to the Order ... strong! According to what the Lord asks of us today.
What empowers a sense of belonging to the Order?
I would say this; I don't know if I'm responding precisely to that point, but I would say this, bearing in mind our charism: I don't like so much resorting to things like "advertising" or "showing off to attract": there are many wonderful things about us, many; but we usually don't put them on a pedestal to say that we are wonderful. So, that which is most valuable about us – and we have much that is interesting in this regard – is clearly our best witness; it’s that simple. I can talk about fraternal life, I can talk about relationships with people, but if afterwards I'm always locked up in my room, ... although I might speak of such things beautifully, in the end it lacks effectiveness. Looking at it from the other side, we should also never be afraid of proposing, but go ahead and propose; and in this respect say, "Come and see ...". The Lord calls, but he also calls through the actions of some of us when we say: "Come and see". So those are the two sides. We definitely don’t want it to be a game of “who knows who”, we don’t care about that. We don’t live for that. We try to do things correctly. Sometimes we make mistakes, but there are also times we do things very well. On the other hand, in some areas of Europe there appears to be a kind of hesitancy, as if to say, “If the Lord wills it, he will make it happen … we will stay out of it.” That's not how the Lord works! The Lord does the work for sure, but he asks for our cooperation. So, also calling, setting up paths of response, thinking about what offers we make, etc., this is the other side and we have to do it our own way.
How are senior friars viewed within the Order?
Last night at dinner we were discussing the reality here ...so many seniors... I’m trying to precisely recall the discussion, whether in an article in the provincial statutes or during provincial elections, it’s always "the younger friars, the older friars ... the younger friars, the older friars!" In my own experience, I have lived in many fraternities, different fraternities, also with many elderly friars; and I have always found it an infinite treasure! I’m hard pressed to find any divisions: because younger friars have a sensitivity, and the older friars … certainly as they gradually advance in age, young and old come to have their differences, and this is a richness. Quite honestly, in my life I was very fortunate. Before becoming General Minister, I was a guardian in a fraternity where there were 25 friars, with an average age of 80.5 years. I never had it so good! They gave me so much help and support. Of course, these are friars in their eighties or more, so one could hardly press upon them … but they gave me so much help and support. I would say: “Keep it up as long as you can, while you can!” So, what do they actually offer? An enormous amount! When I say that their testimony is of the highest worth … I don’t know about other lifestyles, but as for me – in terms of personal growth in our vocation – the witness of the older brothers who are solid in some values and maybe limited in others, very well might have educated me more than all the educators I’ve ever had in my life.