Friars and local fraternities
For the almost 10,500 friars present in more than one hundred different countries, belonging to the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin means first of all the sharing of everyday life within a local fraternity.
There are more than 1,700 of these local fraternities in the Order, made up of at least three friars each. In general the number is between five and twelve. Only the very rare exception has more than thirty.
The local fraternity practices common prayer and common meals, sharing in the necessary tasks of common life as well as service to people nearby. Fraternal assistance, goods in common, and sharing with nearby people are all essential aspects of life in brotherhood.
The coordination of the life of the a local fraternity is entrusted to a ‘guardian’ who is assisted by a vicar. Nevertheless, all the friars participate in the organization and enrichment of the common life by means of regular meetings called local chapters.
A number of local fraternities together form a network of communion in a specific territory that is called a circumscription of the Order. These circumscriptions are called ‘provinces.’ However, depending on certain criteria – which include the number of friars, how long since the Order was ‘implanted’ in a place, the level and development of the capacity for autonomy – circumscriptions can also be custodies.
A ‘delegation’ represents the first beginnings of our presence in a given territory. Therefore the fraternities that make up a delegation are still under the administration of the province where the friars have come from.
On the other hand, the network of local fraternities that make up a custody or province have their own administration that is elected by chapter of the circumscription. These chapters, celebrated every three years, gather either all the friars or delegates, depending on the size of the circumscription and the decision of the friars themselves. This chapter is the highest authority of the circumscription. According to the Rule of St. Francis and the Constitutions of the Order, it is the task of the chapter to treat all the questions of our life in the territory, and to elect an administration. This administration is formed, almost always, by a ‘minister’ and four ‘councilors.’ The minister, or servant of the fraternity, and his councilors are elected for three years. The minister can be reelected for a second term. Every three years at least two of the four councilors have to changed.
Each province enjoys a high level of autonomy in the organization of its life and the service that it does. It is the province that is responsible for the admission of candidates to our form of life as well as for their religious and professional formation.
In our Order some friars become priests after following the formative path that the Church lays out for sacred ministry. Others, though they remain laymen, are fully friars. It is the profession of the Rule of St. Francis and the vows of obedience, poverty, and chastity that unite us in brotherhood. Priesthood does not make for a difference among us. According to our legislation, all the friars who have made the same perpetual religious profession have equal rights in the Order and are eligible for all the positions that are necessary for the common good of the brotherhood.
The size of provinces varies, currently from fewer than thirty friars to more than three hundred. In order to maintain a fraternal atmosphere and to avoid a bureaucratic anonymity, a very large province can choose to organize itself into smaller regions that better enable a close sharing. On the other hand, when a province becomes too small to govern or develop itself, it can be united to another province in order to form a single, more vigorous circumscription.
In each of the larger regions of the world, the provinces are grouped into ‘conferences.’ This regional structure, often based on language, culture, and other social factors, facilitates cooperation in common projects.
A worldwide brotherhood
As the provinces and other circumscriptions are a network of local fraternities, so the Order, at the worldwide level, can be described as a network of provinces, custodies, and delegations. The animation of this worldwide brotherhood is entrusted to the General Minister. He is assisted by the general councilors.
The General Minister and his councilors are elected during the general chapter of the Order, which is celebrated every six years. The general chapter unites the major superiors (provincial ministers and custodes) as well as a certain number of other delegates.
Beyond the election of the General Minister and his councilors, who are chosen from each of the larger regions of the Order, the general chapter is tasked with treating all the issues in the Order as well as updating our legislation so that it might more adequately respond to the needs of the Church and the development of society.
During the six years of his term, the General Minister must visit all the circumscriptions of the Order and, as much as is possible, all the friars. His councilors visit the different regions more often, especially those that they themselves are from and for which they have received a particular responsibility. They encourage local development and diversity, taking care, however, to preserve cohesion and unity. They keep an eye on all the needs, both in personnel and in material resources. The latter can find assistance in the Economic Solidarity of the Order.
In order to take up certain questions that are central to the life of the Order, the General Minister may gather representatives from all the regions of the Order in a broad, temporary body called a Plenary Council of the Order. The PCOs held thus far have treated topics like prayer, mission, formation, our prophetic presence in the world, living poverty and minority in brotherhood, and work.
Being brothers is the fundamental expression of belonging to the Order. We are a very diverse family, at the same time united and present in many different cultures and political, economic, and social situations that reflect a part of the great richness of the humanity to which we belong. We all share the Franciscan tradition as a common and personal history. We are united by venerable institutions that adapt themselves to current and developing needs. We have all chosen to live ‘according to the form of the holy Gospel,’ to serve the Lord and our brothers in solidarity and peace. In daily prayer and sharing in our local fraternities, there is always a place for our friars who come from other places, such that they can visit us easily and find themselves among their brothers.