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What the Friars Minor Are Facing

Interview With Father José Rodríguez Carballo, Minister General

MADRID, Spain, JAN. 18, 2004 (Zenit) - The new minister general of the Order of Friars Minor hopes to emphasize the basics of the charism inherited from St. Francis.

In this interview, Father José Rodríguez Carballo talked about the challenges the Franciscans are facing.

Q: What is your assessment of these months as superior of the order?

Father Rodríguez Carballo: The assessment is highly positive because I have seen the Lord's hand in the order. I see that it enjoys good health, that it continues to work intensely to rediscover the essential elements of the Franciscan vocation and to put them into practice. ...

Q: What are the goals and priorities of your government during these six years of office?

Father Rodríguez Carballo: The goals for this six-year term were set forth by the 2003 Pentecost General Chapter -- as we call it -- when I was elected minister general.

It is a question of returning to the essential elements of our charism, and of living and interpreting them in the light of the needs of today's world.

The priority is to refound the order in the sense of returning to the essential, in the light of events in the world: fraternal life; the life of minority and solidarity with the poorest, evangelization, the experience of God and, for all this, formation and studies are necessary.

We believe that the world is calling for solid formation at the human, spiritual, Franciscan and intellectual level. We must live in the 21st century by promoting holiness of life and science, the pillars of our order.

Q: What is the meaning of the concept "minority" for Franciscans?

Father Rodríguez Carballo: Minority means to be at the service of men, of the people. We have been and want to be "friars of the people," to be close to people, especially simple people; not as someone with power or privileges, but being the last among the least.

Q: Does the Order of Friars Minor have the same problem of lack of vocations as other religious orders and congregations?

Father Rodríguez Carballo: The crisis in Spain is due to very many factors, and not to the lack of testimony. But at the general level, the order enjoys good health. We have an average of 650 novices every year, and vocations are growing in Latin Americas, Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia.

I am not even worried about the numerical level. I believe that religious life should not be judged by numbers, nor should the vitality of the Franciscan Order or of the Church. What is important is that the quality of that life not diminish.

Q: The Franciscan family is made up of several branches of priests, religious and lay people. What unifies them?

Father Rodríguez Carballo: In the course of history, various branches were born for the sole purpose of being ever more faithful to St. Francis' charism.

Brother priests and lay people in all branches are united by three vows and the value of fraternity beyond the option of being priests or lay people. We are brothers; that is why our constitutions make it clear that we are all equal, because we are brothers with the same obligations and we benefit equally from the possible advantages of our life.

Q: Would you like to add anything?

Father Rodríguez Carballo: I want to affirm our commitment as an order, of continuing to work in the line of Francis and all the friars in the course of these 800 years of the order -- to witness to the Gospel especially among the poorest, the simplest and the least.

As I have already said, we want to continue to be the friars of the people, to live the Gospel in union with the Church.

And, above all, I wish to reaffirm our commitment to be instruments of peace, reconciliation and dialogue, especially in countries of Muslim majority, where we have been since the time of St. Francis and, in particular, in the Holy Land, which is going through a difficult time and where we are custodians of the holy places.

In this connection, we are seriously committed to the peace process, promoting reconciliation, dialogue and meetings between the peoples of that area.

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