Time is important to be able to deepen our understanding of the important topics that involve our life. The Pan-American Capuchin Conference aims to be the fruit of the participation of all the friars, which is why we have established a path of reflection and collaboration. In the beginning, we had proposed a year, but God wanted it to be a little more than two… a time that helps us to create a true process of reflection that leads us to make relevant decisions for our future. Let us now remember the road we have traveled and let us be enthusiastic about what lies ahead.
At the 2018 General Chapter, Br. Mauro Jöhri, in his report on the six-year term, pointed out that in the three Americas the number of friars has been slightly decreasing for some years. And he pointed out that we are at an important moment to reverse this trend.
Based on this observation, the Minister General and his Council warned that a serious reflection on our presence in the Americas and on our way of living the Gospel in the style of Francis of Assisi and our Capuchin tradition was necessary. For this reason, in his first Circular Letter, Br. Roberto Genuin, destined the whole of Part IV to reflect on the Americas, and there he told us in n. 49:
If until a few decades ago it was thought that this was the area in which the Order would grow the most, with its own physiognomy and with some accentuations that seemed to express our charism better in the cultures present there, today we see that the dynamic of growth has stopped. Unfortunately, there are already several circumscriptions, particularly in the Spanish-speaking area and in some provinces of North America, that are suffering a strong decrease in the number of friars. I think this is the right time to come together and reflect on what is happening.
And then, in n. 52 he proposed:
Our confreres of America are the most directly interested in this whole journey, and they are also the ones who have the greatest capacity to reflect and identify the suitable ways to carry it out; for this reason, the General Council is thinking of carrying forward the initiative of a Pan-American Conference of all the major Superiors of the continent, to be held in October 2020.
In the same issue, in addition to reflecting on our way of life, we proposed the objective of new bonds of collaboration and a restructuring of the circumscriptions:
We hope that in this meeting criteria will mature to improve mutual help and suggestions will also be given for possible changes in the structures of the circumscriptions: provinces in custodies, unions of provinces, new custodies, a new definition of the territories of the circumscriptions, etc.
Based on this initiative, the Minister General appointed a preparatory commission for the Pan-American Capuchin Conference, which met for the first time in Chepo, Panama, May 20-24, 2019.
There it was then proposed to hold the Pan-American Capuchin Conference in Panama from October 19-27, 2020, to look at the past with gratitude, the present with its many efforts, and to dream of a future full of hope. For this it was necessary to reflect on our formation and mission, and on our structures and ways of collaboration. From this reflection emerged the outline of the meeting and the previous work.
The commission, in a letter to all the confreres of the Americas, clarified the objective of the meeting:
To help revive our charism in the Americas, taking into account the changes of our time and the urgencies and calls that come to us from the diverse realities of the continent; to review our organizational and management structures; to perfect our instruments of fraternal collaboration, in diverse areas; to organize our mission fronts, strengthening our presence and making our charism more visible and relevant.
Even though those summoned will be the major Superiors and some delegates, it is important to listen to all the friars, so that the Meeting will be the echo of the whole fraternity. For this we proposed some celebrations, the prayer of the Meeting and three local chapters where we could pray and reflect on our way of life and our past, present and future as Capuchins in the Americas. These chapters were:
- in the first we asked ourselves how we dream as Capuchins in the Americas (March 2020);
- in the second we looked gratefully at our history (May 2020);
- in the third we questioned ourselves about our structures in order to revive our charism (June 2020).
On June 13, 2020 the Commission communicated, through a letter, that due to the pandemic the General Minister postponed the Assembly and it would be held in Sao Paulo, Brazil, from May 2 to 9, 2021. When the time was extended, there was the opportunity to hold a fourth local Chapter (4.) on the mission, a topic that the Minister General proposed for a new Plenary Council of the Order and a fundamental part of our reflection in the Americas. This Chapter was held in October 2020.
There were hundreds of responses from these four local chapters that came from all the fraternities in which we are. These responses were studied and synthesized by a commission in February 2021 (Summary of the responses received), to then elaborate a base document for the consultation and work of the delegates to the Conference.
The pandemic was extended more than expected, so the Minister General, listening to the opinion of the commission, decided to begin the Meeting on the proposed date, but in a virtual way, staggering the reflections of the delegates throughout the year, deepening the central themes: formation, mission, collaboration and structures, starting from the Base Document. Four virtual meetings will be held on each of these themes, culminating in a face-to-face meeting in May 2022 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, with the same dynamics as planned from the beginning. Simultaneously, the friars will be heard, through parallel meetings of different groups (formators, formandi, friars with less than 10 years of profession, lay pastoral ministers, JPIC…), so that they can elaborate their proposals that will be heard during the Conference of 2022.
A long and arduous road that we expect to face but with the help of the Holy Spirit, it will leading us towards the threshold of a true renewal of our charism in the Americas.