Brothers and local Fraternities
There are around 10,500 Brothers present in 103 countries (December 2009) who belong to the Order of the Capuchin Friars Minor and who live their life, first and foremost by sharing fraternal life throughout the day in the setting of a local fraternity.
Our Order has more than 1,700 local fraternities, each consisting of at least three members. In general the members of these local fraternities range between 5 and 12, with the number rarely exceeding 30.
In practice, the local fraternal life consists of prayer in common, meals in common as well as sharing the necessary community responsibilities and with an outreach to the neighbouring people as well. Fraternal help, community of goods and sharing with the local people are essential aspects of fraternal life.
A guardian is assigned to coordinate the fraternal life, assisted by a vicar. Nevertheless all the Brothers participate in the organization and enrichment of community life by means of regular meetings, especially the local chapter.
The local fraternal networks forming a custody, a vice-province or a province always have their own government elected by the chapter of the circumscription. Such chapters are held every three years, and are occasions when all the brothers of the circumscription, or delegates of the fraternities, can meet together. Each circumscription can choose one of these two forms of chapter, which is the highest authority in the circumscription. In conformity with the Rule of St. Francis and the Constitutions of the Order, it is the task of the chapter to discuss the fraternal life of a particular territory and to elect its government, which normally consists of a minister and four councillors, traditionally called “definitors.” The minister, or servant, of the fraternity and his councillors are elected for three years, renewable for a further three years. But every three years the Councillors should be changed in such a way that at least two of the four give place to new faces, different from the previous triennium.
Each province has a great measure of autonomy to organize its life and ministry. It is the province that is responsible for the admission of the candidates to our form of life as well as for their formation, both religious and professional.
In our Order some Brothers become priests once they have completed the formation required of them by the Church for their task. The others live their vocation as full friars minor while remaining in the non-clerical state. The profession of the Rule of St. Francis and of the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience bind us together as a fraternity. Priesthood does not make a difference among us. According to our legislation, all our perpetually professed brothers, cleric or non-cleric, have equal rights in the Order; all of them are eligible to the offices required for the common good of the fraternity.
The dimensions of the provinces can vary numerically from fewer than 30 to more than 300. To preserve the fraternal climate and to avoid bureaucratic anonymity, a bigger province may choose to divide itself into smaller ones adapted to fraternal sharing. Similarly, when a province becomes too small to govern itself and develop, it could unite with another province so that the two together form a more vigorous circumscription. In each of the great regions of the world the provinces are grouped together into a “conference.” This regional structure is formed on the basis of language, culture and other social factors, and makes collaboration easier in areas of common interest.
A world-wide Brotherhood
Just as the provinces and the other circumscriptions are made up of a local fraternal network, so also the Order on a worldwide level is formed of provinces, vice-provinces, custodies and delegations. Their animation is the task of the General Minister assisted by eight Councillors (General Definitors).
The General Minister and his Councillors are elected during the general chapter of the Order, which is held every six years. The general chapter is the coming together of the ministers of all the provinces, vice-provinces, and a certain number of delegates of numerically larger provinces and of custodies. The General Minister and his Councillors are usually elected from each of the larger regions of the Order. The general chapter deals with the problems of the Order and to update our legislation so that we may adequately respond to the needs of the Church and to the development of society.
During the six years of his mandate the General Minister is bound to visit all the circumscriptions of the Order and, as far as possible, all the friars. His councillors can visit the regions more often, especially those for which they have received special responsibility. Their concern will be to encourage the development of local and diverse forms, while preserving cohesiveness and unity. They also pay particular attention to the needs of the area, whether for personnel or material resources, obtaining help by appealing to the solidarity of the Order.
To clarify certain questions central to the life of the Order, the General Minister calls together the representatives of all the regions of the Order for a broad consultation called a Plenary Council of the Order. The Plenary Councils (PCO) held so far have dealt with topics such as prayer, mission, formation, our prophetic presence in the world and living gospel poverty in brotherhood. The seventh Plenary Council in 2004 considered the topic of “our fraternal life in minority.”
To be brothers is the fundamental way in which we express our belonging to the Order. Nevertheless we are a family with extremely diverse characteristics, united in diversity by reason of the variety of cultures and political, economic and social situations. Our many different places of origin reflect the great richness and variety of our common humanity. But we all share the Franciscan tradition as our treasured historical heritage. We are united by ancient institutions, which we adapt according to the needs of our development. Also, we have chosen to live “according to the form of the holy Gospel” to serve the Lord and our brothers and sisters in solidarity and peace. In prayer and in the daily sharing of our local fraternal life there is always a space for brothers who come to us from other places, so that if they do come to us they will experience true and genuine brotherhood.