On June 15-19, 2016, the eighth “Pro Dialogue” formation meeting of the Friars Minor Conventual was held on the Greek island of Corfu. The conference brought together friars from various parts of the world: Albania, France, Ghana, Germany, Malta, India, Poland, Romania, Slovenia and Turkey.
The meeting was sponsored by the International Franciscan Center for Dialogue of the Friars Minor Conventual (CEFID) and was headed by the Delegate General for Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue, Friar Silvestro Bejan. The theme of the meeting was “Migration and Intercultural and Interreligious Dialogue”.
The conference started with a very interesting report by the Most Reverend Yannis Spiteris, OFM Cap., Archbishop of Corfu, Zakynthos and Kefalonia. He spoke on the topic: “The Catholic Church in Greece: Relations with the Orthodox Church and the Pan-Orthodox Synod of June 19, 2016 in Crete”. “We must pray for the success of the pan-Orthodox Synod,” said Archbishop Spiteris, “so that it might engender a renewed relationship with the Catholic Church.”
During the afternoon, two more reports were presented. One was “Immigration, Dialogue and Crisis in Europe from the Perspective of a Greek Orthodox Christian” by Dr. Ioannis Chrysafis. The other was “Saint Francis and the Friars Minor Conventual in Greece: Between History and Memory” by Friar Silvestro Bejan. A fraternal discussion followed concerning commitment to dialogue. Next, there was a presentation by two friars from the Custody of the Orient and the Holy Land on the migration and refugee problem in the Middle East.
June 17 was entirely devoted to visiting the old town of Corfu, also called Kerkyra. The friars visited the Catholic Cathedral of St. James and St. Christopher, the Church of St. Spyridon (patron saint of the city) and the Orthodox Cathedral of Panagia Spileotissa, which houses the relics of St. Theodora Augusta. She was a defender of the veneration of icons. The most significant visit was the one made to a former friary and church of the Friars Minor Conventual of St. Francis of the 14th Century. The former Conventual Franciscan church is the oldest Catholic church on the Island of Corfu. The friars celebrated Mass there with Archbishop Spiteris presiding. They prayed for all the Franciscan friars who worked on the island of Corfu over the centuries and they prayed for the Pan-Orthodox Synod. The cult of St. Anthony of Padua is still alive there and devotion to him continues. In the afternoon, the friars visited Paleokastritsa, the last place Ulysses landed before returning to Ithaca. It is also the site of the Paleokastritsa Orthodox monastery, founded in 1225.
Activities on the third and final day began with more discussion on the commitment to dialogue. Then, some European friars made a presentation on the migration problem in Europe. In the afternoon, the friars heard testimony from Mr. Rino Pistone. He had directed a Caritas Hellas program called Aid to Idomeni Area Refugees on the Greco-Macedonian Border. It closed last May. Now he heads the refugee camps at Oreokastro and Redestos near Thessaloniki. In conclusion, there was a summary of the meeting’s earlier discussions, pointing out a Franciscan response to the current immigration and refugee problem.
Finally, there was talk of collaborative projects and proposals for the future.
The fraternal atmosphere in Corfu helped the friars work with passion and enthusiasm. All of this was possible thanks to the work of those who collaborated and Bishop Spiteris, who hosted us and made us feel at home. Thank you all and on to the next!
Friar Silvestro Bejan, OFM Conv.