On May 17-19, 2017, a formation course for the guardians of the Province of St. Joseph in Romania took place at the Provincial Curia in Bacău, Romania. The course was conducted by the Secretary General for Formation (SGF), Friar Louis PANTHIRUVELIL, with collaboration from the Procurator of the Order, Friar Maurizio DI PAOLO, who presented a conference on the legal aspects of the role of the guardian and his authority.
Twenty-four guardians participated, coming from friaries in Germany, Italy, the Provincial Custody of the Orient and the Holy Land and the Province of Romania. The course took place in an atmosphere of true fraternity and mutually attentive listening. The Minister Provincial of the Province of Romania, Friar Teofil PETRIŞOR, also attended.
At the end of the course, Friar Louis and Friar Giulio CESAREO were able to visit some of the Conventual presences in the Province: Luizi Călugăra, Nisiporeşti, Hălăuceşti, the social center of the friary of St. Anthony of Padua in Roman, and the convent of the Poor Clares in Roman. They also met with members of two formation communities: the novitiate in Prăjeşti, directed by the Novice Master, Friar Augustin PATRASCU, and the post-novitiate house in Roman, under the guidance of the Rector, Friar Marius BILHA.
The visit was very pleasant. There were numerous personal encounters with the friars. Many of them are quite young. They are engaged in various activities, living out the Franciscan charism of fraternity in the ecclesial and social context of the Moldavian region. This was a very positive experience, which provided a direct, but brief period to learn about this particularly lively and significant reality in the Order; a portent of hope which certainly transcends the boundaries of the Church in Romania and the Franciscan fraternity itself.
On the evening of May 9, 2017, a delegation of the Friars Minor Conventual, representing both the Order and the Basilica of the Twelve Holy Apostles in Rome, visited the Church of San Polycarp in Smyrna (Izmir, Turkey) to deliver two noteworthy relics of the Apostle Philip. The relics were received by the Most Reverend Lorenzo PIRETTO O.P., the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Izmir, and BARTOLOMEO I of Constantinople, the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Orthodox Church. The gift was given as a sign of friendship and communion between the Christian communities of these two sister Churches.
This encounter with these two Church leaders was a gift of grace. It all sprang from the recent canonical recognition of the relics of the apostles Philip and James the Lesser or the ‘Brother of the Lord’. The recognition was conducted at the Basilica of the Twelve Holy Apostles from April 5 to December 19, 2016.
The recognition attracted many pilgrims who flocked in from all over the world to venerate the relics. One of these pilgrims was Archbishop PIRETTO who, along with a group of faithful, came to Rome in September of 2016 to venerate the apostle Philip in particular. Philip came to preach the Gospel in Hyerapolis (today Pamukkale) in the region of Asia Minor, and was martyred around 80 A.D. Father Massimiliano PALINURO, a parish priest of the Cathedral of Smyrna, handed me a letter from the Archbishop, requesting a distinguished relic of Philip as a “symbolic return” of the apostle to the places where he preached and was martyred. This “return” also involved the Orthodox community, which at the same time requested an additional relic of equal importance to be delivered to the Patriarch of Constantinople at an ecumenical meeting in Smyrna.
Having received permission from the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Minister General Marco TASCA presented an artistic silver reliquary as a gift to the Patriarch while representatives of the parish community of the Basilica of the Twelve Holy Apostles presented a beautiful reliquary as a gift to Archbishop PIRETTO.
In order to transport and deliver the relics, a delegation from Rome was set up on May 4, 2016, whose members included Friar Silvestru BEJAN, the General Delegate for Ecumenical and Interreligious Dialogue [EDI] for the Order of Friars Minor Conventual, Friar Simone SCHIAVONE and myself. Joining us at Smyrna were Friar Martin KMETEC, the Custos of the Provincial Custody of the Orient and the Holy Land (Lebanon-Turkey) and Professor Francesco D’ANDRIA of the University of Lecce, Director of the Italian Archaeological Mission, who discovered the tomb of St. Philip in Pamukkale, Turkey.
Patriarch Bartholomew I made a long and engaging speech filled with thanks and gratitude to the Catholic Archdiocese of Smyrna and its Archbishop for his wonderful plan to “symbolically bring Saint Philip to the places of his apostolate and his martyrdom, a land that gave the Church a great number of saints, confessors, martyrs and neo-martyrs.” Speaking to our delegation and the Minister General in response to the gift we brought him, the Patriarch said, “It is a testament to the generous spirit that manifests our longing for the full unity of our Churches, which, in our common veneration of the saints and their vibrant relics, we are already united.” At the end of the ecumenical meeting, the Patriarch gave the General Minister an icon representing the meeting in Smyrna between Saints Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp. I took the opportunity to invite him to Twelve Holy Apostles and promised me that when he comes to Rome he will visit us.
The following day, the delegation went to Hyerapolis, accompanied by Father Massimiliano PALINURO and Professor D’ANDRIA. There, we were able to celebrate Mass at the threshold of the tiny chapel where the Apostle Philip is entombed.
This pilgrimage was a response to a call and allowed us to experience many graces. There was grace in the places we visited, especially those recalling the apostles and the first Christian communities: Smyrna, Ephesus, Hyerapolis, Laodicea, Pergamum, and Sardinia. There was grace in the fraternity and welcome we received, the accommodation and hospitality provided by our confreres in Istanbul and by Fr. Maximilian in Smyrna. There was the grace of having had two exceptional guides (Professor D’ANDRIA and Father ROMANO) who taught us all about the sites we visited and made the stones speak. There was grace in the Franciscans’ efforts in fostering communion between the two sister Churches, in offering this gift of faith and in feeling ourselves in the embrace of Paul VI and Atenagora and of Bartholomew and Pope Francis, whom we often thought about with affection.